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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Celebrating Women in Farming

March is International Women's Month, and here at WFCF we're proud to celebrate all of our women on staff, each doing their own part to increase access to fresh vegetables, educate about food and farming, and promote sustainable land management.  We have three amazing women farmers - Amanda, Erinn, and Zannah - each taking leadership roles in our own organization as well as within the region, but what about beyond our borders? In this post we take a look at the state of women and farming in today's world.
  • Other challenges that many women face including difficulty in cracking the "good old boy" network in their areas, coming to farming as a second career, and the inability to follow business to new locations as many industries can do. Census Shows Fewer Women Running Farms, Ranches  
  • In other parts of the world, the hurdles for women are different. In Africa, women make up nearly half of the farming workforce but do not enjoy equal access to productivity resources and tools compared to their male counterparts. Gender Gap Holds Back Africa's Women Farmers
  • This interactive infographic from Farming First goes deep into the importance of women in agriculture and the need to close the gender gap in farming around the world. The Female Face of Farming
Do you know any women who are influential in the world of agriculture? What kind of contributions are they making? Tell us in the comments!


Check out this video, featuring Amanda and Waltham Fields!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Notes from the Field - The Change

The remarkable New England nature writer Hal Borland wrote that "essentially, autumn is the quiet completion of spring and summer. Spring was all eagerness and beginnings, summer was growth and flowering. Autumn is the achievement summarized, the harvested grain, the ripened apple, the grape in the wine press. Autumn is the bright leaf in the woodland, the opened husk on the bittersweet berry, the froth of asters at the roadside." The equinox and the harvest moon have passed, and autumn is upon us. The mornings are beautiful and cool, the skies impossibly blue; the afternoons are warm, and the evenings are early and brilliant with stars.

The change is on the farm fields as well. Winter squash, harvested and cured in the fields, appears on the stand for soups and casseroles. After the final harvest of tomatoes, we'll turned our attention to digging all the sweet potatoes, which need to cure in the greenhouse for a couple of weeks before their starches turn to sugar and they are good to eat. Cool nights turn roots and leaves sweet. Cover crops like field peas, oats, winter rye and hairy vetch sprout in the rows where finished crops have been turned in. Hawks and coyotes are abroad in the fields, hunting the rabbits and voles that brave the open spaces to fatten themselves up for the coming winter.

On the day of the equinox, we had an evening potluck at the farm to celebrate the work of our field crew. As we served ourselves, someone murmured that it may be that heaven is like a farm potluck in the fall. We enjoyed the crystalline weather, the delicious food that bridges the seasons, and the grateful, tired company. We ate quiches, one with with leeks and potatoes, another with arugula and sweet peppers, a crisp and lemony carrot salad, Erinn's signature quinoa salad with sweet corn and feta, spinach dip, caprese bites, mashed potatoes so fluffy and delicious they were like eating a cloud. There was a pizza with radicchio, smoked cheese and aji dulce peppers, and another with olives, tomato, onions, peppers, lemon and capers. There was a delicious flan, apple cobbler, pepper jelly, peach cobbler, and spicy ginger cookies. Children roamed the fields, pulling carrots, nibbling raspberries, snipping flowers. Hector's son Victor demonstrated a range of Colombian instruments for us, and their music floated over the fields, drifting out across the rows of lettuce and spinach, arugula and carrots, to the sumac and maples just starting to turn red on the margins.

Change is in the air. The field crew has ended their time with us and Assistant Grower Sutton has moved on to the Food Project to serve as their Regional Food Coordinator. Kim Hunter, our dedicated Education Coordinator has handed over the reins to Alexandra Lennon-Simon. And Naomi Shea, a fixture on the farm through the spring seedling production season, rejoins us in the fields to help with end of season work. Our focus, still on the harvest, also broadens to include planning for the upcoming season, which will bring great shifts as we take on the management of Lexington Community Farm and work to reach out to more people through our own work here in Waltham. But for now, we have a moment to enjoy what Borland calls "the annual pause... a time of relative ease and quiet. The plant commits its future to the seed and the roots. The insect stows its tomorrow in the egg and the pupa. And, as the urgency begins to abate, man, close to the land and surrounded by his own harvest, knows again the old, old truths of the season. It is, even today, the time of ripeness, of reaping, of plenty, of summer come to fulfillment."

Enjoy the harvest,
Amanda, for the farm crew

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Notes from the Field - Our Fantastic Field Crew

ABOVE (FROM LEFT TO RIGHT): Maricela, Lauren, Amber, and Hector

Unless you get lucky, you might not have a chance to meet this year's field crew. They are a humble and elusive bunch. They work 8 AM to 4 PM five days a week on the farm, and they don't take a lot of credit for what they do. They started just after the first week of the CSA in June, and they'll work with us for two more weeks, finishing up the tomato harvest and launching into the sweet potato pick after completing our final round of transplanting (lettuce, tatsoi, bok choy and chard for our winter shares) late last week. They have seeded in the greenhouse, planted in the field, weeded, moved irrigation pipe, turned electric fences on and off, weeded some more, planted some more, and picked thousands of pounds of beautiful vegetables every single day, in pouring rain and blistering heat, sweltering humidity and chilly clear mornings. While they occasionally peek in to the vegetable distribution barn on a Tuesday or a Thursday, mostly they walk through the fields at the end of the day to harvest a few veggies to take home, then vanish quietly. But you should know who they are, and how they have impacted the farm this season. We couldn't do it without them.

Hector Cruz wrote to us in his application for the position that he was a "mature person", not a young person, and that he was mentioning this because he himself does not like surprises and did not want to surprise us. He takes public transportation two hours each way to get to the farm from his home in East Boston, where he lives with his wife, two children, and a beautiful garden that he calls "Hector's Farm" and Maricela calls a shrine. He has a scientific and poetic mind, an unstoppable work ethic, a beautiful singing voice and an impish sense of humor. He is early to work every single day. Hector is kind, curious, a great teacher, an thoughtful colleague, and the undisputed boss of the farm kitchen, where he eats his beautiful, well-balanced, mostly vegan meals with impeccable manners. He is always at your elbow, asking "what can I do to help"?

Many people who apply for field crew positions call themselves "avid cyclists" and declare that they will be able to arrive at the farm by bicycle every morning able to work a full day in the fields. Maricela Escobar is one of the few folks we've known who can actually pull it off, with the help of a few chocolate chips here and there. Maricela constantly challenges all of us on the farm to be true to our principles, or to rethink them. She is a true radical, with a loving heart and a passion for social justice, art, and nourishment for the body and soul. We have had some of the most interesting, honest, and difficult conversations in the fields because of Maricela's honesty and willingness to push us beyond our usual limits this season, although there are many more we could have had. Maricela's powerful connections with Boston's bicycle, art and activist communities, and her network of family and friends, help keep her immense energy up despite her many commitments.

Amber Sandager came to us with a background in roller derby and public relations and a deep interest in nutritious eating. She has been a bit taken aback by the amount of sugar farmers consume during the season, but she's gamely tried her best to keep up with the rest of us while still eating healthy. Dirt, bugs and humidity are definitely well out of Amber's comfort zone (she's a desert girl who grew up in New Mexico), but she has proved herself willing and able to take on just about anything, and keep us all updated on pop culture, current television, and the Boston restaurant scene. Her patience and diligence with the unfamiliar work of the farm have paid off this season, as she has become faster and more graceful every week.

Lauren Trotogott is just a plain hard worker. You know you have a hard worker in your midst when you hire a bartender; you just aren't sure how they're going to handle the early mornings. Lauren is one of the few who can pull it off. She can work the bar at Legal Seafoods in the evenings and still bunch kale with the best of them in the morning. To call someone solid, reliable, and competent can sound like middle-of-the-road faint praise, but when it comes to farming, this kind of commendation is as high as it gets. Lauren is the one you want on your farm crew when times get tough, when you have rotten tomatoes to sort, 2000 pounds of food to load onto a truck in 15 minutes, or a big harvest to bring in. She's mentally one step ahead of us most of the time, but she's physically present every moment to do whatever needs to be done, and to do it as well as she possibly can.

These four individuals, as different as they could possibly be, have made our farm season more productive and, as important, more fun. We are very much looking forward to our final two weeks with them this season, and to seeing what adventures they take on in the weeks and months to come. If you are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of them in the next week or two, be sure to say hello and thank you to the folks who made this season possible. We are grateful and proud to call them our co-workers and friends.

Enjoy the harvest,

Amanda, for the farm staff

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Notes from the Field - Enough

There is a brief moment in the growing season when tomatoes share space with broccoli, leeks with melons, arugula with sweet red peppers, sweet corn with collard greens and potatoes. It is a time of great abundance and diversity in the harvest, the foundation of delicious meals, both quick and slow. The cooler mornings are so beautiful that even we, who barely notice good weather, can hardly stop remarking on it. Evenings on the farm are like picture postcards, with children chasing butterflies, turning cartwheels, and running through the fields while their parents move more slowly, harvesting. The long heat of the summer is behind us, the blazing leaves and stockpiling of autumn just ahead. We pause for a moment at the season's peak to take a breath and know that there is Enough.

Enough is subtly different than plenty. It is What We Need, Just the Right Amount, not a hoard or a dearth, not overflowing and not scraping the bottom of the barrel. It is a satisfied belly, not empty and not achingly full. It is a balancing point, one that often arrives on the farm right around the time of that cosmic moment of balance, the fall equinox. There is Enough sunlight, Enough dark, Enough katydids and cicadas singing their end of summer songs in the evening trees, Enough clouds in the sky and Enough food in the fields. It means we have what we can use, and maybe a little bit to share. Our cup is full, brimming, Enough.

Farming is a job in which, as Dan wisely pointed out last week, you have to enter each day prepared to learn the hard way. There are so many points in the life of each crop when things could go either way, to its completion or its loss. We have had losses this season, and many moments when it seemed that we would have more. At each of these turning points, there is always more we could do, always another weed to pull, always another choice that could make the difference between getting a crop and losing it. By the beginning of September, as the nights cool and the stars brighten and we wear warm sweatshirts in the mornings, most of these choices are behind us. This is why, when the season gets to this beautiful balancing point, we let out the collective breath we have been holding since April. We linger a little longer in the fields in the morning and the afternoon, don't feel the need to jog everywhere we go on the farm, let ourselves feel satisfaction with the kaleidoscope of colors and flavors that we harvest each day. We cook dinners again and enjoy the fruits of our labors. We love hearing what you are cooking and how you are sharing Enough with your loved ones.

The time of the seedpod, the "beauty of the bone", is just ahead. For now, the earth is still green and covered with an explosion of flowers and fruit. We can't rest on our laurels. There is still work to do, change to make, cover crop to plant, the harvest to bring in. It would be nice if it rained once in awhile. But we can, and we must, take the time to notice this moment of Enough, the alignment of need and supply, desire and fulfillment. Balance is rare indeed. Enough is Enough.

Enjoy the harvest, Amanda, for the farm staff

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Notes from the Field – Dan's Farm Haiku

We have only one
Summer each year so we must
Grow all that we can

It is not easy
To enter each day ready
To learn the hard way

August: The Grinder
Each morning feels earlier
Each dusk sore and spent

August is sweeter
Buried under tomatoes
A gift of wild grapes

How fortunate to
Spend my days side by side with
Loved ones with questions

To spend my summer
With new faces taking turns
Asking "Is this it?"

"Is this the right way?"
"Is this the time to harvest it?"
"Are these the weeds?"

Weeds weeds weeds weeds weeds
Weeds weeds weeds weeds weeds weeds weeds
Weeds weeds weeds weeds weeds

We are tilting now
Toward shorter days and cool nights
Or that illusion

Days can be fickle
Impossible to predict
At this time of year

Let the melon juice
Run down your chin. Relish that.
It does not last long.

Enjoy the harvest,
Dan, for the farm staff

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Notes From the Field - Las Plagas

Las Plagas. That's the phrase Dan and Erinn's old boss in California used to describe the travails of organic farming, and it's how Dan described all the pests and diseases to Hector when he started at our farm this spring. Little did we know how many of them we'd see in person this season.

Normally, we kind of lump las plagas together, since it's very difficult to know exactly what causes some of the problems we see in our crops on the farm without an official diagnosis from the lab at the University of Massachusetts. This season, however, we've been very fortunate to have Sue Scheufele, a vegetable specialist with UMass Extension, visiting every other week to take samples, check traps, and scout our crops in order to help us improve our organic production practices. This means that we know much more about the causes of the many pest and disease problems we've seen this season, and have a few more strategies for how to deal with them in upcoming seasons.

You've already heard in these notes about some of the major problems that Sue and other UMass specialists have helped us identify and create strategies for. Still, I thought I would run through a few of them in a little more detail for those of you keeping score at home. Here, in a nutshell, are some of the plagas that we've been dealing with at WFCF this season.

Late Blight: Its Latin name translates as "plant destroyer", and it was the cause of the Irish Potato Famine. This oomycete (not quite the same as a fungus) popped up from an unknown source in Eastern Massachusetts in late July this year. We have been spraying our big planting of field tomatoes at the Lyman Estate with a preventative combination of copper and bacterial and plant extracts, but we had left our PYO plants unsprayed to avoid the 24-hour break in harvesting that follows a spray application. It was a roll of the dice, and we got outsmarted by the disease this season. It appeared on August 9th in our cherry and plum tomatoes, and despite our efforts to contain it, spread to almost all of them by the 19th. While many organic growers, including us, tolerate some level of disease in our tomatoes, late blight is not one that we can live with. A few infected plants can create millions of spores that spread to other gardens and farms and destroy other crops and home harvests. So we don't let late blight stay on the farm, but do everything we can to destroy the plants and the disease as quickly as possible. Only one resistant variety of plum tomato (Plum Regal) and cherry tomato (Jasper) remain unaffected as of this writing, although we'll see what happens later in the season. What happens with late blight in the future? It's a good question. Right now it seems like a problem we're going to have to deal with each season, and something we need to think hard about how to manage in the future. We've already changed how we set up our tomato rows in order to facilitate spraying, and we are growing every resistant variety we can find. We need to continue to do research about how much spraying is really in the best interest of our soil and our health. We'll keep you updated!

Cucurbit Downy Mildew: When UMass entomologist Ruth Hazzard showed me the infected leaves, she said "this isn't your fault! This isn't your fault!" Downy mildew is a disease that blows in from the south every year and affects cucumbers and also, depending on the strain, other crops in the cucurbit family. It destroys plant leaves before fruit have a chance to mature, and can drastically shorten the harvest season for the crop. This year, downy mildew stopped our cucumber harvest this week, earlier than in previous seasons. As with late blight, about the only option available to an organic grower, besides the very important basics of growing a healthy plant in healthy soil, is regular applications of a preventative copper spray. This isn't something we've done for cucurbits in the past, but as with late blight, this disease isn't going to go away, and it's something we're going to need to be thinking about for the future. It's interesting to be facing two major crop diseases that aren't affected by crop rotation, since they can come in from off the farm each season. Stay tuned....

Basil Downy Mildew: Yes! Another new, destructive disease that appears to be here to stay! Basil downy mildew appeared in the United States in 2008, most likely from Uganda, according to researchers. Like late blight and curcurbit downy mildew, it spreads via wind-dispersed spores and makes its way through the country from areas where it overwinters each growing season. It causes yellowing of the lower leaves of the plant and eventually kills the crop, spreading from one succession to the next throughout the season. This is why we have been having you pull entire basil plants instead of picking sprigs, and why you may have noticed our basil crop looking a bit peaked this season. The solution? Yup, spray fungicides. There are a few organic fungicides that seem to be effective on this disease, and some types of basil, including Thai and red varieties, seem to be less affected. Still, here is another crop that used to be a sure thing, and one of the real joys of summer in New England like a beautiful ripe tomato or a crisp cucumber, that is now becoming more difficult to produce without the use of organic products from off the farm.

Flea Beetles: These have been around for a while, but have seemed particularly virulent this year. They are the tiny black beetles that hop around on crops in the brassica family, including kale, collards, broccoli, arugula, bok choy, broccoli raab, radish, and many more, putting tiny shot holes in the leaves of the crops and spreading diseases like Black Rot. This season they attacked our first planting of kale and collards so hard that, despite the fact that the plants were very healthy and well-nourished, they could not recover during the dry weather in July, and we had to take a break from these crops until our fall planting came on a couple of weeks ago. Our rutabaga crop, which we spent a great deal of time seeding in the greenhouse and transplanting in order to ensure that we'd actually get a crop this year, succumbed to black rot spread by flea beetles. We are monitoring our kale and collards, which are right across the farm road from the rutabaga, for the spread of the disease, which can also affect fall broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. What can be done to protect crops? Resistant varieties are available, and clearly we're going to have to look into those; rotating fall brassicas away from spring brassicas actually does help with both flea beetles and the diseases they spread as well. But also, spraying pyganic to control the flea beetles, and to help control the disease, you guessed it, copper sprays. Plus they give the crop that nice patina. We haven't done any copper spraying in the brassicas yet, and we'll keep you posted.

Cucumber Beetle: This pest overwinters in the woods on the field edges and appears in the early cucumber and squash plantings. It gnaws on plants and fruit and spreads diseases (are you sensing a pattern here?) including bacterial wilt, which took down a good portion of our second cucumber planting this year. Again, resistant varieties help, as does rotating our cucurbit crop away from where it was the season before. We can also plant later successions away from earlier ones, although then we run into the larger rotational issue of having cucurbit family crops all over the farm. Here again, we have the final option of spraying pyganic, an organically approved but non-specific pesticide, if the population of beetles overwhelms our crop despite out best efforts. It's not a great option, but we did do it once this year.

Mexican Bean Beetle: This is a crop that can be particularly bad for organic growers with PYO bean crops who can't rotate beans to another field and plant small successions of beans over the course of the season. These are the copper-colored spotted beetles (related to ladybugs) and spiky yellow larvae that you have probably seen in the beans at some point this season. We've tried releasing pediobius wasps, a parasite of the bean beetle that lays its eggs in its larvae, but the progress that we are making there is hard to determine. We've done extensive scouting over the course of the season to determine the times when the pest is at its worst and spray pyganic, just before it looks like the population is about to explode. Again, it would be so much better if the biological control was effective, but we'll have to wait and see about that one.

Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD): Several weeks ago, we started to spray the raspberries with spinosad, a compound made by bacteria that is approved for use in organic systems and is currently thought to be our best bet against the spotted wing drosophila. SWD was found in New England for the first time after Hurricane Irene, although it has been a pest in the South and Northwest for some time. It is unique among fruit flies in that it attacks sound fruit that is not overripe or damaged in any way, laying its eggs in the fruit and making it, although not harmful, definitely less palatable. In a survey this winter, you told us that you'd like to see us try to use every organic option at our disposal to save the berries, and so we are; turning in beds that weren't producing as well in order to consolidate our efforts, monitoring traps on the property to see when the population of SWD rises, and then spraying once a week for six weeks to see if we can get a crop that is relatively free of SWD larvae. So far, so good.

Weeds: Those of you who have been with us for a while (and who are still reading after all these plagas) may have noticed that the population of weeds on the farm was not as bad as it has been in the past. There are still a few trouble spots here and there, but by and large the weeds have not had the impact on our crops that they have had in previous seasons. This is partly a result of the very dry season, but partly a result of the incredible work done by this year's weed crew, who finished their official season with us last week. In various configurations, Alice, Sage, Eli, and Lizzie (seen below from left to right, with farmer Dan Roberts second from right) Ashley and Jesse hoed and weeded their way through nearly every crop on the farm. There's definitely a relief in the knowledge that with all these crazy pests and diseases popping up all over the farm, some of our biggest challenges can be solved on hands and knees, and with simple tools that have been around since before the industrial revolution. The difference they made is showing itself in our yields and in the quality of our produce. We are deeply grateful.

Enjoy the harvest, Amanda, for the farm staff

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Farmer for a Week - A Weird One

It’s official. It’s been a weird one. We've crossed the line into the second half of our season this week, and while I hear that heat is in the forecast, the past two weeks have felt like fall. This is great for working -- we have lots of energy and we're sleeping well at night.

It's not, however, good for the warm-season crops that we planted in early June and depend on for this August-into-September harvest. Our fall crops are in the ground, but we're not ready for cabbages, cauliflower and winter squash yet; we want to eat tomatoes, melons and peppers and cucumbers and, yes, eggplant. We've been fortunate so far that the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant have continued to produce, but all of the plants are beginning to think it's autumn and slow down their flower and fruit production. On the other hand, the squash, zucchini, cucumbers and melons are not faring as well. These plants are very vulnerable to the cool nights and heavy dews, and in addition to just slowing down, they have succumbed to some of the many diseases that plague crops in this family in the fall. The melons are in another field close by, but their main issue so far seems to be lack of ripening rather than disease. So far, our fall broccoli and cauliflower are looking great, and we’re hoping that the abrupt switch to very hot weather later this week doesn't cause them to "button up", going to flower without producing a usable head. Flea beetles, the tiny black nemesis of the broccoli family, have been particularly virulent this season; they are laying waste to the arugula and braising greens we planted at the beginning of August, and spreading a disease called black rot through the larger members of the family. It's been an interesting season.

At this time of year, when the asters and the goldenrod fill the roadsides and field edges, we are usually able to take a breath and see the rest of the season laid out like a road map before us. The spring and summer can be turbulent, but generally, by late August we can see which of the season's battles we've won and which have been lost, and what the fall and winter will most likely look like. Usually, we can walk the fields at the beginning of September and make a list of what crops will be in through late October. Not this year. It's so hard to say how this stretch of cool weather, beautiful as it is for people, followed by this hot week, will affect the crops that define the harvest season -- broccoli, red peppers, melons, tomatoes, cauliflower, late roots, lettuce and spinach, cabbage and butternuts. It seems like our squash and cucumber season may be ending, but it's very hard to say what's ahead.

As we've said before, this intense lack of predictability seems to be the new normal for us vegetable growers. Last year's great growing season, which nonetheless saw many organic growers lose their tomatoes to late blight, was followed by one that some farmers are calling "the season from hell". It's a season when we feel like we're constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, when calamity feels like it's just around the corner. This is a feeling that we're used to in the springtime, when conditions can change so quickly from cool and wet to warm and dry, and we're used to making accommodations for the fickleness of that season. Over the past few years, though, the autumn has also become a volatile time of year, with powerful storms and fluctuating temperatures turning what was a celebratory season into one that we enter into with our fingers crossed, hoping that our crops will be healthy and stable in very unstable conditions.

There's nothing wrong with learning to be adaptable and agile as farmers, and the positive result of some of this craziness might be to help keep us from getting stale and stuck in our routines as growers. No, really, I mean it. Learning to cope with change is part of our life's work, some of us more than others. And it's clear that the folks who remain in this business and continue to be successful over the long term will be those who learn to make the changes that this new normal demands -it's just hard to see exactly what those will be right now. The big picture of farming in New England is very difficult to see, and the survival of many of the new small farms that have sprung up here in the last ten years may hang in the balance. If customers will hang in there with farmers old and new as we learn to manage this unpredictability, it will make a big difference in the ability of farmers to have the space and time they need to adapt. Survival and success in this season, and probably the seasons to come, will mean communication and understanding between customers and farmers in order to keep growers from being stuck between the rock of the season and the hard place of an unforgiving market.

Enjoy the return to summer weather this week. We'll be harvesting storage onions to cure in the greenhouse, planting spinach, and continuing to pick tomatoes, balancing on the edge of summer and fall. Let's see where this bumpy ride takes us next.

Enjoy the harvest,

Amanda, for the farm staff