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.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – Weed Crew Thoughts


By Evan Rees, For the Weed Crew  

2014 Weed Crew from left to right:   Zack Pockrose, Alice Fristrom, Evan Rees, and Laura Stone


  
There are four of us proud to hold the position of "weed crew" this summer but in truth, we are many. Virtually everyone on the farm has jumped in with us at one time or another. We had been joined by two interns from the Forest Foundation until their tenures each ended last week (they will be missed). We have also had several regular volunteers contributing multiple days of their free time each week for no incentive other than to further the mission of the farm. Fridays and Saturdays are drop-in days, and we often host larger volunteer groups as well, including on more than one occasion students from an urban agriculture class at Boston University. Graced with their own (arguably cooler) moniker, these "crop mobs" have nonetheless contributed enormously to the weed crew. As we squat over beds of cabbage and kale swapping stories and debating movies, each one of these people has helped to make weeding a wonderfully engaging and enriching experience, exemplifying the very definition of community.
 
This is not to say that the task of weeding is in itself unenjoyable or tedious. It is, in fact, a hugely variable and surprisingly nuanced job, the nature of which is subject to a number of factors. Soil conditions, and size of the weeds as well as that of the crop we aim to bolster are all to be considered. Carrots are a great example of this, and upon tackling our sixth generation this week, one might consider us somewhat to be experts at carrot-weeding. The first few generations were tough to tackle. Chickweed had surged ahead of the sprouting carrots, knotting itself around them, and wet conditions made the process of untangling them slow and dirty, occupying us for the better part of a week. This latest generation was relatively easy. With dry conditions and it being too late in the season for chickweed, we tore through the beds in a day despite having fewer hands to help. This time, the carrots also benefited from a thorough flame weeding-which is every bit as cool as it sounds. There's a very small window, about a week after carrots have been seeded, when flame-weeding can be effective. Just before the seeds germinate, a propane-fueled flamethrower is run over the bed, torching any eager weeds and giving the carrots a jump on the weeds without disturbing the soil to expose new weed seeds. So far this task has been left to farm manager Zannah, but we're holding out hope for our turn!
 
For the first time all summer this Wednesday, the weed crew each received a 7am phone call telling us to stay home. The day's forecast, a vital utility for those spending all day outdoors, had waxed ominous. With a one-hundred percent chance of rain and thunderstorms for the morning, we all got the day off while the land got a much needed soaking. Coming back to the farm the next day it was amazing to see the verdant growth that follows such a storm. Unfortunately, nature is indiscriminate in its watering; the weeds too received this boost. Some might find it discouraging to weed a field one day and return two days later to find it once again inundated, but one must accept that the process is endless, and the cycle perpetual. This is the beauty of a farm: Plants grow, their fruits, seeds and leaves are harvested, they die and are turned back into the soil to rot and feed the next generation. We are not masters of the cycle but gardeners tending it so that both of our needs are met. It would be easier to liberally apply some awful chemical to keep the weeds at bay, but instead we kneel in the dirt, hunched over, scuffling our fingers between the rows, sorting good sprout from bad, relying on each other to pass the time. By doing so, we nurture our food, our farm, our community and our world. This is what Waltham Fields does best.

Friday, August 15, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – Why Farm?

By Anna Kelchlin, Assistant Grower

Anna at the wash station



Saturday early morning the dew glistened in the sunlight on the shades of green as I walked through the fields to meet the tractor for the day.  It was one of those cool mornings where I love to feel the warmth of the sun on my face.  The clouds were giant cotton balls that took their time to float and watch us from above.  There was a light breeze that rustled the young cauliflower plants creating almost a gentle ocean wave.  It's rather surprising for August, but most of this week we experienced those perfect warm days and cool nights, great for harvesting and also for sound sleeping.
 
This week has been an adjustment for us all.  We are feeling the absence of Amanda and are learning to find our own paths through the bountiful vegetables and prolific weeds.  We seeded our last round of seeds in the greenhouse, some of which are spinach, lettuce, tat soi, and kale.  Tomatoes are beginning to ripen on the vine.  Eggplant and peppers are in full swing at our field in Weston.  Hundreds of onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and melons are in the near future.  We said goodbye to our wonderful interns Cassie and Alisa, who had brought a fun and energetic attitude to our harvest, weed, and youth crews.
 
It's the second week of August and we are tired.  It’s been 4 months now of rigorous growth and we ask ourselves, "Why do we farm?"  At times it feels like we will never get everything done and we won't.  As soon as we feel we are caught up, there is more just around the bend.  Earlier this season, Naomi and I went to a CRAFT on the topic of why we farm at Clark Farm in Carlisle.  It is a seemingly simple question that is extremely important to ask, with quite a complex answer.  I guess in any profession, every once in a while we should ask why, why do we do what we do.  For me personally, I choose to farm to be healthy and promote healthy living for others.  In my life I have been given many opportunities and this is a way to give back.  I farm because when I do, I feel contentment, not just the satisfaction of weeding a bed of lettuce, but a deeper contentment that feeds the soul and reminds us that we are all connected.  When farming I am contributing to a greater good in feeding others, in connecting others to their home and community, and as best I can treating the land with respect and care.  I farm for the love of the land in all weather and its ability to teach you how to move gracefully with change.  It is physically and mentally demanding work and I am exhausted each night and morning, but I am able to learn every day about myself and the world we live in.  I am grateful to work with such dedicated and spirited people.  As we look ahead to the coming weeks, more harvesting, transplanting, weeding, and irrigating are on the horizon as we continue to steer forward with stability, steadiness, and passion for what and why we farm.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – Over the Hump



By Zannah Porter, Farm Manager

A Song Sparrow's nest in the shelter of our squash field

The beginning of August marks a shift on the farm. The blistering days of July are behind us. The race to get the tomatoes twined and the fall brassica crop transplanted is over. Now we just have a few more crops to get in the ground, a lettuce planting here, a bed of scallions there. We are also direct seeding fall root crops, like purple top turnips and watermelon radishes. These crops make me think of frosty mornings. It is hard to believe, but that weather will be upon us soon enough.

 It has been a week of saying goodbye. It's time to say goodbye to our first planting of summer squash, zucchini, and cucumbers. They were quite prolific at their peek but they are now tired and harboring diseases like powdery mildew. Worry not! We have two more planting successions to provide these summer favorites in the CSA for several more weeks. We will soon be in the rhythm of seemingly endless tomato, melon, eggplant, and pepper harvests.

We finally received a reprieve from the lack of summer rain. A few storms have dumped several inches of rain on our various fields. One storm caught the crew off guard in our fields at the Lyman Estate. They were quickly standing in shin-deep water as it gushed down the aisles. That day we received 3 inches of rain in the span of about 30 minutes! Fortunately, we have sandy loam soil which drains well. Our crops did not stay submerged for long. We have had steady enough rain since then and have not needed to irrigate. The plants (vegetables and weeds) are still growing at a hurried pace. I know that the plants will start slowing down. It is subtle at first. Not as many passes with the tractor-mounted cultivators are needed to keep the beds from being swallowed up by weeds.

Our fields will soon be ready to be seeded in fall crops or cover crops. Cover crops will hold the soil in place, also adding organic matter and nutrients for next year's crops. The seed has been ordered and the tractor-mounted cone spreader is being fixed so that as we turn in summer crops we will sow our fields with a blanket of oats and peas or rye and vetch to keep the soil snug over the winter.

I find it hard to believe that we are already in the full swing of the season. We may have more soupy hot August days ahead of us, but we are over the hump, harvesting our way towards fall.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – A Decade of Dedication

Honoring Amanda Cather, 2004-2014
By Claire Kozower & many other voices






This past week I signed 40 Community Farms Outreach paychecks, 24 for Waltham Fields Community Farm and 6 for our crew at Lexington Community Farm.  Wow!  Forty staff involved in our agricultural production and programs, not to mention all the contributions from volunteers, work sharers, and supporters.  We’ve grown tremendously over the last ten years, with our Farm Manager, Amanda Cather, at the helm of so many decisions enabling increases in fresh food assistance, CSA shares, educational connections, and partnerships with other local farms.  Amanda’s departure is a loss for each of us that interacts with her regularly on a personal level, but her passion, dedication, intelligence, systems development, productivity, and dignity has positively shaped this organization and created an incredible work culture that will no doubt live on successfully thanks to her many years of service and leadership.  

Not only does Amanda leave this organization in a better place than she came to it, but the same is true for farming across the region.  While steering our ship, she has also worked tirelessly to network, share knowledge with, create opportunities for, and learn from other farmers and experts in field. This is largely evidenced by her coordination of the Eastern Massachusetts Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training, participation in UMass Extension research and Integrated Pest Management efforts, and collaborations with Chestnut Farms, Picadilly Farm, Autumn Hills Orchard, Farmers To You, and the Pioneer Valley Grain Share.  Kim Denney, Farmer/co-owner of Chestnut Farms, sent these words along recently: “What an incredible gift Amanda has given the entire agricultural community in MA - I don't think she realizes just what a pioneer she has been - but I certainly remember meeting her in the Arlington parking lot very early in our farm business and connecting over lots and lots of farming issues - at that point CSA's were still rather bohemian and farming was seen as a sideline for those of us without a focus or "real career".  The level of professionalism, connections and support that Amanda has emanated over the years has served as a linchpin for transforming the Boston food shed.  She is an amazing woman and an even better farmer and community builder.”

Thank you, Amanda! 

Over the past few weeks, a number of staff members have also shared thoughts about what they’ve learned from working with Amanda.  Here’s what they said. 

"It feels like a lifetime ago that Amanda started at Waltham Fields; because it has been. For nearly all of her son Jonah's and all of daughter Sadie's lives have been at the farm. It has been a privilege to watch her family grow in tandem with the organization and with Amanda's abilities as a grower, teacher and leader in the farm community.”  - Marla Rhodes, Volunteer and Development Coordinator

“It's hard to quantify what we've learned from Amanda over the course of working with her for seven years.  As a farmer, she's a keen observer, constantly aware of subtle changes in the crops and fields and always curious and energized to figure out the whys and hows of those changes.  Even in the frantic weeks of July and August, days are full of intention and vision, with gratitude for the successes of each season and an indefatigable effort to improve on the challenges.  We will miss her contagious smile, her deep strength, her immeasurable kindness, but most of all just the pleasure of her company.” – Dan & Erinn Roberts, Farm Managers

“Amanda has gifted our community with her incredible leadership, vision, skill, compassion, humility, and grace. She has mentored so many incredible farmers and put a cornucopia of healthy veggies on our plates. I am so grateful for her mentorship and friendship.” - Zannah Porter, Farm Manager

"Simply stated, Amanda changed my life. First, by growing me exceptional food to eat and then by teaching me how to grow it.  I am so thankful for all that she has done for me and my family and the WFCF community.  She will be missed tremendously." - Naomi Shea, Farm Assistant

"It has been such a wonderful learning experience working with Amanda. She has been remarkably patient and helpful with all of the information she has to offer."  - Alex Lennon-Simon, Education and Outreach Coordinator

"When I found out this year she was leaving us, I made it my personal goal to absorb as much of her knowledge and experience... as humanly possible in the short time I had left with her. She's a great leader because she communicates so well and genuinely cares about other people's opinion (and more importantly makes you think for yourself).” - Lauren Trotogott, Distribution Coordinator

“Absolutely inspirational.  I will never forget seeing Amanda doing farm work while pregnant!  I will miss her wit, wisdom, and compassion.” - Rebekah Lea, Bookkeeper and Office Coordinator

"When I think of Amanda, I picture her sprinting through beds, between fields. Sometimes to pass a message along, or avert disaster, but often just to answer a question or help us finish our work on time. I’m humbled by her passion for her work and her commitment to the rest of us, no matter our role. Amanda is someone you want to work for. She pushes all of us to be faster, have higher standards, develop our own sense of the work and its purpose, and enjoy being part of such an earnest and valuable organization."  - Ruby Geballe, Field Crew

"Amanda is an amazing farmer, mentor and genuinely wonderful person. I have been extremely blessed for the opportunity to work with and get to know her." - Daniel Clifford, Field Crew

"Amanda is such a strong force, a wonderful role model of a woman being in charge, lovely to work alongside of and so encouraging as a manager." - Rae Axner, Field Crew

"Amanda has such a can-do attitude and her constant good mood is infectious. She keeps everyone going and is a rock for the crew." - Alisa Feinswog, Forest Foundation Intern

“Amanda’s positive outlook and dedication is admirable and she is an amazing role model in all aspects of her life. I’m so thankful to her for showing me how fun and rewarding working on a farm can be.”  - Cassie Baker, Forest Foundation Intern