Down the River

Down the River

The cucumber waterfall started at the end of last week. Our steady harvests of 200 lbs swelled to 400 each pick, totalling 1200 lbs for the week. On Monday there was another big harvest of them ripe and ready, so out we went. And then we turned to the tomatoes and found another unstoppable fountain: we could fill buckets standing in just one spot. That many. Once all 1700 lbs were in the farm shop and the harvest was all washed and packed, we grabbed some overflowing cukes and tomatoes for ourselves, packed some bread and cheese to supplement, and all 20 of us drove up to the Deerfield River for Crew Appreciation Day.
On the Deerfield, the flow varies depending when they release the dam upstream. Wecall the Waterline to check the "flowcast" before we go. Given all the rushing rivers of incoming crops at the farm, it might seem like a funny time to take a whole afternoon for a river trip. But the weeders will head to school at the end of the month, and we'll miss them! And truthfully,  we've crested the plant-growing peak of the season. Now we're riding the swelling wave of the harvest. And that will continue on into the fall. Time to take a moment for appreciation of it all. It's also glorious out there (everywhere) right now - the yellows and purples of goldenrod, loosetrife, and Joe Pye weed pop against the greenery. Add the rush of the river, and we're swept away. Ahhh. We jumped in the deep spots. We splashed and paddled. We mostly just went with the flow had big smiles at the end.
Monday was an extra-great day to tube because we caught the last lull before the big rush of melons. And then the dam burst and they were ready on Wednesday - 8000 lbs of sweetness. Our crew: refreshed and ready. Looking around the farm right now, this story is likely to repeat itself. It looks like a river of food from here to the horizon.  We're still farming so there's still uncertainty. We know that this river might hit some rocky rapids, some shallower spots.  But the current "flowcast" is high. We hope you enjoy the harvest.

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen)

Sweetness and Sunshine

Tuesday morning we headed out early for our first corn harvest. Mist and foggy windshields, counting corn stalks to place the barrels in the right place, picking ears down the rows. There's nothing like corn to make you feel tiny. We planted these seeds and now they tower over us. After hour of picking ears and lifting barrels full of corn, we have one more job left: test the corn. We test every morning after the pick to keep tabs on the flavor, ending the harvest on a really sweet note. Yum! We go to breakfast with our sweet tooths already satisfied.

Sweet is the word of the week. We'll continue our sweet corn routine, busy mornings that will structure our days for 7 or 8 weeks now. The sweet onions were ready and we harvested them in bulk - over 2000 lbs! in this week's sunny summer afternoons. How rare this year to be hot! Also sweet were the amazing notes we recieved from shareholders after we got late blight in the cherry tomatoes.  Pulling cherries just as the fruit is ripening - all the work put in and none of the rewards reeped - is a low moment. It can also feel like a long time to wait when we have less eggplant than we planned for because of this cooler weather, when each summer crop is a at least a week late because they need heat to fully ripen and sweeten. But just then, on come the great onions, corn, and mountains of field tomatoes ... the sweet reality that all those tiny transplants we tucked in in the spring grew this?! The shareholders come with the magical reality that the time we've spent together grows these kinds of relationships?! And we're cruising through a big harvest day shouting for joy - sweet sweet summer!

Farm shares - so much more of an emotional experience than a trip to the grocery store. In a world where we could choose to just go buy pretty much anything the minute we want it, I think that (along with the picked-this-morning freshness) it's that road of reality we've all been traveling that makes this corn so sweet. We hope you enjoy the harvest.

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen)

I Know The Drill

We never know what's going to happen. Or maybe we do and we just don't want to admit it. Here we are ticking along, digging carrots, picking beets and cukes, watching the winter squash run and set fruit for the fall. The onions sizing up. The corn field ripening big in the late summer sun. The fall carrots and beets weeded. The celery rescued. And now the Brussels' sprouts looking pretty good. The cows have grass. The pond is full. The irrigation pipes haven't been used all season. Time for Zoe to go on vacation. What could go wrong?

Then a little email comes through: "Late blight found in a tomato field in S. Amherst." So, I go take a look at our pick-your own field, where the cherry tomatoes and the paste tomatoes live this year. And sure enough, those brown lesions, that just make my heart sink. Not on every row. Just the Sungolds. And the sicilian plums. And the saladettes. The ones that aren't blight resistant. The ones that we grow just because they are so delicious.

It's been two years, but I know the drill. Step one, on the first sunny day get the sprayer ready and coat the main season tomatoes with copper to protect the big crop. Step two: remove the trellises from the bad rows, and harrow in the tomatoes as quickly as possible (to get rid of the oospore factory). Step three: report this to our local farmers and extension so that folks know what's up. Step four: Hope for the best and go back out and count our blessings.

They are still there (our blessings). The sweet corn field looks about ready to burst for weeks. The peppers are loaded. The onions are bulging. The potatoes are sizing up. The leeks, the celery, fall carrots and beets. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts all look like gold. We will miss our Sungolds. And hope to see them again next year.  No time for regrets. We have other things to do.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your (other) Farmer,
Dan
(for Zoe, Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen)

Maintenance Season

50 degree nights like we had this week are great for snoozing but they also slow plant growth. Tomatoes stay light pink, corn almost ready. Not yet but soon. This week felt like hanging right on the cusp of some serious summer harvests.


We're in the thick of the time of year for following plans. Most everything is growing in the ground. This is the time for maintenance. "Scary!" says a child part of me. "Push those old coffee cups farther under the car seat!" But maintenance is the art of not hiding the mess, of keeping our eyes on things, tending to what needs tending when it needs it. Daily, like Sunny's harvest lists, weekly, like Karen keeping the farm shop stocked, monthly, yearly.


Dan found time this rainy week for the every-five-year maintenance project of replacing the greenhouse skin, and to begin the once-every-twenty-year task of repairing and re-building parts of the frame and side walls. Right now it looks like a bare rib cage (and a little bit like someone exposed the coffee cups under my car seat), but that's the first step of maintenance. Taking off what's old, so you can look underneath, mend, refresh. Speaking of refresh, Ellen set off this week on a trip, starting our crew vacation rotation. Important farmer maintenance!!


Meanwhile, the fields revealed exploding insect pest populations in my weekly scouting. So, Rebecca set out and sprayed an organic pest control derived from chrysanthemum for the leafhoppers in the spuds, who seem like they are having a party this year. We're also scouting for late blight, dread of tomato growers and tomato eaters. The weather conditions this year are perfect - it blows in on storms just like these. But when we look at the fields, so far, no late blight. We see some weed piles, but when the weeders go through they clean right up, and underneath, what we really see, is so. much. food. Last year we lost 60% of our carrot crop because it wouldn't germinate in the drought - this year, thick stands of baby carrots are revealed by the weeders.

So - heartened by the bounty under the mess, we welcome maintenance season! Keep the growing things growing. Eat what's ready when it's ready. Repeat everything periodically. We hope you enjoy the harvest.

 

People Power

People Power

Remember all that rain we got last week? Add this week's heat (and sun! hurray!), and watch our fast growing crops! Also ... fast growing weeds! Turn around for a moment and up they go - all millions of them! So on Monday, the onions were weedy, too big and too tall to cultivate with a tractor. Sweet potatoes and winter squash needed weeding too.  And you might miss the newly sprouted fall carrots under the pig weed carpet. We do what we can with the tractors but by now there are plenty of weeds too well established, or too close to the crop, or that we just missed.

Enter weeders. They come on bikes and in carpools, with snacks, water bottles, sunblock and sometimes shoes. Right now the crew is bigger than usual because after we spent our budget for hiring, more wanted to help and so they've been volunteering regularly. This year Ryan is the weeder leader, and after we check in about the task in the morning, he shuttles everyone out in our mini-van. Chances are they've got pop radio blasting in there. High energy. Highly effective. They work in the hot sun and sometimes in the rain. They are usually still laughing when they finish at noon, and then they head off swimming or to their other job or for whatever the afternoon holds for them.  On Wednesdays we continue the tradition that Karen began of having a crew meal all together. This week might have been the biggest one ever; chili and salad made by Roberta, Board member and interim chef. We take up three picnic tables this time of year.

Why so many? Could we just get another fancy cultivation tool? Well, it's the end of the week and the onions are clean. I can see every sweet potato plant. They hoed all the winter squash.  No tractor implement could do all that. High fives all around. This crew is on fire! We can budget to improve our equipment other ways. We'll continue to invest in people power - positive, reliable, capable, fun. They even made it most of the way through those fall carrots. If you're tempted to worry about the rest, just remember they'll be back on Monday!

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen)
 

In The Soup

What a difference a year makes, indeed. Last years' newsletter was called "Dry as a Bone" as we were in the clutches of a severe drought; Every day 85F and sunny, irrigating every morning, moving pipe every afternoon, cultivating any day we wanted, and completely out of grass in the pastures. And now look at us....We had a hard time stringing two hours (let alone two days) of sun in a row this week. In fact, nearly every time it DID get sunny, the humidity would spike, and another rumbling storm would thunder through.

For those of you who have been on this journey with us before, you know that farmers have a love-hate relationship with water. We need it desperately (90% of our veggies are just that), but too much can quickly become a something akin to a plant plague.  In addition to bringing all nutrients, water is also the transmitter of all nearly all the terrible diseases for plants.  Plant pathologists merely count up "leaf-wetness-periods" to predict just how bad its going to be. Right after we are relieved to see our carrots germinate, we start the nightmare worry of wiltsand blights.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. It was a wet week. And that was disorienting after such a dry year last year. We were in the soup, for sure, but it's not yet on full boil, by any means. Sure, we couldn't get the cultivators rolling. And the weeds were growing faster than the weeder crew could stoop and bend in the onions. But it wasn't torrential. And it's still early. So, for now - we made the most of it. Rebecca and Zoe renovated the strawberries. Sunny kept the soggy harvest rolling. Ellen painted pick your own signs. Karen cleaned up around the field houses. I did three years worth of deferred road maintenance.  And all the while we hoped next week would be sunny. And dry. And warm. There's still time. Fingers Crossed.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your (other) Farmer,
Dan
(for Zoe, Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen)

Rinse and Repeat

Last Friday, after our first full week of sunny days and an afternoon of planting cabbage, brussel sprouts and lettuce, we were relaxing and telling stories on the back porch when the rain came. It soaked in all the new plants for us. Just what we needed. Ah.

By Monday, things had dried out again and we set to work: it looked like a whole sunny week for plant care and cultivating, still an unfamiliar forecast in this so-far-so-wet season. For three days, every tractor moved almost all the time, choosing the best tool we have for each task, for each spacing, each growth stage of every crop.  On Tuesday Will helped Karen set out tomato stakes and uncover the melons, which were just bursting at the seams - ready to vine-out and make a melon carpet across the patch. And then on Wednesday the weeders pounded all those stakes into the ground to support the growing tomatoes! We ate crew lunch together feeling mighty and strong.

Our urgent tasks accomplished, we found time to look ahead: Rebecca enthusiastically tackled the big (two tractor!) task of compost making, transforming the huge "catch pile" of material into beautiful windrows for next season. And on Thursday after Sunny headed off with the boxes for Ware and Boston, Ellen and Dan started the seeder. Three miles of carrots later, this fall's crop was in the dry ground waiting for their final cue to grow: water. We took a minute to remember that last year at this time we'd been moving pipes every day for a month trying to water everything. Last year germinating the carrots was a many-person, many-hour effort.

Friday came again and we dug the first sweet carrots, planted in earliest spring. Moments later, down came the rain on thatnewly seeded fall crop. Ah. We were still harvesting and planting lettuce this week when it started, but as Zofia said, "why put on a raincoat now, I'm soaked!" We harvested right through. What a joy to be a farmer with a natural irrigation system. Time to crunch on some carrots and rejoice. Thank you, rain.

We hope you enjoy the harvest.

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen)

Lettuce Celebrate

Three or four times a week, we pick lettuce at 6 am. Barrels, knives and crew load in the trucks. Off we go!  There's a job for everyone. You can be a "cutter:" slicing the heads of lettuce right at the base - too high and the head falls apart. Too low, and you've got roots hanging on, which aren't a favorite salad ingredient. The other job is "picker-upper:" carefully place 25 heads of lettuce into each barrel, packing and counting. If there's one thing we like at Brookfield it's a good system. When the whole crew knows a good system for a task, there's room for hearing yesterday's highlights, for noticing the killdeer eggs. There's brainspace for tender thoughts, jokes, and, of course, dreaming about breakfast.

When we started harvesting lettuce for our opening week, the heads were small. We carefully "cherry picked" the beds for heads as big as the palms of our hands. 25 filled only half a barrel. We could fit 40. What happened to 25, our muscle memory, and brainspace? Instead, we'd worry as we picked: will more of these lettuces grow big enough by next week?   I'd look at the weather for signs of temperatures rising.

Fast forward - look at us now! This lettuce is gigantic. Yum. 25 of these fluffy heads mound over the lip of the barrel. We have another bed already just as big, waiting for us to eat our way through this one. Bigger than our smiling faces. Big as the sunhats we put on now that summer arrived. We're into finding things smaller than the lettuce. A ham? Yes. A frisbee? Yup. We've moved on - from lettuce hope to lettuce celebrate just in time - it's time to plant fall crops and weed the carrots. Things have changed.

Change is the other, quieter gift of routine. My grandparents ate oatmeal every single morning and they taught me that routines create space for other things to shift. I like a varied breakfast but I love 25 lettuce heads in a barrel. And when harvesting these first summer squash and crisp cucumbers, calculating how to have a littlefor everyone, the home-base sized lettuces remind us: "Now is now, not forever. This too will shift." And in a few weeks, let's wait and see, we could be rolling in the cukes and zukes. So, in celebration of now, get out your biggest bowls - lettuce eat salad!

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen)

Cruising

Every season begins with dreams. With plans. With hopes. Anxieties. Expectations. And eventually those foreshadows are replaced with realities. With experiences. With memories. Pounds. Facts. Sometimes the before looks like the after. Sometimes not so much. Doesn't matter, really. Eventually, all is revealed.  It's the crux of the matter that interests me. When we move from before to after. From controllable to deal-with-it.

This season we had dreams of growing 30 acres of produce. Selling 525 CSA shares. Training 3 apprentices. Hiring a new farm manager. Transitioning two farmers-into-general-managers-getting-some-time-off.   The season started rather by-the-book, with all plans made, all staff hired, all seeds ordered, and all apprentices arrived.  Then all machines tuned up, all shares sold, all fields plowed, all plants sown in the greenhouse, seeds sown in the ground, rain from the sky. At the end of May, the weather turned cold and wet, and the plants stopped growing. The woodchucks ate a lot of cabbage. And then the rain mostly stopped. The rest of the plants went into the ground. The weather warmed up, the weeder crew kicked into high gear, the cows went to the correct pasture, and the strawberries ripened.

And look at us now. Where's Zoe? She's got the weekend off! Once a month was part of the plan, and here we are living it. And here I am, writing a newsletter for the first time since last November. It's all the same farm, yet it's all completely different. Just like we hoped.  We don't know yet, where this ship is sailing. But we do know that it is now afloat, we have set sail for the distant shore, which we have heard is to be found along this heading. Will we get there? Who will we be when we get there? Unknown. But for now, we know we are just cruising; Tending. Weeding. Watering. Dealing with "pests." Harvesting. We are here; Right between what it could be and what it was.

We hope you enjoy the ride,  

Your (other) Farmer,
Dan
(for Zoe, Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen)

With a Moo Moo Here

Two ninety degree days to start the week? We were ready to soak up the sun: time for weeding, time to finish plowing for the year, time for crops to ripen, time to trellis the tomatoes and cover the melons, time to separate last years calves (now teenagers) from the mama cows.

        Monday morning we had our water bottles full, our sun screen slathered - ready. After a harvest morning, Dan and all three apprentices went out to the "apple tree pasture" to separate the calves. Calves are ready to separate when they've pretty much stopped milking, and when their moms are usually about to need to focus on new babies. We don't want them taking milk from new calves, or breeding with the older cows. Here was the plan: build a corral, feedall the cows inside it, then let the big moms out one by one by opening and closing the gates at the right moments. If all goes as planned, you end up with only calves in the corral, herd them into the trailer and tow them home to the pastures near the barn for the summer and fall. I wasn't there, but I heard everything went according to plan until a calf pushed his way out, sending us farmers tumbling too! Time to settle down, re-group, for farmers and cows.

     Tuesday morning in the early morning calm it went according to the playbook. Then Karen and Dan worked together moving and settling the calves, moving the moms to a beautiful pasture we call "Middle Earth," and making sure everyone had water and good fences. That might sound like the end of the story. Our neighbors know the next thing that happens after the calves are separated is a large amount of Moo-ing.  Everyone's in a new place, and asking "Where did you go?"

    The next morning Sunny and the crew were beginning the lettuce harvest at 6 am, and there was a cow, relaxing at the bottom of the lettuce field. Where are the rest? I headed for Middle Earth to check on them. "Moo!" said another cow, from the other direction. "Over there!"  said Ellen. Sure enough, there was a second cow, walking herself back up the hill, to the apple tree pasture. "Hello cows,  this way, you live in Middle Earth now."

  After breakfast they'd escaped again, and Rebecca led them back, but each time we got them to the gate, another cow would slip out and off they'd go. And then a third showed up at the old pasture! Most of the time, when we move the cows we set up neat little alley ways for them to follow. These walks were free-form, just us and no fencing for guides, calling and following the two cows towards Middle Earth. "Come on cows, this way moms, here we go! Oh yeah! Come cows!" ... and then ... away they'd go back again to the apple tree pasture. Eventually we needed to moooo-ve on.  We electrified the fence around the apple trees, leaving those three where they so clearly wanted to be.

    Cows are animals like us - they need daily care and alsosometimes urgent! attention!, whereas vegetables have quieter demands. But it was time to get back to them. We couldn't plant anything in the heat of the early week, so we focused on plant care, weeding and harvesting. The cultivating list got shorter, how nicely the corn cleaned up, the tomatoes trellised, and all the while the cows kept insisting - "we are the theme of the week!!" On Thursday, Boston shares were harvested and delivered, and a calf wanderedour of the pasture and through the PYO fields. Pickers (including my mom) reported the sighting, and we gently nudged him back in.

    In-between cow escapades, we were watching the weather and the approaching rain, timing our planting day around it. Friday! We split into two crews, harvest and transplant, and then the harvesters became transplanters too. All hands on deck. We left those three cows to relax in the apple tree pasture, and one must have missed the rest of the herd because she made the journey over to "Middle Earth" on her own. In went last week's corn planting! In went the celeriac, celery, red kale, lettuce, fennel, raddichio, scallions, parsley. We were tucking in opportunistic sunflowers at the end of the day, feeling the deep breaths of plants-in-the-ground. With those deep breaths Dan, and Sunny and Rebecca went out to walk the lonely moms back to the rest of the herd. I started this newsletter. A noise in the parking lot! Was it a "Moo?" No! Humans! They did it! What a week. Everybody on the Moooo-ve. Grateful for the sun that helped us get a handle on the weeding and the rain that helped us catch up on the planting. Grateful for cows for the punctuation!

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen)

Good Day Sun Shine

This is a story about a turn-around week. We started out riding that wave of energy that opening the share brings. We got organized and made lists for a big week - the sweet potato and melon planting had been delayed from last week. On Tuesday, I woke up ready to go planting, eager to tackle the biggest items on the list. Well ... Last week when I said a wet year was a great planting year; well, that's only true up to a point. Driving around the fields, it was clear Monday's rain had made our prepped planting beds too wet, too wet for a tractor, wet enough to lose your boot. So we delayed again. And then - it poured all morning. It poured hard, even by pouring rain standards.  Looking at standing water in already-too-wet fields, I started scrambling to calculate when we might next get into them - when would the poor sweet potatoes get in the ground?

And the answer? Not that afternoon. Not Wednesday. Then Thursday came, Rebecca headed for Boston to deliver the shares, and it was still too wet for a tractor but there was the weeder crew with gumption and grit and giggles, and they worked with us all morning, muddy legs and all. Then Friday was sunny and we split up into a harvest crew and a planting crew and kept at it. The head lettuce was big enough to pick! By Friday afternoon Ellen was driving the transplanter and the melons were going in the ground and Sunny was even able to plow the last field. Dan reminded me to take a moment and think back to Tuesday, how it felt watching those lakes build up in our fields. How different it feels now, plants in the ground, looking at several days of hot and sunny coming up. Wahoo!!

Here's what's different about what we get to do, at this farm: we're not done when the vegetables leave for some grocery store in some distributor's truck. We are part of a bigger project, with all of you. Just when we might get swept away in the fieldwork, there's shareholders to meet and food to harvest. Hello again! This work is multi-faceted and rich. There's the baby born the day the frost was coming and everyone helped harvest the winter squash - she's another year older now. There's the shareholder (okay, maybe most of you at some point) who stays hours by accident, running into someone else every time they go to leave. When we send shares off the farm, they're bound for our city outposts - each packed for a shareholder who has bought into what this farm is about. We're in it together.

The highlight reel from the first farm shopsand Boston shares keeps running - green green spinach, kids giving other kids tours of the farm, pig-visiting expeditions, photos of how you're enjoying your radishes, e-mails about your hopes for the season, warm greetings and lingering conversations on the back porch. New shareholders bring excitement and curiosity - they introduce themselves, get a tour - wondering not only what comes in a share, but more broadly how does this work and how am I a part of it?  Long time shareholders come bearing familiarity and understanding - they tell me it feels like coming home. The farm buzzes with the tremendous wave of energy you bring, and we are buzzing too, grateful for the connection, the belonging, participating spirit of being in community with you.

This week, the lettuce heads are small but tender and tasty. It's time to eat all kinds of greens, time to relish radishes for their pep. The change from Tuesday to Friday reminded us, it can all change so fast. Looking ahead, it could be hot hot summer here before we know it. We hope you enjoy the harvest.

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, and Sunny and Ellen)

Chilly Today, Hot Tamale?

Chilly Today, Hot Tamale?

There are many things we can count on about a year at Brookfield. Still, we wonder about the details - what will this year be like?

Some years it's the planting that's the tricky part - we have to wait til just the right day when we might get a spec of cloudy or wet weather to let the new transplants establish themselves before the sun dries them all up. Not this year! The rain and the cool, overcast weather are keeping us supplied with planting days, and so, in order, everything that Rebecca has grown in the greenhouse is going in the ground: the onions, the leeks, the corn, the tomatoes, the peppers, the eggplants, more lettuce, the fennel, more lettuce ... this is the time to set the stage for the whole season of growing and harvesting and eating, and we've got the weather to do it.

The flip side is that in a year like this, it's the growing that's the tricky part! It’s been really, really cold. The early crops, turnips, squash and beets and early carrots, are a bit behind in terms of plant growth. They all want some hot weather to be able to access the nutrients in the soil so that their teenage growth spurts kick in. The weeds, of course, are made for this - as organic farmers, most of our strategies for getting rid of the weeds to make room for our crops to grow include uprooting the weeds and then letting them dry up on top of the soil. Ellen uproots and dries out weeds before we plant with the Lely, a big rake that gets the tiny weeds off the tops of the beds. Sunny goes next with the basket weeder, a delicate tractor implement for the tiny weeds. And on and on with other tools, but the drying up part takes a little sun, a little breeze, and we haven't seen too much of that recently.

It's predictable that we'll fret about something in any farming year. This year, I'm a new kind of fretful because it's a first for me, of taking a bigger bite, taking on a new role. So my reality, appropriate and predictable for farmers in early June, is to wake up worrying about the farm.  Looking at a forecast for another rainy week, and hearing reports of flooding and hail (!!) at farms around the Valley, the worries are cradled by everything we have going for us: land and crops above water, poised for growth, the apprentice's joy and resilient teamwork, Ken the mechanic, Abbe keeping us all organized. These are days, like all the other days, when I'm grateful for the mentorship and continued leadership of Dan and Karen at the farm; they wake up worrying too, but they have so many years experience of farming here to draw on for comparison and comfort. Most of all, we're all cradled by the community of both new and long-term shareholders, all committed to this big experience of reality. Brookfield Farm! So this is the rhythm, young farmer. Keep worrying, it's okay (it's motivating!), and also keep falling into the cradle of controling what we can, and accepting what we can't. Every year we are real and we are alive and we are farming, and there is weather - and we wouldn't have it any other way.

And then I wake up with another question: "What about all the weeds we can't cultivate?" Enter the weeder crew! Heroes already! They started last week and it sounds like trumpets here every morning now, seeing them coming to work and knowing how much will get done before they leave at noon. They've weeded the cutting lettuce, giving it a chance to pop up (it seems to be waiting for just a little warmth to take it's final cue ... it’s still small). They've weeded the arugula for spicy spring salads. They're weeding the beets. And they've weeded the spinach.

Did somebody say spinach? You might be wondering, reading this e-mail about the slow spring that's taking it's time to warm up, why we're opening a full 8 days earlier than we did last year. By almost any measure, we should have waited – the soil is still just too cold for vegetable growth! Well, for one thing we're ready to see you - ready to start the big parade! And the lack of heat is creating a real growth disparity between the crops that prefer cool and the crops that need more heat. When it comes down to it, we’re opening because of the spinach. It's ready. It's alive. It's green. It's delicious. And longtime shareholders know, it's not every year we're able to grow a good crop. With the fickle early summer weather spinach sometimes quickly goes to flower in the heat before the share starts.  Spinach has a short window – if we’d waited til next week to open, we’d likely have lost it, along with the first radishes and arugula. Radishes, arugula and spinach love the cool weather, and ripe spinach waits for no cutting lettuce.

What a different year! So much rain. So much cold. We're glad we have a little food to start, and we expect more will come on as soon as it warms up. We'll welcome the sunshine to the farm when it comes, but first we'll welcome all of you to your farm as the share starts this week (for most of you shareholders, it's more of a welcome back!) And you can welcome (and welcome back) the apprentices. And we can all eat spinach! Here we go!

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen)

The Spring Crescendo

We're doin' the spring swing over here on the farm - the activated, green, growing, tender spring swing. At the beginning of the month, the apprentices started their season and we grew from our core staff singin' through the winter into a little band playing the first few bars of a season-long piece of music. We all began together to go about our business of getting the fields ready for planting and getting the plants ready for the fields. If we're an orchestra, the weather plays the oboe. Orchestras tune to the oboe because it's the hardest instrument to adjust, and so it goes with us: when it rains in the spring we plant seeds in the greenhouse and prep equipment, and when it's sunny we head outside.

The apprentices have learned their new tractors and taken their tools into the field: Rebecca spreads the compost to improve our soil, then Sunny plows and harrows to prepare the fields, and then Ellen follows making beds for the plants and putting seeds in the ground. Ken gives all the instruments their spring tune ups. Abbe keeps up with all the share sign ups. I'm learning how to conduct these musicians and the first bars of this seasons symphony, the ins and outs of how to organize a daily work plan, how to train apprentices in farm management areas, how to keep good notes. Karen's fencing new pastures for the cows to enjoy the fast-growing grass. And Dan's been finding some new farm vehicles and training me in my new role. Dan would use a baseball analogy instead, but in my orchestra analogy he and Karen hold the sheet music, keeping us true to the score we arranged this winter. It's a piece of music originally composed over 30 years ago, a classic that gets some new riffs every year, and that always gets your feet tappin' to a familiar funky beat. Brookfield Farm!

Together we're increasing the pace and the volume in this spring crescendo - onward towards the beginning of June when we harvest vegetables and open the Farm Shop!

You don't have to wait til June - there's lots happening on the farm this spring that we want you to know about. Read on for Spring Events and Announcements, ways to get involved and support your farm.

With spring in our steps,

Your Farmer,
Zoe (for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Ken, Rebecca, Sunny, and Ellen)

First Comes Greenhouse Season!

There's always a pressure to rush that comes up in the spring - "Start the greenhouse early! Get going!" it says. But starting mid-March has advantages: plants grow more quickly at this time of year, as the days get longer and warmer. We'll get out into the fields whenever the weather lets us, so unless you're a market farm trying to get the special price of having the first onions of the whole year, starting earlier doesn't mean better crops. Earliest onions sound fun, but then we think about all the fuel that goes into heating our greenhouse, about our warming planet and our goal of farming with fewer inputs, we feel good about taking that extra week.  And when we saw the 100% chance of snow last week, we knew we were right on track. "Relax," it said, "no need to rush things along." We'll take our onions at a regular pace, passing on the more affordable costs of growing regular paced onions to our shareholders, and the joy of a regular, earthbound paced life into our bodies. 

This year, Kate, our all-star volunteer from last season, worked with me to fill the greenhouse in just three days. Like everything around here, we didn't do it without help - before John and Sunny left on their vacation they stocked us up with flats filled with soil. And Jake, who apprenticed on the farm with me several years ago, lent a helping hand for a few hours. And of course Dan, who, along with everything else he does, fixed the door for us - it is undeniably important to have doors on your greenhouse in New England! 

It feels almost embarrassingly sweet when we first hold seeds in the spring, so aware of all the potential there. We put the first seeds in the first flats, talk about all the things we have to talk about, meander through the podcasts we've been waiting to listen to as our hands stay busy, one seed at a time. Three days later, there's life on the farm - we've taken our first big step of season. Almost 100,000 seeds are put in dirt and watered in, and growing, still under the soil. Leeks, onions and other types of onions, cabbages, napa, broccoli, fennel, chard, scallions, radicchio, lettuce, herbs, flowers. From this point, there are a few landmarks - the first field we till, the first day we need to weed, but we're mostly blazing on (at a regular, earthbound pace) towards Opening Day 2017, when we'll harvest your food for the first time this season. See you then! 

Your Farmer,
Zoe (for Dan, Karen, Abbe)

Step One: Eat Breakfast

Step One: Eat Breakfast

With the 60 degree weather we've had, it's hard to remember that the week before we were above our knees in snow. The day it first fell Dan and I sat at our computers, periodically jumping up like popcorn kernels to look at the accumulation out the window. A group of us skied before the gale force winds even stopped. Everything was quiet. We'd been waiting for this. After all the snow plowing and shoveling, we did indoor work - Dan compiled and sent out our big end of year re-cap and I got the crop plan made and along to the fine-tuning stage.

We were deep in snow-mode there for awhile, reveling in everything it brings. But soon I was shedding layers all along the ski trail, and the next time I was out skiing in my T-shirt. And now it's that time of year when we look at the calendar and we realize we need to move all the storage out of the greenhouse, because the potting soil will arrive soon. And after the potting soil arrives, we'll be getting ready for that not-so-far-off day when we turn on the heat and seed the onions and leeks for 2017.

Like the woodchucks emerging from their dens and the geese that are already flying north, we farmers too have reached the time when we shift our pace, wiggle our fingers free of our mittens, and ride the snowmelt rushing down stream to the season ahead. "March!" It's the month that's also a call to action.

As we wake up from our long winter's "nap," I'm aware of all the work we've done ahead of time to ease our way: all the crop planning, hiring, management-divvying.  Even back in November, when we wrapped newspaper around the biggest cabbages like gifts, we were preparing for this time when we rely on nourishment from last season to kick-start this new one. As we stretch and get ready to grow fresh, live green food, I'm grateful for the storage crops (look in the share for those biggest cabbages!), and thankful for nutritious food to eat in this season's pre-dawn hours. It feels like starting a big day with a good breakfast.

Your Farmer, Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, John, & Sunny)

Making Every Day Count

Making Every Day Count

Just like December, January is all about taking advantage of the weather as it comes. Sometimes, when we saw stretches of 40 degree days coming, we took the box of bolts and headed to the Snyder barn. We're working on building a fieldhouse for hay storage. We bought the pieces in 2014. We began construction back then, and realized the siting was wrong. So we took it down and made a new plan. And then it was time to go farming, so the field house waited. And then it was winter and the ground was frozen, and then it was time for farming again. This year, Dan took an opportunity and got the ground posts in before the ground froze, so on warm winter days this past month we were able to construct the ribs. And next time it warms up, we'll be out there again. Once it's done, we won't have to deal with plastic hay covers anymore; we'll have better quality winter feed for the cows, and smooth operating for feeding the cows.

On the cold days, we collect the mail and do animal chores, and then we come inside by the heater and get our screen-time in. It's time to count things, with spreadsheets and tables and totals and percentages and averages. We counted our vegetable production numbers, and the results show in what's in the cellar now: sweet potatoes - great crop! potatoes - 12,000 lbs below target.  The data shows that our farm struggled with the drought in specific crops, but our total production was still 2.1% higher than our 10-year average.  We kept counting: volunteer hours (330), dollars our water bill for our well exceeded budget ($418), and popsicles we sold in the farm shop (1,499). We're compiling all this data into a comprehensive report which we'll send out in February. Counting takes time, but it gives us a clear picture of where we're coming from, which allows us to plan for next year. So now we have a new cold-weather project!




Your Farmer, Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, John, & Sunny)

Between Last Year and Next Year

December can be a funny transition on the farm. The apprentices' season is over, so we're more often working on our own. Less boisterous, more rested. We're left to our own devices for lunch too, which is admittedly disorienting when we've had the pleasure of eating Karen's lunches all season. We attempt looking back on last year and looking forward to next all mixed in together like trying a new recipe for root vegetable soup.  

We take deep breaths and some days off. We go out for a coffee. We start to button up our loose ends from last year, starting with mulching the strawberries and garlic. The equipment is nestled all snug in the fieldhouses. The cows are in their winter pasture. We mowed the raspberries into their winter buzz cuts. We delight in how neat the farm looks.

And, somehow concurrently, we look forward to next year. "Let's get a a big water reel for irrigation!" Dan did research and then placed the order, continuing to invest in getting water where we need it when we need it. I took my gloves off by the office heater and ordered most of our seeds for next year.

This can feel like spinning, looking forward and backward at once. Luckily, being farmers beholden to weather has its perks, bringing us to the present and structuring our time with degrees and precipitation. We make lists and follow them based on the conditions. Now it's snowing, now it's melting. Now is time to split firewood. Now is time for tea or a nap. Now is time to write my first newsletter. Now is time for a winter share week!

Wishing you a joyful New Year of presence
wherever you are Now,

Your Farmer, Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, John, & Sunny)

And Finally, Some Rest

After a very memorable growing season, we brought the last of our beets and celeriac out of the field on Friday. We sorted the cabbage in the harvest shed, packed the squash and sweet potatoes into the walk-in warmer (used-to-be-cooler), organized the root cellar and called this outdoor season over. It's almost hard to remember all of the drought struggles of this past growing season, but with over 40,000 lbs of beautiful produce in the safety of our winter storage, we are ready to head for a rest and share the remaining bounty of this season with all of you until March.

The apprentice crew began their hibernation mode, following winter pursuits both near (John & Sunny) and far (Rebecca). Abbe continues to work in the office, making sure that checks are deposited and bills are paid. Karen, Zoe, and I are laying the ground work for next season as we clean up the remains of this one. We still need to mulch our strawberries & garlic (to protect them from the likely frost-heaves of winter), and then store all of our machinery under cover, clean out the barnyard at Snyder Farm, and move the cows into their winter lair. But we will get these jobs done in due course, without nearly the hustle and bustle of June.  

And then, eventually we will start to take a tally of all that happened around the farm these past months. Counting pounds of produce. Counting dollars and cents. Counting cows. Counting tons of compost. But first, we will start by counting sheep. As many as possible. And in between we hope to see you in the root cellar.

We hope you enjoy the winter bounty,

Farmer Dan
(for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, John, Sunny, and Rebecca (in Boston!))

Giving Thanks

Admittedly, I still am confused, almost daily, as to what time of year this is. I keep thinking it's earlier or later than it really is and then wake up startled to realize it's almost Thanksgiving and we have to get the rest of these crops out of the ground!  Maybe it's because it was such a long summer. Or maybe because we didn't start harvesting cauliflower until November. Whatever the reason, I remain disoriented (and even more so this past week).

But despite being so unsure of so many things, one thing I now know, is that indeed this growing season is in fact nearing an end. After countless hours of preparation and planning. After hiring our crew, and then welcoming them, orienting them, training them, and working with them. After plowing, bed making, seeding, planting, cultivating, and harvesting. After waiting for rain, and then making it rain. And after bringing in the fruits of our labors during these past three months of fall harvest. It is now truly coming to an end.

And where does this all leave us? What is the story that we will tell ourselves about this season? What are the lasting images and memories that we will keep once the last bucket is emptied and stacked on the harvest shed wall?  We probably won't know for sure for a while, but here's a first draft.....

Certainly, the main theme will be the extreme drought that we endured during the months of June, July, August, and September. Over those 16 weeks, we received a grand total of about 3" of rain. Our normal rainfall is about 14" during those times. Our ability to make it through this "30-year weather event" was largely enabled by the hard work of our crew as well as the important investment we made (in the name of our supporting community) in water resources over the past 30 years.

We know that no matter how many hopes and dreams we may have for our little farm, none would come true without the help of our three apprentices (John, Rebecca, and Sunny), who came to work each day from 6am - 5pm from April 'til Thanksgiving. These folks formed the backbone of the labor necessary to turn this farm from thoughts to 250,000 lbs of delicious, nutritious vegetables. Beyond that core, our Weeder Crew (see week 11), our Harvest Crew (Sydney, Oli, Sam, Morgan, Lukas), our Fall Harvest Crew (JStubbs and volunteers Kate & Abbe), and our long-term staff (Abbe, Ken) make the magic happen with daily and seasonal contributions. Karen, Zoe, and I figure out how to manage this great cacaphony, hopefully putting the resources in the just the right places for them to do the most good. Mostly, we are happy just trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Standing behind all of this day-to-day labor is you (and the you's that have come before). In this, our 30th anniversary year, we were struck just how important this long-standing commitment has been to our work here. When we dug our pond at Snyder Farm in 1997, we borrowed nearly $10,000 to invest in the pond, pump, and pipes to move water. And in 2001, we borrowed an additional $30,000 to dig our well at Hulst Rd and bury the lines to carry that water around our core 8 acres. We did so on a hope and prayer. The hope and prayers that you would pay it back, slowly-but-surely for the next 30 years as investors in our dream - that's you (and the you's before you). Without that support for our vision. Without that investment of your money. Without that funding of infrastructure, when the drought hit this year, and we went to turn on the spigot, there wouldn't have been any water. Come to think of it, there wouldn't have been a spigot, either.

This year, when we went for the spigot, we felt you all behind us. Like we do every year, but especially when we were faced with a big challenge, with a big chunk of labor that we needed to address this challenge. Our labor was made useful, because we had the tools to do our job. Who would want more than a job to do? And who would want more than to have the tools to to the job that they want to do? And for that, we give the deepest thanks of all. For letting us do this work one more year. To do something for all of us. To grow our food. And take care of our land. Just so that we will perhaps be able to do it all again next year.   We will go to bed now. Take a big nap. And when we awake, we hope to find you here again. Ready to help us write this story, one more time.

We hope you have enjoyed the harvest.

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Zoe, John, Rebecca, and Sunny)

Springtime Again

No sooner had we wrapped our heads around the idea that the cold world had finally come, than we were back out there wondering why we had worn long johns (and how could we get them off quickly). Luckily, we are getting used to figuring things out on the fly, so we made hay, again, while the sun shone.

Not literal hay. We are done with that for the season. But this weeks' hay, started by getting the rest of the spuds out of the ground. We can do that in any weather as long as its dry. With 3 big groups helping out (ZooDisc!! HCC Politics of Food!! UMASS Sustainable Ag!!) we brought in over 3000 lbs of spuds into the cellar.

Then Rebecca turned the harrow to the cleared out vegetable fields and prepared the soil so Sunny could bring the grain drill and sow the winter rye on 8 acres of ground ready for a good long rest.  And then we all turned our attention to the lower field. On Monday I finally figured out how to use our new bed former, and where there once were pumpkins, now there were beds for our last crop of the season - next years garlic!  With the temps hovering in the mid 60s, we pretended it was spring again. We got down to our short-sleeves, and dropped and plopped 10,000 garlic cloves into the still-warm earth.

And now, we turn towards home. What's left? Cabbage. Cauliflower. Brussels. Carrots. Beets. Celeriac. Rutabagas. Turnips. Radishes. Kale. Collards. And a few assorted others. 30,000 lbs and we'll be done.  We will be squirreling those away into your homes, and into our cellar, for the next few weeks. And then?  Sleep at last, until we (and the garlic) wake up ready to hit it again next spring.

We hope you enjoy the harvest.

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Zoe, John, Rebecca, and Sunny)