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Welcome to our blog! Learn about our farm operation, public programs, and the people behind our work through the Notes from the Field and Education sections. Peruse the Recipes section for some staff favorites.

Waltham Fields Community Farm (incorporated as Community Farms Outreach, Inc.) is a nonprofit farming organization focusing on sustainable food production, fresh food assistance, and on-farm education. For more information about Waltham Fields check out our website!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Farming Lessons and Learning

I haven't been farming for very long, 
            and I don't know what more seasoned folks would say, but I feel that farming is humbling work.  Heck, I wouldn't even consider myself a farmer although my days (and nighttime dreams) are filled by this land.  

There are so many skills needed, so much memory and planning and strategizing, that I am in awe of our fearless leaders and farmers, Erinn, Dan and Anna.  Personally, it seems that every week is somehow interesting, filled with new discoveries or challenges.  I'm finding that small things hold so much weight - a seemingly little object, each and every piece, is crucial to the whole.  Twice this week I learned that lesson, once with a clamp on those blue irrigation hoses you may have seen around, and once on a turn-buckle on a tractor.  It's easy for something to snap, or get stuck, and have an otherwise simple, habitual task take a new turn.  I think I learn new skills by the week.  

Like many people, I didn't grow up farming or working with tools and it's both exasperating and exciting to have my limits challenged by inanimate objects.  I think most farmers live between the balance of trying not to reinvent the wheel, while trying to find fresh, efficient solutions. Sometimes I feel like a piece of steel is smarter than me - it certainly can be stronger.  These (long) moments, when I'm sitting on the ground wrestling with a wrench, pushes me to be more creative in my approach.  More thoughtful, as well, and to take a step back and look at a problem from a new angle.  It's a lesson worth learning and relearning.

Janelle leads the way with a load of rainbow chard

It's a hard time of the year to actually take that backwards step and reflect.  Yet, it's necessary and happens naturally - the tedious seems a little less so when I remember the reasons why I love to farm.  The quiet spring evenings spent looking over the front field feel like forever ago, and it's funny to imagine that in just a few weeks the mornings will be cool again.  I love hearing stories about WFCF and the community that peoples it; there are traces of everyone here.  I love that feeling around five in the afternoon where the morning felt like it happened years ago, and I've used my body and mind well that day.  It's been on my mind lately about how when we step off the farm road and into a field to harvest, it seems like all else slips away.  The work we do is all-encompassing and when you let it, truly meditative.  It is thoughtful and intentional work, and while a farmer can make a task her whole world, it is a task done for the world she lives in.  Farming is something that we give ourselves to, and we just gotta embrace the ride.
Enjoy the sunshine,
Janelle, Assistant Grower

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Trials and Tribulations of This Summer

Although last week brought more of the same - yup, hot and dry - by Friday we at least had the first cloud cover that we've seen in weeks. The rain predicted for Friday, Saturday and Sunday didn't amount to much, and we're still very much feeling the effects of the drought that 99% of Massachusetts is experiencing.  It's not just that
we're moving our irrigation systems constantly, which has accounted for many, many labor hours this year, but that it has been impossible to get a buildup of soil moisture.  The depth of dryness is so extensive, the soil particles are so desiccated and the air has been so hot that the tension between getting water on as many crops as possible over the course of a week and having water on crops long enough to really soak them has been one we can't ease.   Lack of water leads to stressed crops which in turn makes them more susceptible to pests and disease.  We're seeing this effect heavily in our spring planted kale and collards, which are staples of the CSA distribution and our Outreach Market.  It used to be that flea beetle pressure would be high in the spring but by the time we were putting fall brassicas in the ground in mid-July, pressure would be low enough to not affect them too much.  There would be a perfect lull in the population and when the second generation appeared briefly in the hot days of August, the plants would be established enough to fend them off and be less appealing to the pest.  This summer is the worst pressure I've seen of the beetle, and our newly planted cabbages, kale, collards, broccoli, cauliflower, and especially Napa have already needed a spraying of the few approved controls we're able to use in organic production.  We seem to be in the midst of a population boom with the second generation coming on earlier than ever.  

Flea beetle damage is unsightly, but the produce is perfectly fine
 to eat (and may even contain higher amounts of phytochemicals 
good for human health) .
For the first time ever, we've decided to use row cover on a few beds of July planted Napa seedlings, a control method we usually reserve for the cooler weather afforded by the spring.  We've had to spray our spring planting multiple times and I was surprised and disappointed to see our purple kale practically black with flea beetles last week.  And despite getting the irrigation going on them at least weekly, the plants seem to have stopped growing altogether in the droughty heat wave.  There have been many hours spent weeding, feeding and watering our earlier planting of kale and collards and I am hoping that they'll pull through the next month to bridge the gap to the new planting.  But if the flea beetle pressure on them continues to be too strong to contain then we'll have to make the tough decision to mow it early in order to ensure the health of our fall crops.  As for now, we're taking a break from harvesting both kale and collards with the hope that a little more tending will get them back on track. 

Weed crew has their hands full this season.
One of the other big challenges the drought has presented has been with our direct seeded crops.  Most of what we grow is started in the greenhouse and transplanted out into the fields as seedlings.  A few crops, namely carrots, dill, cilantro and beans, are seeded multiple times throughout the season directly in ground.  Usually just a little soil moisture is enough to get these guys germinated and popping through the soil, either ahead of or neck and neck with the plentiful weed seeds in our fields.   This year we're struggling with all in-field germination, which has been erratic, unreliable and sometimes just not there.  The weeds, however, are as opportunistic as ever, and the irrigation that we're putting on our direct seeded beds has frustratingly been enough to encourage weed germination but not our crops.  When this happens, it becomes extremely difficult to cultivate or even hand weed the beds.  A flush of weeds grows rapidly, and if we've got our cilantro or carrots coming up a week later at best, and another week or so before the crops are established enough to actually weed around, then we end up in quite a pickle.  At that point, the weeds are so well rooted that it becomes even more disruptive to pull them out and increases the likelihood of pulling out the small, tender, just barely there crop.  On top of that, the soil is probably pretty dry, because we probably have the irrigation going on the newly planted lettuce that we're trying to keep alive in the 95 degree heat.  Weeding small crops in these hot and dry conditions can actually disrupt the plants to create more harm than good.  My hope here is that you can start to understand why the beans, dill and cilantro you may be picking in the next couple weeks are such a hairy jungle.  Luckily, the cherry and plum tomatoes have strong fruit sets and we're starting to see some more consistent ripening with them.  We're getting water on the tomatillos and husk cherries as much as we can and hoping to see them, along with the chiles, come on in the next few weeks.

 It's tough to keep energy and attitude from faltering in the kind of weather we've had this season.The past few weeks in particular have been so hot and trying that it's demanded a real commitment to community and camaraderie from everyone working in the fields.  Thankfully, everyone was able to rise above the impossible drain of the heat waves and keep on keeping on.  By Friday we had those precious clouds all day (though not filled with nearly as much rain as we would have liked) and I was feeling the cumulative fatigue of countless 90+ degree days and relentless sun.   But with a spirit true to both farm crews this year, everyone rallied for a 3:30 power push, getting the last of our cauliflower planted in record time, all of us racing against our own exhaustion.  With a final burst of energy, we surged through the end of July together.
Enjoy the harvest!  
-Erinn, Farm Manager
for the farm staff

Friday, July 29, 2016

Let's All Do A Rain Dance!

As I see it now, the theme of the summer is easily summed up in two words: HOT and DRY.  It literally feels like the dust bowl out there and I can't really remember the last time we had a soaking rain.  The sun felt strong this week and although it's physically challenging work, I feel more connected to our Earth and our food through this challenging weather.  We as farmers spend most of our waking hours absorbed in the same environment as the food we grow and eat.  It feels similar to when you share a meal with someone and you are all eating the same thing.  Knowing that we as a crew and as a community share the same sun rays as the plants, the same temperature, and live on the same soil, keeps me going on those long, hot days.  There is a freedom in simply being in our environment in all weather and letting go of our comfort zones.  This is when I see the most growth and change in my life.      
Our morning routine this week has been to head straight for the water and in every direction possible.  We are using all the tricks we can.  Our aluminum pipe system has taken up residence in our newly planted west field, taking care of our fall brassicas, chard, lettuce, and beets.  This system which delivers the most water through overhead sprinklers requires us to move about 7 long aluminum pipes across the fields.  It feels as though you could pole vault with these - they are much lighter than one would think.  It's quite empowering to carry them on your shoulder and I must say that Erinn and Dan both do it with such grace, each able to carry two pipes at once. 

Second, we have the water reel (not to be confused with the water wheel which is used when transplanting).  This is just a couple years old now and let me tell you, it's a work out setting it up.  It is a retractable hose with a sprinkler attached that covers about 7 beds in either direction depending on the wind.  When Janelle and I pull it out at 7am, we debate over who will get the full body workout and who gets just intense arm strengthening.  It's a great way to wake up in the morning if you ever get a chance to try it.
Yet another way is our drip lines that remain under our biodegradable plastic used with our tomato, eggplant, and onion crops to name a few.  Although this takes more time and possibly more money upfront to lay down on the beds, it is ultimately a more efficient system and requires us only to turn the faucet or pump on for a few hours assuming the pump is working...  It does require time for setup and repairing of holes, but the water goes directly to the roots avoiding the pathways and foliage of the plants.  It also does not compact the soil as much as an overhead sprinkler system. 
Lastly, we are even using your run-of-the-mill home oscillating sprinkler which works great for directly seeded crops like our carrots, but also has saved the flowers which I will
add are STUNNING! Erinn has done an amazing job! With all of these methods of watering we must think strategically in order to be most efficient with our time and energy as well as conserving water where possible - which is what farming is all about.  We need to think about how long the water reel will take to run, which pipes have more pressure, what crops are in dire need, what covers the most amount of space, what will need transplanting next, etc.   

Last week marks the end of an era and the beginning of many others.  Summer education programs started last week and it's refreshing to have so many young people on the farm.  There is so much discovery and exploration happening and it puts a smile on my face.  A couple weeks ago a little girl asked me as I was in the wash station, "Are you a farmer?" and I replied "Yes I am, who are you?" and she proceeded to tell me her name.  It's such a delight to have so many levels of education happening in one place. 

We finished harvesting the garlic which had been in the ground since November, so it felt like a big deal.  This particular garlic really went through the ringer.  It sprouted in December and then we quickly mulched it with leaves.  It definitely experienced some deep frosts and did not receive much water or fertilization.  We didn't even need to weed it all season!  But to both Erinn's and my surprise it is some of the most beautiful garlic we have had in a few years.  The garlic will now cure in our greenhouse for a couple of weeks so that it will be able to store for the winter months.   
As for the summer vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and carrots, they are moving along and should be ready very soon.  Luckily for these crops the heat and sunshine is perfect - we just need to keep watering.  The routine continues of seed, transplant, water, weed, water, harvest, and repeat.  And did I say water?      

I will leave you with a quote Amanda shared a few years back at this midsummer time. "The beat of time is like the throb of a healthy heart, strong, steady and reassuring...it is the richness and the ripeness of the earth again made manifest. And man participates, if he will, not as proprietor but as a participant in life itself." -Hal Borland.

Enjoy the summer, the harvest, and the world around us,
Anna Kelchlin
Assistant Farm Manager
for the Farm

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Full Strength of July

It seems as though the season is moving along at such a quick pace.  It's already the second week of July!  Cooler weather crops have come and gone, and we are settling surely into the summertime.  We are nearing the end of greenhouse seeding for the season (just two weeks left!)...thus closing the spring and looking ahead to the fall
as we start to plant autumnal brassicas.  I was amazed, standing in the field the other afternoon with Erinn and Anna as we checked on the recently transplanted broccoli seedlings: they're taking root so fast!

The crew seems to be mimicking that rooting behavior.  Last week we welcomed a fourth field crew member Andre to the team and it feels like we are really hummin' now.  The jokes and camaraderie are as plentiful as the harvest.  We've enjoyed fresh cucumber popsicles made by Stacey, and ended one Friday with an intense race to plant celery.  We split into two teams, and among all of us we planted two 200' beds in under fifteen minutes!  Imagine eight sweaty farmers at the end of their week, bent over planting, yelling, laughing, and moving faster than tractors, all within inches of each other.  Strategizing, competition and motivation were at an all-time high.  It was neck and neck to the end and totally incredible.  And, in case you were wondering, my team won...

            Despite the dry weather, the farm looks lush right now.  The squash and zucchini plants are deep green and huge, and I've never seen such consistently beautiful lettuce.  Both our Lyman and Weston fields are in the groove as well, and the potato plants are up to my knees! Some highlights of the past week have felt like benchmarks.  Dan and Erinn finished tying the first round of tomatoes, and we began the garlic harvest last week.  I won't say too much, but it's coming out of the ground and looking impressive.  The flower field is blooming and every day I fall more in love with the snapdragons.  We are watering nonstop.  I must say I am feeling the full strength of July now.
As we make our way into another warm week, I remind myself of the ebb and flow of this work.  There are patterns and rhythms, joys and frustrations.  Sweltering days and moments of reprieve.  It seems as though we are finding our stride now.  Erinn asked me the other day what my favorite thing to do on the farm is... I simply can't choose.  Since April, I have learned so much about farming, and while our days follow a pattern, there's always something new, whether it be a small victory or an interesting challenge.  The first harvest of the morning is always my favorite and I hope you enjoy it on your plates as much as I enjoy harvesting it from the field.
Until next time ~     Janelle, for the crew

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Notes from the Field: Pictures of Summer

From my nine seasons on this wonderful farm I have lots of photographs. I have been here so long that I have pictures that are actually printed out on paper! (That's how we used to do it.) I have lots of photos of the initial days of spring, onions and tiny brassicas germinating in the greenhouse, picture perfect lettuce starts, the orderly beauty of the first tractor work of the season, cutting furrows directly into winter, exposing the promise inherent in freshly tilled soil. I have photos of favas beans emerging, freshly flame weeded carrots popping up in perfect, clean rows and beautiful cucurbit plantings domed in deep green lines with gaudy yellow flowers showing beneath their foliage. 

But my photos chronologically usually end right about now and usually pick up again sometime in mid-October, when the light starts to slant away and the beginning of the end appears on the horizon. I have lots of photos in May and June, lots in October and November, and a tiny handful of July and August.
This is because now is 'go time' for your farmers, even for part time farmers like me. For the next two-three months we are flat out: greenhouse seeding, transplanting, weeding and cultivating, making beds so we can keep planting, watering (watering!!!) and harvesting, harvesting, harvesting. Picking, washing and packing the beautiful bounty of our work, to fill the CSA barn for distributions and to provide for many in need in our communities.

It is a wonderful time of year, and yet it's difficult for me to stop and snap a few pictures, unrelated to pictures of broken things that need to be fixed (what is that part number...?) or pictures of unfamiliar insects or plant disease (whoa, what is that?).

The season is chugging along here, nearly July and hard to believe. Our wonderful seasonal crews are getting tan and trained and faster and better at all of the things that we're throwing at them. It's a joy to see so many people back at the farm after the months of solitary work, adding staff through the spring and then finally an explosion of people as the first shares of the season hits the stand. This year
has been particularly enjoyable for me so far. I credit our staff and a healthy dose of sunshine, and a great thanks for the wonderful people in my life. We are all nose down right now, and will be for the next several months, and we will be tired and sore and sunburned. But this job makes it easy to feel like it's worth it and I'm hoping that this is the year that I get a few mid-summer shots, tomatoes ripening, cukes and squash, melons vining out, chilis...you get the picture.
Enjoy the harvest,

For all of the crew,


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Solstice - a poem from 2005 by founder Oakes Plimpton

Summer Solstice

Full moon, evening star out on the night before the Solstice.
Summer is already here though, contrary to the weatherman;
Flowers blooming, warm days - OK cloudy and cool this June,
But nice and hot this very day!

Is it not too ordinary around here?!
No all night Scandinavian bacchanal where the sun never sets!
Could we build cairns of stones and have the drama of ritual dance?
We can rise at sunrise at Robbin's Farm and say a few well-chosen words.
But will it live up to primitive ritual - to the Druids of Stonehenge!?

Do you not wish you lived then??
When I was seventeen I attended a Shoshone sun ceremony,
All night long drums and dance in a great tent
Until the sun rose in the East. Then the great Chief spoke!
Who shall speak for us?? Well, we will gather still and see the sun arise.

Robbins Farm, once a farm, is a park on a hill with a view of all of Boston. 6/5/05

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Notes From The Field: Sunshine

Summer time is upon us in full bloom and I must say when I step back, breathe, and look at the whole picture, the farm is absolutely radiant.  The sun is now at its highest point in the sky extending its rays with great intensity upon each and every being below.  Last week the sun made itself known.  It's that time of year when we must pull out the big hats, the sun lotion, and hydrate.  Even the greenhouses must wear sun protection.  The shade cloths will go up this week so that the seedlings can tolerate the heat to come.  This is the time of year when our farming days come the closest to the length of the daylight.  It would be neat to see a time lapse of all the places we go and the work we do throughout the day: we are like humming birds, never stopping to rest our wings. 
Each morning Janelle and I harvested lettuce at our Lyman Fields, rushing to get the harvest done to be back before the field crew begins at 8am. The field crew was the newest edition to the staff last week and is making the transition into farm life in June: harvest and a lot of transplanting.  The mornings start off cool but before we know it the sweaters are off and a sweat is already broken.  Erinn and Naomi harvested the last of the lettuce for the Waltham Public Schools.  Radishes are beginning to bulb up and the bok choy is a bit bigger than the last generation. 

The garlic scapes we picked in the morning were so juicy and aromatic that even that evening in my yoga class I could smell them as I came into downward-facing dog.  I'm glad I love the smell of garlic!
We were able to plant the rest of the peppers and cantaloupe last week at our fields in Weston.  Our 4th generation of beets went in at Lyman as well as the eggplant thanks to a volunteer group through Boston Cares.  At our Waltham site we put in round two of cucumbers as well as okra and more lettuce.  On Saturday we had an amazing turn out for our biannual Crop Mob - we were able to collect and put away all the bags, hoops, and floating row cover from the spring brassica plantings.  This was a huge feat and had been weighing on our minds.  
Crop Mobsters rescuing the Swiss chard! 

Now we will be able to fertilize, cultivate, and water the kale, collards, and cabbages.  In addition, we weeded two beds of Swiss chard and 5 beds of carrots.  It is refreshing to see how people who have never met each other can come together and work together to create such a change in the landscape.  Thank you all so much for supporting this event.  If you weren't able to make it we will be hosting one more on July 23rd.
June is a challenging time of year in that we have an overwhelming amount of work to do, but more so in that it is a time of transition.  With each week harvest increases in size, time, and space.  We are heading into the hot, sunny and dry weather when we must think constantly about irrigation.  There is still seeding to be done both in the greenhouses and in the fields.  Transplanting must continue at a steady rate as well as everything that leads up to it.  And don't forget the weeds.  They are fierce and seem to jump out of nowhere when you aren't looking.  They are sneaky that's for sure.  But through these challenging times comes transformation.  There is the reward of knowing we work hard and the sense of accomplishment that comes with our dedication.  We are always learning and through this a deep sense of community forms.  We work closely together and we are like family.  
Kamelia, Lauren, Erinn and Shannon bring out fixin's for homemade ice cream
sandwiches to celebrate Naomi's birthday during lunch break.
I feel grateful for the people I work with and for the opportunity to work with the land and so close to our food.  I just want to say thank you for all the support from the farm staff and the members of Waltham Fields Community Farm.  It's so easy to get caught up in day-to-day details. 

I'm learning that it's important to observe through clear and calm eyes and remember to take time to look back on where we have been.  Remember when there were almost no leaves on the trees and the fields were barren only a couple months ago?  And also to bring ourselves to the present of where we are today, once again the fields bursting with a multitude of the color green, full of growth and bounty.  The rhythm of the farm life continues.
Looking forward to seeing some of you at the next Saturday pick up!  Enjoy the harvest,
Assistant Farm Manager
For the Farm Crew