Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture

Notes from the Farm - March, 2002

by Elizabeth Henderson

We are still staggering from the shock of Doug Kraais sudden death on February 11, 2002. Doug was such a force around this farm. We could count on him for advice on equipment, for a powerful hand when we needed it, for surprising us by bursting in on our daily preoccupations to demand we pay attention to the quality of our relationships or the thoroughness of our recycling. He was so much more than just our landlord. - he was our comrade in farming, our ecological conscience, and, most of all, our loving friend.

On the day of my son's wedding, Doug asked to have a little talk with Andy, Midori and me. I did not know what to expect. He astonished me by proposing that we adopt one another as brother and sister. I will never know exactly all that he meant by that gesture, but it did enable me to say to the Intensive Care nurses that I was a member of his family so that I could spend a precious hour and a half with him while he was still fully lucid. I told him how the previous night I had looked out at the moonlight through the mist over Crowfield's hay fields and thought about how much I appreciate what he had done to put that piece of land together and keep if from development and pollution. I talked to him about how he did not need to worry about the farm - his friends and neighbors would keep things going until he recovered. John Gardner taught Greg and two other men how to bring the round bales of hay to the bison. John and I were taking turns watching their water supply. Donna Blondell and Greg were sharing the care of the dogs, taking them out for long runs. Doug told me what a comfort it was to learn that all of his brothers love him. Before closing his eyes for some rest, he said, "I have so much to live for. I have been so fortunate."

As reported in the program for his Memorial, "Doug Michael Kraai was born in Rochester, New York on August 29, 1945, the son of Dr. John and Elizabeth Harris Kraai. Doug, a 1966 graduate of the State College of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University, was a bison farmer and environmental educator, and owned Crowfield Farm and Retreat Center. He was a founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), a member of AGAPE of Rochester, and the Earth Native Network. He was an active member of Park Presbyterian Church."

More than 400 family members, friends, and neighbors filled the Park Presbyterian Church to capacity on February 16 for the Memorial Service for Doug. Expansive, often provocative, unusually open to emotions for a man in our culture, and always full of energy, Doug touched the lives of many different people. The pastor, Timothy Johnson, summed up the feeling of all of us assembled there when he said that we were sad at Dougs death, but happy because we had shared the good fortune of knowing him. Elsewhere in this newsletter, you can read Doug's passionate and powerful statement about the "Bison As Our Symbol."

Greg, Ammie and I had been discussing some changes for the coming year: another hoop house for tomatoes; experimenting with a mini-share for senior citizens in a Wayne County housing project with scouts or other teenagers doing the work share; applying for an NYS Dept of Energy grant to replace our gas and electric with solar and wind-powered pumps and our propane heater in the greenhouse with a waste vegetable oil-burning furnace. My sense is we need to put these changes on hold and just continue what we have been doing so that we have time and energy to help Becky in any way we can with this farm.

Most of our winter has gone by in our usual prosaic activities: reviewing the crops for 2001, ordering seed for 2002, planning our rotations and growing schedule. This year we did things a little differently. In the past, I have done much of this work on my own and then reviewed it with Greg and Ammie. To better share the understanding of our work and responsibility for it, all three of us went through these processes together. We are shopping for two new pieces of equipment - a mower, and a transplanter. Greg has removed the radiator from our tractor and taken it to a shop which will install a new core. Next he has the fun job of fitting it back onto the tractor. In the greenhouse, Greg and Ammie have been repairing the sagging sides of the beds. I am expedition rodent hunter: we are trying to reduce the population before we start plants.

A lot of time and thought goes into our search for the right people to hire as interns. We ask each promising candidate to spend a day with us, talking, visiting the farm, doing some work together. We are getting a little nervous since we do not yet have any definite commitments, though several promising candidates.

Inspired by the many helpful suggestions from the focus groups and the end of season surveys, I have been working with Mike Axelrod to improve the information on the GVOCSA website, and with Marianne Simmons and Ammie to produce a Membership Booklet - everything you need to know to belong to the CSA. Marianne and Jennifer Wiser have written a definitive description of the distribution process. My nephew is using his new computer skills to format a Production Brochure we wrote last year, and Michelle French has volunteered to help Nancy Rosin create a calendar with CSA dates and photos. If visual and written aids can help, we should all know what we are supposed to be doing this year!

Greg, Ammie and I have decided to get certified by NOFA-NY again this year. We are not particularly happy with several aspects of USDAs National Organic Program (NOP), but we are pleased with NOFAs response. Though the NOFA certification program had to reorganize to meet NOP accreditation requirements, NOFA remains determined to keep local control and to provide farmer-friendly service while maintaining high standards. NOFA as a whole has been growing with more members than ever before, and exciting projects in seed breeding and production, and research on organic soil management and marketing. After ten years of pressuring, Cornell still has not hired a single extension agent with a specifically organic agenda, so we have hired one ourselves! As of January 1, 2002, Brian Caldwell is providing technical assistance to farmers who are already organic or who would like to switch to organic.

The slower pace of the winter allows us time for professional development. Greg attended a day long workshop on seed production, growing seed, harvesting, cleaning and storing it. He will go to a sequel on how to breed varieties with the qualities you like best. I went to an excellent three day workshop on greenhouse construction and management for season extension. One of these days, I would like to build a fully solar greenhouse. Meanwhile, I got some good ideas for increasing the variety of vegetables in the early spring and late fall. We all attended the NOFA-NY Winter Conference. My favorite workshop was a free-for-all among about a dozen vegetable growers on the varieties we like best. I have also contributed to the education of other growers as part of my work as a SARE Farmer Educator. For the Guelph Organic Conference, I gave a 3 hour seminar in advanced vegetable production. 71 mile an hour winds prevented me from delivering a keynote address and a workshop on succession planting for the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers. At the Direct Marketing Conference, I did an introduction to CSA, and I will do a workshop for Vermont CSA farms. I have answered many email and phone queries from farmers and researchers, and also given a few classes for high school students in Rochester and North Rose.

In my spare time, I continue to work on several other ag-related projects. In Wayne County, the Planning Department and Farmland Protection Board, which I chair, has just launched a revolving loan fund for farm businesses, offering farms business training, and low-interest loans up to $40,000. This is an important step toward providing farms the services available to other businesses.

The small ad hoc group I belong to, dedicated to social justice in the food system, has taken our document, "Toward Social Justice and Economic Equity In the Food System," to its fourth draft. For each revision, our circle gets wider. This winter, we held a meeting with people from 3 continents, including fair traders, farmworkers, and farmers, to further improve it. We are building towards a larger international meeting in August at the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) in Victoria, British Colombia. I hope to be able to leave the farm for a whole week to attend. If anyone would like to read draft 5, I would be happy to provide it when it is completed in June.

Throughout the fall and winter, the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture has been battling away on behalf of family farms in the Farm Bill process. Every five (or sometimes seven or ten) years, Congress passes a huge series of programs for agriculture, nutrition and forestry called the Farm Bill. The House version, dubbed "Freedom to Fail" by sustainable ag. groups, hurried through in the fall without any grassroots participation, is even worse than the last Farm Bill, consolidating payments to the largest farms. Texans dominate the House ag. committee. The Senate, where the ag. committee is under the leadership of Harkins of Iowa, passed a version with an unprecedented number of the sustainable ag. programs that National Campaign members have been crafting for 5 years. At this writing, the House-Senate conference committee is negotiating the final form of the bill. I attended two days of National Campaign meetings where we devoted a large part of our time to strategies for getting the conference committee to vote for our programs. Then we spent a day on the Hill visiting the offices of key Senators and Representatives. We also held a meeting of the Campaign organic committee which doggedly persists in hounding USDA into implementing the National Organic Program in a way that will truly protect consumers and allow small farms to survive. At the Campaign meeting, referring to the 12 years I have spent on this program, I said, "We are in this for life." Everyone picked this up as a slogan for our work, turning my resigned tone into a joyous one: "We are in this for life!"

Our work as organic farmers focuses on creating and maintaining the best conditions for the life of the soil, the life of the plants that grow in the soil, and the life of the creatures who eat those plants. But farming also keeps us in close touch with the cycles of life and death. Many deaths nourish the growth of each seed. Let us hope that Doug's death will provide rich fertilizer for our community, stimulating all of us to continue Doug's life work at this farm and his striving to embody love in every living moment. Please join us at the farm on April 28 for a tree planting in Doug's memory. We will dance around the May Pole at 2 pm, and dedicate the tree at 3 pm.


Copyright GVOCSA 2002. All rights reserved.