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Notes from the Farm - October, 2004

by Elizabeth Henderson

This season has had its share of challenges ? wet weather, scarce sunlight, tomato and potato blight, the mud and disruptions of the waterline, noise and odor pollution from road paving, hoards of hungry, sharp-stingered mosquitoes ? and yet I come into the final stretch a little tired, but with a warm glow in my heart. While many farms in our area suffered losses from the weather significant enough to deserve disaster payments, our production is above average. The prime, well-drained soils of the Barn Field with grass strips between the beds have allowed us to work through the wettest weather and to harvest without sinking in mud. But what outweighs the physical conditions has been the people around us. Hearing Jess and Katie joke together as they harvest, a thick cloud of mosquitoes swarming around them. Jomo raging eloquently about the presidential debates, teasing me affectionately about my various obsessions, or recounting tales of antics as the eldest of 6 siblings. Helen gaining skill and confidence driving the Allis Chalmers G tractor round and round the farm. Greg taking a moment for a witty quip while plugging away with limitless determination to truck and spread manure or repair the latest thing to break. Ammie with her endless supply of corny jokes, humorous tales and supportive, loving warmth towards critters two or four legged. And the many, many CSA members sharing their stories, joys and sorrows with us over beds of beans or endless rows of carrots. Whatever the bottom line comes out to be, the quality of life has been truly rich.

In mid-September, the universe rewarded us with some splendid summer weather, which would have wiped out the memory of the dark months of July and August but for the floods brought by the hurricanes. The Ganargua overflowed its banks. The waters were the highest I have ever seen, lapping at the edges of the first 6 beds in the Tear Drop Field. The first frost came October 3rd with just a nip, then striking full force early in the mornings of October 5 and 6. This matches last year?s weather pattern, but is two weeks later than what used to be normal. Oddly, we had some mosquitoes throughout the cool, wet days of the summer, though nothing out of the ordinary. Then on September 30, a new batch hatched, meaner and hungrier than any we have experienced here before. These are strange times?.

Fall Crops Abundant

Except for the almost total failure of the melons to ripen, we have produced respectable yields of most crops this season. By spraying with copper, we were able to arrest the blight and save the tomatoes in the hoop house and parts of two of the five 200 foot beds. Some quick research on how to remove copper from the tomatoes we were to deliver to you showed that there is no toxicity. Just to be on the safe side, we washed and individually wiped off the tomatoes with copper residues. The initial yields of the potatoes must have been exceptionally high since, even with a loss of 25 to 30 % from the blight, we are digging reasonable amounts for your shares. The blighted potatoes degenerate by stages; first they develop soft spots, then large areas of mush and finally sink to the consistency of a foul-smelling slime. We offer clothespins for the noses of the lucky members who help us dig them.

This has been an exceptional year for greens. Once again, there has been broccoli for your shares for 7 steady weeks, with more cauliflower than in the past. Though slugs have been plentiful (we collect them to feed our pet turtle), eating large holes in many vegetables, some of the other familiar pests have been scarce. The Asian greens - bok choi, tat soi, fun choi, mizuna and bukina savoi ? lack the filigree of lacey holes left by flea beetles. Knock on wood, we have not been visited by the dread gray aphids that crowd into cauliflower and broccoli heads, rendering them inedible. The annual broccoli flood peaked between September 24 and 27. Fortunately, a visiting farmer friend from Quebec and his three interns helped us on the day of our biggest pick ? close to 400 pounds. We appreciate how many of you responded to our call to purchase extra broccoli to eat or freeze! Under the able management of Melody Novoroske, Abundance Cooperative Market has increased produce sales and absorbed a lot of our broccoli excess. We also sold over $500 worth to Wegman?s, using their automated email system.

The low summer light was harder on root crops and winter squash. The carrots planted in June did not size up until well into September. Those we planted later actually outgrew the earlier ones. Altogether, with the help of many CSA member hands, we weeded 7200 row feet or a mile and a half of carrots! Whatever carrots we do not eat this fall, we will mulch to carry through the winter so we can dig them for spring shares. Yields of delicata, acorn and butternut squashes were mediocre. The fruit are on the small side. The flavor, however, is good, so we cannot really complain. After a spring of great lettuce, growth slowed down through the summer and, as usual, we lost some to bolting and an assortment of fungal rots. We hope to end the year with a flourish of November lettuce from the green house. Five years of use had depleted the greenhouse soils, so this fall, Jomo and Greg carried in many buckets full of topsoil and well-aged compost to give the beds new life.

Soil preparation for next season and cover cropping for the winter have proceeded smoothly this fall. Whenever we complete harvesting a bed, we spade in the crop residues and seed a cover crop. We also underseed crops like broccoli and Brussels sprouts that we harvest past the date when cover crop seed can germinate. Jomo and Jess are enthusiastic seeders. For an entire week, Greg trucked many tons of horse manure from the horse farm up the road. Then he used a manure spreader to coat all 26 beds of the Xmas Tree Field where we plant the first spring crops. Ammie and I spaded the manure into the soil and Jomo seeded oats, which are growing nicely, protecting the soils from the winds and rains of the colder months.
Although the digging of the waterline along our fields and the resultant muddy strip were disruptive, the crew did a good job of smoothing over the damage and seeding grass. The Town of Arcadia has yet to let us know whether they will compensate us for damage to our crops and loss of bed space. We were also able to get drainage tile installed to improve the wet spots in the Tear Drop Field. The tiling was put to the test by the heavy rains of hurricane Ivan.

Research Projects on the Farm

The pepper-breeding project we are engaged in with the public breeders at Cornell has continued through this season. Last fall, we selected the best tasting and finest looking of the fruit from the 300 pepper plants the breeders had given us to grow out. Over the winter, George Moriarity, the technician on this project, started over 7000 plants from their seed, exposed the seedlings to cucumber mosaic virus, and then selected the 200 best survivors. This spring, he brought us 900 plants from their seed. We set out and observed these pepper plants, marked the ones that flowered earliest and again selected those with the best tasting and best shaped fruit. In early September, we exchanged visits with Cornell folks, giving Molly Jahns, head breeder, and her staff, a tour of our peppers, then driving to Ithaca to see their thousands of pepper plants. Her team, together with NOFA-NY, is the recipient of a USDA grant for over $800,000 to continue this breeding work in cooperation with organic farmers over the next four years. This competitive grant marked the beginning of five years of public funding at the rate of $3 million a year for research in organic agriculture. We are very pleased to be part of one of the first projects funded! Another team of Cornell researchers received a grant to do work on organic weed control.

Several times this season, Carol MacNeil, Vegetable Specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension in this area, returned to the farm to take more soil samples as part of the Soil Health Team effort of which we are a part. Like last year, she dug deep holes to observe and photograph the roots of the crops grown at the places selected for close attention. She reports that our plants have impressive root systems. On October 22, there will be a Soils workshop at the farm where researchers will demonstrate tests of soil biological and physical health. At my suggestion, they have invited farmers to bring soil samples for testing at the workshop. We look forward to getting preliminary results of the tests taken on our soils.

Sustainable Agriculture Activities

Every few years, the Wayne County Agricultural Development Board, which I have chaired since 1993, sponsors a tour of county farms for the Board of Supervisors, other local representatives and agency staff. This year, our theme was the contribution small and medium-sized farms make to the local economy. At the pancake breakfast over locally produced juices, fruit, sausage, eggs and maple syrup, NY State Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets Nathan Rudgers spoke about future developments that will make local farms more economically viable and more important to regional food and energy security. Along with 11 of the 13 county supervisors, economic development staff members and an aid to Senator Clinton, Rudgers toured the first farm on the tour ? Peacework. For many of them, this was a first visit to an organic farm and I heard through the grapevine that they were surprised and favorably impressed. In September, the Agriculture Justice Project I have been contributing to for four years held a two-day meeting in Rochester to set up pilot projects. Our goal is to demonstrate that trade in domestic products can be both organic and fair to everyone involved. We convened 14 people who are already actively working for domestic fair trade, including Barbara VanKerkhove, president of the Abundance board. We came out of the meeting with plans for two projects. Florida Organic Growers will test the Social Stewardship Standards I helped to write by certifying several farms, and a group of farms, food coops, and small-scale processors in the Twin Cities area will use those standards in their trading with one another. (You can read them on the RAFI website: www.rafiusa.org). I am very grateful to the Third Presbyterian Church and their Earthkeepers for providing a gracious setting for our meeting and to CSA member Melissa Carlson for housing and transporting three of the participants. I hope our work will increase fair organic trade in the Rochester area.

Once again, my winter work overlaps a bit with the fall making the final weeks of the season somewhat hectic. On October 20, I will talk about member participation in CSA in a workshop on ?consumer trends,? at the NE Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) conference ?Setting the Table: Tools and Techniques for a Sustainable Food System,? in Burlington, Vermont. I will also present ?posters? on my work as a SARE Farmer Educator, and a Farmer Grant I completed last year in which I provided technical assistance to the GRUB garden and convened local organic farmers to discuss ways to help Abundance increase sales of our produce. In November, I will travel to Michigan to deliver a keynote speech and two workshops at a conference entirely devoted to CSA.

We Miss Priscilla

A few weeks ago, we heard the terrible news that Priscilla Cooley, dear friend and long time member of the GVOCSA core group, had died in a car accident. At 78, she was full of life. Such a tragedy? The diminutive figure of Priscilla made a big impression on us. Her girlish giggle punctuated the wisdom that poured from her. On the core, some years she served as Social Director, organizing early season picnics and end of season dinners, and some years she just came to the meetings to be an enthusiastic part of whatever was going on. She contributed nuggets of practical business savvy and a steady flow of love. Her passing leaves a huge gap in our circle.

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