SPUDS !!

Fifteen hundred pounds of seed potatoes, delivered on this cold and lowery day, await the knife, their reduction into ounce-and -a- half chunks. Those 15,000 pieces of seed will plant 10,000 feet of row.

We await warmth enough to get the soil into the mid- 50 degree range. That temp will awaken the eyes. Hopefully the earth will not be so soaked as to rot the seed.
It is all such a crap shoot. Hours and days of work to set the maximum possible yield are followed by longer days and hours still, preserving that potential from losses threatened of drought, disease and insects.

In my mind’s eye, the field looks gorgeous; bright green bushy plants, cleanly cultivated and dotted with the bright white blooms that signal the initiation of the new tubers. Planted in mid-May, a favorable spring will allow for pea and new potato soup for Independence Day.

We plant 500 pounds each of Superior, an early yielder, Kennebec, a round white standard variety, and Green Mountain. This last is reputed as the best baking potato, flaky and fluffy. Its eating quality is such that the state of Maine made its reputation on the Green Mountain potato.

Today was also the seeding of the third of five batches of cabbage seed. The two thousand seeds are sown with an ingenious vacuum device lifts them, perfectly spaced and singulated, for transfer to the flats where they will grow until transplant time.

These too will be set out at their maximum potential to face the vagaries of summer weather and the certainty of cabbage moths that will bob across the field, so white and pretty.

It feels like pre-game jitters, checking to make sure the implements are ready, all the supplies on hand. We need some warm, dry days with wind to dry the ground for tillage.

Last year we gave away over 30,000 of produce and hope to boost that by a third this year. Can’t wait to start!

Off to the Flower Show

We will have a booth at the upcoming Flower Show, March 1,2 & 3 at the Champlain Valley Expo, space shared with Salvation Farms, our chief partner in the harvest and distribution of over 15 tons of organic vegetables last summer.

The Flower Show is a collaborative effort by members of the Vermont Nursery and Landscape Association and includes a fantastic garden display; the refreshment of fragrance and color is a sure antidote to cabin fever.

The booth space that will allow us a presence in front of the estimated 10,000 who will attend. This is an incredible opportunity to publicize our joint efforts to meet the needs of Vermont’s hungry.

Spring Fever

Ten hours of light!  Even at sub-zero, walking north, the black-backed jacket gathers warmth enough to hint at spring.  Two feet of snow insulate the fall planting of rye grass; in 90 days it will stand knee high.  Oats that grew knee high last autumn act as mulch for the white clover with which they were inter-seeded.

Feed the soil, feed the plants, the plants feed yourself.  Every year we spend hundreds on these cover crops, building up organic matter, breaking pest cycles, and, in the case of clover, plucking fertilizer from thin air!

These crops will soon be nourishing 10,000 cabbages, 1500 pounds of seed potatoes, 3000 bell peppers and over 5000 transplants of winter squash.  These figures represent a modest increase from last summer, when the farm yielded about 16 tons of organic vegetables, all then given away. 

A major improvement for this summer will be an irrigation system to boost the potato yield.  The components of that system represent a wonderful web of friendship.

I exited strawberry farming in 1989 and financed an education, in part, by selling an irrigation system.  That degree enabled a design-build landscape business and the acquaintance with the members of its professional community, who were exceedingly gracious to a newcomer.

The droughty summer of 2018 severely limited potato production, in a field not 100 yards from the pond that furnished frost protection to the strawberries all those years ago. So, enter the support group of nursery operators who allowed my gracious re-entry into the irrigation business.

Two years ago, a nurseryman donated his used irrigation pump. A perennial grower gave a valuable collection of quality brass fittings. These will connect with plastic pipe, freed up when another nursery operation shifted his methods of production.

These items combined should add several tons of potatoes to this fall’s yield. 

Seed orders are starting to arrive.  The cabbages and peppers will be sown into flats with a vacuum seeder donated by a local greenhouse.  The benevolence of my associates from landscaping days sustains me.

The vast majority of last year’s crops, about 30,000 pounds, went to Salvation Farms, a not-for-profit dedicated to wringing the waste out of the food system.  They organized volunteers for harvest, arranged for transportation to their food hub in Winooski, and got the produce sorted and packed by work-force trainees.  Perhaps 90,000 servings went out.

Another large recipient was the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps.  Based in Richmond, the group’s Health Care Shares initiative makes scores of home deliveries to needy households in northern Vermont.

We are in conversation now with this group to arrange for occasional help with weeding crops, a bottleneck in the production cycle.  We are fortunate again to be associated with a group that, like my landscaping friends, honors the concept of the two-way street.

So we enjoy this time of planning and promise, await the advancing warmth to melt the snow, to stiffen the mud, to reach the day when field work can commence.  From the outset you’re two weeks behind.  But the growing light, the loam aroma animate the fast dance into spring.  Can’t wait!

Scorekeeping

We set ourselves a new record in 2018, growing 18 tons of organic vegetables donated to agencies committed to ending hunger in Vermont. That is more than 100,000 servings !

This is more than than the previous two summers combined. We significantly expanded our plantings of cabbage, green beans and winter squash, all of which performed well despite high humidity, record heat and scant rainfall.

Weight is the only statistic we can quantify, the manner in which all the food distribution agencies mark their performance. It tells the size of the crop but misses its importance.

Imagine the anxiety of wondering when you might next have a meal. Imagine sending your kids to bed on empty stomachs. Imagine going to school, the teacher’s voice drowned out by a grumbling stomach.

To whatever extent our food heals those hurts, we are grateful for the opportunity to do so. We are grateful as well to our partners whose labor at the harvest brings it all together and without whom we could not do this.

It’s All About the Team

Final harvest over the past two Fridays. By mid-morning today 30 volunteers were picking produce. By the end of the day about 8500 pounds of squash, peppers and pumpkins were ready for distribution to hungry Vermonters.

Thanks to Youth Build of Burlington, Community Bank, True North and the marketing staff from NRG for their assistance in bringing in the last crops.

Hats off to Carly Monahan of Salvation Farms who coordinated volunteer picking efforts here at the farm for the past three months and oversaw distribution of approximately 15 tons of produce.

One of the eleven bins, nearly five tons total, awaiting delivery to Salvation Farms thanks to the donated services of Black River Produce.

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Mud Munchkins

  Our favorite volunteers this fall came from the Richmond kindergarten class of Ileen Gilbar. The kids spent a sodden morning last week picking potatoes. The pictures say it all.

The children each brought back a pumpkin and on a follow-up visit to their school received potatoes, peppers and winter squash to take home for sharing with their families.

We are pleased to be able to touch another generation with the joy of farm life and the importance of giving back to the community.

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Future Farmers of America

Talk about dedication: Through wind, soaking rain and mud, nearly 20 people were involved Friday in harvesting crops for donation to Vermonters in need.

The VT Youth Conservation Corps collected more than 400 pounds of potatoes to distribute to in-home recipients across northern VT and then helped to pick an additional ton and a half that will be processed by Salvation Farms and passed out to food banks up and down the Lamoille Valley.

More than 6000 pounds of butternut squash sits in bins here in Jericho, awaiting pickup through the coming weeks.

The happiest of the volunteers were kindergarteners from Richmond, for whom potato collection was more of an Easter egg hunt, and the walk to and from the field an opportunity to splash through every puddle.Grinning, muddied faces and a pie pumpkin apiece were the rewards. If there were video, these would be the lead actors.

Thanks to all who gave their time through nasty weather to collect enough organic vegetables to provide 30,000 servings !

Hawkeyes

Five plus acres of buckwheat were harrowed in as green manure this week.  The plants were thickly sown and smothered million of weed seedlings.  Working inward from the perimeter of the field, the last narrowing strips contained the frightened rabbits.

When one of these made a break from cover into the open, harrowed ground, it was not five seconds before a marsh hawk lifted up its evening meal.  It had to have been hovering in wait; harriers are among the most adept and acrobatic fliers.

Nature is relentless.

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One harvest in

The first bean planting has been harrowed in.  Five pounds of seed generated over 1000 pounds of yield and a great deal was left behind.  Three more plantings are yet to come.

It will be yellow beans next year.  This year’s variety, Provider, while very productive, was also sufficiently camouflaged to elude inexperienced pickers. 

We never entertained the idea that everything will be picked, but it still is bothersome to see good food go under.

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