21 June 2006

Today--the first day of summer, a truly glorious day. Seems like the blackflies were winding down, the air was clear and bright, nothing broke down, and I feel like we are accumulating some momentum out in the fields. We're doing good work, everyone is getting tan and arms are looking strong, and the greens we're harvesting are excellent. This year I've decided to try to keep the remay tunnels over the chard and basil even as we are harvesting them--extra work to open and close them each morning, but I'd love to try to prevent tarnish bug damage without having to spray pyrethrins so often. So far, so good.

For years, I've been meaning to write an informational sheet about our farming practices, our goals, and choices. Each year more and more customers want to know if we are organic. The quick and disappointing answer is no--the long and complete answer is complex and often challenging to succinctly address. I think back to last fall when I was in the market for apples to sell at Chase's Daily and upon asking the grower about her spraying practices was taken aback by her quick and angry retort. She clearly had a chip on her shoulder--no, she was not organic, and she was not sorry, she sells an excellent, well-grown, well-picked product, at a reasonable price and I could take or leave it. I was merely curious( I don't think she realized that she was preaching to the choir), as I had had some conversations over the years with orchardists that had also chosen the non-organic route in pursuit of their own sustainability. That brings me back to us--Chase Farm--and our sustainabilty, and I'll try to keep the chip off my shoulder.

Our goal is to grow the highest quality produce and sell it at a reasonable price to our local community. As a rule, we choose to use biologically derived pesticides or their synthetic counterparts. We use row cover extensively to diminish the need to spray. We spray only when there is evidence of a problem (integrated pest management). We take every precaution to prevent the unnecessary death of beneficials. All spraying is done with a back-pack sprayer. No farm employees do any of the spraying. While not innocuous, the pesticides and fungicides we use on the farm require minimal protective gear for the applicator (Addison), and have short re-entry and days to harvest restrictions. They are not necessarily approved for organic growers, though some are, they are the best products we have found to control our specific problems with the least risk to applicator, eater, environment, and beneficials.

Fertility is essential for well-grown produce. Every fall, our agriculture consultant, Lauchlin Titus, takes soil samples for detailed soil tests. We have a mix of chemical fertilizer prepared specifically for our fields. In addition, we trade with a dairy farmer some fields to be cultivated in cow corn for some mountains of cow manure which we use for some heavy feeder crops.

Weed control is accomplished by hand, many hands, really, and cultivation with a couple different tractors and a trusty rototiller. We use black plastic mulch extensively. And, we grow annual rye grass between the black plastic mulch as a living mulch for weed control and improved tilth of our heavy soil. This year about half of the plastic mulch we are using is a cornstarch mulch imported from Italy--very expensive, but exciting technology. Also, one of our veteran farm workers is investigating the benefits of using cover-crops more widely in our cultivation practices as a project for school--we look forward to her discoveries.

We are good growers. Our fields are full of life--birds, bugs, snakes, small and big mammals, little tree frogs and the occasional secretive newt. There is a family of Canadian geese, six goslings being raised, as we scurry to put up fencing around each new batch of tender transplants in defense of their voracious appetites. Each year we watch the kildeer raise their chicks in the early summer and share the fields with crowds of turkeys in the fall. We try a host of new varieties every year--heirlooms and hybrids--in an effort to grow the very best for our customers and ourselves. We are always learning and trying new things and preserving and improving on our piece of farmland. Please enjoy our produce--we certainly love growing it.

14 June 2006

Still light out and it's nearly nine o'clock, worn out but I really want to get this thing going, try to post more often, get some pictures on here, and get some momentum going. All my spinach died over the weekend--too much rain, they drowned--a very sad sight. We are starting to pick a little chard and kale and beet greens this week and probably lettuce too, in a day or so--which is good. The forecast finally looks encouraging--summer seems to be on its way.

I am going to invite my farm workers to contribute to this blog--they have diverse backgrounds and different perspectives to offer. I hope they get into it--it would certainly enrich the content.

Addison (my dad) spent all day today trying to fix the pump in the well. He is largely nonplussed when things break--he is a very good fixer of most things. He called tonight to say he got it going--which is good because it is very challenging to clean things for market without water and made for a stressful morning for me.

I mean to try to post some recipes, not tonight though, all I will say is pasta with sauteed beet greens, garlic and parmigiano-reggiano and a bitter green olive oil is a good way to end the day

11 June 2006

Today, Sunday, my day off, I am finally catching some glimpes of sunshine and blue sky amongst the still abundant clouds. We have had far more rain than necessary--the okra transplants in the garden are looking very sad and the cucurbits in the greenhouse dearly need the sunshine. I am falling behind with my direct seeding--carrots, radishes, beets, arugula and cresses. We slogged through rain and mud every morning this week to bring produce into Chase's Daily. Sales were largely disappointing, as is often the case the first few weeks of the season. What I don't know is if our customers tend to be more part of the seasonal community or if the locals just take a little while to adjust their habits to buying from us again. It may also be people are not as likely to be excited by a big bunch of fresh mustard greens as they are by tomatoes and lettuce and carrots. I can't help but be excited by the mustards--their pungent flavor mellows with cooking to a delightful earthiness.

I've been reading some of the articles at the eat local foods coalition of Maine web site. I need to learn how to do a link so you could just go there and check it out--some compelling articles about eating locally being the best thing you can do personally for the environment, for your community, etc. Important stuff--eat local, eat your greens everyone . . .