Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture

Notes from the Farm - December 1999
By Elizabeth Henderson

Notes from the Farm

by Elizabeth Henderson

Time for giving thanks. The quiet of winter is setting in, the cold finale to a hot, dry summer. After the intense work of harvesting and packing Squirrel Bulk, and the physical trials of picking, packing and clean up on some very frosty days, Greg and I are slowing our pace. This has been an arduous season of double-time work hours to produce the food for you our members while getting used to new systems, and completing all the infrastructure a farm requires to operate efficiently. Despite the worst drought in many years, we were able to provide a steady supply of high quality food. We have suffered sniffles, flus, and aches and pains, but no serious injuries. Greg and I have worked together well in a spirit of friendship and mutual respect, and remarkably little stress. I am happy to say this has been a good farming year, and your extraordinary support - financial, practical and moral - is a major part of what has made this year so good. We have a lot for which to be grateful!

After the stream from which we irrigated went dry July 30, we depended on rain for the fall crops. There was enough moisture and steady enough weather for the best crop of broccoli we have ever grown. A surprising percentage of the heads weighed over 2 pounds each. We aim for 6 weeks of broccoli in your shares, and were able to provide 8 weeks. While carrots were skimpy early in the season, the fall carrots were abundant and delicious. Carrot flavor results from multiple factors - variety, soil fertility, moisture and coolness. Summer carrots never taste as good as those harvested after the temperature falls below 50. The hoards of Japanese beetles that devastated our spring plantings of greens diminished by September. Fall greens, especially the kale and Chinese vegetables, were a feast for the eye and the stomach. The biggest disappointment was the beets; the abundant greens served as a perfect screen for the critters, mice or voles, that ate almost every single beet.

Saving our own seed turns out to be a big job. Fred Miller, Chief of Seed Saving, made many trips to the farm to collect seed. I had provided him with a list of the open-pollinated varieties we grew, and a rough schedule of when seed would be ready. Fred collected the seed of several herbs, lettuce, spinach, corn, and tomatoes. To extract the seed from the tomato pulp, Fred used the fermentation process described in Suzanne Ashworth's guide to seed saving, Seed to Seed. Greg's daughter Helen helped me collect flower seeds. Many members have given me little envelopes of squash and melon seed. One Sunday morning crew of CSA members picked an entire bed of bean seed. Now we have to figure out how to clean all this seed so that we can use it.

We spend a lot of our time throughout the fall cleaning up for the winter and preparing for next spring. Through August and September, our interns Arnie and Andy reeled in the 7 miles of trickle tape we reeled out in June. Greg labelled the tape by field and stored it away for reuse. Doug Kraai spent two days hauling manure from a nearby horse farm for us to use in our compost. We pulled up all the tomato stakes, collected the string, and rolled up the plastic mulch we used on the tomatoes and melons.

As we complete the harvest of each bed of vegetables, we spade in the crop residues, and then plant a cover crop. In August, to prepare for next year's broccoli, I spaded in the pea vines and planted rye mixed with vetch. Rye produces lots of biomass, while vetch is a legume and fixes nitrogen in the soil. That combination is what fertilized this year's excellent broccoli and greens. Usually, we plant the beds we intend to use early the next year in oats. They grow profusely through the fall, then die over the winter leaving a thick layer of straw which protects the soil, but is easy to till in the spring. This year, the oats we purchased did not germinate well, so I had to reseed all those beds. By that time, it was too late for oats so we used rye as we do on all the later harvested beds. Rye germinates as late as early November, goes dormant during the cold months, and then starts growing again early in the spring.

For the very earliest spring crops, we prepare the soil in the fall and then mulch the beds with hay. That way, even if the soil is too wet in the spring to drive a tractor over the field, we will be able to move back the hay and plant. Fall bed mulching turns out to be a great team sport. Doug Kraai supplies us with old round bales of hay left over from feeding his buffalo. We can use a tractor and a bale spear to place these bales at the end of the beds, but to unroll them takes 4 to 6 people pushing together. To keep the bales rolling straight, the team has to coordinate pivoting maneuvers with the 1000 pound bales. They unroll like a welcome carpet. A satisfying job!

Once everything is put away, we tackle the final fall job - completing our records for the season. Bookkeeping is rainy day work, but this year there weren't very many. Greg recorded all expenses, while I totalled income. These figures provide the basis for our budget for the coming year. When we compared the results with our budget projections, we had a pleasant surprise. We spent slightly less and earned slightly more than we had anticipated. Doug Kraai has been generous about letting us use his equipment to get started, but we will have to purchase a tractor of our own for the future. Finding the right machine and figuring out how to pay for it will be part of our winter work. We should be able to get something used but decent for $8 -12,000.

We have some exciting news about next year. Greg's wife Ammie Chickering will be joining Greg and me as one of the farmers at Peacework. In April, Ammie will give up her job as Administrative Secretary of NOFA-NY. Ammie and I are old friends, dating back to the mid-80s when we both served on the NOFA-MA Organic Certification Committee. The three of us have a lot of thinking to do about how we can work most effectively together. What this means for the farm is that we will have to expand our production somewhat so that we can afford to pay all of us. As an extra bonus, Helen will be spending more time at the farm as part of her home schooling. Greg and Ammie have invited me to help them educate Helen. We have already had our first French lesson!

All in all, 1999 at Peacework has been a satisfying year. Greg and I want to thank you again for your enthusiatic and steady support, your many good wishes and your tangible help. Together, we are creating a new kind of farming, a contribution to an agriculture that is sustainable not only ecologically, but economically and socially as well. We wish you all peace and joy in the new year!

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Copyright GVOCSA 1999. All rights reserved.