Week 9 was weighted heavily toward harvesting and marketing, despite how much the weeds grew while we were haying. Many new crops ripened and sized up in such large quantities that we were harvesting most of the week. On Monday and Tuesday, we harvested for the CSA, which included bulb fennel, kohlrabi, salad turnips, head lettuce, sweet peas, garlic scapes, scallions, salad mix, kale, and herbs. This week Brian went with Ken to drop off the CSA shares in Portland and Mica staffed the share room at the farm. On Wednesday, we harvested strawberries for the Belfast Co-op and then planted another round of lettuces. Later on Wednesday, we amended the winter squash with potassium, sulfur, and magnesium, all critical for fruit formation and all deficient in that field. On Thursday we harvested for the Belfast and Orono farmer’s markets, including over 100 bunches of beets! Each bunch had 2 red beets, 2 golden beets, and 1 chioggia beet (pink bullseye).
I went with Ken to the Belfast market on Friday and we had at least four people lined up as we were setting up to buy strawberries. The market started at 9am and we were sold out of strawberries by 10, snap peas by 10:30, and beets by 11. That means we were selling a bunch of beets about every 90 seconds, in addition to everything else. Aside from beets, berries, and peas, we sold flower bouquets, kohlrabi, pink and purple radishes, parsley, dill, cilantro, mesclun mix, arugula, mini head lettuce, kale, chard, and bulb fennel. The market was a lot busier than the last time I was there, and at times Ken was standing on the side helping people with exact change while I handled the cash box. Everyone seemed really excited about the colorful array of beets, kohlrabi, and radishes, as well as the salad mix which we put nasturtiums and violas in. The kale and chard are also multicolor bunches, the flowers are out in front, and Ken said that he puts the basil near the cash box so people smell it as they come up to pay. Everything is laid out to be the most appealing to the senses. Ken mentioned that the fruit vendors don’t have to try so hard because it practically sells itself, but vegetables need a little push. We needed to talk up the things that weren’t going so fast like the mini heads and kohlrabi, and explain cooking methods with a lot of the vegetables.
Week 10 was pretty similar: We spent Monday harvesting for the CSA, which included summer squash for the first time this week! Tuesday morning we finished harvesting and then Ken and I went to Portland to drop off the shares there. I stayed at the church where about 30 shareholders pick up, and Ken went to Munjoy Park where about 40 shareholders pick up. At the church, I laid out beets, snap peas, frisse, mini head lettuce, zucchini, kale, garlic scapes, basil, dill, and parsley. Many of the people coming in to gather their food where young parents with preschool and elementary age kids or older middle age folks.
Bonus! My good friend Abigail from Hampshire came to visit and helped us harvest on Monday and Tuesday.
Brian pointed out that his impression of the CSA was that it is less social than the farmers market. Shareholders seemed to be hurried and quiet, and many of them don’t know Ken or Adrienne. At the market, many people stop and chat, tell us about their summer, and come back frequently. They remark at how delicious something was that they bought last week, or how glad they are that a particular vegetable has finally arrived. Most of all, nearly every person who approaches the market stand says something about the vegetables being beautiful and colorful. The CSA is a great way for Ken and Adrienne to ensure some money will come in early on in the season and that at least some portion of the produce is spoken for, but it does have its disadvantages. Many CSA farms do find ways to make it a more social experience, though. Many farms require or strongly recommend that shareholders who are physically able commit some time to working at the farm. As Elizabeth Henderson, an organic farmer in Vermont, put it, “My experience is that members who work on the farm feel a deeper connection with the project and learn much more about the realities of growing food.” (from Sharing the Harvest). Some farms have festivals or dinners for their members, and many use the traditional model of a “core group.” The core group is comprised of CSA members who have a keen interest and a little extra time to help coordinate events, marketing, recruitment, publicity, some aspects of management and budgeting, and advising. This group further dissolves the barrier between the community and the farmers and acts as a strengthening bond that allows the community’s needs and interests to be represented while also allowing the farmers to dedicate more of their time to the soil.
On Wednesday, a warm rain poured down while we harvested 160 bunches of beets in the morning and continued on into the afternoon while we planted brassicas and weeded in the greenhouse. On Thursday, we did our usual market harvest, which took all day. On Friday my mom and brother came to visit and helped us weed squash all day while Adrienne and Brian went to market. I explained to mom and Sam all about rotating crops by their families as a form of pest and nutrient management, about nitrogen fixation via the beautiful harmony of plant-bacteria mutualistic relationships, about how deforestation can lead to flooding, erosion, and compaction, and lots of other interesting things I have accumulated over the years.
On Thursday, we all headed over to North Branch Farm in Monroe for a fantastic evening of workhorses, worksongs, a potluck, and lots of festive music! North Branch is a very diverse operation run by brothers Tyler and Seth Yentes, Seth’s wife Anna Shapley-Quin, and Tyler’s girlfriend Elsie Gawler. They use horses for the cultivation of 4 acres of veggies for their winter CSA, an orchard, a highbush blueberry patch, milking Devons, and tractors for 80 acres of round baled hay. Their farm is inspiring and beautiful in many ways. It was especially interesting to compare the gear, equipment, and techniques used with their horses to ours.
Over the past few weeks, I have been learning a lot from Ken and Adrienne about priorities, specifically, when it is necessary to be meticulous and complete something with detailed attention versus when it is necessary to prioritize speed and efficiency. Often these two are at odds, and I am seeing more and more how every decision in farming is an evaluation of speed versus perfection. This topic reminds me of Mark Shepard’s method of plant cultivation, as explained in “Restoration Agriculture.” He calls it “STUN,” which stands for “sheer, total, utter neglect.” Shepard’s general farming ethic is to hedge his bets on the side of large numbers. He plants twice as much as he needs of a crop and assumes at least that much loss to the forces of nature. That way, he can focus more of his energy on establishing new orchards, pastures, irrigation ponds, and alley-cropping systems, and less on tending to those in existence, in the hopes that the strongest and most disease-resistant will select themselves by their continued existence. As he says, “If you plant 100 trees and ignore them, the only ones that will survive did so because they had some sort of competitive advantage.” Shepard is an extremist, to be sure, but it is an interesting method to consider, at least in moderation.
Sharing the Harvest:
Henderson, Elizabeth and Robyn Van En. 1999. Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture. Chelsea Green Publishing.
North Branch Farm:
Shepard, Mark. 2013. Restoration Agriculture. Acres U.S.A.