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Spring is here, and already I can feel myself getting antsy every time I think about summer, finding it harder and harder to focus on anything as the school year winds down and the days get warmer.

Though we’ve been hard at work these past two months planning for production, finally it feels like we’re really farming- we’ve had the opportunity to test run a few tractors, witness a direct seeder at work, and have even gotten to pull up some black plastic kindly left for us by the 2015 crew- a real fun time, if you haven’t experienced it (just imagine the smell of rotting brassicas). Writing this, I can hear so clearly an old boss of mine yelling jokingly and enthusiastically “Now we’re farming!” as we complete tasks like these. Indeed, now we are farming.

One of the coolest things about supporting us is that you have the opportunity to really get to know us. Too often people are grossly disconnected from their food. I think if people bridged this gap then there wouldn’t be nearly as many problems with food production as there are today. I have hope that if people saw first-hand the destruction resulting from some conventional farms (pollution, loss of biodiversity, over-reliance on fossil fuels, etc.) then maybe they would choose the more sustainable one… even if the price tag was a little higher.

So get to know your farmers! Wednesday April 6th is the official kick-off farmer’s market: we will be in the Cape Cod lounge of the Student Union from 12:30-4:30pm. Come say hello, and maybe sign up for a CSA share! We certainly aren’t doing everything right, but you can rest assured that we care about the food we grow, and at the very least that we know the things we should be doing better.

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tractor day!

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plastic pullin’

These past few weeks we’ve been discussing a considerable range of topics in class, including (but not limited to) pest management, organic certification, and food safety. We are also finalizing our crop plans, getting a sense of the land, seeding onions and leeks and doing anything and everything we can to sell CSA shares (meaning more vegetable costumes). The biggest thing I’ve taken away from all of it is an understanding of just how hard it is to be a farmer. The phrase “having a lot on your plate” comes to mind, but that doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. Rather, it’s the realization that essentially the entire system is against us (“us” being the small scale-organic farmer). Or at least that’s how I’ve been feeling lately.

Growing food organically is not glamorous. Many farms are opposed to organic certification: to some it only means spending money (on top of the extra costs of growing organically versus conventionally), and lots of paperwork and records. To us, we collectively decided, the organic seal is essential for our markets-especially Big Y.

However, we recently were notified that in order to continue this relationship with Big Y we must soon comply with new food safety regulations that are costly (especially for small farms), reduce efficiency, and require records so thorough that each product sold has to be able to be traced every step of the way on its journey from field to supermarket. Not to mention some absurd regulations (try to keep wildlife and their feces out of your fields!??)

On top of all this we are forced to deal with the politics of the university and more regulations- the greenhouse we put together, we decided, was so structurally sound it could survive an apocalypse. Permits are required for almost everything, no matter how temporary. Almost everything we have to do in order to stay afloat requires brainwork, figuring, money…nothing is straightforward.

This realization of the extra costs and work put into running a farm organically brought up the question of whether we should charge more for our products than conventionally grown ones. Our product should be available to those of every income level…right? The question got a lot more real when we were told how little the average farmer earns and how close that number is to the poverty line.

Again and again I felt like there was no solution or easy way around any of it. All of it left me feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, certain that there is no way to grow a significant amount of food sustainably while supporting yourself and keeping your product at a reasonable price.

Yet, there is hope! Despite all of this, there are people that are doing it! Last week we got the chance to visit a rad farm close to campus called Queens Greens, a decent size operation specializing in (you guessed it) greens. Too many farms fail or are managed poorly when folks go into farming not understanding the work it takes, adding to the feeling of hopelessness… but seeing a farm first hand that does it really really well can sometimes make up for all of it.

Alas, we still need all the support we can get. So next time you begin to tell us farming isn’t a “real job” think about all of this, and then think about what you would be eating if it wasn’t for farmers.

Well folks, the day is here. CSA shares are officially on sale, and for us this is when shit gets real. We’re realizing that this is the real deal. One of the coolest things about this class is that we are running an actual farm for production- it’s not some hypothetical conception that we draft an outline for, hoping all goes well and shrugging our shoulders if it doesn’t. Thus, the reality of it is also one of the most daunting aspects.

For those unfamiliar with the CSA model, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture: community members pay a certain fee to the farmer before the season begins, essentially making an investment in the farm, and in return receive a box of produce weekly as the season progresses. This means that the money we need to do anything is very much dependent on how many CSA shares we sell.

I had a boss that used to joke, “I got into farming for the money!” Indeed, we are told in class to reject the idea of the poor farmer (farm smarter, not harder!). I don’t know for sure if you can make money farming, but I know for a fact that each person in this class is not farming for this reason- we are doing it for the sense of community found through farming, a desire to work with the Earth and use our bodies, to provide healthy, local food for our community, to engage in sustainable work that doesn’t contribute to the climate crisis… the list goes on. We are now, however, aware that it’s going to take some money to be able to do that, and that it’s up to us to make it all happen.

So while we are sending e-mails, making awkward phone calls, postering everything everywhere and bombarding people through social media, tabling and vegetable costumes, we hope you will consider making an investment in us, because we are nothing without you!

 

Umass students, staff and faculty: click on the link below to support us by signing up for a CSA share! 25lb of fresh, organic produce a week! Heck yeah!

https://stockbridge.cns.umass.edu/buy-csa-membership

Season Ten!

Welcome to our tenth season! Our crew is phenomenal and with sixteen people we bring together a wide range of life and farming experiences…most importantly, everyone is stoked to be farming and there are lots of good vibes. We are hard at work planning for the season- crunching numbers, developing marketing strategies, and getting to know one another. The crops have been chosen, the seed order almost placed… we are slowly seeing it come together. I think each of us can attest to feeling overwhelmed at one point or another and there has been much discourse- managing a farm with fifteen other people can get tricky and hard decisions have to be made. Does anyone even really like kohlrabi…? Does anyone have any strong opinions about growing turnips over the summer?
Though there are many laughs, in all seriousness I think as young farmers we are learning how much goes into planning and just how many questions have to be answered to come up with a rough plan for the season. We don’t have all the answers, and no number of seasons of farming will give them to us… we don’t know how the season will turn out, but we do know that we are growing more food than ever and that we are excited to be doing it. Here’s to a good a season!

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the 2016 crew

Autumn approaches

As the hottest days are behind us, the cool nights bring an end to our summer production and a look into the fall. Zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers and melons have made way for peppers, potatoes, beets, winter squash, and lots and lots of kale!

It’s been a great summer delivering to Big Y Amherst and Northampton, UMass Dining and the Faculty Club. We have a very supportive partnership with Big Y (did you see the news? http://wwlp.com/2014/07/25/umass-bringing-fresh-produce-to-big-y/ and   http://www.cbs3springfield.com/video?clipId=10406422&autostart=true), and summer production gives us invaluable experience with wholesale marketing and allowed us to establish a harvesting routine before the Fall semester rush!

 

Fall and Winter Crops

Digging Potatoes - Chris Raabe, Duncan Fuchise

Digging Potatoes – Chris Raabe, Duncan Fuchise

 

Many classic autumn crops take months to grow to maturity, and then days (or even weeks) to “cure” before they are ready to be eaten or stored. In the past couple weeks, we’ve pulled the garlic and hung it to dry; similarly we picked the onions, which need a week or two to dry in the sun before storage. The winter squash need time in the sun as well, after their leaves have died back. The potatoes have been resting in the ground for their skins to toughen a bit, and the sweet potatoes – which, fresh out of the ground, don’t taste like much – will soon be curing in the sun so that they may sweeten! Yummm.

Butternut Squash Curing in the Field

Butternut Squash Curing in the Field

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transitioning to the Agricultural Learning Center

While our summer crops were grown in South Deerfield, the majority of our fall crops are being transplanted and cultivated at the Agricultural Learning Center, closer to campus. There, our three acres of production are nearly all planted, with peppers and kale ready for eating and lettuce, corn, spinach, radishes and turnips all on their way (to name just a few)! We built our hoop house to grow salad greens later into the fall and winter season, and hope to have a wash station and cold storage facilities in months and years to come. This will allow us to grow food and deliver to Earthfoods, Green-O, Big Y and UMass Dining further into the winter months.

Agricultural Learning Center

Agricultural Learning Center

 

Harvesting Leeks - Duncan Fuchise, Chris Raabe and Eli Bloch

Harvesting Leeks – Duncan Fuchise, Chris Raabe and Eli Bloch

With the Fall semester just a week away, we look forward to becoming a full class and crew again, adding a couple old and a few new faces to our Student Farm! And we can’t wait to greet all our CSA members and see the UMass community at the on-campus Farmers Markets. The pick-ups and the market will begin the second week of classes, but if you can’t wait until then to try our delicious produce, don’t worry! Our melons, leeks, onions and more can be found at Big Y in Amherst and Northampton!

leeks

Leeks

Getting to know the Routine!

Summer production carrot harvesting. July 21st: Duncan Fuchise, Nicolle Tanuchi, Ben Goudreau

Summer production, carrot harvesting. July 21st: Duncan Fuchise, Nicolle Tanuchi, Ben Goudreau

We have been waking up early to get out on the farm for 7am as the hottest parts of the day are beginning to be unbearable, except in the water! Our summer production is under full swing and we are on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday harvesting schedule with smaller harvests on Tuesday and Friday which are our delivery days. At first we were only harvesting Basil and Cilantro and soon after Summer Squash, Zucchini and Cucumbers came in and have been in production for four weeks now.

We have made three deliveries to both Big Y Amherst and Northampton as well as four deliveries to the UMass Dining Services at Hampshire. We have also made smaller deliveries to the Faculty Club and Catering Services The Cilantro, Basil, Summer Squash and Zucchini are on their way out of production while the tomatoes, eggplant and carrots are now ready to harvest!

Cleanup Crew July 21st: Ben Goudreau and Chris Raabe

Cleanup Crew July 21st: Ben Goudreau and Chris Raabe

Deer Fence Set up: Week of July 14th: Duncan Fuchise, Nicolle Tanuchi, Eli Bloch and Zach Zenk lending a helping hand.

Deer Fence Set up: Week of July 14th: Duncan Fuchise, Nicolle Tanuchi, Eli Bloch and Zach Zenk lending a helping hand.

 

Fall production makes way!

While there is only about 1/6 of all the land at the Agricultural Learning Center being used by students, we are making a sight to see between both the Student Farm and Food for All Garden! With our 3d solar powered deer fence up and our hoop house nearly done there is now some structure to the farmland. We ask all to take caution and not be tempted by the apple scent that is on the fence, that is for the deers to have a little surprise!

The deer fence came from a grant given by the James Underwood Crockett Fund and we wouldn’t be able to be farming at the ALC with out them! We hosted four of the members this past week, we dined them with our fresh vegetables, showed them around both farms, and both sides put a smile on each others faces!

 

 

Greenhouse covered! July 17th: Ben Goudreau, Nicolle Tanuchi, Chris Raabe, and Ian Back

Greenhouse covered! July 17th: Ben Goudreau, Nicolle Tanuchi, Chris Raabe, and Ian Back

Volunteer Day!

If you haven’t already heard we are having a volunteer day on Saturday July 26th from 12pm to 5pm at 89-91 River Road in South Deerfield! A potluck will also be happening so bring some food if you care to join or just stop by and see what we are doing! No time commitment is required and all ages are welcome!

            At South Deerfield: The Food is Coming

June has brought some very hot weather, and a seemingly overwhelming number of tasks for the student farmers. The weeds are popping up everywhere, and pulling them is becoming a bigger part of daily work at the farm. As mentioned in the previous blog post we are cover cropping the space in between raised beds in order to suppress weeds, and improve microbial activity in the soil. The cover crops we have used are buckwheat, oats, rye, clover, vetch, in nearly every combination of them possible. It is refreshing to see a green mat of clover, or buckwheat between each bed. The most exciting thing this week are the green cherry tomatoes that are beginning to change color, or perhaps the tiny heads of broccoli getting bigger each day, or little zucchini’s forming. We have also gotten a taste of marketing, and just a few days ago picked basil, garlic scapes, and cilantro and sold them to our friends at UMASS catering, for our 3rd sale of the season.

Buckwheat coming up between beds of eggplant and cucumber 

 

 

             At the Agricultural Learning Center: A hoophouse, and we’re growing more vegetables too.

            In the last two weeks we have begun planting at the ALC.   Peppers, and tomatoes have been transplanted. Yesterday we direct seeded popcorn, sweet corn, and edamame, we are anxiously awaiting for the little green stalks to pop up above ground. There Agricultural learning center is much different from the soil at our field in South Deerfield, something we were all aware of but didn’t fully realize we got down in dirty diffing little holes with our hands to plant peppers. There are a lot of rocks in that field, if you are reading this and you want some rocks feel free to go there and take as many rocks as you want.

            Also happening at the ALC is we are in the process of building a 50 foot greenhouse. It is still a greenhouse skeleton with 10 metal arches stuck in the ground, with a baseboard spanning the bottom of each sidewall. Building the greenhouse has been an excellent if not terribly frustrating experience for all of us.   Still it will all be worth it if we are able to grow greens through the winter, as we hope to do. I mentioned earlier that the Student Farm is offering pick your own rocks for free whenever anyone wants them. But if you are looking to visit, get your hands dirty and see what the farm is all about and picking rocks isn’t your thing then you should come to one of our volunteer days on July 12th and July 18th.