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!))

New Beginning

New Beginning

After a very memorable growing season, we brought the bulk leeks in on Friday - the last crop in the field. We sorted the cabbage in the harvest shed, packed the squash and sweet potatoes into the walk-in warmer (used-to-be-cooler), organized the root cellar and called this outdoor season over. With over 40,000 lbs of beautiful produce in the safety of our winter storage, we are ready to head for a rest and share the remaining bounty of this season with all of you until March.

Sunny, Rebecca and Ellen finished their apprenticeship on Saturday at noon - they are ready for hibernation mode. One of the last things they did was put straw mulch on all of the strawberries to protect them through the winter. Doing that job reminded them of the first days they worked this season, of getting to know each other while raking straw off the strawberries, uncovering them for springtime. It seems like so long ago and also not long ago at all. Ellen's headed to Colorado for the winter but coming back for a second year apprenticeship (hurray!). Sunny and Rebecca, who have each apprenticed for two years now, have finished their time on the farm and are moving on to other opportunities, but plan to live in the apprentice house over the winter and help with some winter work - you might see them stocking up the share! So it wasn't that Saturday was a final goodbye for any one of us, but it did mark the end of the official apprenticeship season, of the commitment we made to learn and teach and work together. I'm so grateful for all three of them; for their growing confidence as farmers, their enthusiasm, their care, their support of the farm through their attitude and all of their hard work. 2018 apprentices - they did it!! Congratulations!

Meanwhile, life at the farm continues, more indoors than out. Abbe continues to work in the office, making sure that checks are deposited and bills are paid. Dan, Karen I are laying the ground work for next season as we clean up the remains of this one. We still need to store all of our machinery under cover, mow the raspberries and put the snow plow on the plow truck. But we will get these jobs done in due course, without nearly the hustle and bustle of June.  

And then we will start to take a tally of all that happened around the farm these past months. Counting season is about to come, the time of taking-stock and transposing data, making way for reflection and potential for improvement. At the same time, it all begins again with a brand new seed order. As you head downstairs to the root cellar to eat the bounty of this past fall, know that even now a  new beginning is already happening. Not just in the office but out in the garlic field where the cloves for next year are waiting under the straw, under the ground. It's time to move slowly into that new beginning, and just like the garlic, the first step is to rest and get our bearings. Eat. Make squash soup, roast root vegetables and bake sweet potato pies. Luckily, we have plenty in the root cellar. 

We hope you enjoy the winter bounty,

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

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks
  
The first cold nights were such a relief. Turn the fan on, get some cold air into the cellar. Wake up to light frosts, knowing the carrots and the kale would be all the sweeter for them. Harvest something active first thing, get bodies moving. This was a week to get crops out of the ground. We started with all the “minor roots,” the radishes and turnips and rutabagas, 5500 lbs. Then we moved on to celeriac on Thursday. And all the while, we were checking Friday night’s weather. 17 degrees, it said. Then 11 degrees. Then 7. Okay. Which crops still in the ground would want to come out? All of them? Breathe. Try asking a different way: which are the most hardy? We knew that Parsnips, hardy roots that can even be left overwinter til spring, would be fine. Carrots likely too, as long as the ground doesn’t freeze. And Brussel Sprouts can tolerate pretty low temps, we think they’ll make it.  Okay, so which would be most obviously damaged? Celery, celeriac, cabbage. We counted up the pounds and started calling for some extra help.
 
One reality that blew in swift and cold with the weather this week, is that indeed this growing season is nearing an end. After countless hours of preparation and planning. After hiring our crew, and then welcoming them, orienting them, training them, and working with them. After plowing, bed making, seeding, planting, cultivating, and harvesting. After it rained and rained, dried out, and rained again. And after bringing in the fruits of our labors during these past three months of fall harvest. It is now truly coming to an end.

And where does this all leave us? What is the story that we will tell ourselves about this season? What are the lasting images and memories that we will keep once the last bucket is emptied and stacked on the harvest shed wall?  We probably won't know for sure for a while, but here's a first draft...
 
One main theme of this season will be the varied pace. We hit the spring spinach right and harvested hundreds and hundreds of pounds, it just kept growing because June never got too hot. But then, the music slowed. We waded through standing water in the fields to plant the sweet potatoes. Harvests of many “hot” crops were delayed because of the cold and wet spring and summer. We waited for our summer squash, corn, tomatoes, eggplants, and melons.  And then the tempo changed again. The fall broccoli was planted in a cool July, and grew happily in perfect brassica chill, experiencing none of the usual summer stress-out these fall crops face. And then the hot and dry early fall pushed these happy plants to full expression. The broccoli and cauliflower came on early and in huge quantities. Harvests took over seemingly all of our work time as the frost held off. We had cauliflower and tomatoes in the share at the same time. Peppers on and on and on. This lingering warmth extended our chance to get the warm-weather storage crops out of the field: the squash and sweet potato harvests were not rushed by cold. And we had to wait to harvest crops into the cellar, keeping the beat with cover crops and garlic planting. Now, suddenly winter is here and it’s a race to the finish line.  
 
What makes us able to “weather” these changes in pace? We know that no matter how many hopes and dreams we may have for our little farm, none would come true without the help of our three apprentices (Rebecca, Sunny and Ellen), who came to work each day from 6am - 5pm from April 'til Thanksgiving. These women formed the backbone of the labor necessary to turn this farm from thoughts to 250,000 lbs of delicious, nutritious vegetables. They are highly motivated and deeply invested in what we’re doing. If the roller coaster is taking me for a ride, all I have to remember to do is explain to them what the pressures are and they are right there with us: do we need to get all these lettuces planted in the pouring rain? “No problem! We can do that!” And do it again tomorrow. 
 
Beyond that core, our Weeder Crew, our Harvest Crew (Sydney, Oli, Sam, Morgan, Lukas), our Fall Harvest Crew (Will Thornton, Nolan, and returning volunteer Kate), make the magic happen with daily and seasonal contributions. We give thanks for them.

And for our long-term staff: Abbe, who keeps the books and administration and keeps our lives organized, with patience and skill. And Ken who fixes things when they are broken. For the support and pinch-hitting this season (and in life) from my partner, former apprentice Will Van Heuvelen. In learning to how to play my part in managing this great cacophony, I feel lucky to be on a team with Karen and Dan, who always make their jobs look far easier than they are. We couldn’t ask for better mentors, farmers and managers. The constancy of their availability, advice and oversight makes it possible for all of us to mostly stay ahead of the crazy curves - hopefully putting our resources and attention in the just the right places for them to do the most good. And when we fall behind, it’s Dan and Karen who adeptly notice and correct our course.
 
Standing behind all of this day-to-day labor, learning and leadership is you (and the you’s that have come before you). The farm is 31 years old, three + decades of food and partnership. We feel the long-standing commitment to our work here in small daily ways and in big ones. This vision of mutual support, continuity and deep nourishment wouldn’t be possible without you. You share the vision and you co-create it with us, investing your time and money in this farm and this community. This is what security looks like. 
 
Friday when we put out the phone calls, they were answered. Friends, fellow farmers, students and a whole ultimate team came to help get the food in with freezing hands and lots of cheering. 3000 lbs of celeriac. 8000 lbs of cabbage. 500 celery and even 1000 lbs of carrots. We pushed it all down to the cellar as the temperature plummeted. Once more, because of all the support we have, we were resilient enough to do the job.

Who would want more than a job to do? And who would want more than to have the tools and support to to the job that they want to do? And for that, we give the deepest thanks of all. For letting us do this work one more year. To do something for all of us. To grow our food. And take care of our land. Just so that we will perhaps be able to do it all again next year.   We will go to bed now. Take a big nap. And when we awake, we hope to find you here again. Ready to help us write this story, one more time.

We hope you enjoy the harvest.

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

Nice Clean Sheets

Nice Clean Sheets
 
Wednesday of this week was frigid - the frost stuck around through mid-morning. No sooner had we wrapped our heads around the idea that the cold world had finally come, than we were back out there Friday wondering why we'd worn long johns (and how could we get them off quickly). Luckily, we are getting used to figuring things out on the fly.

Because the root cellar still isn't cold enough to store food, we're holding off on bulk harvesting. So! We pulled drip tape and black plastic mulch from the hot crops; a very Halloween-y thing to do. Then Sunny turned the harrow to the cleared out vegetable fields and prepared the soil so Ellen could bring the grain drill and sow the winter rye on 8 acres of ground ready for a good long rest.  Going from flapping plastic  and ghosts of dead pepper plants to neatly and freshly planted cover crop is the most satisfying thing I can think of. Better than nice clean sheets and a warm crisply made bed. Rejuvenation! Rejoice!

Meanwhile, Dan and Rebecca prepared the lower field with the bedformer. Where there once were pumpkins, now there were beds for our last crop of the season - next years garlic!  Karen began planting Thursday and Friday's big crew finished the job.With the temps hovering in the mid 60s, we pretended it was spring again. We got down to our short-sleeves, and dropped and plopped 10,000 garlic cloves into the still-warm earth. This is the garlic we'll enjoy next season, starting with the scapes when the share starts in June. This is the garlic we'll harvest together next July. This not just an end, it is the beginning. Planting is time to dream forward. (And it is time to renew your share!)

What's left? 30,000 lbs of vegetables to harvest and we'll be done. We will be squirreling them away into your homes and into our cellar for the next few weeks. And then?  Nice clean sheets and sleep at last, until we (and the garlic) wake up next spring.
We hope you enjoy the harvest.

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

Rain Sandwich with Sunshine Bread

Two sunny days on the schedule: Monday (for sweet potatoes) and Friday (for regular spuds). These last sweet potato beds had some peculiar characteristics that we're finding more common with sweet potatoes like these, grown on plastic mulch: some of the potatoes are huge. All the water comes in one hole in the plastic, so instead of spreading out along the root, they tend to just get bigger in one spot. Bigger than a newborn baby. Bigger than a cat. Once year, a winter shareholder photoshopped one to look like a giant asteroid hitting earth. They make an impression. And by the end of Monday, they were all bagged up in the greenhouse!

Then Tuesday through Thursday were rainy, perfect time to pop the garlic for planting. Separating the cloves is the last step before we push them deep in the cold soil, where they want to grow a few roots and then sleep all winter before sprouting up in spring.

Friday the sun came out again, muddy but bright and dry enough to dig and pick up the potatoes. And so, we did! That's what we call a rain sandwich. And for dessert, I see some cold nights coming up. We're craving those like sugar - not just for the fire in the wood stove but also because once the cellar gets cold we can begin to bring in the bulk cabbage and roots. Time to root root root for some chilly weather! We hope you enjoy the harvest.

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

All Things Fall

Monday night the frost came again to the farm fields. In the afternoon, we decided against covering the remains of the beans. Time to let go.

Last week when it frosted we looked around afterwards to find some things only singed - a few straggling cosmos flowers, only the tips of the galinsoga weeds dying back. This time, Tuesday morning came with the full flavor of frosty hush and there was no doubt about the crystals on our windshields. Now, the galinsoga is dead down to the very thickest stems. The bean leaves hang limp. All was quiet.

But just for a moment. These first frosts turn a page in our season, and then, inhaling, we're on to a new chapter. We've said goodbye to some of our main characters - all the tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, for example. But we're just getting to know others. We scrape off the windshields and begin our harvest with the roots in order to give the greens some time to thaw. These are the days of rambling conversations, about Ken Burns and sideburns and heartburn and burning questions. These are the days of running to pick up buckets into the truck, of loading andunloading 50 lb sacks of good food. On Friday when we brought in the first brussels sprouts we we got the first long look at how the sprouts look with side leaves stripped away - wow, they look good!

You might wonder: why are some plants killed so quickly by a frost but not others? Plants die when their cell walls burst, and the cold tolerant plants have protection: sugar! Carrots, other roots and brassicas are all sweeter after the frost. The other thing that happens is a transition in energy. Plants get signals that a period of dormancy approaches. They send energy down, out of their leaves and into their roots for storage. And so do we, resilient humans. We take a little longer to thaw in the morning, making time to be sweet to ourselves like hardy vegetables. Some of our tasks and worries are stripped away - time to let go - and now what's important is very clear. We dry out the root cellar and start sending down our storage harvests of potatoes, cabbage and roots. We hope you enjoy the harvest.

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

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)