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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!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Notes from the Field: Fall on the Farm

It’s really fall on the farm.  It seemed to happen overnight; cool nights and rainy days brought the summer crops like tomatoes, eggplant and peppers to a screeching halt and brought on massive harvests of autumnal crops like greens, roots, and squashes.  The trees are beginning to color, we drink more hot coffee in the mornings, and although there's still a lot of harvesting to do, there's a moment at this time of year when something heavy and invisible lifts from our shoulders.  Farmer Dan Kaplan of Brookfield Farm in Amherst describes it as "a big hammer hanging over our heads", the potential for great disaster which exists in our profession from March through about the end of September.  Seedling loss in the greenhouse.  Late frost that takes out tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons.  Pests, diseases, rain, human error; any one of these at the wrong time can mean a major loss on the farm.  As Dan Kaplan says, "Sounds extreme.  I mean, it's just vegetables, right?!"  And it is.  Unlike many of you, our job does not put human lives or big financial figures at stake.  It's just vegetables.  And it's a relief to remember that fact every October -- about the same time we realize that big hammer has disappeared for another season.

By this time of year, things are what they are.  By this time, we have a pretty good idea of which crops did well for us this season (tomatoes, cucumbers and melons) and which crops did poorly.  Onions, leeks and shallots were major failures for us in 2012; planted at the non-irrigated Lyman Estate field, they didn't get any rain during the time that was critical for sizing up in late July and early August and have been small and not of great quality. It has been an average year for us for green peppers and eggplant, lettuce and beets; cabbages have been out-of-control good; carrots have been hit-and-miss depending on the particular succession, since we plant them about every three weeks.  Strawberries got weedy, although we hand-weeded them twice; raspberries were hit hard by spotted-wing drosophila.  We have to decide with both of these crops whether we will continue to try to grow them next season, since we'll have to spray them pretty heavily and consistently with organic pesticides in order to make them yield well.   On the other hand, thanks to this year's great field crew, we began our sweet potato harvest a little earlier than usual, so we have a nice crop of those curing in the greenhouse.

In general, this season was one that included lots of sighs of relief.  There were many near-misses:  late blight and extreme weather loomed large throughout the season, but overall, despite the failures, our harvests have been pretty satisfying.  At the beginning of the year, we set goals for the value of the CSA share and our food access donations, which we track each week.  Last year, which was a pretty decent year for us, we met our food access goal in December.  This year, we met it by mid-September.  We met our planned CSA share value by October 1.  This growing season was one for the record books.  Don't worry, there's lots more food in the fields, and part of the CSA model is sharing in a bountiful year -- so there are three more weeks of summer share pickups to go after this week, and our donations will continue as well!  In the meantime, enjoy this season of completion and balance.  And enjoy the harvest.

Amanda, for the farm crew

1 comment:

donna said...

that's funny. when i was picking up my share last week, i was thinking what a large responsibility you have taken on. i say this not to re-materialize the big hammer, but to commend you for what you produce for all of us with all the variables at play--astounding to me. i wouldn't even know how to start. and yet you do it, year after year. i trust your collective judgement, especially since you learn from all the outcomes.

good work, farmers. i am happy to part of WFCF