Posts from the “Earth-friendly Ag” Category

Farm tour

Posted on July 19, 2018

If you’ve ever wondered what life looks like living on a small diversified farm, wonder no more my friend. I thought you might like to see what I see every day. It’s not always picturesque but it’s always interesting watching things change.

First up we have the view from the back deck of the apartment. This is what Addie and I see every day when we step outside to check on the animals.

All the way to the left is the animal area. Then the propagation greenhouse where we start our seeds. Just to the right of that is the cold frame where we harden off the seedlings before transplanting. Then the house’s driveway and the garage which serves as tool and equipment storage. We’re hoping to build a storage area eventually, but that’s a long term goal at this point.

And of course my deck planters. They’re very important.

Above is the rabbit hutch in front of the chicken yard. And below are the goats. That’s Cinnamon in the back and Sunny peeking through the gate.

If you go back to the driveway and walk behind the garage you come to our main fields. Looking left there are fields and a big field house of tomatoes. Looking right are community garden plots and more fields, and behind the plots are a couple of hot houses. And if you turn completely around, you’ll catch a glimpse of the tiny house, which is off to the side of the driveway.

You have to walk a little ways to come to the flower garden , but it makes a nice loop when you circle back and find yourself at the CSA pickup shed. I won’t even show you the herb garden, which is sadly overrun with weeds through the paths. The beds look pretty good, but it’s hard to tell what’s what in photos.

And there you have it! Final stop in the pickup shed, aka the farmstand, where you can buy veggies and chat with nice people. Thanks for stopping by!

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Fluctuations

Posted on February 22, 2018

It was 71 degrees here yesterday, sunny and mild and springlike a good two months early. I felt the blood moving in my veins. I know Seth felt it too because when I came upon him and our assistant farm manager at lunchtime, Seth was full of giddy humor, in his t-shirt, practically bouncing on the balls of his feet in his happiness to be outside. I love early Spring warmth. It makes me feel like cleaning out my closets — although admittedly, it doesn’t take much to make me want to clean things out. I tried a bit of knitting in the afternoon and though the yarn was fine and smooth beneath my fingers, my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted dirt in…

Late winter

Posted on February 16, 2018

Goodness, late winter on a farm is an ungraceful time of year what with slushy mud puddles, dirt-crusted snow berms, and bare trees.  Our main color right now comes from the seed catalogs piling up in the farm office, and in our imaginations as we plan out the flowers, vegetables, and herbs that we’ll grow this year. Every morning when I feed the animals, crunching along icy paths, I try to picture the farm from an outsider’s eyes and the words “undeniably glum” pop into my head. It certainly doesn’t look promising as you drive by, but Seth and I know the land holds growth soon to come. It’s not quite mud season, messy harbinger of spring, more like mud season’s mud season. Thaw, maybe? Whatever it’s called, it’s a bit more time to prepare.

We’ve moved into the little one bedroom apartment that comes with our new farm.  We’re still sourcing some furniture, as we got rid of most of it when we moved into the tiny house, and we’re also sourcing farm crew (I use “we” loosely here, I’m an unpaid enthusiast), so maybe that’s why I keep looking at the land and house with fresh eyes.  I see so much to do, so much to grow and to update.  So much to hope for.

I’ve been learning about feng shui these last few weeks. The transfer of energy from house to person.  Houses hold cell memories, I feel, just the same way plants do, the way our bodies do and that’s why you hear of organ transplant recipients after surgery suddenly liking the same things their donor liked.  Houses are the same, except the house influences the people.  I like to think about creating flows of energy that feel good for me and for the people who live and work here.  I have no big changes, nothing mystical to report.  Just thinking, thinking as usual.

In all of this, a very dear-to-me man died this week: my great uncle, Uncle Bubba. It’s not quite right to call him a surrogate grandfather. We were friends and family together, unrelated except by marriage, and we didn’t often speak in person. However, I wrote him a letter every week or so for the past 6-ish years. How do you describe a person who has been in your thoughts so consistently? Beats me, all I have is emotion. And typically I withdraw into myself when I’m feeling low, but I don’t want to do that right now, for the most part. I have that fleeting clarity that comes with the loss of a loved one: What am I doing with my life? What do I need to do to feel full? Is it worth writing letters about?

Uncle Bubba was a good man, ready with jokes and stories. To his last day he was devoted to his wife of 59 years, though she passed away in 2014. I believe they were true best friends and partners. Bubba loved music and woodworking and ice cream, and he had room in his heart for a bond with a wayward great-niece, though he had kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids of his own, and though I’m one of maybe a hundred cousins (I think. Mom, help me out here?).

Seth and I have a Bubba of our own. It’s Addie’s nickname, and when the two Bubbas met over Christmas, I held my tiny human up to Uncle’s bed. The older Bubba observed to the younger, “You’re on your way in and I’m on my way out.” It was true of course, he had been declining steadily for more than a year. But it didn’t stop me from saying, “Oh no, Bubba, not for a while yet.” I wasn’t trying to give him false hope. Just pleading with him to stay for a while longer. Perhaps it would have been better to acknowledge it, or to have said, “Maybe, but you’ll never be out of our hearts.” Still, the heart doesn’t always know what to say at the prospect of imminent loss, and anyway Uncle Bubba gave me a small smile in response.

I like to think that we understood a great many things about each other, though really I don’t know a lot of what he thought. His letters were few and far between; Parkinson’s made it difficult to write. But he was a master conversationalist and excelled at making me feel at home when we talked. I will miss his steady presence in my life.

It’s late winter now, and I have a compost bin to build and a flower plot to plan. There are perennial herbs that need a new garden space — somewhere, I’m not quite sure where. I still have goats and rabbits to feed. And in spite of moving out of a tiny house, I have a load of things to declutter and organize. Natural ebbs and flows I guess, as winter draws to a close and growing season comes around again.

August is for herbs

Posted on August 18, 2017

Every morning for the last week, I've woken up and thought to myself, how much will I be able to knit today? I hope it's a lot. But August has other plans of the green variety, I guess! Because when I look back at what I've done, there's been a lot more herb gathering than yarn squeezing. The garden is giving me loads of spilanthes, aka toothache plant. I wasn't sure what to do with it at first, until I learned that it makes for a quick fix for teething babies. Let them chew on a bud for 30 seconds or so without swallowing. Presto! Numb gums with reduced pain afterwards. And let me tell you, that has saved my bacon multiple times this…

The return of the light

Posted on December 22, 2015

Happy winter solstice! I can think of no better way to celebrate the light’s return than at a farm.  We spent our solstice morning helping out with a  friend’s grain threshing day.  This 5-acre farm grew rice, wheat, and dried beans this season, and hosted a party for those of us who wanted to try our hands at hulling, grinding, and processing the grains to make them ready for human consumption. There were old exercise bikes mounted to older milling implements, an 1851 wheat chaff separator, a fire barrel, and some tinkering and ingenuity as we kept breaking down and starting up again.

We drove to the tiny house after lunch to close it up for this week’s rain. Just before the light left for the day, we burnt some herbs and our intentions for the year 2016, and then rounded out the evening at home in our pjs eating an all local dinner.

Sometimes, friends, we just get it right.  And we’re wishing you a good winter season full of things you get right too.  Happy solstice.

 

 

Earth-friendly agriculture: Soluna Garden Farm

Posted on October 17, 2015

IMG_0953 IMG_0959

The next stop on our tour of farms that use earth-friendly growing techniques is Soluna Garden Farm in Winchester, MA.  Seth was unable to make this visit, but I met with Amy Hirschfeld, one of the farm owners, to see how they grow their products.

Clocking in at 1.5 acres, Soluna is a small farm like Stearns that doesn’t pursue organic certification, although they use organic practices.  The folks at Soluna grow herbs and flowers for CSA and farmers markets. They also custom mix numerous dried spice and tea blends, which they sell at their store in downtown Winchester, their stall in Boston Public Market, and at farmers markets across Eastern Massachusetss.

I was excited to head to Soluna because I love herbs. I’ve never been to an herb-only farm before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Soluna didn’t disappoint! The farm is tucked behind a row of private houses on a busy street in Winchester, and when you head down the driveway of an ordinary house, you’re greeted by a greenhouse, a high deer fence, and an expanse of tidy flower and herb beds beyond.

IMG_0964 IMG_0962Soluna has been in business since 2009, although the land has been worked since the 1970s when Amy’s father purchased the plot to create an organically-minded hobby farm.  After he passed away, Amy continued to grow at the farm and eventually decided to start Soluna with a CSA for herb and flower lovers.

Soluna uses a permanent bed system across the majority of their land.  This means that at the end of the season they don’t till the beds into the ground like a typical vegetable farm, but rather delineate where crops grow with permanent raised beds. This has the downside of preventing the farmers from using mechanical cultivation like tractors to suppress weeds. On the upside, the raised beds warm more quickly than fields in the spring, which means you can get plants in the ground sooner.  They also have the benefit of preserving soil structure, provided you don’t completely turn the soil over when planting.  Soil structure is important!  Soil has different strata, and each layer hosts a level of microbial and animal life, all of which make nutrients more readily available to plants.

That’s not to say Soluna doesn’t use standard measures tillage and like black plastic weed suppression.  They do!  They just use these practices judiciously, in plots where they grow annuals.  Amy told me that Soluna invested in reusable landscape fabric this year and, combined with drip tape for irrigation, this saved them a ton of weeding and gave them some very happy plants.

IMG_0957 IMG_0955While many of the herbs at Soluna are perennials, some of the plants don’t enjoy a New England winter.  Can you blame them?  This is where Soluna’s farmers strike me as particularly brilliant.  Each winter, they dig up certain whole plants like rosemary, or the root corms of other herbs and flowers, and store them in the greenhouse or cellar where they stay dormant until they’re ready to be planted again.  This isn’t something that a large farm can attempt unless they have a massive amount of storage space and a lot of hands on deck.  But for a garden farm, it seems to work.  As a bonus, the plants that grow each Spring are already used to the soil and pests at Soluna, which makes for stronger crops all around.

I wish I had a month to spend working with Amy and the plants. We talked about all sorts of neat things like using compost as an energy source (something that they’re hoping to implement this winter), and developing a line of herbal liqueurs to supply some of Boston’s bars. There was the conversation about seasonal herb salt or tea blends, and inspiring a taste for adventure in customers.  And of course, the herbs themselves, the walking and touching and smelling and tasting.  My friends, this is earth friendly agriculture at its best.  I’m thrilled to have taken a tour of Soluna Garden Farm.  Thank you again Amy!

Earth-friendly agriculture: Stearns Farm

Posted on July 7, 2015

Greenhouse tomatoes, with lettuces beyond

Greenhouse tomatoes, with lettuces beyond

Meadow sage flowers in the remembrance garden

Meadow sage flowers in the remembrance garden

As part of our continuing quest to prep ourselves for the farm in our future, Seth and I will be visiting farms that use sustainable practices and writing profiles of the farms and farmers. In a lot of cases that will mean organic farming, but there are other methods out there like crop rotation, no-till planting, companion planting, and more that we’re dying to learn. Good thing farm folk are friendly! I’ve never met a farmer who wasn’t willing to share as much information as we wanted.

Our first stop on this Earth-friendly agriculture journey is with Stearns Farm in Framingham, Massachusetts, which is the farm where Seth works as an Assistant Grower.

When Seth first began hunting for a farm job, he looked specifically at organic farms so he could learn the basics of growing food without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.  No surprise there, with our history.  Thankfully, Seth found Stearns, an organic vegetable farm that grows on four acres.

Stearns is a little different from most farms in the area.  For starters, they grow vegetables without USDA organic certification. Other farms are either certified organic or use pesticides, but Stearns opts out of that dichotomy. The reason that Stearns — and many small farms — didn’t get organic certification is because it costs a lot of of money and time, and on a small farm those resources are needed elsewhere. However, the farmers at Stearns are committed to environment health so they use organic practices, and they welcome all of their their clients to the farm to see for themselves how the crops are grown. This is one reason why it’s good to know your farmer! You know where your food is coming from.

One perfect strawberry

One perfect strawberry

Looking down the main path toward the greenhouses

Looking down the main path toward the greenhouses

Stearns was incorporated in 1994 as a nonprofit organization, but prior to that it had been worked as farmland since 1723, and possibly earlier! Stearns is a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, which means that anyone who wants vegetables buys in at the start of the season, and then picks up their vegetables every week once harvests start. And here’s what else makes Stearns unique: People who buy shares are asked to work 12 hours in the field throughout the course of the season, as well as picking certain labor-intensive crops like berries or beans on share pickup days. Stearns is one of the only farms in the area where you do farmwork for your vegetables, and it’s a huge draw. People love to come to the farm and spend time planting seedlings or harvesting squash, or any myriad of tasks that come with farming. It’s a good way to connect with your food.

Susan Peters, Farm Manager

Susan Peters, Farm Manager

Stearns grows vegetables and fruit under the tutelage of Farm Manager Susan Peters. Susan is in her third year with Stearns, and previously began farming in Vermont in 2005. She knows just about everything I want to know about farming, and she’s got a wicked sense of humor to boot. I love hanging out with her on the farm (and by “hanging out,” I mean, “weeding together while picking her brain”). She always seems to have a sense of the weather, what needs to get in the ground, and how many people-hours it will take. Susan is a large part of why Stearns is successful. She connects with the CSA sharers so naturally, I’m amazed that this isn’t her own land and she hasn’t been doing this all her life.

I asked Susan once why she switched from being a librarian to being a farmer. Susan grinned at me and said, “Because I realized I didn’t want to spend any more time indoors.” Amen, sister.

The third staff member of the Stearns farming team is Kenneth Hacker, the Assistant Farm Manager. Kenneth has an infectious love of all things food and farming, and is very busy this season. I only see him at lunchtime when I’m there. He waves to me as he rides by on the tractor though, so we’re good.

And of course, Lily the dog serves as the official greeter of farm guests.  She also patrols the fields for pests like rabbits and groundhogs, and acts as a general deterrent for deer and birds. We’re able to send Lily to the farm with Seth every day because Lily takes care to walk in between the rows and poop in the woods instead of in the fields.

Looking out over greens to the field tomates

Looking out over greens to the field tomatoes

Lettuce and cilantro seedlings

Lettuce and cilantro seedlings

Susan, Kenneth, and Seth know that farming is a balance.  You need good soil, and you need good people.  On a piece of land that has been farmed as long as Stearns, it’s important to maintain fertility for the long haul. The farmers use cover cropping in the winter, which means planting a crop of rye grass, hairy vetch, or winter peas in late fall, and then turning that crop back into the soil in the spring. This serves a twofold purpose. It prevents snow and rain from washing away the rich topsoil, and also fixes nutrients back into the soil. Besides that, the farmers soak every seedling in a fish fertilizer emulsion before planting. Fish fertilizer is fermented ground fish mixed with water, and it gives the seedlings a huge boost. And finally, the farmers lay down drip irrigation every year, which prevents soil runoff by delivering water only where it’s needed.

The other half of farming at Stearns is good people.  Over the past two years, Seth and I have come to realize that Stearns Farm is a booming CSA because they cultivate community along every step of the way. They train their CSA sharers to look beyond imperfections, to take part in the process of growing foodstuffs, and to think even a tiny bit more like a farmer.  It’s not just picking up your vegetables and running out again like at a grocery store, it’s participating in how the food gets to your plate.  It’s appreciating that your lettuce was alive and growing that morning, or getting dirt under your fingernails.  It’s people who care a great deal about what they’re growing for you. And that kind of enthusiasm is contagious.

Fall’s final farm days

Posted on November 16, 2014

The season is wrapping up for the work farm.  Seth and the other farmers have spent the last month plowing under crop residue, seeding winter cover crops, and cleaning up the greenhouse.  There’s a winter share for November and December, mostly of squashes and bitter greens and brassicas, and then that’s it. Seth’s hours at the farm are half of what they were; he’s taken on a seasonal job at a local grocery store until the farm starts up again. I haven’t been to the farm for a while, although thankfully not because of migraines, which is the first time I think I could say that in a decade.  It’s because we have just one car, and Seth’s new job keeps him busy when…

There are people, and there are farm people

Posted on September 26, 2014

The annual Stearns Farm fall potluck picnic and work day takes place at the end of September.  This year it was the last warm day.  There were jars of pickles, bowls of watermelon salsa and kale salad and quiche, and plates of honey cake and carrot cake and plum cake.  There was music.  There were families.  There was a pet rabbit running loose that Lily couldn’t keep her eyes off of, so we had to keep her close for a good part of the afternoon. Whenever I’m at a gathering with farm people, I realize that I’m with my people.  It’s a big distinction to make for someone who hasn’t felt at home here in the Boston area.  Farm people are people who care…

Food and No Food

Posted on September 5, 2014

I love this time of year.  The garden outperforms itself with tomatoes and green beans.  I’ve been getting a couple of eggplants, dozens of cucumbers, and several handfuls of jalapenos.  Even the endive has held on.  Enough food, in short, to make me love summer. In related food matters, I went to the allergist for some help with my recurring stomach troubles and consequent migraines.  I tested as allergic to tree, grass, and weed pollen, and the allergist says I have oral allergy syndrome.  Eating certain foods triggers an allergic reaction because the food protein is so similar to the pollen protein that my immune system thinks it IS pollen and reacts accordingly.  In my case, GI trouble. I’m pretty sure it’s a huge cosmic joke.  The…