All Dressed Up And.....

After a hot week, with the weather poised to change in a seasonal direction, we were laser-focused on just two tasks - bringing in the winter squash and pulling some  late-season weeds. We had all the other, usual jobs to do - regular harvesting, distributing shares, tending our cows & pigs, etc. But, the squash will rot if it stays in the field too long and if it gets below 33F at night. And the last, tender crops will be swallowed by weeds, burgeoning from weeks of heat and moisture. So, let's go!! 

Not so fast!!  The weather had other plans. The forecast went from a few sprinkles, to continued wet weather Monday through at Wednesday. And those jobs can't be done in the rain. Time to adjust!  We spent Monday harvesting and weeding spinach in a light drizzle. When the rain really came down around 3pm, we fled to the fieldhouse and stripped the early tomatoes of their last fruits of the season. Tuesday's soggy start pointed us towards removing tomato plants to prep the soil to sow kale for the winter. Then an unexpected break on Tuesday afternoon, let us re-direct a visiting UMASS sustainable ag class to handweed 3/4 of a mile of cutting lettuce and dig the weeks' potatoes just before more rain came back for real.

The rain poured hard Tuesday night, and into a Wednesday rain slog harvest morning. All the puddles were back. Signs of rot. Oh well. Pay no attention. As soon as the storm clouds began to clear, we went to the squash field to start piling. We lined up a field crew for Saturday. We made plans for a community Squash-a-palooza.  We piled again on Friday.  And now.....we are (hopefully) ready for what could be a big day today. We just might have found the window and can bring in our entire crop (~20,000 lbs) out of the wet fields and into the safety of the warm, dry greenhouse. If you have a minute, come on by.....

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

Tale Of Two Seasons

 

The weather forecast was for hot. Very hot. Sounded like summer. So we got ready to sweat again. Filled the ice cube trays. Put on the sleeveless t-shirt. And hit the fields early like it was August. Greens in the early morning. Check. Then onto the kale. But, where's the cukes and zukes? Oh, that's right, it's not summer at all. Onto the celery and leeks. That doesn't seem right. Oh well, too hot to figure it out; Let's just spend the rest of the afternoon hand-weeding the lettuce before it's swamped by the on-coming deluge of grass. Sweat again. Change your shirt. Repeat.

We headed to the winter squash on Tuesday - signs of fall!  The acorn was ready to be clipped, but the rest of the field seemed to need another week for the vines to die-off. In the blistering heat of Wednesday, we binned up 3000 lbs and then it was off to finish hand-weed the celeriac (one of the few crops the weeders never finished in August). Despite the forecast calling for only two days of heat, by Thursday (day 4!) the heat index was back up to 103F, we were being advised to stay indoors and avoid strenuous activity outside. Oh well, nothing to do but keep on, keeping on, just a little slower.  Everyone was cranky; It just seemed too hot, too late. The pepper plants were wilty. Shareholders in the farm shop, seeing potatoes and leeks, wanted to know where there corn & melons were.

Then a big dark cloud formed overhead. The thundercrack was as loud as I've ever heard. Rain dumped buckets everywhere, cooling the whole thing down. By the morning on Friday we were in what seemed to be a whole new world; harvesting seasonally appropriate leeks and celery.  The pepper plants were all perked up and showing loads of little fruit for a hopeful late September harvest. I only wore one t-shirt the entire day.  And the rest of big squash field loom ahead promising the way ahead for next week. We will keep you posted.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

The Winds Of Change

Everything is different. All the time.

After a month of rain & humidity, this week we saw no drops from the sky. The temps soared towards 100F on Tuesday and on Friday the high was in the mid 70s. The peppers and eggplants continued to struggle, but the potatoes & squash started to look like bumpers. The weeder crew went back to school. We went back to work. And so it goes.

On Monday, with impending change on the horizon, we seized upon the warming temps and clearing skies, packed the remaining weeders, harvesters, apprentices, and stray puppies into trucks, and headed up the Deerfield River for our annual "Crew Appreciation Day." An afternoon without toiling. Just floating. In the warmth of the remaining summer. A good reminder of the pleasure of simply being.

Newly fortified, we returned to the work of the season:  harvesting and repairing a water-battered farm. Tuesday saw us safely tuck away over 1600 lbs of red onions into the greenhouse to cure in the warm shade. Then we turned towards the big September project - the winter squash - as the spaghetti was looking ready. Sure enough, we filled lug after lug until over 2600 lbs found it's way to a place in the now-burgeoning greenhouse. And after picking the final ear of sweet corn on Wednesday am, (and passing the kids on the corner waiting for the school bus), we knew it was time to dip our big toe into the potato field.  With potatoes, you really never know - but what a splash it was....over 1200 lbs in 350'  (....aka: "a lot").

Meanwhile we spent whatever spare minutes we had cultivating (airing out) the still crusty soil - pancaked flat after a month of torrential rain. We spread fertilizer in hungry corners, and a few last weeders sweated it out to hoe the last acre of overly-damp broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. By the time it was all done on Friday, the barn smelled like a potatoes, we were still a little low on greens and peppers, but continue to be surrounded by tomatoes. Everything is different. All of the time.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

The First Bulk Harvest

The First Bulk Harvest
Our most important priority this week, besides the must-do's of our daily harvesting, running the farm shop, packing the Boston share, and the other regularly scheduled programming ... was to harvest the yellow storage onions!
This wet weather has made growing storage onions a funny business. Onions love rain; they grew big and beautiful with each downpour. But, especially for these storage onions that we want to last til March, there are some potential pitfalls. In order to store, onions need to develop a dried-up seal between the "green" top and the bulb below. This seal stops pathogens from getting in. Harvest the onions too early, and they haven't had an opportunity to develop the seal. Leave them in the ground with too much water, and the seal stays open, and eventually mush goes the onion. How do you give the onion a real, long, shot to develop for storage, while also recognizing when to harvest and avoid more mush? Balancing practical possibility (can't harvest onions with thousands of cantaloupes all ripe at once), and this seal-development dilemma, this was the week.  

Monday there was no time. Our bumper tomato harvest ate the afternoon whole, yum!  So Tuesday we loaded up our lugs and headed out. And after a few adjustments (turns out it's really important to wear pants for this job), we reached cruising altitude. Bed after bed went into black lugs. We felt, for the first time this season, that sweet "bulk harvest" spaciousness of conversation. All the topics, all the talks. (The best part!) On Wednesday, we squeezed most of a bed in after our Boston harvest, and on Thursday we finished it up. With all the yellow onions in the greenhouse, drying out best they can under our nice new shade-cloth, we breath deep breath (the other bets part!) And then we turned towards the rest of the list: Friday, a harvest and time to get ready to welcome Dan and Karen back from their (rare and well deserved) vacation, glad they'll come home to one bulk project checked off the list, and no rain in the short-term forcast.

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Ben, Jake and Alex)

Air Farmers

 

We made it through the weekend, despite the forecast for lots of rain, without getting too much. It was cloudy and cool. But it never really poured. Same with Monday; it was soggy, and we needed to postpone our annual Deerfield River crew-appreciation-day float, but not so much water from the sky. Just when we thought maybe we'd squeak past, the sky opened up two separate times, dropping about 3" of rain on an already-wet farm. Oh well. Since then, we've just been trying to farm some air.

See, that's the thing about water; it takes up all of the air spaces in the soil. And plants need to breath. And if they can't breath, they turn yellow and rot. We've seen a lot of that in the usual very wet spots, like in (what was the) late zucchini planting or in the kohlrabi planting in the middle field. So, we wait 'til it dries out, and then bring some tools into the field, to basically rip channels for air to get into the soil to feed our plants some much needed-air.

We also found a new challenge this week - a new pest (for us) on the peppers. Apparently there's a (yucky) fly. The fly drills into the peppers. Then lays eggs. Then the eggs hatch into maggots. Which are inside the pepper. And then, well, the rest is history. So on Tuesday in the rain, the crew pulled bucket after bucket of rotten peppers from the field.  The good news? There are no more of these nasty flies being born this season. The bad news? We have no idea how many peppers have flies in them. We will continue to monitor and hope for the best.

With all of that going on, we used our two sunny days on Wednesday and Thursday and filled them with melon harvesting and cultivating (air farming). We saw the lettuce and greens make a tentative, sweet comeback. The field tomatoes started ripening nearly a (literal) ton of beautiful fruit. The barn was filled with melons. Then on Friday afternoon it poured again.  Nothing else to do; We keep moving forwards.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

On The Edge

Once again the forecast had a boom/bust feel to it; two days of hot sun, two days of rain, two days of sun. Luckily this week we had two big jobs that needed some rain (planting our last big fall crop) and some not rain (harvesting melons). Let's go!

Monday dawned foggy as the thick morning dew gave hints of the big heat to come. We harvested as usual in the morning, then brought in our first big cantaloupe harvest in the afternoon. On Tuesday with one crew heading back to finish the harvest, another crew was setup to plant the last acre of fall kale, collards, escarole, and broccoli. This job requires 5 people, so with a big morning crew, we went for it even though the forecast was for hot and sunny (with a 50% chance of thunderstorms for the afternoon). With the plants in the ground looking a little wilty, we took to the field in the afternoon with all of our cultivation tractors, to not only kill some weeds & add air to our soil, but also provoke some rain (Murphy's Law). No rain at 5pm. All fields cultivated. Plants looking thirsty......Then, at 640......an absolute deluge, ruining most of the weeding, but setting the fall kale on a sturdy path forwards.

From there, it has gone sun/rain/sun/rain all the way until Friday, where we now find ourselves with a barn full of melons, and wet fields and soggy plants everywhere. The plants and farmers are showing signs of too much moisture; The ripening peppers have brown splotches on them. The early summer greens are struggling (see below). The second cucumber patch is waterlogged not producing well. The tomatoes seem balanced precariously on the edge of past disasters. The trucks get stuck at the bottom of the corn field at 6am. It's time for mental toughness - especially with the forecast of rain, clouds, and more drizzle for days. Thing is, with rain, is there's just nothing we can do about it. We can only change our attitude, our thinking; Not get caught in the impending doom lurking in our minds. Stay in the moment; The loads of melons and corn that are keeping us good company. The fall crops growing in the ground.  A community supporting us as we move through all of this not-knowing. We will keep you posted.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

Make Dry While The Sun Shines

It rained 'til the end of last Saturday. Then the sun came out on Sunday. And the drying began; The fields, the socks, the ruts, the tomato leaves, and some of the thoughts of doom. The forecast called for a few clear days and then a return to the tropical rain forest we now call home. Our next move was obvious: Cram a week of "dry" farm work into two days. No prob. We got this.

With the ground still a little wet for cultivating, we moved toward some "bulk harvesting" that was calling out for us. The sweet onions were ready (and showing first signs of distress from excess moisture). Sweet onions want to be harvested when its dry and then brought to the cooler (where they can store for up to 3 weeks). Jaden & Sydney cleaned the lugs on Monday morning and in the afternoon we scooped up 1600 lbs of beautiful white bulbs in the sunny Monday afternoon. With that crop safely tucked away, we turned towards putting the last string up on the tomato trellis (remember not to touch the plants when they are wet).

On Tuesday morning we sent one crew to finish yesterdays' daily harvest, and had a second crew get on the tractors to begin cultivating. Karen "basket weeded" the carrots, beets, and greens. And I "Lillistoned" and fertilized the leeks, celery, celeriac, and Brussels' sprouts. In the afternoon, Zoe and Jake "Hakked" all of the fall brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc). Alexandra "cubbed" and fertilized the beans in the upper field, while Ellen "swept" the lettuce and herbs. Then it was all hands on deck to finish the tomato trellising, while I snuck in a seeding of fall spinach and lettuce.  Then, right on cue, it was back to the jungle; Hot and humid, with thunderstorms at various times each day.  The plants are holding up pretty well. And we were happy to take what we could get.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

Water

Last weeks' newsletter was a setup. The kind of balance we experienced last week, is rarely maintained for more than a fleeting moment - if at all. I figured it would break one way or the other and the consolation prize would be that this weeks' news would be much easier to write.   Surely as day follows night, and rain follows thunder, the earth moves forward, whichever way she wants, but usually from one extreme to another. And so it was this week; The balance of water/no-water, went unequivocally to water.

The skies cleared briefly over the weekend, and then it was back to rain, followed by showers, chance of thunder, outright downpour, with some intermittent drizzles. We saw the sun peak out at times, usually to spike the humidity enough to trigger another round of thunder and lightening. The socks stayed wet. And were changed. And got wet again. So too the shirts, the hands, the hats, and eventually our minds went soggy as well.

Here's an old farmers saying: "a drought is better than a flood, because at least in a drought you can go out and pretend you are doing something." Or "It's easier to put water on than to take it off." No irrigation pipes necessary. Also no cultivation tractors possible. Nor tomato trellising. Handweeders slogged through mud and pulled a lot of weeds (many of which then re-rooted in the pathways). Harvesters slogged through the rain, getting trucks stuck, then pushing them out to get the buckets of cukes back to the shed.

There were some stresses to the crops; Much of the lettuce we tried to protect from the deer with the row cover, rotted under the weight of wet fabric. But, most of our big crops are currently holding up okay.  Of course, we now need it to stop raining for a while. We need the leaves to dry, so that the diseases don't develop or spread. We need the soil to dry so we can cultivate the late crops. We need the sun to shine so the tomatoes and peppers and melons ripen sweetly. Nothing to do but hope at this point. Our plants and roads and shirts are are somewhat dampened, but not our spirits, yet. We'll keep you posted!

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

Water and No-Water


This time of year, we really only need two things. Water and no-water. Ok, maybe a few more things (heat, time, luck....). But really just the first two. If it rains and then it stops raining, we are really happy. And so, it was all smiles this week.  

Monday dawned bright and sunny, giving us a chance to get the harvest done in good time. With the forecast for big rain the next day, we spent the afternoon trellising tomatoes (needs to be dry so we don't spread diseases) and cultivating (needs to be dry to kill some weeds).  The next day, we snuck our last planting of lettuce into the ground just as the sky opened and a veritable deluge ensued. The local weather stations (and our trusty 5 gal buckets) showed about 4 inches (a.k.a -"a lot"). After verifying that all of our newly-germinating carrots and beets did not wash away, we took in the good news that our big crops (sweet potatoes, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, winter squash, etc) soaked it all up and were currently drunk on rapid plant growth.

Then, on cue, the rain stopped. With the weather turned "no-water" for the rest of the week, we returned to the big job of the week - the garlic harvest. After starting on Saturday with a great crew of community volunteers, we continued, whenever our daily harvest was done and we had more than three people available.  The digger bar now sunk easily into the soft soil, and the bulbs could be pulled and brought up to the loft in the barn (needs to be dry for storage). On Friday afternoon we brought the last barrels upstairs. Then cultivated a few more rows of pummeled carrots.  And crawled off to bed knowing that our big smelly beautiful crop was safe from the next water forecast for Saturday night.  It doesn't always go like this, but when it does, when we can calmly live in the razors' edge between water and no-water, we are simply thankful.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

Renovate


renovate: verb: to restore to a former or better state:
to restore to life, vigor, or activity.

It's easy to get excited at the beginning; The thrill of the chase, the energy of starting something new, of learning, of being recognized. Then things happen. Some of them good; The seeds are planted according to the plan. The rains come at opportune times. Some of them not-so-good; The crows eat some of the winter squash seeds as they are germinating. The calf gets into our neighbors yard at 7:08 am during breakfast. Eventually, the novelty of the whole thing wears off. It can feel to me that all that is left is labor. The will to meet the challenges has to come from within as there is little new to inspire.

Just when the harvest picks up in mid-July, the early-season magic tends to wear off. The rows of cukes and zukes stretch on to the horizon as our bodies are tired from an excited spring of promise and opportunity.  So too, it is for the crops; the early spring crops have come and gone. The strawberries are a fading memory.  The early sweet heads of lettuce. The spinach. Gone so soon. This can be the most challenging time of year, especially if we want there to be a big fall harvest. This is when the crew usually begins it's vacation rotation - taking some time off to refresh and renew, while the rest of us hold down the fort until they return.

So too for the plants. In mid-July it's time to renovate the 1st-year strawberries. Ben brings out the flail mower and chops the leaves down to 1" above the crowns. Then Ellen brings the rotovator, which churns the runners up into the soil, leaving the mother plants to gain strength before sending more runners out for next years berries. The 2nd-year strawberries are tilled into the earth, to become fall greens. The last fields are harrowed to become ready for big fall plantings of cabbage and broccoli in late July.  And on and on it goes. Just when the tank starts to feel empty, we start planning for the future, turn the old under, find a little something down deep, and push on.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

Turn Up The Heat

It's raining now. And the feeling of sweet relief is in the air. The moisture, from the sky, is promising to replace the moisture that has blanketed every pore of our beings for the past 7 days. The weather forecast of a low of 50F tonight promises to give us back a few winks of sleep, lost to the tossing and turning of heavy air.

On Saturday, the temps soared (as predicted) to the mid-90s. And that's where they stayed through Thursday, only taking a break to get up towards 100F on Sunday and Tuesday. While we have been changing our shirts as quickly as our minds, pouring water over our heads, and sometimes running through the soil after trellising tomatoes (since we left our shoes at the far end, and it is starting to feel like hot coals), all of the plants around us have been thriving and exploding. We have spent our week keeping from being deluged - by over-producing plants, both the ones we want and the one's we don't.

The week of July 4th brings certain yearly milestones. The first carrots are ready to be dug. The winter squash needs to be hoed. Time to seed the fall carrots.  And so we set to it; The carrots were dug, along with the squash to be picked, the scallions to be bunched, and the cabbage to be womped. The biceps on the weeder crew are sore after 3 acres of hoeing, but our plants returned the favor, by exploding out into the newly freed space. They then turned their attention the nearly-engulfed sweet peppers, which now stand tall with the promise of huge August harvests. Then Jake prepped the beds, and I sowed several miles of fall carrots and beets. And now this rain is settling them in for (hopefully) a quick germination next week.

We are having a little trouble completely enjoying the sweet relief of this thunderstorm because of the weight of the huge Friday harvest and the impending avalanche of cucumbers on the immediate horizon. Alas. Nothing a nap won't cure. And some iced coffee. And the realization that is just where we we hoping to be.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

The Sound of Cells Dividing

 

After two timely rain storms (June 18 & 24) each dropped a solid inch of rain on our thirsty crops, the character of this season completely changed. From near-drought conditions, complete with irrigation pipes being moved daily, we have gone nearly 180* right through a period of "adequate moisture," towards "deluge" after the last storm hit Thursday.

Luckily the forecast is dry the next week. And hot. This can only mean one thing; Happy plants (I will forget about the sweating farmers for a minute). Plants really only need a few things to grow. They need water. They need heat. And they need food - sunlight and soil nutrients.

So, now, our job is completely clear at this point; The water has been provided. The heat is now here in abundance. Sunlight? check. Soil nutrients? Compost spread in April. All we need to do is keep those plants from being out-competed by all of the other plants also enjoying these prime conditions; The dreaded weeds. So, that's what we do now - pull weeds, hack weeds, hoe weeds, bury weeds, cut weeds, weed weeds, and on an on, until these plants are established.

This week, the race is on! We are done planning. We are done preparing the soil. We are mostly done planting. Now it's time to put the nose to the grindstone and keep our plants in front of this impending wave that wants to bury them and all of our dreams with it. When you have over 10 million plants in the ground. And then it rains 3" in 14 days. And then the temps rise to the 90s. Do you know what that sound is? That's the sound of cells dividing!  And also, if you listen closely, the sound of farmers sweating. And then snoring.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

Calm After The Storm

Calm After The Storm

By the beginning of this week, we were working with a very dry farm. Kickin' up dust as we drove around. Three weeks of no rain, and it was time to call it - the parsnips had officially not germinated. They can be tricky, as they need consistent moisture over an extended period of time to coax them to sprout. We thought about how good the dry weather was for strawberries, and thanked the dust and sunshine for the boom crop last week. Then, we set about our irrigation schedule - back in the saddle after a year off. In 2016 we irrigated the farm through the biggest drought in many yaers. Last year was wet enough that we didn't turn on overhead irrigation sprinklers once. And as the generally unpredictable New England summer combines with weather's increasing propensity toward extremities in the current climate crisis, we wonder often - where's the next drink for these crops coming from? Sprinklers or a storm?

So by Monday we'd gotten pipes out in various fields and started the rotation, each crop took it's place in line. We have a few techniques. Drip irrigation runs under our beds covered with plastic mulch, and runs for several hours, slowly slowly leeching water right into the root zone. Our overhead sprinklers spin on a line of metal pipes carrying water up the field. And then we take our turn carrying, and move them to the next spot. And now, we have a new technique: the water reel. Really, it's a reel like a fishing rod, but for a 1000' tube with one big sprinkler on the end. It that holds water at high pressure, and uses that pressure to roll itself back up, moving the sprinkler along the field over many hours. We invested in it after the 2016 drought, and it sat in storage last year. Now it's tried and tested: a totally tubular new technique that can save us lots of time in the right applications. And we had many applications - all those crops on the list: tender lettuces, scallions and squash and carrots and all their friends and relations were thirsty. And we were working our way through it, in 95 degrees! Despite prediction for a possible shower, we got the next line set up, ready to water the onions on Tuesday morning. Always safer to bet on the sprinkler.

After work on Monday, we sat in the shade when we got the same warning you all did: tornado warning, South Amherst. And we buttoned down the hatches, taking it especially seriously after the tornado touchdown that ripped through Conway last summer.

The rain came on suddenly,  in sheets, more like a dam broke than someone turned on a shower. I've seen estimates that we got 1.8 inches in that one storm. There was nothing to do but hope we remembered to close all the truck windows, take a deep breath, and listen to the storm's power as it moved through, overhead but also all around us. Was this just what the doctor ordered, or a careful-what-you-wish-for story?

In the morning, we took stock. We've heard there was some rough weather in nearby areas, but for us - this one passed with no plot-twists. The crops looked a bit battered around, but soon  enough they looked perkier for not having to wait in that long line for water anymore. Farmers too: after the storm this week has carried a new ease. Cool dirt offered up beautiful vegetables to the harvest crew. Every crop doubled in size. Dan headed out to re-seed those parsnips. Another chance! Every day we kind of expected it to dry out and were surprised again by the amount of moisture still in the soil. More explosive growth. More to harvest every time. That's the word for this end of June. More is the moral. More weeders at work now that school's out for summer. And perfect timing, because there's more to weed too! More rain than we thought possible in such a short storm. More clarity about what we can and can't control. More gratitude.

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Ben, Jake and Alexandra)

Off The Ground Again

When I set about dreaming about the season to come, sometime in the dead of winter, after I have shaken off some of the sleep from the last season's labors, I usually keep it simple; A nice sowing of carrots. With no weeds. Plenty of water. And a repaired digger bar to get them out of the ground smoothly and quickly. Then it gets embellished from there, with all types of remembrances and hopes for the future.

Then March comes and the greenhouse is planted. Then April and the ground warms and the plow turns the earth. Plants are planted. The crew is trained. The seeds are sown. Then the weeds grow and the pests come. And we meet them with ideas and strategies. Sometimes the rains stop in early June and we need to start irrigating. And before too long the heat comes, the plants grow, and it's time to start harvesting. We send out the word that the crops are ready and 1000 people come to the farm looking hungry for lettuce. Then we pack up 100 boxes and take them to our Boston shareholders. And, just like that, we have a farm again.

When the season begins it frequently seems like getting to this point, this day, is a near impossibility. People to hire and train. Machines to get started and keep running. Cows and calves to separate. Supplies to inventory and order. And on an on and on. But before I know it, every single time (and now for the 24th time), we do get to this place; The place where everything is happening. All at the same time. Tilling the earth. Sowing seeds. Planting plants. Outsmarting pests. Watering thirsty cells. Harvesting crops. Distributing food for your kitchens. 

This week, in the day-to-day, the farm is getting dry. The carrots need water. The strawberries are sweet and abundant.  But mostly, I'm thinking; We have made it again, and we are so glad to have seen you, heard from you, and gotten this hulking dirigible off the ground one more time. Let's Go!!

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

"Last Time I Saw You, You Were THIIIIS Big"

When we plant a baby squash plant, we often talk about what we're going to harvest. "Future Zucchini!" we say to ourselves, as we tuck it in the ground. But then, when we come back the next day to irrigate  it, we find still that baby plant sitting there - a few small limpish leaves still settling uncertainly into the soil. "You are just a little plant, same as yesterday, same as tomorrow." Needless to say, there's no immediate gratification in farming.

But what there is in farming - always other things to do! So once the squash are in the ground we turn our attention to the next planting, the next project. And then? The day comes (this week) when we notice the protective row cover fabric is straining to contain the squash plants. We pull it off and out they spill - already producing their first tiny zucchinis below the bright orange flowers. It won't be long now.

Rapid growth. It's all happening. I can't see a plant grow standing and watching it, and a part of my brain concludes that means things aren't changing. "Last time I saw you, you were thiiiiiiis big," the adult says to the child they haven't seen in awhile. And so it is with me and the farm this time of year.

"Duh," thinks the child, "of course I'm growing." Of course things are growing. Of course the lettuce is salad-bowl sized, the kale is bumping, the spinach is fluffy and dark. The radishes and turnips aren't just leaves anymore - their leaves are only tassels on vegetables growing like balloons under the ground, rotund and packed with flavor. Next week's harvest is already coming on fast. We didn't have a single frost in all of May, nothing to stall out that steady change.

Of course the apprentices are now a  capable crew cruising through almost all the farm tasks all at once, in this high-season push. Ellen is managing all the transplanting with skill and an increasing sense of ease, Ben has spread multiple tons of compost, and Jake has seeded acres of cover crops which have grown into higher-than-thigh forage and soil fertility. Alexandra has killed countless thread-stage weedlets that would otherwise be overtaking our crops. Abbe has entered all 500 shares. Karen has fenced all the pastures, and some new ones too, so the cows can move as the grass grows. Leila has developed a first grade curriculum, so now it's not just every kindergartner but every ARPS first grader that comes to the farm on a field trip.

My new (to me) favorite science fiction writer, Octavia Butler says "Everything you touch, you change. Everything you change changes you. The only lasting truth is change."

One thing I admire about Dan is his ability to calculate this constant change into his perception of reality. "Help me figure out how many strawberries to offer each share," I ask. Yes, today it takes 50 feet to pick a pint of strawberries. But at the rate strawberries can be expected to ripen, that will mean by Saturday there's enough for some for everyone and the bulk PYO season isn't far ahead. Dan sees the future strawberries. Sure, the future is always uncertain - a turn in the weather could shorten the season, but with his help, we can include that in our calculations. That rate calculation is experience and expertise, and also a mindset: adaptable, open, un-attached to the way things are at this very moment, informed by the past and awake to the future.

Every time I experience that surprise - that "oh, I forgot to account for you, inevitable change," yields a sweet heightened awareness: things will keep changing. That's what we're all here to experience together. Here we go: Lettuce and spinach will turn into summer squash and cucumbers will turn into eggplants and tomatoes will turn into potatoes and winter squash. Ellen will turn her attention to honing her harvest management skills. Jake and Ben will soon learn many many shareholder's names and faces, and master the farm shop hustle. I will keep learning how to expect and welcome change, as I continue to be in awe of all this transformation. This next wave of change is one that brings so much life and exhuberance to our farm: you are coming! Or we're sending you your box! Either way - the energy of the beginning of the distribution season is palpable: thank you for joining us on this wild, ever-changing ride! We like to call it "reality." Welcome (or welcome back!) to your farm, we couldn't do it without you!

Your Farmer,
Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Alexandra, Jake and Ben)

 

Growing Up!

This is the farm's annual coming of age story. I could tell it to you by crop what's planted: onions, cabbages, fennel, radicchio, arugula, turnips, lettuce, scallions, broccoli, kale, collards, komatsuna, peas, bok choy, radishes, summer squash, parsley, basil, early tomatoes, potatoes ... the list would get longer by the time I finish the typing! This is the season of coloring in the field plans we made with actual plants in the actual dirt. Each time we plant a field, we turn another page of the plan into reality.

Here's how it happens. Start with a ready bed, and all the prep it took to get there. Ben's been through spreading compost to feed the soil. Then, depending on the crop, Jake and Dan put seeds into the ground, or Ellen leads a whole crew with plants from the greenhouse and tucks them in. Either way: if you notice it's cloudy, or if it's recently rained, or even if you notice a forecast rain later in the day, you can also know very likely what we're doing: planting!

And what are we doing when it's sunny? Well, we're taking care of all those plants that we've already planted. First tiny weeds - our cue for cultivation! Alexandra starts us off with the rolling basket weeder and on other crops Jake and I move around on the Hak weeder. Planting is also our cue to set up irrigation, so we can bring the rain when it doesn't come often enough. And so we go - plant it, water it, tend it, repeat! Until the whole plan is not just on the computer but on the field, written in green all around us.

We've always loved to take photos of this process - how the fields go from last year's cover crops to a whole new layout with trellis towers and every crop rotated to a brand new home. How the apprentices are learning their tractors, tasks, and management areas. Some shots of the amazing volunteers we've been so lucky to have this spring. Beyond our newsletter, which will be weekly as usual once the season starts, the best way to keep in touch is to "follow" us on Instagram (@brookfieldfarm). It can bring a little more farm into your day, and provides another opportunity to stay connected, especially because it's an easy way for you to share your photos of the farm with us too! 
 

Okay okay, get your noses out of the dirt and out of your cell phones for a second and look around. What is all this planting and plant care moving us towards? What's the next step that will soon be upon us?  The cutting lettuce is looking fluffy. The spinach is struggling in it's usual ways but we expect to have some despite it all. The radishes and turnips are growing round underground. White strawberry flowers bloom in the strawberry patch. We're in the countdown to eating some food from this earth.

Looking at the fields right now, our best guess is that the Farm Shop will open on Saturday June 9, beginning our local distribution. Our first distribution in Boston is looking like June 14, but we will keep you updated. You've been through it too so you're probably not surprised: remember how winter was the guest that lingered, a little reluctant to get out the door, that seemed to always have one more thing to say? And now we're in the middle of a spring that just will not be rushed along. So, the message is: put those dates on your calendars and also stay tuned for updates!

We are so excited to harvest vegetables, and to see you all again at the farm so soon. Karen and I were just walking around the farm shop yesterday, thinking about tweaks to improve it and how joyful it is when it's full of shareholders. There's always a part of the plan left blank until you get here - where are the people we envision walking around these fields, playing in this sandbox, parking in this big lot?  You're welcome to come anytime of course, but we'll keep the full vision  of this bustling farm's community energy in our mind's eye til June 9 (probably) when we'll kick it all off together!

Your Farmer,
Zoe (for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Alexandra, Ben, and Jake)

 

Spring Has Sprung!!

It hasn't always felt like it, but truly spring is here. It's a cold one so far, but the signs of the season are definitely here (even if we are shivering a little too hard to enjoy noticing them at times). 

Our apprentice crew arrived on April 1 and has jumped right in! We have three new, eager crew members this year (Alexandra, Jake, and Ben) who have joined our seasoned veteran (Ellen) and are hard at work all around the farm. Ellen has been getting all of our fields plowed, Jake has been making our planting beds, Ben has been spreading the fertilizer, and Alexandra has been sowing thousands of seeds in the greenhouse for spring planting later in the spring.  In addition, there's plenty of work for all of us tending our perennial crops (blueberries, strawberries, etc), starting construction projects, and doing all of the other work that goes into getting this circus up and running again.

Zoe, Karen, and I, have been mostly occupied with making plans and then keeping our new crew busy with many tasks that are mostly new for all of them. There's a lot of learning around the farm in the early season, as people need to operate tractors, use tools, and figure out how to operate the many systems that we use to take our food on the journey from seed to harvest to your kitchen! Behind the scenes, Abbe continues to do all of our administrative work each week and Ken has returned to the workshop where he began getting the winter out of our trucks and tractors so they could get back to the fields.

We have the usual plans for this upcoming season: to grow 30 acres of vegetables and feed 700 families using sustainable techniques which leave our soil as good (or better) than we found it. And to use this work to train our apprentices in how to manage these techniques and develop their own. In addition, we have a few special projects in mind that we are hoping to get done - upgrading & maintaining our fieldhouses, purchasing a new root digger and root washer, and re-configuring many of our pasture fences to maximize our cows grazing here and at the Snyder Farm down the road.  So, we have plenty to do, and are thankful for the people to help get this work done.

The question on everyone's mind right now, is whether the unusually cold spring will have any effect on our growing season. While we are sure it will, we never can be sure just how.  Certainly things are behind where they were last year at this time, but anything can happen (and it usually does). In other words, welcome to being a CSA shareholder - Where your food is actually the result of a living, breathing farm, being worked by living, breathing people. We are excited for the opportunity to connect you to this life-affirming process and hope that you will enjoy being a part of it as much as we do.

We will be in touch with you periodically via email to keep you up-to-date with what's happening here at the farm (and any related events that might be of interest). We have also updated our calendar on our website so you can check out our plans for the coming season. And, if you are so inclined, you can also stay in touch by "liking" us on Facebook, and following us Instagram and Twitter where we post pictures of current activities around the farm. If you are a new shareholder, you will receive a Shareholder Handbook at the beginning of May to let you know what to expect for the coming season.  We also encourage you to come and help out anytime on the farm - just send us an email and we'll tell you how to plug in.  If you have any questions or concerns, in the meantime, feel free to reach out to us via email or phone.

We are looking forward to a great season to come and are glad you are joining us!!

Your Farmer,
Dan (for Karen, Zoe, Abbe, Ellen, Alexandra, Ben, and Jake)

In like a chameleon, out like a.....

Who really knows what to think anymore. Since last week, we have seen 4" of snow, 72F and sunny, and a cold 23F morning with frosty twigs. What's a farmer to do? Go the office and plan for the coming season!

We spent most of February wrapping up last year and getting ready to spring into the next. I spent most of my time writing the year-end newsletter; look for yours in the mail in a week or so (or go to our website - http://www.brookfieldfarm.org/annual-newsletters/ - and check out the color version!). Zoe took a well-earned vacation, and upon returning, set about laying out this years' field plans and hatching plans for keeping share sales strong. Karen started making plans for all of the great items available from our local partners in our Farm Shop as well as lunch program for the farm crew. And Abbe finished the 2017 financials and continued to process the new shares, the payments, and all of the other paper and bits that need to be dealt with to keep this cacaphony going year after year.

All the while the weather did what the weather does - anything it wants. When it got warmer, we went outside and got the cows fence re-set and the fieldhouse disaster cleaned up. When it got colder, we plowed and shoveled the snow and went to the office to click. And slowly, but surely, started to realize, that oh so soon we will be putting little tiny seeds in little tiny pots and starting the train once again.  Its so close, we can almost taste it.

We hope you have enjoyed the winter bounty,

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

At The Root

Have you started to notice the days getting longer? When we ended the work day yesterday at 5 pm, Karen looked outside and said "Well since it is undeniably light out, I can go take the laundry in!" Welcome February. Time to get busy, time to fit all the things back in along all the edges, time to stretch into the lengthening days. Time to get excited. Is it true that we have only six or seven weeks until we start the greenhouse? Chopping up an onion, I start itching to feel again the odd shape of a tiny onion seed dropping out from between my fingers, over and over and over again. 

What's happening over and over this month is freezing and thawing. The pipes froze and unfroze and so did the parking lot. Early in the month, blustering wind ripped the "skin" off of our new hay house. Goodbye, protection for the cow's feed! Time to fit a tarp over it, clamber over the bales and weigh it down tightly on each side, and do it over again when it inevitably blows off. Back to the old way, try again next year at a "better" solution. 

After the hay house skin ripped, the deep freeze froze the cow's "frost free" water line. (Say that ten times fast). We tried all our tricks - (hint: boiling water and blankets), and when our tricks didn't work, we realized just how far from the source the frozen blockage must be. We decided to haul them water the old-fashioned way. Warm up a hose, fill up a tank, hope the cows drink their fill before it freezes again! What this means for us: lots of de-frosting all the pieces of the watering system in all the ways we know how (point a multi-fuel heater at it, put it in the bathroom overnight, hang it a certain way where the water drains and doesn't freeze in the hose ...) As always, we're watchers of the weather. The cows, for their part, remain their deeply grounded cow-energy selves. Slow. Moo-y when they want more hay. Happy to stand close to each other when it's cold. Curious to lick us with their rough tongues while we fill their water tank. 

That's January. When we can't get all the way down to the root of the problem, we find another way around, like a carrot does when it hits a hard spot in it's targeted path through the soil. We take that same old sweet potato soup and add some exciting toppings for intrigue and flair. And in February, we'll gather our energy to spring up farmin' full steam.
We hope you enjoy the winter bounty,

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

Deep Chill


Ski tracks out the back trails. Boot tracks through the backyard. It's the season of tracking and we're hard at work: counting vegetables grown and vegetables distributed, members and renewal rates, equipment and supplies. How did this year go? It feels like it was a bountiful fall for leeks, for carrots. We know that in our memories of the work days and in our guts as we look in the root cellar. But when we start counting, our memories get confirmed and also more refined by data. How did it compare to last year? To the last ten? We enter the totals, review the surveys and clack on our keyboards, snuggled up inside in our sweaters.

Outside, snow has settled on the fields. Ice coats the accessible garden, forms overnight on our windshields, and develops in moments on our eyelashes outside. Just before the single digits arrived we sent the cabbage and onions down to the cellar. Our low-tech (but usually effective) system of draping and un-draping blankets and tarps wouldn't keep them from freezing in the harvest shed anymore. Just in time. Some things didn't go so smoothly: a pipe broke in the bathroom. Water on the floor was ice a few minutes later! But Dan was on it, shutting off the rushing water and planning the fix.  Less of a crisis, more of a "doh!" moment: a small cow kept heading out on a hunt for grass, a mysterious escape, as the pasture fence was "hot" and intact (... only after the third time I found the door they'd pushed open in back of the barn). Certainly enough going on to keep things exciting.

And down in the cellar there's a feeling of fullness - crops all piled in to make space for those "upstairs" vegetables. The new string lights add to the festive-factor. Come on down, breathe in the sharp, cold air! Take your vegetables home in brimming bags. Put some soup on the stove, stretch your cold muscles  in a cozy spot. Breathe out - all warm and safe.

We hope you enjoy the winter bounty,

Farmer Zoe
(for Dan, Karen, Abbe, Sunny, Rebecca (and Ellen in Denver!))