Showing posts with label Brookwood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brookwood. Show all posts

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Brookwood Farm's On-Farm Market

The farm I'm working at this season is having it's first end-of-season on-farm market. Although it's been a tough growing season, we've an abundance of cool weather crops in our fields. We will be harvesting everything for our farmstand sale on Saturday, October 31. What isn't sold will be donated to local hunger relief organizations.

What:  Local, organically-grown vegetables!!!

Who: Brookwood Community Farm growers Judy, Gretta, Simca & Jason, will be present throughout the market to answer questions, chat about our growing practices and share our favorite recipes.

When:  Saturday, October 31 from 9:30 AM - 2:00 PM. Rain or shine.

Where:  Brookwood Community Farm, 11 Blue Hill River Rd. Milton, MA

With a little cooperation from mother nature we expect to have Brookwood-grown garlic, shallots, leeks, scallions, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, spinach, cabbage, leaf broccoli, lettuce, escarole, cilantro, parsley, and more. Organic potatoes and sweet potatoes from Picadilly Farm will be available on a pre-order basis and IPM apples from Autumn Hill Orchard will also be for sale.

Directions & Information about Brookwood & On-Farm Market updates

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's in the share?

I wrote this for this week's Brookwood Community Farm newsletter. Thought I'd get a little extra mileage out of it by posting it here. It certainly applies to winter share contents. It feels like there are fewer surprises with fall and winter CSA shares, though perhaps the surprises are just of a different nature: walk-in coolers that go on the fitz, rodents who discover the sweet potatoes, frozen ground that makes securing row cover impossible.

“What’s in our CSA share next week?” This is a common question from shareholders excited about local vegetables, folks putting together a shopping list for the week’s menus or lining up new recipes to try out. We, your growers, ask this question, too. There is considerable anxiety behind this question for most growers. Spring and summer are the seasons when I worry the most about having grown enough vegetables and enough variety, to satisfy eaters who have a taste for really good food. The innocent question, “what’s in the share?” sets my teeth on edge early in the growing season. I have been unpleasantly surprised by the appetites of woodchuck, stunned by the quick devastation caused by plant pests, and this season, dumbstruck by late blight on our tomatoes. So, I’ve learned to not make predictions about what’s in the CSA share next week. But now, in October, with just three CSA distributions left, I’m feeling a little more confident that there’s both the quantity and variety of veggies to satisfy our discerning eaters. So I thought it time to explain how certain types and quantities of veggies come to be in the CSA share.

It all starts in October. Almost eight months before the first CSA share is distributed, the planning process begins as we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the current season’s crops and markets. Following this assessment, a Crop Production Plan is created. This provides a “big picture” of which crops and how much of each crop we want to grow in the coming season, and how much space each particular crop will need. This plan is dependent on how many CSA shares are offered, what other markets will be served (e.g., farmers’ markets, hunger relief), the vegetable preferences of customers, what grows well on the land, the length of the growing season, the presence of soil-born diseases. The last variable I’ll mention, but certainly not least important in designing a Production Plan, is economic value.

A word about economic value. When we sell you a $375 CSA share, we want to make darn sure you get at least $375 worth of fantastic-tasting, nutritious vegetables. When we create the Production Plan, it includes way more than $375/CSA share of veggies. We know we’re going to be feeding some rabbits and woodchucks, and that a bug or a fungal disease or some other as-yet unimagined interlopers will claim their share of the harvest. So we plan for crop losses and challenges by planting more than we’ve sold. I like to choose varieties that are productive and resist diseases that are present on the farm. We limit the field space devoted to low value, low yield and/or harder-to-grow crops. We build enough wiggle room into the Production Plan that, even in a bad year, we can realistically hope to provide you with 10% more value than you paid for.

The Crop Production Plan is a vision of the perfect combination of crops. This lovely vision first meets the constraints of reality when we try to fit it onto a map of the farm fields. I have observed that farmers never, never, never have enough room to grow everything we want to grow, in the manner we want to grow it. Never. The creation of a Field Map is a complex juggling act: part intuition, part experience and part common sense, but always fueled by large amounts of caffeine. It involves making compromises and much debate: “Maybe we don’t really need carrots, beets, alliums and lettuce every single week, do we? Perhaps we could cut back on these crops and add a little more variety by planting a bed of edamame, fava beans, radicchio, kohlrabi, fennel.” “No one likes radicchio, no one knows what edamame is and fava beans are a low-value crop that gives some folks indigestion.” “Most folks didn’t really like the celery last year, let’s just cut that out.” “Celery! This land was meant to grow celery! It’s perfectly suited for it, plus celery is a heritage crop … something all the old farmers used to grow. We must have celery!” And on and on it goes until, early in January. By then the decisions have been made, fields mapped and seed and supply orders sent in. Why so early? Suppliers often offer discounts for early purchase of seeds and supplies. Plus, there’s still so much work to be done to prepare for the coming season, including a little time off for the farmer.

Greenhouse and field planting schedules are generated from the Field Map. After all that careful planning, we are now in possession of tidy spreadsheets that help to frame and guide the season’s work. The first planting of peas, carrots, cilantro and dill go into the ground the first week in April. Alliums and celeriac are the first seeds sown in the greenhouse, usually in late February.

Back to the question, “What’s in the CSA share?” The day before a harvest we walk the fields and check on the stored crops (garlic, onions, winter squash). We make a list of what’s ready for harvest. We sometimes narrow the list by asking what recipes we, and our shareholders, might enjoy cooking this week. We try to include something new in the week’s share, along with some of the standard veggies we know shareholders want to see each week. At Brookwood, we aim for an average weekly share value of $20.00.

Then we head to the field for the harvest. If we did a thorough job assessing crops ready for harvest, it’s straightforward from this point. We just follow the plan. But occasionally we’re surprised to find that the lettuce, which from a distance looked great, up close has rotted or bolted; or the carrots or turnips have been the site of a wire worm reunion and feast; or the winter squash which looked lovely sitting on a bench in the hoop house, dissolves into an unpleasant mush when we touch it. You get the picture. We don’t really know what’s going to be in the CSA share until we’ve finished the harvest.

That said, here’s what we’re hoping will be in your Brookwood CSA shares this coming week: lettuce or salad mix, escarole, spinach, winter squash, broccoli (or purple top turnips if the broccoli hasn’t headed up), onions or leeks, and a choice of one bunch of chard, kale, collards or bok choi.

Enjoy the harvest!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cover Crops

Cover crops help us begin to replace the tons (literally!) of organic matter taken from the fields during the growing season. Tons (again, literally!) of compost will also need to be spread before the next growing season if we are to even approach replenishing the soil. As you may be able to tell from this old photo of me spreading compost with CY at Vanguarden CSA, I like this winter work!

Oats were undersowed in the cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collards at Brookwood around the first of September. They are coming up nicely. The oats will continue grow amidst these 'cash crops' until the first hard frost which will kill them. In the spring, the oats will be tilled in and the first crops of 2010 planted in their place. Undersowing is a useful cover crop technique on a small farm like Brookwood. It allows us to protect and replenish the soil at the same time we're using it to grow late fall crops. In hindsight, I wish the oats had been applied a bit earlier, when the crops were a foot in height rather than two. It would also have been lovely to use the Cub for the final cultivation/mixing soil and seeds.

I'd hoped to undersow our winter squash planting with hairy vetch, but we missed the planting window because we didn't have the seed on hand. (Note to self, order cover crops in the spring!) It's best to undersow vetch just as the squash vines are reaching across the tire tracks, into neighboring beds. (It's handy to sow it just before a rain, too.) Vetch is a legume; it pulls nitrogen from the air and brings it into the soil where it's available for next season's crops. I think we'll be able to make good use of the vetch next week, mixing it with oats and applying to the beds where the melons grew this season.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blessings of Fall Weather

It's cold at Brookwood in the mornings now. We wear fleece and hats while we harvest early in the mornings. The long underwear, wool socks and warm boots will come out of storage soon. Work sharer, Melinda Gammon, snapped these pics of Judy and Simca at the wash station last week. That's Simca, dunking Swiss chard in cold water (brrrrr!), and Judy in the hat.

Fall is one of my favorite seasons on the farm, the others being spring, summer and winter:-) The cooler fall temperatures and shorter days result in slower weed growth. Crops "store" in the field: I don't worry that they'll bolt or go by when I'm not looking. Morning dew stays on delicate leafy greens until 8 or 9 AM, easing the urgency to harvest these in a hurry. I like to think the woodchucks are slowed by the cooler temperatures, too. I know. They aren't. They are really eating as many of our veggies as possible before they begin their hibernation.

Something I really love about farming in the fall is that I can once again think about more than the tasks that MUST be done today, tomorrow, by the time the rain starts, before the wind picks up, before or after the sun and heat take hold, etc. What have I been doing with my reclaimed brain capacity? I'm still pretty farm-focused, but now I've expanded the range of my vision. Last week I began to drag my co-workers through an evaluation of the season: What worked, what didn't, how could it be made better? At first they were reluctant (I think the cooler temps had started us all on the way to our own hibernation routines!), but we're on a roll now. It's been a phenomenally productive and fun year at Brookwood, and it's satisfying to review our successes and to plan for more.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tractor Dreams, part 3

This summer, whenever the hydraulics stopped working on the Cub, we just filled 'er up with more. Seemed odd that so much oil kept spilling out of the oil filler; odder yet that the Cub never seemed low on oil, in fact, she seemed a little too full of oil.

Upon careful inspection, and a phone call to Charley P, of Village Power & Equipment in Berlin (aka the Cub Whisperer), the mystery was solved. I guess a common problem with the Farmall Cub is that after 60 or so years of use, the O ring that keeps the hydraulic fluid separate from the oil, fails. The Cub is now in Charely's shop and will be good as new soon.

An easily replaced, worn-out O ring .... not bad for a 1948 tractor!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stop me before I plant again!

The fields are mostly planted with season-long crops like onions, leeks and celeriac. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers and summer squash are starting to flower. Succession crops like lettuce, carrots, beets and scallions are being planted and harvested in succession. We've been working in the fields and the greenhouses for two months now and things are looking good. Really good. You'd think that with so many crops in the ground and thriving I'd be breathing a sigh of relief.

Unfortunately, I don't seem to have cultivated a low-anxiety attitude about farming. I find myself worrying about if there will be enough ....... enough for the CSA, the woodchucks, the deer, the Farmers' Markets, the food pantries that we supply. I've started walking the fields in the morning looking for spaces to squeeze in more row feet of veggies. I study the field maps and count the days until new beds open up and we can plant another crop in its place. In a panic that there won't be enough to please everyone, I mentally reject the practice of putting land into cover crops during the growing season. In this, my fourth year of farming, this constant "there's not enough!" worry has become familar.

My knee-jerk reaction to such worry has historically been to plant more crops without much thought given to what happens after the plant is in the ground. This strategy hasn't worked so well because I can plant a lot more than I can tie, weed or harvest. I'll leave it to your imagination to picture what happens when tomatoes aren't tied up off the ground, when there's no time to weed the alliums and when there aren't enough hands to harvest the eggplant. Not pretty.

This year, I've been countering my panic by pleading with myself: "Stop me before I plant again!" This phrase comes from my farmer/teacher, CY, who used to say it while he laughed. This year I finally get it and it's no joke. Not sure how successful I'll be in fighting the "there's not enough!" panic, but at least now I'm armed with a battle cry.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tractor Dreams, part 2

A year ago I confessed to fantasizing about a red cultivating tractor. I am happy to report that some dreams do come true.
1948 Farmall Cub

Isn't she beautiful? This is a Farmall Cub, circa 1948. I use her at my job at Brookwood Community Farm.
Behind the rear tires Shanks and tips underneath

Monday, April 13, 2009


Ack! How could this happen? The farming season has just begun and already I'm six weeks behind schedule! Well, maybe not a whole six weeks, though it sure feels like it. But then, it always feels like this in the spring.

There's the excitement of starting anew. I love the look of freshly tilled soil, weed-free straight beds ready for transplanting. The purr of the tractor. The contrast of greenhouse work best done in shirt sleeves, and field work that is best done with hat, gloves, heavy coat and winter boots. Winter was the time for careful planning to reduce weed and critter pressure during the season, maximize yields, and possibly, just possibly, shorten some of those 14 hour days to 10 hours days, and turn seven day work weeks into six days. Now it's time for these plans to be put into action. Manure spread, fields chisel plowed, beds made and planted, finishing touches on equipment repair and carpentry projects.

This year I've been hired to be the Field Manager at Brookwood Community Farm in Milton and Canton. I've finished my first two weeks on the job and I am just delighted - I mean, really delighted - to be farming at Brookwood this season. I'll post photos and stories of Brookwood soon.

First though, I really should report on the Winter CSA that I'm managing this season. Yes, I know, spring has just arrived and it seems early to be thinking about how we will feed ourselves this winter. Well, it seems early unless you're the farmer responsible growing the food. Picadilly Farm and Riverland Farm are the primary growers for the multi-farm Winter CSA this year. The farmers report that their season is off to a great start. Farm crews have settled in and are working hard in greenhouses and the fields.

Here are some photos I took on a visit to Picadilly and Riverland last month.
Beckley, Jenny & Bruce Wooster Picadilly Farm Field

Jenny, Beckley and I drove down to Sunderland to visit Rob and Meghan at Riverland. What a sweet little farm these folks have! They built a much needed greenhouse this past winter -- do check out the nice slide show posted on their web site. Here are photos of Meghan and Beckley in the new greenhouse, onions for the winter share in the background, and the Riverland Farm apprentices on their first day of work.
Riverland Farm's new greenhouse Riverland Farm Crew