Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture
by Elizabeth Henderson
One of our rules at Peacework is that we eat our mistakes. Today, however, I have to eat some of my words. In the May Newsletter Notes from the Farm, I wrote, ?the spring air seems mild and promising of a gentler season to come.? Those words were written in early April, and the weather remained hot and sunny for the next 6 days. The ground temperature rose to over 50 degrees, the minimum for planting the hardiest of crops, so the spinach seeded on April 11th had a good chance of germinating. On April 17th we planted radishes, beets, turnips, the rest of the peas, carrots and parsnips. In the first of three work Saturdays, over twenty-five people helped Becky Kraai with the many buildings at Crowfield.
Then November returned. There were rain showers, then snow showers as the temperature dropped into the 30?s. The soil temperature sank into the 40?s. By May 18th, we recorded 9 inches of rain and our well-drained soils reached the saturation point. The last half-inch sent us over the top into the beginning of flood conditions. Then came the storms of May 29, the five inches in 3 hours which put Newark and Arcadia in the national news. As I write, it is raining again, a downpour that brings another 1-1/4 inches. All I can say is, we are doing better than the Newark Walmart parking lot since, unlike the environmentally unconscious chain store, we are not situated in a 100-year flood plain.
So, how are our crops fairing in this lovely weather for ducks? That first planting of spinach and the one that followed a week later did not come up well. Spinach is very sensitive to excess water; some of the plants that did emerge then died. But the next 4 plantings look promising. The parsnips failed completely.
Our early plantings in the hoop house or protected by row cover in the fields, came up in respectable quantities, though they did not grow very much until the weather warmed up after May 23. Because we are fortunate in having some very well-drained ground, I was able to spade quite a few of our beds in the intervals between rainfalls, twice spending as long as 7 hours straight on the tractor. In an ideal world, I would prefer to pace the work differently. The crops in the Christmas Tree Field (the one next to my house), the Barn Field, and the western section of the Fairville Field have not suffered from the flooding, only from the cold dreary dampness.
As my accountant Michael Menuhin likes to say, ?No good deed ever goes unpunished.? We have been very conscientious about covercropping almost all of our beds. Seeded by early November, rye stays green through the winter and starts to grow immediately when the snows recede. The rye protects the soil from erosion and provides a hefty dose of organic matter when you turn it under in the spring. Unfortunately, when you cannot turn rye under early, it continues to grow. This luxuriant growth then requires two weeks of digestion time when you can finally mow it and spade it under. If you work ground when it is too wet, you do damage that lasts for years. Balancing the pressure to get crops in the ground against the danger of hurting the soil, I was not able to work any of the beds where we planned to plant sweet corn until May 22. We were able to squeeze in 8 rows of early corn on beds that had winter squash last year, so there may be 6 ears per share in August. No matter how fast things dry up, the rest of the corn will not come till September.
Despite the weather, our farm team has been carrying on as best we can, doing everything that is in our power. We have covered so many beds with row cover that people stop by to ask whether they can purchase some from us! We have done two plantings each of carrots and beets, and one each of yellow squash, zucchini and cucumbers that all came up nicely. For summer bouquets, we did a large planting of gladiola bulbs, sunflowers and assorted annual flowers. In a seeding frenzy, on May 28th, Ammie and I planted 13 beds of winter squash and pumpkins, four beds of sweet corn and two beds of beans. That day, we also set out the early tomatoes. The tomatoes had grown tall, set flowers and even some tiny tomatoes while waiting in the greenhouse for their moment in the sun.
With sleet falling in late April, a Special Vegetable Action Team (SVAT) and a Boces class helped us set out 4000 row feet of onion sets. Warmer, if not drier, skies, smiled on us in late May as we set out 2100 row feet of onion plants and 1400 row feet of leeks we grew from seed. Another SVAT and the first two mornings of CSA harvesters helped us erect 3000 row feet of pea fencing. Peas actually like this weather!
If this weekend proves dry as promised, we will plant potatoes on Sunday with CSA assistance. The members who braved the rain on Thursday, May 30, cut the seed potato so it is ready to go. We were very disappointed to find that the organically grown yellow Carola seed potatoes, for which we paid 5 times the price of conventional seed plus shipping from Maine, are infected with rhizoctonia, a fungal disease. We had to substitute Red Pontiac, the only variety available in local stores at this late date. Our main crop tomatoes, melons, eggplants, peppers, basil and tomatillos are waiting patiently in the greenhouse. Hopefully, they will all be in the ground we have prepared and growing well by the time you read this newsletter. After we pick lettuces, Chinese cabbages, bok choi and arugula for Sunday shares, the hoop house will be empty, ready to replant with some of the eggplants and peppers. The one layer of plastic of the hoop house makes those crops ripen in August instead of October. We are on our tenth planting of lettuce, hoping to repeat last year?s feat of providing a head or two of lettuce every week of the 26 week season.
Cold rainy weather is hard on crops, but good for repairs and maintenance. When we cannot get out to the fields, we busy ourselves in the barn, packing shed and barnyard. Greg has established a system for storing our growing collection of stakes of assorted sizes. Ammie has made a series little improvements in the packing shed. Under Lila Bluestone?s supervision, Victoria and I have cleaned up the perennial flowerbeds. With help from his buddy Tom Muscolino, Joe Maressa dug a trench across the barnyard and buried a waterline so we no longer need to lug a hose to fill the tank in the greenhouse.
While other farmers live with the fear that a season like this will force them out of farming, we feel deep gratitude for being involved with Community Supported Agriculture. Earning your support is our ?risk management? strategy. Growing crops for you has also pushed us to diversify to the maximum and that is another form of insurance. No matter what the weather, among the 70 or so crops in our home garden for 270 households, there is some crop that is happy. The content of your weekly packets may not be exactly the same every year, but there will be something in that packet and we hope you find it delicious and nourishing. Feeding our friends is nourishment for us.
CSA members often ask if we grow heirloom varieties. While we do use some modern hybrids, especially for broccoli, we also grow many old time favorites like Black Seeded Simpson lettuce, Brandywine tomatoes, and Dragon Tongue beans. This year, we are participating in variety trials with two sets of researchers at Cornell. As we did last year, we are growing some open pollinated tomatoes, melons and cucumbers bred by public breeders at Cornell. For a new project, which has as its goal to introduce more crop diversity to northeast growers, we are trying out a dozen different tomatoes, two peppers, a melon, and 5 kinds of amaranth. We plan to grow all the different tomatoes, well labeled, in one bed and to invite you to taste them and let us know which you like best.
We are enjoying our new equipment. The second hand Wheelhorse mower cruises along on its own power cutting through the tall, thick grasses between the beds. Ammie has been able to take over a lot of this mowing from Greg. Though all this water has stimulated maximum grass growth, the Palmer-Chickering mowing team has been keeping the farm looking civilized. We inaugurated the spanking new waterwheel transplanter May 7th on broccoli and cabbages. I drove the tractor at the slowest creep speed, while Ammie and Victoria rode behind, setting the plants in the well watered holes punched by the spokes. Our third acquisition is a Lely weeder, on loan from Blue Heron Farm. Lou and Robin purchased the Lely a few years ago and found it did not work well on their heavy soils. They offered to let us try it for a while to see if it does better on our silty loams. Their asking price is $1800: we have $1760 left in our capital fund. Due to all the wetness, we have not used it yet. There is no point in cultivating when rain a few hours later replants all the weeds.
Interning at the Farm
To shift to a more pleasant subject, Ammie, Greg and I are very pleased with our intern, Victoria Gagliano. She is a sweet and intelligent person, a pleasure to have around, and she works very hard too. (See the profile of Victoria elsewhere in this newsletter.) One of the things we offer interns is our cooperative intern training project, the opportunity to tour several other organic farms in our region together with the interns from those farms. The project got off to a good start this year with a potluck supper at Peacework and an excellent presentation by our chiropractor and friend Jim Leff on how to take care of your body while doing farmwork.
As an experiment, I invited Colin Murray, a 14-year old GVOCSA member, to spend a week working at the farm and living in my house. It was a complete and total success! Colin worked more and harder than we ever expected and we had a good time too. Other teenagers are welcome to apply for similar short stays.
NOFA, USDA and Certification News
Once again this year, Peacework is participating in the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) Organic Certification Program. The NOFA program made it onto the initial list of certifiers accredited by USDA under the National Organic Program (NOP). Although legislated into existence in 1990, the NOP will only be fully implemented in October 2002. Some of our organic farming friends have decided to drop certification because of their distaste for USDA and the NOP. A few say that the government has taken the word organic. At Peacework, we do not feel ready to cede the word organic to USDA. The farmer and consumer members of NOFA created our certification program and the only way to maintain control of it is to continue to participate. I continue to co-chair the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture Organic Committee: our main task is to watchdog USDA as it implements the NOP. We are not at all happy with the way the NOP is performing under the current administration. I will not go into the excruciating details. Please ask me if you want to know more.
News from Crowfield
Since 1983 when they bought Crowfield Farm, Becky helped Doug Kraai with the farm work, but he was the farmer, making the decisions about the bison and running their large array of equipment. The energy and brave spirit with which Becky has taken charge is really impressive. She has decided to reduce the size of the bison herd by selling more meat and a few live animals, but not to eliminate them entirely. In addition to her usual work marketing the meat, Becky has been overseeing groups of friends and neighbors who pitched in for two fence repairing parties. She makes sure the bison are supplied with hay. With the help of Phil Barnes, a skilled hunter, Becky has slaughtered several of the beasts, transported them to a nearby butcher, and then sorted the meat and stored it in freezers for sale. Cory, Doug?s daughter by a previous marriage, has come to spend the summer helping Becky. The two of them can be seen zipping around on tractors with mowers and generally wreaking order around the farm. Throughout all this activity, Becky manages to keep her sense of humor and a positive attitude -- a truly lovely human being.
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