Slowing Down? Not Quite.

Slowing Down? Not Quite.

For the first time in a long time, Monday dawned wet and rainy. It dumped and dumped some more, taking a break for lunch, and then returning in the evening for a final soak cycle. Mission accomplished; water table replenished, sweet peppers wrinkle-free, carrot digger no longer held up by overly-dry soil.

We enjoyed the day off from the constancy of the fall harvest, and used the time to clean up the red onions and transform the fieldhouses from their summer of basil into their winter of cover crops, soil building, and perhaps a few laying hens if we can find them.  When the weather cleared on Tuesday, it was back to the fields for more beautiful sweet potatoes (as well as everything else all at once). With the temperatures moderating, and the leaves starting to sparkle, it looked and felt a lot like fall here for a change; And what can be better than New England Autumn?

Everywhere I go these days, people ask me, "Is the farm slowing down?" they say, expecting me to oblige with a sigh of relief. Ever the incorrigible farmer, I can't quite confirm that report, so I shuffle a bit, look down at my shoes, kick the dirt a bit, and just say, "Well, not really." While there is a different rhythm to the day without so many jobs to do, the actual amount of labor required now on the farm is basically unchanged. It's just all of the same type of labor; Harvesting! My mind quickly goes to the weekly apprentice farm tour, where we counted up all of the crops left in the field. Carrots - 13,000 lbs. Potatoes - 8000 lbs. Cabbage - 11,000 lbs. Before too long we are getting close to 100,000 lbs and, well, it's really just time to stop counting and, well, just start picking. So, no, not slowing down. Just changing up. And a welcome change. Colder nights. Crisper air. And a steady map as to where to turn our attention nearly every minute. When that barn door closes on the day before Thanksgiving, we'll say we are slowing down. For now, it's just straight on til morning.

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

Borrowed Time

Borrowed Time

Last week, we watched the forecast of frost for the weekend carefully as it rose and fell a degree or two. On Friday, we set out the row cover we'd need to protect the peppers and the beans and we made sure the harvested squash and sweet potatoes were tucked into the greenhouse. Then the cold night moved from Saturday to Sunday night, so we waited. Sunday evening, Dan and Ellen were at the ready and covered up the plants so they'd make it through. "Goodbye tomatoes, it's been a good long run with you this year," we thought.

On Monday morning, we proceeded through the harvest as though it had frosted, though it wasn't visibly white out - we dug some roots first andmoved the greens harvest later in the morning so they'd have time to thaw. But by mid-morning we could tell it hadn't quite frosted after all. All those tomatoes we'd mentally prepared to lose overnight? There they were - still ripe on the vine. So we got the buckets and went picking again.  

It had a flavor of saying a heartfelt farewell to someone outside a building, only to find you're walking the same direction. But less "walkward," because they are tomatoes. Often, the tomatoes die in a frost with green ones still on the vines. This year, there are no more green tomatoes left; they've fully fruited. These are tomatoes that have lived a good long life. As the week warmed up, we allcelebrated what still is with another fresh salsa. Then on Friday we harvested the first fall carrots. They're still weedy because no frost has killed the tender galinsoga weeds yet. But when we stood up we saw for the first time that we're already in the midst of the fall leaf show. And we gratefully took some of these last borrowed time tomatoes home to make a soup. We hope you enjoy the harvest.

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

Vitamin "See"

Last Saturday, it took more than 100 helping hands all of 15 minutes to harvest the carving pumpkins into bins. Hardly the blink of an eye! Many we-did-it smiles. Then off everyone went to have a cup of cider or take a wagon ride to the pigs, and Rebecca and I began working to bring the bins to the barn. But - the lift arms on the tractor stopped working. I couldn'tseehow the pumpkins could get to Sunny in the farm shop? Just then Ellen came around the bend on her tractor, towing some wagon-riding shareholders, and a plan appeared. One by one, they "chained" a bin full of pumpkins onto the wagon, and then made a human circle around the pumpkins to keep them from falling off on the way. And off they went! Look at that people power!

Predictably, on Monday, there was a whole new list to see to. Sweet potato harvest loomed - a big project! I thought about getting all the smaller projects done first, and tackling the sweet potatoes once they were done. "Just go see," Dan advised. "Try a bed, figure out if your harvest system works." So we went right for them the next day. Half were grown on beds using plastic mulch and drip irrigation. The weeder crew remembers that day - we had to plant them by hand because the water was so deep that we couldn't even see the pathways. It was wet. wet. wet. They didn't all make it - it's hard out there for a little sweet potato plant on hot black plastic even in the best conditions. The other half, on bare ground, were on drier land, and had a better time of it. So we started our harvest with those. First, by mowing and "beating" the vines. Next, the digger bar goes under, the spuds come up. Then we scrum through the loose earth, put spuds in buckets, then back to the shed to empty them into bags. This week the weather matched the crop -  it was tropically hot out there! We did 1.5 beds,  enough to see we likely have a reasonable harvest out there, despite the early season conditions. Phew! Dan was right. It was a lot easier moving towards the week's cover cropping and other tasks with a clear picture of this next big process. That the yield is out there, that the digger bar goes deep enough, that the way we remove the vines is working. A reminder for me - when there's something big coming up - just start, do enough so you can see the task clearly, not just the looming bigness of it. When Monday comes, we'll be ready to dig again, all systems go, and with a little luck, there will be thousands and thousands of pounds curing in the greenhouse by next weekend.  We hope you enjoy the harvest.

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

All At Once

All At Once

"How do you like to be cheered for?" I asked Will Thornton after lunch.
"It depends what I'm doing," he answered. "If I'm washing dishes, I want it as weird as possible. Make me laugh. If I'm running a long race, words of affirmation. If I'm playing the last point in a big game, just scream!"

Then we embarked on the last winter squash pick up for the crew, people and tractors and wagons. Big wooden bins on the wagons. A crew seven strong - one driver and three pairs of people - three to throw the squash up from the field and three to catch them and fill the bins. In the squash, the people riding the wagon, catching the squash and placing them in the bins, have the biggest picture view. The people catching can see the field, from above, and help direct the throwers to any overlooked squash.  The people catching can see how full the bins are and when it's time to move on to the next wagon.  Most importantly, the people catching can see the "throwers "and the squash that they are throwing. And so an important job of the people catching is to cheer for the throwers. What you want for cheering when you're throwing squash is for the person catching to keep talking so you can know where they are, where their hands are to catch the squash. (The people catching, after all, are on the wagon which is being pulled behind a tractor - moving targets).  All kinds of noises work. From a simple "yeah" to a song about cheese pumpkins, the people catching keep the noises coming, a sound beacon for squash trajectory when there's a lot going on at once.

And there's a lot going on at once, in and out of the squash field. Days and nights are equal lengths. Both at once. This warm spell means the late summer is still with us, even as fall has also arrived. Both at once. Tomatoes and cauliflower and winter squash. Here's what the squash harvest has to say to us in this big "all at once" time - keep talking. We can light each other's way. We hope you enjoy the harvest.

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

Happy-Go-Lucky

Hello again fan-on, windows-open sleeping weather. Oops - hello again pink sunburnt cheeks! Ah, hello again tomatoes - so nice to see you ripening up! Welcome back (briefly) to cold lunches, shorts, swimming holes, and sweaty pits. Days and nights are warm. Lucky for us, with a crop of squash to bring in, that first frost(so far) kept it's distance. So we got busy!

First, the harvests have outgrown their "harvest morning" time slot - it's "harvest day" this time of year. There's beautiful spinach to pick each morning - green gold from a cold early September. There's hours of brassica bounty: "womping" cabbage, filling barrels of kale, hunting through the broccoli rows, and clipping kohlrabi. Then sweet ripe peppers and tomatoes. Luckily, we hired awesome fall harvest help; Will Thornton joins our harvests three days a week and just when full-time farmers might feel fatigue, he's there with contagious positive energy.

On Monday afternoon the apprentices and Dan took a break from bringing in food to host the CRAFT program. They sat on the porch with 30 other apprentices from regional farms and heard from Dan about how we budget, how we record-keep, how we financially plan and account for what happens on the farm.  CRAFT is one of the ways this farm acts on our value of transparency and of mentorship. And Dan gives one great talk. "I can't imagine being that happy-go-lucky in September on a farm. Is he always that positive?" They ask. Lucky for us, yes he is, almost all the time!

We clipped squash when we could, a row here, a row there, between moving cows and setting up the farm shop and packing boxes for Boston. On Friday, we all headed out to the field and brought in the first four full bins. Will Thornton was so excited he couldn't even say words, just squawking with glee. Then we kept clipping, setting the table for a Monday of grinning and tossing. At the end of the day, the question feels more like how could we not be this happy-go-lucky in September? All our work laid out before us. These farmers' electric joy: throwing some squash through the air!

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

Squash Suspense

At the beginning of the week, we checked the winter squash; was it buttery yellow and ready to harvest? But it wasn't quite ripe. Makes sense - the field was too wet to plant on the planting date, so it was seeded a week late. On top of that, the whole season has been running a week behind schedule due to the cold weather. So we weren't surprised. When the squash still wasn't ripe mid-week, we caught a glimpse of the future. Winter squash harvest has a drop dead deadline (for the squash). The frost. Remember the year 50 shareholders harvested the squash with us on a Sunday because a sudden frost was coming? Our predicted first frost date is September 15, but these past weeks we've felt the winter chill in the morning air. There was even a spotty frost on September 1st that seemed to pass just over us; we saw tiny pockets of it but no damage. We can see the thousands and thousands of pounds of delicata and butternut and kabocha in the fields, and we can see the window of time shrinking between when it's ripe, and when the frost comes. That's gonna mean some heavy lifting! And so, the squash is the farm news of the week, though it's still on the horizon.

Here's what we did do this week. The present called us to attention with the urgent and immediate task of harvesting the mountains of food that is ripe - peppers! potatoes! all kinds of brassicas!  Next, we prepared so we're ready when the squash is: we repaired bins and wagons, tools of the squash harvest trade. We started selling winter shares, the final destination of some of this squash! Looking at the impending cascade of squash and realized that once it starts, it'll leave little time for anything else til it's safely in the greenhouse. So we breathed, and we did the things we won't have time to do when we're focused on the squash. We cover cropped, seeding oats and clover to protect finished fields from erosion, and to build nitrogen, minerals and organic matter in the soil. Cover cropping our long term investment in replenishing the healthy soil. After all, it's because of the soil that we are even able to have all this squash in the fields to worry about! And just in time for next week, the first squash is ready and we are ready to pick them.
We hope you enjoy the harvest.

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

Back To School. Get to Work.

With our apprentice crew back from their vacation rotation, and the weeder crew gone back to school we knew this week would have a new look. We didn't know this would include sweatshirts, long johns, and wishing wistfully for a warm bowl of soup for lunch. Some things you can predict. Others you can't.

The unusually cold weather did some things, that's for sure: The tomatoes pretty much stopped ripening. They don't like it below 60F at night (let alone 45F!). The cukes and zukes pretty much went away (typical, but a little quicker than usual!). And the greens sweetened up, growing big and fluffy. We will roll with these punches, as none of them are a knock-out; If the weather warms up (as predicted) those tomatoes will start to flow again...

But despite the chilly surprise, this week was mostly just getting down to business-as-usual; When the school bus rolls around the neighborhood for the first time, it's time to start the fall harvest for sure. After a spring of planting and a summer of tending, it's now officially time to reap what we have sown. And reap we did, starting with our crop of yellow storage onions. Up come the lugs from the cellar, out to the field, scrounge through the weeds to fill the lugs with those golden bulbs. Lugs to the truck, truck to the greenhouse. Lugs to the tables. Do it again. A few times. By the end of the week there were around 4000 lbs safely curing in the greenhouse.

By weeks' end we also had time to get to the spuds.  This event is always exciting as it is shrouded in mystery until you dig a whole row. This crop holds it's secrets tightly. The digger was set up and the tractor was attached. Plunge goes the digger pan. And.....And....out comes the dirt, the weeds, and....the spuds. They look....pretty good. Enough gawking. Get the buckets. Get the crew. Spuds in buckets. Buckets in truck. Truck to barn. It was cold. But we knew where we were. Here we go. Fall harvest on.

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

Spin Me Right Round

What did we do this week? It is, admittedly, a bit of a blur. One childhood piece of advice I remember: to prevent dizziness when you're spinning around fast, lock your eye on the same point each time you go around. In farming, I'm learning that reference point is to get the basics done. In the spring, put seeds in the ground. In summer and fall, get the harvest in. This week: thousands of pounds of tomatoes. And thousands of pounds of melons. Lots of summer to be grateful for. And the first hints of fall - first big broccoli harvest, and lacinato kale is ready too. The harvests now take on an Alice-in-Wonderland theme; after the corn makes us tiny, the broccoli makes giants of us all as we walk over forests of tiny broccoli trees. Sunny finished her summer harvest-manager role on Thursday, a second-year apprenticeship area of focus that for her was characterized by (lots of) yellow legal pads, (lots of) cucumbers, and (lots of) positive communication. And on Friday Ellen took on the role for the week, beginning a fall opportunity for the apprentices to to rotate the harvest management weekly between them.  

In the middle of all the harvesting of full-grown crops we looked down and realized the newly seeded ones needed cultivating, so we snuck that in. On a windless morning we re-skinned the greenhouse, so we have a dry space to put all the onions we'll harvest next week. It looks like new again, especially because Dan and Karen built some very spiffy roll-up sides. Fewer and fewer weeders worked each day as they finished their seasons, and we bid them good-school-years-to-all. Their parting gift: thinning the fall rutabagas and turnips so the roots can grow big and round.  When Rebecca returns from her vacation this week the full-season crew will be back together for the fall; just like we were in the spring, four or five of us, not twenty anymore.  

This is back-to-school moment is a traditional time of transition, and we feel it on the farm too in all of these ways: the harvests, the busy farm shops, the crew's size, the projects both finished and un-finished.When we feel dizzy? Make sure the food gets picked.There! Stability in theconstantmotion of transition. We hope you enjoy the harvest!

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

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)