Christmas Eve? How did we get here? Time goes by so fast, it seems as though we were picking corn and pumpkins two weeks ago. I remember sitting in Mrs. Norton’s fourth grade class waiting for Christmas vacation. It seemed a span of two years between Thanksgiving and Christmas back then. Now it seems we barely get the Thanksgiving turkey soup cleaned up before we have to deal with Christmas cookies.(translation: eat)
It has been a very busy fall here. We have a huge farm stand renovation underway. As of now framing is completed and we have two new buildings with roofs flashed and papered, ready for the shingles. After the New Year, windows, electrical and plumbing will start as well as trim and siding on the outside. Our friends Leo Maslan with Eric and Mary Skovsted have guided Mike and Ray through the process thus far, acting as the brains of the outfit. When not developing their skills as carpenters, Mike and Ray have been renovating the gable ends of some of the older greenhouses. Thankfully the snow has held off, allowing us to proceed without the encumbrances of snow or ice. Anne and Sarah have been at the books since the middle of October. There is pre-tax work, greenhouse inventory, and seed and plant orders to go through, as well as the craploads of reports and documents to be filed with various government and and insurance bureaucracies. I am sure that if someone told us forty years ago that a farm of this size would generate this much desk work Anne would have remained a career teacher and I would still be driving a dump truck or working for someone else. She puts in an inordinate amount of time at the desk for the privilege of getting to work her butt off in the greenhouses and farm the rest of the year. And she still gets a boat load of desk work to do at that time of the year as well. Everybody is pretty beat and I expect there will be some people who work here who will fall asleep at some point on Christmas Day, besides myself.
As I sit here a jazzy version of Silver Bells wafts from the radio in the other room. It brings to memory Christmas past. I tend to be fairly unsentimental about things, but I can’t help but reflect back on how far we have come since we started in 1974. As my friend Scott Macleay would say, we were farming “with stone knives and bear skins” back then. I sort of fantasize about giving some of the elders who went before us a tour of the place now. My Dad(who farmed and loved the outdoors), Stan Colby (who grew up here), my Grandad (a Tennessee farmboy and beekeeper), my Ma (from whom I got my love of gardening and plants) and my father-in-law who loved all things about animals and farming. I know that they would get such a kick out of how far things have actually come. I also am aware that Edgewater Farm would not be what it is today without cooperative family efforts joined with the committed, hardworking efforts of many of those who passed through as laborers and part of our greater farm family. We can’t help but be grateful and feel more than a bit lucky.
So have a peceful and restful holiday season. The 2011 CSA Programs have been formulated and the information will be going out soon and will be posted on the website. Sarah has pictures on our Facebook site for those who are interested. We will be back at it on the 26th, rest assured. But not before I get some eggnog and quality time in my recliner…..
Tonight we set the clocks back and I am repaid for the loss of an hour’s sleep one Sunday last spring. The crew continues to diminish as others leave for winter jobs or different lives. It is a bit sad to see them move on, but there is not much time to dwell on it as the workload amplifies for the few of us remaining. This fall we are rebuilding our farm stand and the first nails are to be pounded this coming Monday. There is a tension in the air as preparations for “winter” (snow) continue, and there will be a rush to get the new building roofed and buttoned before Christmas. This will be complicated as the shorter and cooler days move in, coupled with the often unstable weather. Mike has been fixing broken greenhouse parts and putting things away, Griff, Ray and Jenny continue to work on packing out what little is left for the CSA (now done for the season) and Co-op orders. Sarah and Anne are trying to get flower and seed orders out for next spring’s material, and I have been working on getting the machinery serviced and put away while trying to get the stock plants up in the greenhouses cleaned up and sorted through. We have the specter of strawberry mulching looming before us which is always a dirty, time-consuming (and dangerous) job. We would normally consider ourselves in good shape if we were not about to start building a new barn.
But there is also the excitement of creating something new as well, hopefully something a lot better. So we hope the real winter weather will hold out for a while as we round up the tape measures, hammers and utility knives, and head up to the farm stand.
The end is in sight. Or is it? We close the stand down for the season this coming Monday (Columbus Day) and as it has for the past 6-8 years, right on time comes a wide spread frost. We always have to respond to the same tired rhetorical question—“Slowing down for you now,I suppose. Not much to do but put everything away….” always with a knowing nod. Fact is, nothing could be further from the truth. As the days get shorter and temps start to cool down there is almost an urgency in the air to get as much accomplished before the snow flies, because in the spring we will all be consumed with the greenhouses and spring plant production. So we spend our days fixing and putting away machinery, mulching strawberries, perennial pots, garlic, rhubarb, patching up the greenhouses, cutting brush and the list goes on. In the dead of winter we are finally confined to the office for tax work,seed orders and trying to lay out at least a rudimentary game plan for the farm for the upcoming season. Everybody gets some down time,but there is always something that needs attention. We just dont all pack up for a couple of months and head to Florida. But then, who would really want to…?
This winter we will complicate things by doing a farmstand renovation. We have batted the idea around for a couple of years of having a commercial kitchen at the farmstand. Many New England farmstands have them and we have recognized the benefits of them, but they looked like a lot of extra money and harder for us-more personnel management. But recent events have precipitated impending federal food safety legislation (Google California Leafy Greens Amendment and SB 510) that have us looking for an alternative income stream should the FDA make us loose our capacity to service wholesale accounts. For me personally, it forced my decision to go ahead. Other members of the family found their own reasons to pursue the stand renovation with a state certified kitchen, so we are all on board. But it has been quite a process thusfar trying to talk to the State agencies,utilities and municpalities. As we are trying to do as much of the construction as possible with the farm crew, I have been acting as a “general contractor” and I must say that I have a greater appreciation of what it is that a general contractor contributes to the process of building something. That said, we are poised to clean out the farmstand the day after we close for the season and start tearing the old structure down. So in essence we will be trying to cram reconstruction in around everything else that needs to be done. It promises to be a very busy (and expensive ) close to 2010. Stay tuned…
The weather just keeps getting more bizarre. We just finished 5 days of over-ninety degree temps. On top of it being extremely dry, this heat seems back breaking at this time of the year.We just finished putting strawberry plug plants into black plastic,in hopes of fruiting them very early in spring of 2011. We had to continually water them in order to keep them alive until the weather moderates and temperatures cool off and they can establish themselves and start growing. If it was tough on the plants ,it was doubly tough on the crew working. Hydration is so important for them in when it gets brutally hot like that. Not only is it miserably hot to have to work in,but conditions warrant that you pay attention to avoid heat stroke, a very serious condition. Now that temps are moderating we will continue with regular fall harvest of potatoes,pumpkins and winter squash. But because it has been so dry here I am afraid we are going to have to break out some irrigation pipe to try to save some of our late fall sweet corn as well as keep the other fall vegetables coming along. No rain in sight….
We are now in the transition phase of our summer where the college students and educators all return to school and we shuffle about trying to fill positions for the remainder of the harvest season. It is a bit of a mad scramble for all the farmers as the term of employment is really only for a couple of months, and any extra work that may be available into early winter goes out to those whom have been in your employ for the longest duration. There is still lots to harvest-tomatoes,potatoes,onions,corn,fall raspberries- so the days will be long for the workers even as the day length shortens. None the less,the cooler temps will be a welcome relief for those of us that felt this past summer was too hot for working in comfort. We are still very dry here at our farm and the summer showers were pretty fickle as many nearby farms have had adequate moisture where we have been irrigating out of the rivers and ponds. Every year we have to report to the sate department of environmental services how much water we use for irrigation purposes and this year we seem to have a bumper report going; quite a change from last year where we hardly showed any use because of the excessive rains. Normally a dry year translates into minimal disease and pest issues. Not so this year as we have had overwintering populations of insect pests due to the mild winter (remember,I had my first bumper crop of peaches…) and hot temps of the summer.We are looking forward to a pleasant fall and hope for a repeat performance of the fall of 2009 which was long,warm and sunny, as we have many projects on the docket.
Farewell to a crappy strawberry season, greetings to a bumper blueberry crop. Despite the frost damaging the blossoms on the blueberry plants and a growing problem with a disease called mummy berry, we still managed to have the best season yet with the blueberries. This is due in large part that our bushes are getting older and larger, and also that we have learned how to be better growers. The crew has been keeping really long hours trying to keep up with the harvest, and have been working until 7-7:30 at night trying to keep up with the picking. This makes for a pretty long day for the troops when your day starts in the field at 7 in the morning. Plus this wickedly hot weather takes the starch out of the toughest of men. We have been getting some respite from the drought this week with the arrival of 1.5″ of rain and we thankfully have been by passed by all the microbursts, gullywashersand tornados that have become somewhat an accepted fact of summer life, an unpleasant little sidebar to our changing climate. Along with changing weather patterns my farming friends and I also notice the arrival of seasonal diseases and insect pests brought up on southerly air flows starts much earlier in the season. This translates into extra time devoted to spraying to protect your crops, whether you are an organic or conventional grower, and that contributes to extra costs. I already got caught napping and lost a planting of cucumbers, and the melons arent too happy either. But we have been vigilant with the potatoes and tomatoes and the return last seasons dreaded late blight is in our future as it has been reported in Hadley,Mass two weeks ago.
An article in our local paper talked about a gardener in Vermont who was caught and fined $1500 for shooting birds in his strawberry patch by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They were Cedar Waxwings and are protected under legislation as migratory birds. It does bring up the point that the interface between wildlife and agriculture is a conflicting one. Our university extension personnel tell us that verterbrate pests are emerging as the #1 problem and pest in New England row crop agriculture. We have found this to be true here on our farm. Where an occasional raccoon in the corn or woodchuck in the broccoli were of concern 30 years ago,we find we are defending our crops against an expanding deer population, and literally hordes of Redwing blackbirds in corn and Cedar Waxwings in our berries. A flock of wild turkeys can raise havoc in the blueberries. For deer we can spray ammonium salts or rotten egg extracts to deter them or erect electric fences to keep them out. For birds we have used (along with shotguns) balloons and propane cannons. It is an increasing annual expense to our production and it is having a huge impact on altering how we do and will do things in the future. We have netted part of our strawberry crop this year,and it worked well in exlcuding birds, but it is tremendously expensive to purchase and would take a huge amount of money and time to cover our 6-7 acres of strawberries. That cost has to be reflected in the cost to the consumer, so we are trying to figure out whether we can continue PYO strawberries. I guess we will just have to charge for it and let the market determine whether or not we should continue.
Hard to believe that the days will now get shorter. Days fly by, although somedays not fast enough. We are in the last stages of a very early strawberry season,and not an all together great one. The winter and spring did little to enhance the plants ability to produce fruit,so production is down. We started so early and the weather has remained such that we may have no berries for July 4th, and that will be a first. Not only are the vegetable plantings screwy this year, but some of the native plants are confused as well. I see milkweed about to bloom and that usually is as late July event. What next? Fall foliage by Labor Day? I dont care, just as long as winter doesnt come early.
On other fronts we have started to deliver to our CSA members and the farmstand is open. So we are very busy on many fronts,with some planting yet to do. Things seem to be growing well, although we have been notified that the dreaded disease Late Blight of Tomato and Potato has been found in Connecticut so we are trying to prepare for that visitation. Its nice to be eating the greens and salad vegetables again. We again have a great crew of people working for us and they are all working long hours. We are trying to squeeze in weeding and watering in between harvesting and sleeping. The end of an early strawberry seasonalso means that we are going to have an early blueberry season….
For most everybody in the Upper Valley, this is traditionally the big weekend to plant the gardens, although many of the more hardcore types have been pushing the envelope for almost a month by getting their perennials in, seeding their hardy vegetables and annuals while covering their more tender transplants from the frost. But if you need to follow a clock, now is the time to get the garden in. Here at Edgewater, as well as at other farms in the Upper Valley, the first planting of everything is in the ground. Because we are shooting for earliness, we oftentime make two plantings of crops you might not consider. We actually have two chronologically staggered plantings of cherry tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons and cukes to name a few. I usually make my last seeding of radishes the second week of September. Planting goes on all summer long with lettuce, herbs, greens and cole crops.
We closed on the purchase of the Putnam Homestead in Cornish earlier this month and are hard at work there, both in the house and the fields. We are going through the necessary electrical upgrades in the house and trying to improve some of the drainage about the foundation. As it is such a huge old house, windows need glazing before winter and that is being attended to on rainy days when George isn,t mowing or having field tillage to attend to. The fields, which haven’t been plowed in anyone’s recent memory, have been turned over and the ancient sod broken. Wood ash is being imported to correct the PH of some of the field as well as raise potassium levels, lime will be used on other blocks. The MacNamara family is growing fodder corn on some of the acreage, while we retain over half of the tillable land to cover-crop and perhaps actually plant to vegetables as early as spring of 2013. In any case, the new property is another task to integrate, figure out and manage. So far, so good.
We seem to be getting more calls about U-Pick strawberries earlier in the year, with more frequency, than ever before. This illustrates the huge disconnect that the average population has with its local food system despite all the recent press of the last couple of years. The earliest call that I ever answered was from a woman who wanted to pick berries the third week in April. It was three years ago, it was the first day that our greenhouses were open for the season, and there were still chunks of ice on the river bank. In the “old days’ we used to notify one another (the other Upper Valley berry growers) to see who would have that first ridiculous call among us and I am now the record holder. But now it is very routine to field e-mails or calls from people who want to pick berries in early May. In discussing it with other growers the consensus was that if people never grow a garden and they see Mr. Driscoll’s California strawberries in the market all winter long, consumers naturally would question why wouldn’t they be available locally in April? Winter is over , isn’t it?
The food safety enabling legislation in the Senate currently still occupies every small farmer’s mind as we charge into our growing season. Although regionally we have tried through our legislators to have our voices heard,there is no real reason for optimism at this time. I thought I would post an editorial response to an article that was recently published in the Valley News and picked up by the Concord Monitor. It dealt with the possible impacts the imposing food safety regulations will have on small farmers in the northeast. The article was quite lengthy and very accurate in a great many ways. They picked up a quote from me that went “It’s going to be a whole bunch of money, a whole bunch of oversight and a whole bunch of regulatory paperwork…not the way I really want to farm.” The quote was accurate, but taken out of context it makes me sound a bit like your standard anti-government malcontent. So I wrote the following response to underscore what I thought were the important points readers should focus on. Here it is.
Susan Boutwell’s article on food safety was timely and accurate but I feel that a few important points should be underscored. I read my quotes in the paper and although they were accurate, I feel that they should be framed into the context to which they were given.
I personally feel that the federal government has not done a very good job of keeping food safe when given the authority to do so. One only has to look at the tainted meat recalls that came from the huge federally inspected slaughterhouses. Or the importation of melamine tainted baby food from China. All of the food safety scares (ex.-spinach, chicken ,raspberries) can be traced back to large vertically integrated agribusinesses and not small local farms in the New England area.I believe that historically the government is much more effective in regulating small operations (in this case small farms ) than larger entities. Large corporate farms have the resources to fund batteries of compliance officers and boatloads of lawyers and lobbyists to their cause, but none of the farmers I know in New Hampshire or Vermont have those resources .
There is not a farmer in the Upper Valley that I know of who is not committed to doing a better job of producing safer, healthy food. To that end our growers group from the Upper Valley (in conjunction with the Hanover Consumer Coop) proposed to Senators Shaheen and Gregg to have continuing documented education provided to the small farms through the University Extension System in regards to food safety, a concept that gets a lukewarm reception from most Senators. What farmers in the Upper Valley object to is the “one size fits all” mentality that would burden small farms disproportionately in terms of capital outlay, burdensome paperwork and annual expense. Senator Gregg issued a editorial response in the Nashua Telegraph to a similar food safety article written a few weeks back in that paper. In that editorial he assured readers that small farms would not be negatively effected by this food safety enabling legislation, which is pure bunk. When farmer Michael Smith of Gypsy Meadows Farm says it can put him out of business, he doesn’t say that because he is interested in getting a picture of his tractor or a sound bite in the Sunday section of the Valley News—he says it because the threat is real for small and start up operations..
What is just as important here as the livelihood of small farmers regionwide is the stranglehold this will have on the development of a sustainable local food network. Jake Guest of Killdeer Farm is absolutely correct in stating that this is every bit as much about grabbing and locking up marketshare by those that can afford to do so under the guise of food safety. It is true that those of us that have farmstands or healthy CSA memberships can still come out the other side of a stringent food safety policy and survive. But it will likely chokehold a developing sustainable local food network regionwide, In the future “Locally Grown” may well be defined as locally grown in New Jersey or beyond.
Everybody’s big question is “Is this an early spring?” Gardeners are all fired up. Even one of my farmer friends is tempted to plant some peas just to get bragging rights (and he may look pretty clever with his early peas for market if they dont rot in the ground first…) Its interesting as a grower to have gardeners come up to me and ask the question, like I am privy to some fountain of information that they don’t have access to. I like Jake Guest’s response fashioned with a rhetorical question: ” So,what’s an early Spring? Three nights in May with nightime temperatures in the low twenties?” So my response is pretty much tempered: go outside, pickup the sticks off the lawn and rake the dog turds around. Do some pruning and have some fun but dont get your water hot about seeding lettuce this weekend in the garden or come by early to get your plants from the greenhouses. April can be a long month, and I can remember being called back to work as a ski patrolman during that month just when I thought I was going to put my skis away and trade them for the summer tractor.
But the focus on the weather does bring up the question of Global Warming in any weather discussion. Forty nine of the fifty states in the Union had snow this year. Its pretty interesting when you are looking at the nightly news and see that the Dallas airport is closed because of snow. There are many politicos who pander to the assumption that these particular weather events point to the fact that there is NO global warming, otherwise how could there be snow in Shreveport, Louisiana? In our little world of agriculture we first got our first information about global warming from some of our University Extension Educators. They had been attending seminars and reported back to us at trade and educational meetings that Global Warming was not a hoax, the facts showed it to be happening and how it was happening. Verne Grubinger, a Vermont Extension specialist reported to us that there was a general forecast for New England and it was this: Winters would be warmer, summers would be cooler and wetter. He also went further to say the climatologists forecast that the natural habitat for our native sugar maple will, in a century’s time, will move north to Labrador. Plus, storms and fronts that result from changes in weather systems would be much more violent and dramatic. Owtch!
After four years, I am inclined to think Verne missed his call as a meteorologist, because things seem to be bearing out just like he said they would, at least in my world. And we farmers spend a lot of time thinking about the weather and its ramifications. Any of us boomers can remember growing up with longer ski seasons and snowier, colder winters,especially those of us who ski and long for the good old days. Maine just logged either its warmest winter on record, despite the snow in Shreveport. I may not live to see the forest ecosystem change,but we can certainly document the extreme nature of the summer thunderstorms. Ask Steve Wood or Poverty Lane Orchards or Matt Patch of Walahowden Farm about the increasing frequency of hail events. I know we live in constant fear of a hail storm. Ask David Pierson of Pierson Farm what hail can do to a vegetable farm. I went up after an event decimated his home farm and it looked like a battlefield…..greenhouse plastic shredded and the fields looked a standing army had marched through shooting peppers and watermelons with shotguns. The 2nd longest tornado trail on record in the continental US occurred three summers ago in NewHampshire-something like a path of 37 miles,which went right through Peter Van Berkums wildflower nursery in Deerfield and toppled trees, ruined greenhouses and carried off a golf cart. How about wetter summers? The last two summers have broken records as well.
Farmers and growers are now dealing with pests and diseases that were unheard of in our neck of the woods twenty years ago. Leaf hoppers showing up in June. Downy mildew in vine crops. Late blight of tomatoes and potatoes…ok,but in July? Squash vine borer? These were all things that were common in the Mid Atlantic states, and now they are arriving in New England like an unwanted house guest.
Rush Limbaugh told me global warming is a Greenie hoax. Maybe he knows something ,I dunno…… but something weird is going on with the weather…
Its been a very busy off season at the farm. Some of the regulars are trying to fit in vacations before greeenhouse season gets in full swing (we have already started tomatoes and some flowers), Hannah is about to head to Georgia to start the AT, Ray is in the midst of a 6 week bike tour of Patagonia, and Liz is trying to line up a grad school for the fall. CSA membership brochures have gone out and Sarah is working up the greenhouse ads for the next up coming season, Mike is finishing up machine and greenhouse repairs. Anne and I try to get out and do a bit of x country skiing but the paperwork that goes with this deal is, at the least, overwhelming. Its either taxes, chasing inventory, filing H2A paperwork for Roy and Willie…..it really keeps us glued to the office. And we have begun the process of lining up this summers employees and interviews…all very time consuming.
At the grower meetings the two hot topics continue to be food safety and the diseases of vegetable plants, specifically the late blight issue of 2009. We lived through the late blight last summer,but are not sure how we are going to survive all these proposed bureuacratic measures in regards to food safety. There is GAP certification to comply with for those of us that are big enough to wholesale to chains like Hannaford, Price Chopper, etc (and we are not).Then there is Senate Bill 510 in Congress that would get the FDA involved with food safety. There is HAACP, state alth departments…..virtually all in competition to jump into food safety to regulate agriculture.
Once again, small farms ( which are easier to regulate but dont always have the financial resources to come into compliance) are going to pay the price for globalization and a centralized food system. It will be a lot easier to regulate small farms than it will be to make sure the melamine stays out of the baby food coming from China or the e-coli from truck loads of factory farmed food coming from the west coast. We small diversified farms in the northeast dont have the political clout in our legislative bodies to compete with the lobbyists and clout that large agribusiness concerns can wield. I understand that last statement sounds like a bunch of cliched, leftist sound bites. But the fact is large corporate agriculture can absorb the significant costs of compliance as merely a cost of business, where we small farms can not. The regulations will be written “one size fits all” in a rush to address the public concern over “safe food” and it will be hard on small diversified agriculture. We are very, very concerned at this point, but not sure what we can do short of writing letters to our senators and congressmen.
Our farm hasworked very hard at cleaning and bringing a safe,very healthy product to the marketplace. As we have grown over the years, we have upgraded and changed our washing and packing area. We actually have a food safety policy as well as an employee handbook and saftey manuel that is required reading for each employee. Our washing /prep area and cooler are right near River Road, so you can drop by daily during the summer and see us at work. If you are curious to see a copy of the food safety manual, its not a company secret, just e-mail us at email@example.com and I will send you back the e-copy.