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Notes from the Farm - January, 2003

by Elizabeth Henderson

The weather in the fall of 2002 could have been worse. What we had was challenge enough. An inch of rain on September 15 did break the long summer drought, but the ground was still so dry that we had to continue irrigating through the following week. That marks a Wayne County record for consecutive weeks without significant rain. The first heavy frost was unusually late - October 15. (Most years we get a frost around the middle of September.) Fall lasted about three weeks before the weather flipped again into winter mode. We spent the final month of the 2002 season dodging snow flakes and organizing our picking strategies around heavy frosts. Let's just say that farm clean up is a lot more fun in sun than sleet and snow.

For both quantity and quality, we ended the season on a strong note. While the yield per bed of potatoes was not high, we had planted more beds than ever before and the potatoes had excellent flavor and comparatively few defects. Scab, while unsightly, is superficial, and does not affect the eating quality of a potato. Greens of all varieties were abundant. We discovered that two of the new ones, komatsuna and shungiku, are very cold hardy. I came home from Japan with some new recipes, so expect more of these in the future. The improved irrigation tape that Greg hunted down, with higher volume and holes every 4 inches instead of every 12 inches, assured a steady supply of carrots. One advantage of the wetness in October was that we could pull the carrots right out by hand without using forks or a digger.

The big disappointment was the short supply of broccoli. The number of weeks was fewer because the hot, dry weather caused plants of different ages to mature at the same time. Quite understandably, some of you complained about the gray aphids. All I can tell you is we gave you the better plants! You did not see the ones we left in the field or tossed in the treeline in disgust. You literally could not see the broccoli for the aphids. This infestation was region-wide. Weather conditions were just perfect for this pest, which, once established, multiples geometrically without the need for sexual reproduction. There is no organic remedy. A cold winter should break their grip for next year.

We were pleased to be able to offer Squirrel Bulk again with plenty of onions, garlic, kale, leeks, beets, carrots and potatoes. Assembling the orders in advance of distribution seems to work well, so we will use that system in the future.

As we harvest crops through the fall, we spade the beds and plant cover crops. We had a fine team of seeders this year - Victoria, Judith and Greg became experts in side-stepping with the cyclone seeder so that the seeds cover our narrow beds without overflowing into the grass strips. We covered just about every bed, though the sudden extreme cold prevented some of the rye from germinating. The snow cover is especially welcome on those beds since it protects them from wind erosion.

We had a special extra helper in October - Oneas Mufandaedza from Zimbabwe. He found us through the profile of our farm in The New American Farmer, a publication of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE). Oneas completed a Ph.D. in agronomy in North Carolina in the early 90's, returned to Zimbabwe to teach and do research at an agricultural station, and, all on his own, started a school for impoverished children near his home village. The bureaucratic frustrations he experienced with the school and discrimination at the university, led him to leave Zimbabwe in August to seek work and refuge in the US. As he explained his situation to me, he was not guilty of being anti-Mugabe, the head of the government, but he was not adequately pro-Mugabe. He would have preferred to remain a-political while working for the benefit of youngsters in need of education. He requested the chance to spend a month at our farm to get some hands-on farming experience that might help him get a teaching job in sustainable agriculture. He is currently back in North Carolina, working on a dairy farm while teaching a course in sustainable livestock management.

Our shorthandedness was further reduced by help two days a week from Judith Murphy. A long-time member of the GVOCSA, Judith found herself between homes and asked to live here at the farm. In April, Judith plans to set off on a great adventure - she intends to hike the entire Appalachian Trail! Doing some farmwork was part of her physical training regime. Early every morning, I can hear her downstairs in the kitchen preparing food to place in a drier. She will have gourmet, organic dried food to give her energy for her trek.

I must confess that I did not contribute much to the end of the season clean up this year. I owe a big debt of gratitude to my stalwart partners, Greg and Ammie, and our fine intern, Victoria, who put things in good winter order, despite the inclement weather. They managed to reel in 4 or 5 of the 7 1/2 miles of trickle tape before deep snows buried the rest from sight. To protect them from the weather, we store wash tables, picnic tables and harvest boxes in the packing shed, and tractor implements in the big barn. Anything that will suffer from extreme cold, such as paint, left over vegetables, tractor batteries, etc., we take to our own houses. In my basement, I built a cold storage closet, insulated on the inside, where we store gladiola bulbs, seed potatoes, and root crops.

While Greg, Ammie, and Victoria were winding tape, I was on a marathon of speaking engagements that took me south, then north, then all the way to Japan. I was keynote speaker for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association in Boone, North Carolina, where my theme was "Feeding Our Neighbors As We Would Ourselves." I also gave two workshops on CSA, and the politics of food. Next, I returned home for the last CSA harvest morning and the End of the Season Dinner. Forewarned of a frost, the farm team had spent many hours picking all the greens for the final shares in advance. For those of you who missed the dinner, it was another in our series of annual community celebrations, sumptuous potlucks with a hundred or so dishes from which to choose. I showed slides, recent photos by Marilyn Anderson and me of the farm and distribution. Before dawn the next morning, I flew off to New Hampshire to the Soul of Agriculture Conference where I gave the concluding keynote, "Linking Social Justice and Food Safety." Finally, I flew to Japan where, as a guest of the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA), I spent ten days speaking about CSA,, touring organic farms and meeting with organic farmers and farm members. For a complete account of the trip, please visit the GVOCSA website. I will show slides and talk about my trip at 2 pm on Sunday afternoon, March 16, at Marianne Simmons' house, 49 Reservoir St., Rochester. You are all welcome to attend.

As usual, in December, we complete our accounts for the season and develop a budget for the coming year. Financially, the farm is in healthy condition. Although we spent more money than we had planned on additional irrigation tape and a new filter, we did not spend all the money we had budgeted on interns since we only found one. Through our own savings and member contributions to the capital budget, we were able to purchase a new (second-hand) mower, a brand new transplanter, and a Lely cultivator, that will reduce hand weeding. Compared to many farms, Peacework is relatively efficient, with a lower percentage of our revenues going to production expenses, and a higher percentage to farmer salaries. All your help with harvest and distribution keeps our labor expenses down. Greg and Ammie have been building equity in the farm as I reduce mine since I put up all the initial investment to start Peacework. Our goal is to have equal ownership in a few more years.

For 2003, however, we face higher costs from rising seed and fuel prices. (See the article by Greg, elsewhere in this newsletter, on the cost of organic seed.) We also really need the help of two interns. So far, we have found one, a young man named Chris McCallam from Pennsylvania. We are interviewing more candidates in early February. Reluctantly, we proposed to the GVOCSA Core that we raise fees for full shares by $1 a week. This is our first increase in 3 years. We will also extend the season by one week, so you will get 27 weeks of vegetables instead of 26. The Core approved this change, rather than increasing the number of shares to cover the increased expenses. The farm would rather add only a few more shares, and concentrate on doing a better job for the members we have. We would also like to supply more produce to Abundance Cooperative Market, and to the new CSA in formation by Greater Rochester Urban Bounty (GRUB).

Ammie, Greg and I enter this new year with hope for a decent growing season. Farmers are a little like gamblers: we continue to believe that someday we will win. Unlike gamblers, however, we do not leave this entirely up to fate. We spend part of our winters improving our skills by attending conferences and workshops, and researching new equipment and vegetable varieties. We plan to purchase more high volume trickle tape, a gauge for measuring soil moisture to improve our timing of irrigation, and a big water tank to even out water flow. We would like to improve the gutters on the big red barn so that we can also catch rainwater for irrigation. To cut down on the time we spend planting, we are shopping for seeders that we can mount on a tractor instead of doing all the seeding by hand.

So we hope you will join us again in our "Consumer-Farmer Partnership," where "On the way to your stomach, something happens to your soul!" In this winter of grim news from so many parts of the world, at least we can look forward to a lush market garden of vibrant, healthy plants to feed our growing community for a sustainable future.

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