Green School Farms – Gary Fehr

Much has happened since I conducted this interview last fall with Gary Fehr.  Earlier this winter, Gary’s wife, Shannon Moncure, passed away following a courageous battle with cancer.  Shannon was a strong advocate for local food and served in several different capacities on the Nebraska Food Coop Board.  She was instrumental in getting this Cooperative established.  Shannon was also a strong supporter of sustainable agriculture. Shannon served on the Nebraska SARE (Sustainable Research and Education) Advisory Committee. This blog is in memory of her.  I wish Gary the best of luck as he follows his dream of developing his farm and continuing to produce local food organically for the community of Lincoln and other people in southeast Nebraska.

In this blog post I am interviewing Gary Fehr of Green School Farms. Gary produces food organically on a farm he rents west of Lincoln, NE, just off of West Van Dorn St.  Gary has marketed his produce through a number of methods, including a CSA, wholesale farm distributors and a local school  since he began farming. Follow along with this photo blog as we tour the farm.

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Gary put together this makeshift high tunnel or you may call it a medium tunnel.  It is taller than a low tunnel, but not nearly as big as a high tunnel.  It serves its purpose though of being a season extender to crops.  This is out on the garden site west of Lincoln.  (photo Gary Fehr)

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A well was dug to provide irrigation water to the garden site. Water is  essential for the successful production of local food in southeast Nebraska. In most years at least some supplemental water is needed to raise a good vegetable crop.

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Gary grew several types of greens and salad-type vegetables that he marketed through his CSA, the Nebraska Food Coop and schools. (photo Gary Fehr) 2016-04-18 21.16.17.jpg

Here is an image of a snail. Snails, slugs and other critters can become pests, foraging on different crops, especially salad greens. These pests can be kept out of gardens by using different types of materials, i.e saw dust, egg shells, ash and sand and nut shells. (photo by Gary Fehr)

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You can see from this photo that Gary planted several different varieties of greens.  Being an organic grower, Gary utilized several different methods of weed control. Notice the cereal rye growing between the rows of his crops in his garden site. Cereal rye has been shown to be beneficial as a cover crop, particularly  for suppressing weeds. It can also be used as a windbreak, protecting young seedlings from hot, south winds. (photo Gary Fehr)

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Gary uses an old drill to crimp down the cereal rye.  This makes an excellent weed barrier and also keeps the soil cooler during the hot summer to reduce evaporation from the soil surface.  (photo Gary Fehr)

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Cereal rye after it was crimped down by an old drill in Gary’s garden spot.  The rye needs to be at least in the flowering stage when it is crimped or else it will come back and try to produce seed. Research has shown the cereal rye is beneficial in suppressing weeds and some diseases. The above ground biomass adds carbon to the soil and the roots underground do the same. When the roots die there will be more pore space which improves water infiltration and  water storage in the soil. (photo by Gary Fehr)

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Another cover crop that Gary incorporates into his garden rotation is hairy vetch. Hairy vetch is a legume that fixes nitrogen and provides significant nitrogen (100 lbs of N/ac) for the subsequent crop, i.e. a high nitrogen user like corn.

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As an organic grower Gary used several different materials to mulch the vegetables in his garden.  Cardboard can be used to smother weeds and old hay can be used to cover soil to reduce competition from weeds and also add organic matter to the soil.

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Gary grows a number of different crops throughout the growing season of spring-summer-fall. Drip Tape is used to water the crops during the drier parts of summer.

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Some of the summer crops that Gary grew in 2016 included sweet corn, peppers, and water melon. (see photos above taken by Gary Fehr)

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From the photos above, you can see that peppers were a staple in Gary’s Green School Farms garden.  He planted several different varieties and they were excellent producers.

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Another important crop at Green School Farms was tomatoes (see photos above) Gary grew several kinds of tomatoes up until the first killing frost in the fall.

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Gary even grew some Okra on his farm. Although he had a limited number of plants, they produced well for him. (see photos above)

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Cantaloupe was a good crop for Gary, producing in the late summer and into the early fall. (see photos above)

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Early in the fall Gary planted salad greens.  In the photo above he covers some of his crop to protect it from a freeze.  Notice the companion flowers growing next to his crop. As an organic grower Gary uses different plants that attract beneficial insects that are predators for pests or some plants that repel and protect the crop from harmful pests.

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One last crop Gary plants and sells that will keep for use in the winter is butternut squash.  This popular squash is used several ways in various dishes and soups for people that love local food. (see photo above)

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A photo taken near the end of the growing season at Gary Fehr’s Green School Farms in west Lincoln. I know Gary purchased some land near Raymond, NE and hopes to move his farm out there in the future. I wish Gary the best of luck as an Organic Farmer and Local Food Producer in southeast Nebraska, I hope for many years to come!  Good Luck Gary!!!!

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