To The Pipes!!

By Monday it was dry. Very dry. Yes, we had gotten some rain the week before - but the cumulative effect of hot and generally dry weather had left some fields looking wilty and dusty. Even though the forecast was for possible rain on Thursday, we needed to take a break from the rest of the garlic harvest; it was time to make it rain.

We have a number of irrigation systems that we use - drip, overhead solid set, and the traveling reel. Each system takes some work to get it going each season and then some figuring (and luck) to keep it running. So we decided to start with the biggest need and go from there --- no question, last week's newly planted brassicas and the big kale field over in the dry fields of Snyder Farm.

So, with our apprentices off on a farm visit, Ellen went to the west field storage, hitched the big reel to the John Deere and brought it to the field. First we needed to test the big pump (first time all season!). Water flowing. Check. Then attach the trunk line - to get the water from the pump to the field - about 400' away. Piece by piece, past the horse paddock, around the poison ivy patch, and to the reel, now sitting on the edge of the thirsty broccoli & cauliflower field. Check. Attach the sprinkler to the tractor and pull it the length of the field (450'). Check. And now the moment of truth - start the pump, there goes the water, and .... and ...... pcchhewow! There's the water - shooting out the sprinkler (called the "gun" because it really does look like an Ouzi, and because it literally "shoots" water 50' in each direction. And now, by some magic, the sprinkler goes round and round, and retracts through the field, back to the reel, so that after about 5 hours of this, one acre is watered. Success!!

We kept some variation of this going for the next few days, and then, on Wednesday, without any real warning, the sky opened up to drop an inch of water from the sky, setting us up for our 2nd-to-last big planting of the season. And just like that, we were set up for the big heat coming our way this weekend and getting back to the garlic harvest. This train keeps on rolling!!

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Ben, Lia, Marlee, and Will)

Starting To Turn The Page

Once again, after a week of sun and heat, it rained on Saturday afternoon - hard. We got a deluge - the farm shop flooded, minor bed wash-outs - nearly 1" and with that, we were given yet reprieve of a week from the irrigation pipes. Incredibly lucky.Where does this leave us? We are still in the daily grind of the summer - harvesting loads and loads of food three days a week - with squash leading the way, and now being buffeted by carrots, cabbage, and incredible greens. Working to stay ahead of the weeds - the weeder crew cleaned up the sweet peppers and eggplants, then the cucumbers, and the cutting flowers. And whenever we have a spare moment - it's off to the tomatoes to get those trellises higher and higher as the plants explode up.

All the while something is shifting ever so-slightly; For one thing some crops are moving through the question and into the answer; Will you be wiped out by weeds? Will you create a thousand beautiful melons? This goes, as usual, in both directions; The winter squash, the melons, corn, and peppers are all looking mighty FINE right now - spread out like an ocean of vines and stalks and promise of fruiting glory. But on the other hand we lost 1/4 of our sweet potatoes to a terribly grassy June that ate them alive. And of course with other crops it's still too soon to tell

Midsummer has a few other markers that set the tone for us to start to turn the page and start to transform the farm towards fall; Our apprentice crew begins their "vacation-rotation" where they each take a week off to renew and refresh while we hold down the fort and while keeping the basic work going (weeding, harvesting....). Ellen and Lia put all of the row covers and hoops that we used for early season crop protection into storage. Ben turned in the old crop of strawberries, and mowed the first-year crop so it can be renovated next week. When we got a little rain (on Thursday) everyone worked to get first big fall planting of cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli and the last successions of lettuce in the ground. It felt slightly darker when we get to work Friday morning.

We're not quite there yet. Still a couple more big weeks of striving to stay ahead (leeks, onions, carrots....). For now, it's still weeding. harvesting. trellising, but with our eyes set a bit on the future.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Ben, Lia, Marlee, and Will)

Just Add Heat And.....

Our perfect week continued into a perfect weekend - an all-day-drizzly-cloudy Sunday to cap off a full week of sun. Then the thermometer pointed north and stayed there. Once the stage is set like this (all of our crops settled into their places, their roots tied strongly to the earth, water pumping through their veins) if we add heat..... We know that sound....that's the sound of cells dividing. Blammo! Away they go, and away we go trying to keep up with them.

Of course, as you know by now, that it's not just the plants that we are tending, that start to explode as we start to sweat. The plants we aren't tending (aka 'the weeds') also ratchet up their desire to choke out best laid plans. And, it seems, our crops conspire to keep us exhausted providing us with days of heavier and heavier harvesting.

The week of July 4th generally provides important milestones for us: The winter squash needs to be hoed, so that the remaining plants can spread out a three-acre sea of leaves. The majority of our fall roots need to be seeded so they are ready for harvest in October. And, the tomatoes need to be trellised so they won't flop over from the weight of themselves and create a tangled mess of a harvest in late August.

The heat merely brings a little sass to the scene. The zucchinis grow faster. As do the grasses trying to wipe out the sweet potatoes. We just have to keep our cool; plenty of water to drink, one foot in front of the other, methodically moving from one impossible job to the next. And at weeks end, where are we now? 2750 stakes are all pounded and standing tall in the tomatoes. 1 acre of fall roots seeded in hopeful, clean beds. 3 acres of squash hoed and ready to go. Waiting for rain. Did you see the forecast for tonight? I did. Here's hoping this string continues.......

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Ben, Lia, Marlee, and Will)

It won't last. We know. It's okay.

Last week I pondered how we manage our diverse farm with only one day of sun in a week, and now we have the opposite problem. Although, in this case, there really is no problem. With the weather turning warmer, the forecast turning sunnier, and the harvest flowing faster, it was not time to dwell on our good fortune, but to just go out to revel in it. So, we did.

The tractors rolled, the hands pulled, and the hoes scuffled on a beautiful Monday as we shined up our potatoes, cucumbers, and peppers in the summer sun. Then, on cue, Tuesday saw showers in the morning, which fell soft enough to still pull some weeds in the cukes and hard enough in the afternoon to leave us feeling good about sowing our fall escarole in the greenhouse and fully clean up the cold frame from a spring fever of planting.

And, just like that, the sun came out again, allowing us to bring in a big harvest of greens and cabbage and begin tending our crops again. For three days the sun shone, and the temps stayed in the high 80s. Again, the tractors rolled and the weeders plucked. The winter squash field started to shape up. The kale, the flowers, and the leeks all started to gleam. We took off the row covers and (supporting) hoops from the peppers and eggplants - surely signifying that summer was here for real. And, just like that, the harvest picked up, with loads of squash pouring down on us and into the cooler.

I'm not going to think about it for too long. I know it won't last. It never does. And it just can't. But when it happens - the perfect week - I'm not going to ignore it either. I'm going to remember it and enjoy it. And even ask (who? what?) for another one. Rain from the sky. Sun to dry the plants. Warmth to grow more cells. That's it. A farmer's dream come true.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Ben, Lia, Marlee, and Will)

One Sunny Day A Week? (Mostly) No Problem.

With one day of sun forecast for the week, we thought about the strawberries and the weeds and went to work. The berries hate rain when they are ripe. If they get wet for a while, they turn into fuzz-balls. And then the rest of the small berries rot too. Before long, it's one big patch of mold. As for the weeds - "when the sun is shining, they are dying."

So, we we sent out an email on Monday at 7am, encouraging people to come pick. We figured some people would be able to come and a bunch of berries would get taken out of the field, and that would help. While people were picking we would be cultivating as many crops as possible. Everything done all at once, right?

By 8am there was a full parking lot of cars and pickers in the field. It stayed like that for the rest of the day; People just kept coming. And picking. Then things went nuts; By 5pm the parking lot was full and the cars were lined up on Hulst road. There were pickers everywhere. Now we were getting reports that one of the patches had no more ripe berries. By 7pm the other patch was clean too. Literally every ripe berry was picked from the fields. Not everyone got berries. We never expected so many people would pick on a week day. I guess one sunny day can have that effect. We kept the tractors and hoes rolling and cleaned up tomatoes, onions, corn, and on and on.

Then, right on cue, on and off rain from Tuesday thru Friday left us shifting from weeding to planting; from picking to waiting. Meanwhile, the early summer crops began ripening with all of the good moisture and moderate warmth. Leaving us, at weeks' end with a cooler full of food and more ripe berries to pick from a clean field. We will hope for more sun in the coming week to make the whole thing work a little smoother, but all in all we are glad that we got through this one, mostly okay.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Ben, Lia, Marlee, and Will)

In The Weeds

With most of our planting done, our vegetable harvesting begun, and our CSA distribution off-the-ground, there's really only one thing to focus on at this time - tending to all of our plants. On a 30-acre vegetable farm, that doesn't use chemical pesticides, this can really be boiled down to one thing - time to kill some weeds!

We were pretty happy when the week dawned hot and sunny (despite the crops actually needing rain for a change). Thing is, weeds don't die in the rain. So when the sun shines, we fan out across the farm with hands, hoes, tractors, more tractors, and different tractors to get the weeds before they choke out our plants (and our dreams).  We harvest on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (for about 3 hours these days). Besides those times, if the weather's good  (or mostly good), we go weedin'! Monday we set off on the Farmall cub (Marlee in the tomatoes), the Hak finger weeder (Lia and Ellen in the sweet potatoes), the sweeps on the IH 265 (Ben in the greens), and the Lely tine weeder (Will in the fall carrot & beet beds before  seeding).  The Weeder Crew crawling through the chard and beets before heading to the weeks' main event - the onions.

We continued like this whenever we could; Through the winter squash, leeks, carrots, corn, potatoes, and on and on. Thursdays rain saw us back in the planting game (another succession of lettuce, fennel, radicchio, and scallions) and then back to join the weeders, still fighting the good fight, in the cold rain.  By weeks end, it looked mostly like a draw: Weeds still working and growing. Farm crew still clawing and scratching. The onions halfway done. Meanwhile the lettuce is other-worldly and the strawberries are just starting to ripen - 'tis the season.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Ben, Lia, Marlee, and Will)

And, We're Off!!

Every season starts with a dream. A simple dream;  An acre of land. A few seeds. Enough rain to germinate them. Enough sun for them to grow. Enough time to pull the weeds. A great crew to harvest the crops. And some people who are hungry and will give us a few dollars for something to eat.  Somehow, it all gets more complicated than that eventually, but this is how it always starts.

Then things happen. We hire our crew. We make our field plans. We buy our seeds. The greenhouse is fired up in March. The team assembles in April. The equipment is greased. And we're off. Where to? Not sure! We have the road map, but then we meet so many unexpected events along the way. And where will we end up? In a rain slog through the North Field grubbing for sweet potatoes? In a dust-storm harvesting green kale by headlamp? The truly exciting thing about each season, is that we just don't know. We have to venture forth to find out.

So, where have we been so far? Well, April dawned right like we hoped - not too cold and not too warm. We got our earliest fields plowed and seeded. And then it started to rain. With the shell-shock from last-season's epic rainy fall, we pretended it wasn't going to last. We didn't talk about it much - just hoped it would go away. It didn't. It rained again. And again and again. It rained half of the spinach rotten. It rained half of the carrots un-germinated. It rained many fields impassible mud puddles.  

We tried to adjust. We found little windows of dry weather and sneaked the harrow in to a little corner of the field. We re-sowed the carrots. We sowed the peas tw0-weeks late. We changed the field plans.  And then, just as we started to feel a little desperate; admitting our wonder as to what might happen if we could not plow our fields or plant our plants at all. Just about then for, of course, no reason at all, the skies generally cleared, the sun generally shone, the rain generally did not fall, and the temperatures generally moderated.

So, like pent up animals we moved with great focus.  Ben sailed around all of the fields with the harrow and Will moved compost where the soil needed to be replenished. Lia made miles of planting beds and pulled the transplanter while Ellen orchestrated the methodical filling of nearly 20 acres of fields with barely-patiently waiting plants. Karen moved the cows to new pastures and then got the Farm Shop all set up and ready to receive thousands of people looking for food each week. Abbe kept the books straight (and thwarted cyber-threats). The weeder crew showed up in late-May and cleared the weeds from the early fields. And then our final apprentice, Marlee, graduated from college, jumped on this full-speed merry go-round and took us all the way across the finish line of today.

So, this is about where we find ourselves now; with a bagful of lettuce, a few radishes, fields full of promise, contentedly grazing cows who have thrown off their winter mange, nearly all of CSA shares sold, over 28 acres of fields cover-cropped, and most of our machines working. We are ready to spend the next few weeks remembering how to harvest, trying our best to stay ahead of all of the weeds (trying their best to lay waste to our big ideas), and looking forward to meeting and feeding you all in the days to come.

Recap: Farm teeters on the brink of early rain-catastrophe, only to receive a late-reprieve as we re-set sail on smoother waters. We stand ready to venture forth with you, to see where we will go - where this road, this track, this field, this sea will lead. We are, as usual, thankful mainly for your company on this journey. We will keep you posted as to what we find and look forward to sharing what we gather.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,
Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Ben, Lia, Marlee, and Will)

Inching Closer

After a very wet April, we have moved to a somewhat wet May, with a little cold thrown in for good luck. There have been lots of stuck tractors and cold hands, but, just when we think the end is near (or maybe the beginning will never get here?), the sky brightens, the tractor makes it through the field, and we get the plants in the ground. The growing "plan" has been pretty much modified EVERYWHERE around the farm to enable us to make this all work, but somehow, someway, we are moving forward. Nearly everything has been seeded or planted on time, most crops have not rotted in the excessive rain, and we have enough acreage prepared for all of our planting for next week at least!

The crew has been hard at work with the typical work of the season: Will slings the compost onto the field. Ben works it in with the harrow and gets the fields nice and flat. Lia makes the very straight planting beds. Ellen leads the planting crew (lettuce, swiss chard, scallions, fennel, radicchio, tomatoes, zucchini, onions, sweet corn, and leeks are all in the ground) or Lia and I sow the seeds (peas, arugula, spinach, radish, carrots, beets, cilantro, dill are all germinated). Karen has gotten all of the fences set and moves our herd of cows through the pastures at Snyder Farm. And we all work in the greenhouse getting plants ready and tending those plants in the field after they have been planted or seeded (row covers installed and removed, weeds cultivated with tractors or pulled by hand, mulch installed on our half-acre of blueberries, etc).

Many days it feels like we are waiting and waiting for the rain to stop or for the fields to dry enough for us to walk or tractor in the fields without sinking. But lately, we look around, and slowly, slowly realize that the farm is getting planted, bit by bit - that this thing is coming together, inching closer every day to the real prize: when we get to harvest food from the earth for you and your family to eat.

Of course, at this time of year, everyone (including us) wants to know......when is our first distribution? Well, given the cold and wet, we are certainly not ahead of schedule for harvest. So that would lead us to estimate our first week of distribution will be from Saturday June 8 - Thursday June 13. However, the lettuce, greens, spinach, and radish have germinated. They've also been cultivated and the weather forecast is for 70F or higher for the next 6 days. So we are going to be prepared just in case it's a little earlier than that.  If it is earlier we will send an email, post on social media, and let you know.  In any case, with a little luck - it won't be long now and we will be happy to see you soon.

We are looking forward to a great season to come!!

Your Farmer,
Dan (for Karen, Ellen, Leila, Abbe, Ken, Ellen, Ben, Lia, and Will)

Spring Has Sprung!!

Its happening again. The snow has melted. The soil is warming. The peepers are making noises. The trees are budding. The soil is drying (sometimes). Our new farm crew arrived to work on April 1. The seeds are being sown in the greenhouse. The machines are getting greased and moving. It's starting to feel like a farm again!

As usual our new apprentice crew has jumped right in. We have two new crew members, Lia and Will who have joined Ben (our seasoned veteran) and are hard at work all around the farm. Will spreads compost, Ben plows and harrows our fields (that aren't too wet), Lia marks the planting beds, Will drops fertilizer and then Lia swoops back, finishes the beds and sows the seeds.  In addition, there's plenty of work for all of us tending our perennial crops (blueberries, strawberries, etc), sowing thousands of seeds in the greenhouse, working on construction projects, and doing all of the other work that goes into getting this circus up and running again. Next week we will put our first plants from the greenhouse in the ground.

Supporting the work of our apprentice crew, our long-term staff has also been hard at work getting this farm going this season; Karen sowed the early greenhouse seeds in mid-March, then began getting all of our fences set up for the cows and pigs, and has the apprentice lunch program off to a great start.  Ellen has been hard at work in her first season as our Assistant Manager. Most of her attention this month has been training Ben & Lia in plowing and bed making, getting supplies set up for irrigation, and implementing our marketing strategy for attracting new CSA shareholders.  Leila has had a steady string of school groups out to the farm already this spring and is sharing cooking duties with Karen for the apprentice crew. Abbe continues to do all of our administrative work - collecting payments, paying our bills, and keeping us legal. And Ken has returned to the workshop where he has been getting the winter out of our trucks and tractors!  I have been mostly occupied with making plans and keeping our new crew busy with 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 learn to use the tools and participate in the systems that will take our food on the journey from seed to harvest to your kitchen.

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 - building a new cold frame, repairing damage to our roads and field edges due to last years excess water, etc.  So, we have plenty to do, and are thankful for the people to help get this work done.

Around the fields, the question on everyone's mind right now is whether we will get a real break from the the excess water we began receiving last fall. So far this spring, it has rained less than last fall, but still more than average, leaving the fields a bit waterlogged. We have had some good early heat, which should help evaporate some water. And we have been able to put our early spinach, carrots, beets, and peas in the ground, but there are some fields that are still too wet to work.  As to where this will go - we are just never sure......  Certainly things are wetter than they were last year at this time, but anything can happen (and it usually does). In other words, that's what this farm is all about! Where our food is actually the result of a living, breathing farm, being worked by living, breathing people, on a living, breathing earth. 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. 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!!

Your Farmer,
Dan (for Karen, Ellen, Leila, Abbe, Ken, Ellen, Ben, Lia, and Will)

Making Plans & Turning The Page

February and early March saw the return of some more winter-like weather. We were staring out at some actual piles of snow in the parking lot and the farm was covered in a restful bright blanket. Last weeks' warm weather started to change all that; Now as the light returns more and more each day, so does the hope inside all of us for what the coming growing season might have in store.

After having taken stock and written our yearly newsletter (hopefully you received it in the mail) it felt like the right time to start to turn our attention towards the future. For some seemingly-innate, definitely-unknown reason, that future always appears bright from this vantage point: enough, but not too much rain, plenty of sun, lots of warmth, and food flowing from the earth everywhere we turn. The seed catalogs help with this fantasy-land, but so does the amnesia that seems to be a necessary condition of a farmer's mind;  Always seeming to conveniently forget whatever tribulations we have just passed through to now viewing the possibilities on the road ahead. Of course, the road looks clear from here - nothing has happened yet and, yes, apparently hope springs eternal!!

We have continued out winters work; Ellen feeding the cows hay, distributing the winter share, and figuring out clever ways to attract new shareholders to the CSA. Abbe recording the payments and keeping our database up-to-date. Karen setting up the apprentice lunch program and keeping us stocked on products in the cellar. And me making new field maps, ordering supplies, and hiring next years crew.  And now, we head for the real turning point - the end of the winter distribution season, the beginning of greenhouse seedling production starting today, and welcoming our new apprentice crew on April 1.    Ready, set, here we go!!

We hope you have enjoyed your winter and are ready for the season to come,

Farmer Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, and Ellen)

A Tough Season, But We’re Still Standing.

Here is the electronic version of our annual year-end newsletter  (We also are sending it your way through the mail in case you like to curl up and read it by the fire).  Either way, we hope you check out the sweet pictures of the year that was and start to thinking about fresh greens in the spring and the barefoot days of summer to come!! 

Winter comes and goes these days, but even if it does feel like spring sometimes, there are still a few minutes to take some time for a good look back at last year.  It’s tempting to turn away from the past season; from what ended with one difficulty after another. It might be more fun to forget about all of the rain, all of the mud, all of the rot and set our sights on a mythic future – a hopeful place where all seeds turn into bountiful fruits. That’s how I approached this year-end review, but, as the ray-of-light-curmudgeon that I am (at times), I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The mud was certainly there. And the rutted roads. The rotten broccoli and non-existent Brussels’ sprouts. But so was the bounteous sweet potato crop, and big melon harvest, the new young families making first memories in the sandbox, the unsolicited donations, and acts of kindness.  Eventually after it was all written down, and we began to try and make some sense of it all, a picture of our vibrant little farm, in the midst of a turbulent world, emerged.   

Overall, the growing season was the most challenging in our history as managers here at the farm (24 years). Record rainfall caused widespread crop losses after August. Still, with a great crew and three very big storage crops (squash, sweets, and spuds), we harvested and distributed over 250,000 lbs of fresh produce. We were not able to successfully implement our desired management restructure. However, we learned some very important lessons along the way, and re-committed ourselves to our previous management scheme with enthusiasm. And, largely due to cost control and some timely unsolicited donations, we find ourselves with a larger profit margin than anticipated, a fully-funded capital account, and all loans paid off on time. Our senior share was three times more popular than we expected and our overall retention rate remained steady-and in some categories hit an all-time high. We were able to maintain a full and dynamic slate of outreach activities, which continue to help us to live up to one of our commitments-to make this farm about “more than just vegetables.”

None of this could be possible without the continued contribution and commitment of shareholders, donors, friends, and relatives who support us financially, emotionally, and spiritually. This is brought into focus when we go through such a challenging season. We are more convinced than ever that the most important work we do on this farm is stewarding our relationship with our supporting community of eaters, cooks, nature-lovers, parents, seekers, children, activists, sisters, and our land.  For this we thank you, as always, and hope that through the following pages you can get a glimpse of some of what your contribution has helped to grow and nurture in the past year.  

Your Farmer,

Dan (for Karen, Abbe, and Ellen)

Taking Stock & Hunkering Down

January had some cold days. And some not so cold days. There was a thaw every week which threatened to flood the cellar each time. And then there was some very cold weather which helped us bring the cellar to it's sweet spot - in the 30's with humidity in the 90s. But it didn't really seem like winter until just this past week.

When we weren't keeping an eye on the cellar or feeding hay to the cows in the Snyder Farm barnyard, most of our attention was turned towards looking at what happened last season. Ellen spent some time devising a new survey and then compiling the (many) results into a form that we can use to guide future decision-making. Abbe spent much of her time making sure all of our financial record-keeping was up-to-date and correct from 2018. Karen kept the products stocked in the cellar, and I spent much of my time figuring out membership, production, and equipment stats. We are nearly done with all of this counting and re-counting (keep an eye out for a bright-shiny pictorial wrap-up that we will send you in mid-February) and look forward to turning our attention to in-depth planning for the season to come.

And, just when we thought we might dodge a bullet and never get any snow during any actual winter months, the weather forecast turned exciting; Cold and then snow, then ice, and then much more cold. Since it was a planned vacation weekend for me, I taught Ellen how to plow (with no snow) before I left, handed her the keys, reviewed what to do in an emergency, and high-tailed it up to the Green Mountains. While I was enjoying some r & r, Ellen turned the key, cleared the first snow of the winter, fed the cows, and made sure the cow fence wasn't damaged by the ice. Then, declaring victory, she went home to make a fire and take a nap. Just like a farmer in winter; Counting, re-counting, feeding cows, plowing snow, eating roots, hunkering, and reading by the fire.    

We hope you enjoy the winter bounty,

Farmer Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, and Ellen)

Happy New Year!

December started dry and cold and stayed that way for most of the early part of the month. We took advantage of the lack of rain and snow and continued cleaning up the remaining messes from this epic messy growing season.  I cleaned and stored machinery and supplies in every corner of every barn. Ellen repaired tomato stake carriers and sorted them out so we'd be ready for next July! And Karen cleaned places we didn't even know were messy all around the Farm Shop, the back porch, and farm yard. When it was too cold to go outside, we continued cleaning up inside messes and started to prepare for next season. Ellen tallied the harvest numbers, ordered the first round of seeds, and created some new surveys. Karen set up Brookfield Farm Hoodies to be available on Amazon! Abbe got the donations and share renewals recorded. And I really cleaned out the old email inbox!

We had a big rain storm on December 21st, which broke the dry streak and flooded the basement. We got the sump set up and dried it all out and realized that rain wasn't as big of a deal anymore now that the growing season was over. Then we had another week of dry weather, and cold nights, and no snow. And our loader tractor (broke since November) returned from the repair shop ready for action.  With Ellen on vacation, I pretended it was October, attached the spreader to the John Deere, brought 'em all to the compost pad near the blueberries and made many many (60?) tons of beautiful compost - and with that, 2018 was finished!  So now, we are set (for real) to look back on what happened (January) and then make plans to do it all again even better (February). 

We hope you enjoy the winter bounty,

Farmer Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, and Ellen)

And Finally, Some Rest

After a very memorable growing season, we brought the few surviving cabbages out of the muddy fields at Grays' Farm last Monday, and started cleaning up. We packed the squash and sweet potatoes into the walk-in warmer (used-to-be-cooler), organized the root cellar, and covered the strawberries and garlic. We cleaned out the barnyard at Snyder Farm, moved the cows into their winter lair, packed our machinery into the west field storage shed and called this season over. It was a long, soggy push to get the fall harvest in, but with over 53,000 lbs of beautiful produce in the safety of our winter storage areas, we are ready to head for a rest and share the remaining bounty of this season with all of you until March.

The apprentice crew has dispersed, with Jake heading to a new job (starting today!), Ben hibernating in Milwaukee, and Ellen taking a break before returning to work full time as our new Assistant Manager in January. Abbe continues to work in the office, making sure that checks are deposited and bills are paid. And Karen and I are laying the ground work for next season as we clean up the remains of this one. We still have a few outside jobs to do (mow the raspberries, make compost, etc), but we will get these jobs done in due course, without nearly the hustle and bustle of June.    

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

We hope you enjoy the winter bounty,

Farmer Dan
(for Karen, Abbe, and Ellen)

Giving Thanks

With our ship firmly pointed towards the horizon, we sailed, as we have many times this year, with water all around, finding our spots, taking a few lumps, and making it through. The rain on Monday held off long enough for us to plant the garlic field, dropping clove after clove into cool soft dirt, and getting us closer and closer to next season with every move. When the rain finally poured, we retreated into the world of sweet potato sorting and clean up projects. By Wednesday the skies cleared and we slogged again where we could, sunk the tractor while digging carrots, forked the rest by hand, and sought refuge in the sandier fields where we could bring in the rest of the radishes and some turnips and red potatoes. On Thursday, with another dry day, we readied our fields (if they weren't too muddy) for the last cover crops to be sown. The rain held off again on Friday, allowing Jake put those fields to sleep, while the harvest crew got the last of the turnips and a few survivor rutabagas. Then the rain came again. Right on cue.

And just like that, this season is getting ready for the history books. We just have to harvest a few more (thousand) veggies in the field, remove a few more tomato stakes, cover some strawberries, clean out the cow barn, and we will be done. Surely the finish line is right ahead.

And after a season like this one, it's surely a relief that it's nearly over.  And also, I am feeling so much gratitude for all we have been able to scratch out of our wonderful farm, despite so many challenges along the way. Once we have a bit of a rest, we can get all of the records straight, and find out what really happened; what was the story of this season. But, for now, here's the first draft: A cool spring gave way to a beautiful early summer, and then it started raining. And never really stopped. While we had many crop losses due to excess moisture (brussels' sprouts, rutabagas, cauliflower, broccoli, late summer greens) we also had some of the most bountiful crops in our farms' history: cucumbers,  winter squash, sweet potatoes, and eggplant. The deer pressure was intense and the sun was scarce for the last three months. And the crew kept working hard through it all.

On a season like this, I feel gratitude for all that we have been able to grow. And also for all of the people who have worked so hard to bring forth what we could muster. Our apprentice crew (Ellen, Jake, Ben, and Alex) and our fall harvest crew (Pete, Ally, Rhianna, Lee, Mason, and Becca) have kept their spirits high despite many challenges (rain, deer, clouds) since August.

And on top of all of that, I am thankful for all of you. For the well-wishes you send through the mail. For your understanding you show in the Farm Shop, when the kale bunches are small, or there's no greens at all. For the hundreds and hundreds of renewals we have received on a year where the bounty was not always so easy to come by. That type of long-term commitment to the work that we are doing here is heartening and inspiring to us as we slog through it all. We love this work. And we feel incredibly lucky to be able to do work that we love. And we simply would not be able to do it, if you did not support us to do it. And for that we are most profoundly grateful.

So, in the end, I am sure that the details of this season will fade from memory. The muddy fields and lakes of leeks will become legendary, but not important. And after we take a good long sleep, and wake up to start the whole thing all over again, we will look forward to seeing you all there; Wondering again, where will this highway lead us? Traveling together is always preferable to me.

We hope you have enjoyed the harvest,

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

Curve Ball

With all flags planted firmly in Potatoville, we thought we knew where we were headed when the week started. Then we noticed the deer prints. Then the deer nibbles. Then the full-blown deer-party remnants. Time to change directions.

With the weather giving us very tight windows for bringing in food, we needed to triage the potatoes (no current signs of deer nibbles), the garlic planting (it's been pretty warm this fall, so we probably have  a few more days), and the final cover cropping (same), and headed straight for the biggest value - the winter carrots!

This season has had many challenges (most of them have involving excess water). But, somewhat surprisingly, the deer pressure has also increased to levels I've never seen before on this farm. I figured that with lots of grass, etc (because of so much water) the deer would be content with plenty of food. But, we have seen their impact, first on the lettuce (thousands of heads eaten in July), then beets this fall, then the escarole (completely obliterated on Sunday, including eating holes in the row cover protecting them). So when the carrots seemed vulnerable, we knew we had to move quickly.

So on what felt might be the last warm day of the season, we rounded up the harvest crew, were joined by the Wheelhouse Farm Crew out for a volunteer afternoon, and made quick work the rest of the field. With 4000 lbs safely in storage, we closed the truck windows, and the barn doors, and waited for the next now-inevitable 2" of rain to start on Thursday night. Hopefully when all of this clears, we will get our garlic planted, and rye seeded, and then it's just cabbage, celeriac, and the last potatoes before we can call this season done........Who knows what next week will bring!

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

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

Between Stories and Dreams

With the sweet potatoes (all 32,250 lbs of them!) safely tucked in the greenhouse the soil cooling down, but the cellar not quite cold enough to bring in the carrots, it was time to turn to the crop of the hour......potatoes! So, whenever our regular harvest activities were done, we brought the new blue dream-digger to the spud field and plunged it deep down to bring this years’ harvest mystery to the surface.

The soil was heavy in the Pump Field on Middle St, as months of rain had pounded the air-holes gone. We had to dig slow, to try to get the clumps to break up and free the tubers from their mud-bound hiding spots. Some of the rows came up big, and others had large stretches where they had just melted away into goo after sitting in too much water too long. Still, we plugged away, the digger digging, bringing up clumps, weeds, and spuds. The harvest crew trailed behind, grubbing through it all, throwing weeds over their shoulders and big beautiful spuds into bucket after bucket. Survivors for sure, these hearty roots had somehow figured out how to hold on, how to make it through this deluge-season. By weeks’ end we had about 4500 lbs of them in the cellar, poised to cool down, as the night air is brought in to set them in the right direction for their long winter storage journey.

Meanwhile, with the Sox in the World Series (again!?!), we knew it was also time to start thinking about next season. Ellen rigged up the harrow and ran it through the old pumpkin patch again. Then Jake marked the field, and Ben pretending it was spring again, made some inviting, chocolate-cakey beds to plant the garlic cloves, before game 7 is over next week. Once again, the end is the beginning, and the beginning is the end; The cellar fills up with stories of the past, and our fields are prepared to be planted with dreams of the future.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

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

First Frost, Second Season

It didn't take long to know this one was for real. When the forecast was first announced over the weekend, it seemed like perhaps a few mild frosts for the week. Then our neighbor Gordy Cook stopped by and mentioned we were going to see 24F on Thursday. Suddenly, mild frost became hard freeze, and, well, we knew what to do next.

By historical standards (before 10 years ago) this is very late for a first frost. When we started our growing careers here (in 1994) we would typically get a frost around Sept 20. But these days, it's more common by mid-October. Either way, we know the drill.  First, let's get those last peppers and eggplants harvested. Strip the plants of their last fruits and bring them to the cooler (where they can last for 12 - 14 days). Clip the cayenne peppers plants and bring them to the greenhouse to dry (where they can store for for 6 months). Cover the celery (it doesn't like a freeze). And get all the sweet potatoes out of the ground (not the smallest task this year...).  Then disconnect all of the hoses in the harvest shed and drain the water. Drain the primer on the cow water pump. Button up the greenhouse, check the propane tank, and set the sensor to call me if it gets below 55F. Make a fire, put on pajamas, and fall soundly asleep.

When we awake, it's time to put on long johns (for real), wool hats, sweatshirts, and start our days doing something a little warmer, like sorting squash, before heading to the field to harvest wet cold vegetables. There's still literally tons of food out there (potatoes, carrots, beets, celeriac, cabbage, leeks, etc) but everything has changed. We have 26,000 lbs of sweet potatoes in storage. The leaves color faster and then fall. And we head in one direction; Towards the end of this journey and the beginning of the next.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

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

Adventureland

"This growing season is just terrible." (overheard from many farmers many days this week). True. But not quite also as easy as that. It's also just confusing, concerning, an just plain weird. Not only have we never had this much water, but then there's the out of place heat, and on and on. It demands constant adjustment; a new normal every day. Last week left me somewhat hopeful that we were getting ready to leave Adventureland and return back to the reliable province of Harvesting-Sweet-Potatoes-in-the-New-England-Autumn. On Saturday, I mowed the vines and cleared the paths in the North Field at Small One's Farm. As I ended the week, I thought I knew where we were all headed.

When we dug the first bed on Monday, the soil was still muddy. Despite no rain for days, the soil stuck to the tubers or buried them under heavy clods. The yields were about half of last weeks' fields, and it took twice as long, but at least we were getting them out of the saturated ground. We bagged them for curing and brought them to the greenhouse. The next day, the strong smell clued us that they were way too wet in the bags. So, we transferred the 1400 lbs spuds into to black lugs which have more ventilation. Then we made more room in the greenhouse for more sweets to come later in the week. On Wednesday, we tried using our bed lifter so as not to throw heavy mud on the spuds. No mud clods, but also, not very loose, which left us clawing deep to get the spuds out. So, we went back to the new digger, this time at a slower speed to try to get the dirt to sift through the chain. Better. Then, with the Thursday forecast for rain getting stronger, but warm temps holding on, I figured it'd be better to dig now, and pick up the spuds after the rain. So we dug another, and then went to find cover.

The rain poured buckets right on cue (1.5"), but we felt prepared. Out to the field we went, only to find that we were in mud up to our ankles. What to do? With the cold weather coming and the potatoes exposed, nothing besides slog. I went and got my mud boots. Becca, Mason, and Ally, just took their shoes off and off they went, pulling over 2600 lbs of beautiful spuds out of the muck. Through the mud, or the heat, or the rain, still smiling and moving ever forward through Adventureland.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

Your Farmer,

Dan

(for Karen, Abbe, Ellen, Alex, Ben, and Jake)

Winds of Change?....

Still mainly the same story this week, but (perhaps) with a couple of new twists. Yes we started with a sunny dry weekend (as usual). And a soaker of a rain storm on Tuesday night. Yes the brassica fields remain saturated. And another loss (goodbye arugula) to the muck. But there was a very bright spot this week, and (tentative) positive forecast to come.

Saturday dawned sunny so Karen and I ventured to the sweet potatoes, just to "test-the-waters" in the one field dry (sandy) enough to work. We set up the new digger. Plunged it deep into the earth. Held our breath. The digger worked as advertised (eerily quiet), lifting the whole bed, loosening vines, roots, and all without dinging up the delicate maroon skins. Karen took a bucket and went grubbing. Then Ben joined and grubbing they did!  They merely pulled on the vines, and behold, an absolutely huge "bushel of bananas!"  On and on they went filling bucket after bucket of very appropriately-sized roots. Then into bags. And before we knew it, the direction was clear: Twice the yield as our past average, and 3 times as fast to pick. On Monday, we brought the entire crew to the field and finished up what we had started.  All total, 6500 lbs came from that patch. That's our 10-year average, but that's only about 1/7th of this years crop; Do the math!  It's a bumper!!  

Then we lived through the rain storm. Everything got wet again. we thought the sweet potato story might have been a dream. We saw rotten rutabagas. And rotten cabbages.  And rotten Brussels' sprouts. But then it didn't rain. Even when there was a 30% chance. And then it didn't rain again. And then it was clear. And cooler. And somewhat windy. And the puddles started to recede a little. And my boots dried. And the forecast called for no rain til next Thursday. And.......We'll keep you posted.

We hope you enjoy the harvest,

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