Waltham Fields Community Farm promotes local agriculture and food access through our farming operations and educational programs, using practices that are socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable. We encourage healthy relationships between people, their food supply, and the land from which it grows. Check out our website for more information.

Friday, July 25, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – Fresh Produce for All

By Alisa Feinswog, Forest Foundation Intern


Forest Foundation interns Alisa (left) & Cassie (right) making the distribution barn look pretty.

It's been wet here on the farm.  While yes, it is a struggle to weed, transplant, and harvest in the rain, it has done amazing things for our crops.  Last week, the field crew harvested upwards of 2,000 cucumbers!  Not only are the yields impressively high, but the size of the vegetables have been enormous.   Unfortunately, perfect growing conditions don't discriminate between crop and weed.  Working alongside the weed crew, we have found our work cut out for us. The weeds, particularly amaranth, lamb's quarters, and purslane have kept us busy and then some.  Helping the weed crew each morning from 8-noon is a particularly satisfying job because the work that we do is tangible and undoubtedly keeps the farm beautiful and the crops growing well.

In addition to weeding, I am helping out with the Outreach Market.  The Market's goal is to provide fresh, local produce to low-income people in Waltham.  We do so at a heavily subsidized price, with some customers getting produce for free with our vouchers and others paying just $5 for $25-30 worth of vegetables.  The weekly Market starts this Tuesday, so we've been doing a lot of work to get everything ready and spread the word to people in need.  Our vouchers are distributed through various partner agencies in the Waltham area, creating an important hunger relief opportunity for their clients as well as for many others in the community.  This Market is another moving part to the food access mission of Waltham Fields. Access to healthy food is a huge issue that the farm works hard to combat.  The problem that we are tackling reminds me of a quote written on the wall at WATCH (Waltham Alliance to Create Housing) where I helped out this past year:

The magnitude of the problem does not relieve us of the obligation to take action.

I can't wait for the harvest and the Outreach Market to start! I hope everyone enjoys the projected good weather this week.

 





Thursday, July 17, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – Transition

by Amanda Cather    


July on the farm is a time of change and growth. While some tasks are constant - harvest, weed, transplant, tie tomatoes - others shift and change. Successions of lettuce, beets, and carrots roll across the farm like waves on the beach. Crops mature, finish and are turned in within a matter of days. Some mornings you find yourself standing in front of an empty patch in the field that only the week before was a thriving lettuce planting, wondering where to harvest next. Weeds grow like wildfire, and their message to us is clear: here at the height of midsummer, they are setting seed, preparing for the cold, short days of winter. The long hot days of July hold the germ of the cold and the dark, and the hope, held in a seed, which will bring us out the other side.

It's been dry on the farm. Rain is sorely needed. At the same time, we are very aware of the challenges of wet weather, including the likelihood of the spread of disease to tomatoes, cucumbers and basil. We've been irrigating, watching the dust blow around the farm, and then heading back to those constant tasks - harvest, weed, transplant, tie. We've been noticing the weird low population of one of our more common pests, the Mexican bean beetle, which we've been trying to reduce for years using targeted releases of a parasitic wasp. Where are they this year? Will they show up next week? Did our efforts work, or is it just a fluky year for bean beetles? Questions like this are always in our minds as we go back to those tasks - harvest, weed, transplant, tie.

The farm has shifted from the early spring orderliness to the wild, uncontrollable bounty of the summer. There are flowers and berries in every hedgerow, weeds in every pathway, rabbits in every corner. For the first time in five years, a groundhog has returned to the Lyman Estate and taken up residence on the edge of our watermelon field. For the first time since I can remember, a big buck is hanging out down in the low area along Waverly Oaks Road. The coyotes, indiscriminate eaters of groundhogs and watermelons alike, seem to have moved on, at least for the time being. Change is all around us now. Every day now we are planting crops that we won't harvest until November, bringing autumn onto the farm. Our harvests are also about to shift, bringing potatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, and finally tomatoes into the mix.  

Every time a succession of lettuce or spinach or beets is turned under, the roots and leaves that remain add organic matter to the soil, nourishing the microorganisms that are the true crop on an organic farm.   As soon as that crop, along with its accompanying weeds, is broken down, we'll plant another one in its place, and before long we'll be standing before that once-empty lettuce planting snapping rubber bands onto our hands, getting ready to harvest autumn radishes. The messy jubilance of July will give way again to the abundance of August and September, and then to the more austere beauty of autumn. The march of the season continues. Harvest, weed, transplant, tie. 


Thursday, July 10, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – A Week in the Life of the Field Crew by Laurie Young



Farmer Amanda discusses production at Lyman during the recent Farming in Waltham program.



Monday, June 30th, we meet at 8am by the wash station as we do every morning. It's me, field crew leader Laurie, and the fab four field crew (Dan, Paul, Rae and Ruby). Amanda is waiting to give us our marching orders for the morning harvest. We start each weekday with harvesting. It is the coolest part of the day and best time to get crops out of the field, through wash up, and into the coolers where they await distribution. Mondays tend to be our smallest harvest day. We start in Lyman and harvest around 500 squash, zucchini and cucumbers. The plants are growing quickly and the fruit seems to be growing even faster. Once we've unloaded those into the coolers we collect garlic scapes. We'll be harvesting the garlic next Monday so this will be our last scapes harvest. So far this season we've harvested over 3,000 garlic scapes!

We've squeezed our morning break in and now it's time for lunch. Thank goodness because it's sunny and already in the mid-80's.

After lunch Dan and I head over to Lyman to repair and move some fencing. Seems a neighboring ground hog has decided to help themselves to some cantaloupe plants. Amanda spotted one over the weekend and the evidence is clear in the chewed up nubs that were once stems with leaves. We're hoping our chicken wire and wooden stakes will deter our unwelcome guest. The sun on our backs is brutal, but we both try to stay hydrated and focused. Rae, Ruby and Paul have their hands in the hot soil (heat from above, heat from below) as they transplant in the Field Station West.

Four o'clock, it's time to go home.

Tuesday, July 1st, we head to Lyman to get Napa cabbage, bok choy, scallions, radishes and turnips. It's already clear it will be another hot day. We seem to be moving slowly already and it's quickly becoming apparent we probably won't get through our harvest list by noon. The bok choy looks a little nibbled on but still delicious, we're finishing the last bed of this planting of enormous scallions and today is our first pick of the turnips. Everything in Lyman seems to be growing like crazy. We get our harvest back to the main farm and into wash up. Then we drive out to Field Station West to cut 182 fennel bulbs. The roots on the fennel are getting bigger and harder to cut. My serrated harvest knife keeps hitting rocks as I try to cut through in one push. It's becoming more of a sawing action.

After lunch it's already a sunny, 88 degrees outside. I'm going to take a look at completing the irrigation set-up for our field around the corner. Ruby helps Anna, one of WFCF's Assistant Growers, with some direct seeding in the fields while Dan, Paul and Rae continue yesterdays transplanting. I like working on irrigation. This is new territory for me and I enjoy learning a new task.

Four o'clock, it's time to go.

Wednesday, July 2nd, we head out to our field at the UMass property to cut 400 heads of lettuce. Like everything else, the lettuce is big. It is also home to countless spiders that like to dwell in the lettuce leaves. To harvest we push the lettuce head to the side to expose the root and with one swift slice we separate the lettuce from the root in the ground. If it's a good cut all of the dirty, slimy outer leaves will fall right off, but sometimes we have to make another cut to ensure the majority of root is gone and with it the less pleasant looking leaves. We then flip the heads of lettuce upside down to make them easier to see in the bed so that none are left behind during pickup. Following the lettuce, we harvest endive and escarole, Swiss chard and 175 beets. Now it's time to head to Lyman.

Once at Lyman we harvest kale, collards and kohlrabi. We need 75 bunches of kale, 50 bunches of collards, and 150 green and purple kohlrabi. Like the fennel, kohlrabi has a tough root to cut - not as thick as the fennel root but definitely strong. After these crops we each pick our tool, clippers or harvest knife, and begin on the squash, zucchini and cucumber harvest. The plants are so big now that I have to wear my long-sleeved shirt to protect me as I reach into these scratchy plants. Their prickly stems and leaves make my arms itch when they touch my skin. The yield from these plants keeps increasing, as does the size of the squash, zucchini and cucumbers.

After lunch Amanda and I go back to Lyman to finish the zucchini harvest (forgot my long-sleeved shirt - paid the price). This is the first time all season we've had to extend the harvest after lunch. By now the temperature outside is 91 degrees with a heat index of 102. It's hot and sunny! When we get back to the main farm, I spend the rest of the afternoon working on irrigation. Ruby has been working with Anna again on direct seeding in the fields, and after that she joins Dan and Paul in the greenhouse to work on seeding in trays for more seedlings that will later be transplanted. In the afternoon Rae is working in the distribution barn. I'm sure it's good to see happy shareholders walk away with the beautiful food you've just harvested that morning!

Four o'clock, it's time.

Thursday, July 3rd, the week is winding down. After meeting at the wash station we head out to Field Station Center and harvest lettuce, endive, escarole and Swiss chard. Next we tackle the 191 fennels and then gather 196 beet bunches. I like harvesting beets. One, because I like eating beets, and two, it's fun to pull these huge and beautiful red orbs from the soil. We put three or four in a bunch, depending on the size of each beet, band them together and drop them in the tractor wheel tracks. As we finish the harvest we carry bins down the track and pick up the bunches making sure not to overload the bins - beets are heavy. After dropping those crops at the wash station we head out to Lyman to harvest kale, collards, turnips and kohlrabi. This is the fourth sunny, hot day in a row and the humidity has been rising all week. We are all drenched and red-faced and ready for lunch.

After lunch the temperature is 90 with a heat index of 99 degrees. We continue our work tired but undeterred. Ruby, Dan, Rae and Anna head to the greenhouse to load plants into the truck for transplanting. Ruby will then have her turn in the distribution barn. Dan, Rae and Anna take turns driving the tractor with the transplanter attached. The other two transplant while riding on the transplanter. It is nice to sit for a bit but still hard work. Paul and I are in for an afternoon of "tying tomatoes". The reason to tie tomatoes - tomato plants that are staked up and tied will grow and produce better tomatoes that are easier to pick. Untied plants will grow along the ground, causing the plants to tangle and the tomatoes to rot, and can lead to disease.

Four o'clock...

Friday, July 4th, we head straight to Lyman to get through our harvest as quickly as possible. The deal is, as soon as harvest is completed our workday is done - Happy Fourth of July! We start with collards and 100 bunches of radishes. Our grand finale will be the squash, zucchini and cucumbers. We harvest 1,001 total and are finished by 10:00am!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – Survival and Growth



Life’s desire to survive is innate.  It seems to be wired within all beings.  As we transplanted swiss chard, beets, lettuce, kohlrabi, cucumbers, scallions, celery, and celeriac this week, I am always amazed at the resiliency of life.  Of course, as farmers we start out by doing everything in our power to create a nurturing and stable home for the seedling.  We start by “hardening off” the plants for a few days (moving them from the greenhouse to the outdoors) allowing them to acclimate to their new outside environment without going into the ground yet.  Then there is bed preparation, which makes space in the earth for roots and gives each crop the nutrients it needs to grow.  After this process we work to transplant the seedlings, usually done by tractor but sometimes by hand.  It is time for the seedlings to be in the world, to take root on their own and for nature to nurture.   

And yet, despite all of these preparations, sometimes nature works against us.  We have been in a severe need of rain this week.  I recently learned that vegetables need ideally 1 inch of rain per week for full growth.  When it’s dry it creates many restrictions on what we can do.  Two important tasks on the farm, transplanting and cultivating, should not be done, unless irrigation is possible.  There must be some moisture in the soil when we do weeding because crops are inevitably disturbed during cultivation.  So what did we do?  We harvested in the morning to first get the veggies washed and into the coolers.  Next, Amanda, Zannah, and Hector worked to first irrigate where we could while the field crew pounded tomato stakes and tied tomatoes.  Then all of us went to the greenhouse to seed the week’s plants.  And, then when the sky failed to release even a single droplet from its vast sphere, all we could do was pray for rain.  I remember Amanda asking if Hector was going to do a rain dance.   And then it came!  Wednesday early in the morning I remember waking up and hearing the rain and thinking how happy Amanda will be.  By the end of the day the plants were lush, full, and vibrant.  And the cycle continues.

Lately it feels like the velocity of time has sped up along with the daylight.  The plants are growing below and above the soil and so are the weeds. Summer squash and zucchini were harvested for the first time this year.  The weed crew and field crew have also adapted to a new home and new kind of work.  As a farm family, we are able to do an immense amount of work each day.  The harvests are increasing along with our capabilities to harvest, wash, and pack, and eat.  It is inspiring to take a step back, breathe, and see what we have accomplished and how we have grown too.  This season I am more aware of a greater connectivity to all life.  Humans and plants seem to be more similar than I had realized.  It is a beautiful relationship that I think can help us understand each other better – looking deeper into our needs and instinctual determination to survive, grow, and help others do the same.

Anna, for the farm staff and all involved in the process 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – Summer Solstice


This past Saturday, we experienced the Summer Solstice, our longest day of the year in the Northern hemisphere - and what a day it was on the farm.  Over 20 people came out for our first-ever Crop Mob mass weeding event, shareholders picked peas and herbs together, and family members came by to visit staff and enjoy a stroll around the fields, admiring the beauty and our hard work.

Here's a favorite poem to honor of this special time of year:

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-- the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

- Mary Oliver

Thursday, June 19, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD - The Cycle in Motion


 Each year the life cycle of the farm never ceases to amaze me. It begins each March, while winter is still amongst us and the wind blows through the empty fields and turns our cheeks a rosy red when we walk from the main building to the greenhouse. The greenhouse is where the annual cycle begins. As one enters the greenhouse in March they are greeted with the smell of earth and baby seedlings. This always reminds me that winter will leave us and be replaced with springs rebirth and summer’s bounty. But in March, our small team spends many hours in the greenhouse filling trays with soil and seeds. This is repeated until both greenhouses are filled to capacity with what will become our farm’s summer bounty of amazing produce that will nourish the minds and bodies of a thousand families.
As spring days get longer and warmer the farm activity changes too. We spend more time in the fields turning over the soil and preparing beds. Then we wait hopeful that the last frost is behind us and begin transplanting from the greenhouse to the fields. Our field team painstakingly undertakes this task with diligence and joy at what is to come. After the seedlings have been planted in the field and our world experiences its annual re-birth and spring growth, our field team must also expand. By the time June arrives and our world is in bloom, our farm staff also grows and blooms into a wonderful team. We welcome the addition of our weed crew who work daily from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm keeping those pesky weeds at bay. We also welcome our Field Crew who work daily from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm harvesting in the morning and performing other farm tasks in the afternoons. This is my favorite time of the year. Our fields are full, are staff is dedicated to keeping them that way throughout the season and distribution has arrived once again, for people at all income levels including those in need of assistance. It is time for all of us to enjoy this time in our annual cycle and cherish what we have all helped to create with this beautiful community farm.

Naomi Shea, for the Farm Staff