Saturday Workshare Opportunity Available!

omelet-prepDid you know that we work with volunteers called workshares, to help make our CSA a reality? Workshares dedicate a portion of their time to the CSA program, working as harvesters, photographers, and more, and in return they receive their shares free of charge. We have a critical Saturday position still available this summer, and if you’re interested in working with Land’s Sake, we highly encourage you to get in touch! Read below for the workshare details, and if you’re worried about not making every Saturday, we have a solution — you can split this workshare with another person!

CSA Tent Monitor

Saturdays, 11am – 4pm

CSA Tent Monitors are the face of the CSA, providing a welcoming and friendly visitor experience! Monitors will greet shareholders, help them navigate their pick-ups, pass along important information, relay feedback to farmers, and answer questions. They are also responsible for restocking and maintaining CSA displays. The CSA tent is open in all weather conditions, so proper dress is important. Farm staff will ensure proper training on both the produce and procedures of the CSA. During quiet hours, other projects may be assigned. This workshare position is a great way to become involved in the Land’s Sake community. Please contact us at info@landssake.org if interested.

 

A Vision of Community Farming

This week marked a new beginning for long-time Board of Directors member Ned Rossiter. After almost thirty years of serving the Land’s Sake community, Ned was inducted as our very first Emeritus Board Member. He generously shares his view of how the farm operates today in the short piece below, A Vision of Community Farming

toddlerThe visitor to the farmstand on a still summer morning pauses to take in the blaze of color in a field of well cultivated flowers next to the road. A few parents and children move slowly through the rows cutting stems to take home, perhaps, or to give to someone. In the morning haze before the heat of the day sets in there is a calmness and serenity to the farm which people find compelling. Later a breeze will set in making the shade of the maple tree next to the farmstand cool and pleasant even in the worst heat. The farmstand features a glorious display of tomatoes, greens, carrots, and flowers. Bottles of farm produced honey and maple syrup are displayed and a notice board nearby has information about the farm and postings about how things grow and advertising for other events. People stay to chat about the different varieties of produce or to share recipes or just to catch up.

The stand will be busy all day, and there are always people sitting at the tables under the big maple. Some come with children to watch the hens, the goats or the bee hives; others just to hang out or chat with farm staff, or to cool off after some berry picking in the hot sun. Two board members arrive at the stand to pick up some produce and check in. They chat easily with staff and talk about how the season is going. One of them needs a lot of produce for a dinner event she is catering. Conversation turns to recipes for a potluck supper that staff and board members are pulling together for CSA shareholders. There will be a good turnout.

volunteer for farmThis morning middle school children are arriving for the Greenpower summer farm program. They have their own small garden site on the farm and have grown some very good produce while learning about how things grow. Today they are organizing for a trip to a food bank nearby where they will donate the crops they have grown. Students have learned the names of the varieties of tomatoes and peppers and greens they are selling. They can talk knowingly to customers about sustainable agriculture, soil maintenance and organic principles. The children go home at night and ask their parents why they buy produce grown in Mexico. The answers do not satisfy.

The visitor notices the emphasis on youth at the farm. There are high school and college age students weeding the greens nearby, and the staff at the farmstand organizing their day’s work are for the most part young and eager. Yet they mix easily with older staff some of whom are more elderly volunteers. The farm manager directs the activities for the day. The tractor needs a new belt, the new strawberry plants need irrigation, a couple of fields in town need mowing, and picking needs to be done for the CSA shareholders coming tomorrow afternoon. Late this afternoon the farm manager will attend the brief meeting with the small board farm sub committee to discuss how things are going and to do some low level troubleshooting. The list of things to be done today is daunting, but there is a focus on priorities and soon staff are off to their assigned tasks.

pyo flowersThis morning the manager of the education program is meeting at the farm site with a group from two churches in Mattapan who want to bring children in their summer camp program out to the farm for two days of instruction and activity. The undertaking is funded by a grant. A team of educators from the board and the staff has a curriculum ready for the children all tried and tested by the many school age groups who come to the farm throughout the year.

After a quick trip over to additional fields on the north side of town to check in with the farm crew and to see how things are going, the Executive Director heads over to Town Hall to review some contracts with a member of the Conservation Commission. One has to do with ongoing Town support for produce deliveries to food pantries in Boston, the other concerns funding for the education program. Tonight he will be the keynote speaker at a regional meeting for directors of community farms focused on the challenges of invasive plants and diseases to small farms across all six New England states. It will end up being a twelve-hour day for him.

Later in the day a small group of foundation executives are meeting with board members at the farm to explore financial support for restoration of some historic gardens and orchards nearby. As they pore over old maps and aerial photographs, the conversation turns to the social benefits of the project and the projected costs. Grant money for landscape restoration would greatly expand the educational program opportunities at the farm. The discussions are relaxed, but productive.

So it will be a typical busy summer day on the farm, and the visitor leaves thinking that the small farm stand is indeed the center of many wonderful things in Weston and in the whole Boston area.

–Ned Rossiter,Board of Directors Emeritus

Your Questions, Answered: How Organic Are these Berries?

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For a fruitful harvest, flexibility is key. Here at Land’s Sake we farm using exclusively organic practices, a measure of our commitment to you, the land, and our farmers. Organic vegetables are grown without using most conventional pesticides, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, and without bioengineering (such as GMOs) or ionizing radiation.

We can only pack so much produce into our cozy 21 acres though, so we maintain rewarding relationships with and rely on local farmers to supplement our CSA shares and farm stand offerings. New England farmers deliver corn, berries, apples, potatoes, pumpkins, and other treats early in the mornings so you can put together a just-picked cornucopia that will wow your family and friends.

Some farms we buy fruits and veggies from use a pest control technique called Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which allows for somewhat more liberal pest management techniques than does organic farming. The Environmental Protection Agency considers IPM an effective and eco-sensitive way to deal with pests. Scientists develop IPM practices using current and vast information on the little buggers that we just can’t get rid of using organic techniques.

While organic farming only allows the use of natural pesticides such as copper spray (another blog topic for another day!), IPM allows limited, careful use of synthetic chemicals. The idea is to use just enough of what is needed in the fields to ensure, among other things, that we can source safe and beautiful berries for your prize-winning pies and jams.

The best produce you can put on your table – and in your body – comes from small local farms like Land’s Sake. We give you the opportunity to get to know your produce and the people who grow it, and that’s something you just won’t get at the supermarket. Our Farm Stand Manager, Amanda, Farm Manager, Erik, and any of our helpful staff are happy to answer any questions or address concerns about how each item was grown.

As a third-season weekly farm volunteer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), and brand new Land’s Sake Farm Stand employee, I’m privileged to have this opportunity to help bring you colorful, healthful meals and nutrition tips. Please do say hello at the Land’s Sake Farm Stand, and feel free to ask questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find it!

Hope to see you soon,

Emily Elizabeth

emily

Sources:
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: http://www.eatright.org/public
Environmental Protection Agency: www.epa.gov
US Department of Agriculture (USDA): www.usda.gov
Gateway to Governmental Food Safety: www.foodsafety.gov

Farm Nightmares: All About Late Blight

Images courtesy of USABlight.org.

Images courtesy of USABlight.org.

Days like today — wet, cold, and windy — keep farmers up at night. Early in the season, a rainy day is welcomed; a good rain can re-hydrate a field, warm the frost from the soil, and cut down on the farm’s water consumption for new transplants. Later in the season, though, there’s much more danger in a blustery day. Lurking in the rain and the wind is the threat of late blight, a water mold that can wipe out a whole field of tomatoes in less than a week. Spores of the late blight disease can travel 30 to 40 miles on a wet and windy day, spreading like wildfire through farms all over the northeast.

Late blight is a variation of the same blight that caused the Great Irish Potato Famine in 1845 and primarily affects tomatoes and potatoes. The scientific name for the disease is Phytophthora infestans, which translates to “attack of the plant destroyer.” The water mold thrives in damp, cool conditions. When a plant becomes infected with late blight, wet-looking olive green lesions begin to form on the leaves. The lesions begin to encompass the leaf, turning brown with white, fuzzy spore growth visible on the underside of the leaves. The infected leaves become necrotic and the plant defoliates quickly. If the plant doesn’t die quickly from this, the blight can spread to the stalk and cripple the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. Even if you harvest fine-looking tomatoes from a plant infected with blight, they turn black within days.

Late blight didn’t exist in the northeast U.S. until 2009, when a commercial greenhouse distributed infected transplants to big box stores in the area. That summer was also one of the coldest, wettest summers on record, which caused rapid spread of infection. Millions of dollars in failed tomato and potato crops were lost in the northeast that year and caused some farms to shut down all together. Since then, it’s been the stuff of farmer nightmares. 2011 showed no sign of blight until Hurricane Irene brought it up from hundreds of miles away. This year, the first reported case of blight in the U.S. was in Wisconsin on July 18. Since then, it has spread all the way from northern Maine to southern Florida to the coast of Oregon.

Classic early late blight.

Classic early late blight.

In the Northeast, blight often starts in Long Island, Pennsylvania, and northern Maine: all areas with large potato farms. It’s a community disease, a shared disease. If one farm spots blight, it’s not long before others in the region are infected. For this reason, farmers report blight as soon as it’s seen (in our case, to UMass) and, all season, keep a trained eye on forums and maps for new and encroaching outbreaks. At Land’s Sake, we spotted our first signs of blight on Sunday, August 10 and were one of the first two farms in Massachusetts to report an outbreak. With our fields in different locations around Weston, it’s possible that not all of our tomatoes will become infected. So far, our main tomato crop is fine. Because the disease is wind-borne, though, it can be nearly impossible to predict. After a day like today, we could be fine or we could be facing major devastation in our tomato fields.

The only organic preventative measure against late blight is a copper hydroxide fungicide spray. It’s certified for organic growers and non-toxic. The manufacturer suggests a spraying regiment of every 3 – 10 days; with the wet days and cold nights we’ve been having, Farmer Erik has been spraying our tomato fields on an approximate 7 day schedule. The spray will help prevent the disease, but there’s no cure once a plant has been infected. At that point, you have to rip out all the infected plants and hope it didn’t spread. Unfortunately, it can take up to a week to spot symptoms–but the plant is contagious from the moment of infection as the spores quickly multiply on damp leaves.

“It’s terrible,” Erik says. “It’s making growing potatoes and tomatoes organically very difficult. You spend all your time worrying about having another year like 2009. It’ll destroy your fields in a week, and there’s nothing you can do.”

Identifying Blight (left) vs. Drought Damage (right): check for fuzzy white spore growth to ID blight.

Identifying Blight (left) vs. Drought Damage (right): check for fuzzy white spore growth to ID blight.

If you’re worried about blight in your home garden, you can buy copper hydroxide at many local garden stores. To help prevent blight in your garden, give your plants plenty of space to encourage good air flow and trellis tomatoes to keep the leaves off the ground and dry. Try to avoid getting the leaves wet when you’re watering. If you spot late blight in your garden, destroy the infected tomato or potato plants. To destroy the plant, rip it up at the root, secure in a trash bag, and throw it out. Overwintering isn’t a problem for tomatoes, because the disease needs living plant tissue to survive, but it can survive the winter in potatoes left in the ground If potato plants pop up in the spring, they should be destroyed. For more information about Late Blight in both tomatoes and potatoes, visit USABlight.org.

Notes from the Field: CSA Week 8

sunspot tractor

The end of July is a time of transition for New England farms. Cooler weather crops like bok choi can’t handle the summer heat, so we won’t be seeing them again until the fall, but heat-loving favourites like tomatoes and eggplant are still just starting to trickle in. Those of you who are returning shareholders may remember that last year we took a week’s break from the CSA around this time to let the fields catch up. We’re not at that point yet, but you may notice a smaller share this week.

As a farmer and a proud history geek, agricultural history is a passion of mine; I have a special interest in how New Englanders fed themselves before refrigeration and intercontinental supply chain management. When we find ourselves, with all our technology, challenged by the cycle of the seasons or a wind storm or an explosion of crop-devouring insects, I try to remember how much harder it must have been 100 or 1000 years ago. For most of us, a smaller share means a chance to use up the backlog of veggies in our fridge from previous weeks or perhaps a rare trip to the produce section of the local grocery store. For our ancestors, it might have meant a lean week or two – but perhaps it would also have made the tomatoes taste even sweeter when they finally ripened in great numbers.

When we harvested all our garlic this week and hung it to dry in our greenhouse, I thought about how much harder it would have been without a tractor to drive along the beds in front of us, undercutting the soil to loosen the heads before we pulled them. I thought about the fact that our humble greenhouse has an electric fan to ensure proper air circulation, and is built from lightweight alloys and plastic. It would have been a miracle of technology to someone living in my great-grandmother’s time. But I also thought about the fact that big harvests like garlic or winter squash would have once been a great social occasion, where entire communities came together to work for common good and celebrate a brief flash of abundance with music and dancing and games.

My hope is that Land’s Sake gives people a chance to sample that experience of a community unified in its closeness to food production without all of the risks and inconveniences of subsistence farming. We had some new volunteers on the farm this week, and their feedback was unanimous: it’s incredibly satisfying and educational to be a part of growing food. We farmers agree! If you find yourself wanting to sample a slice of the past (without having to trade in your air conditioner or goretex rain gear!) remember that you and your family are welcome to join us on the farm for one of our volunteer days, and you’re always welcome to ask questions and learn more about what it takes to grow vegetables in New England.

– Paulette

Notes from the Field: CSA Week 7

Photograph by Eytan Alder. http://eytanphoto.tapil.com

Photograph by Eytan Alder. http://eytanphoto.tapil.com

And in the blink of an eye, July is both here, and almost gone. Summer on the farm reminds me sometimes of hosting a busy dinner party – very fun, but requiring your constant attention and preparation. Do we have enough of this seed and that green? How will our brassicas do with the next flea beetle cycle? Guests may leave abruptly, arrive unexpectedly early, make a mess, and you handle it all with as much grace as you can muster. You attend to everyone’s needs as best you can, and sometimes step out for a minute to give yourself a pep talk because despite your best efforts, your beautiful dish in the stove has caught fire, or the dog has eaten all of your appetizers, and it’s all you can do to keep from having a shouting fit. But, you’re still the host, and the party goes on, and at the end of the day, you can sit down and enjoy the rewards you have reaped; tired, but happy.

Our crew stays cheerful and hardworking, through the ups and downs of this ‘party,’ through heat and pounding rain. Our planting project was interrupted by the flash flooding of this past week, with several rounds of five-minute downpours turning our field into a lake, and our bed aisles into rivers. We planted on, and the sudden rain providing for hilarity as we shot limericks and haikus back and forth about the weather, and slipped, often getting impossibly stuck in the mud. It is times like these that make me thankful for our crew, their tenacity and spirit that keep me laughing through the extremes that we come upon in our job – if you see one of our farm crew this week, thank them! Our beautiful produce is a testament to their hard work, and passion for what we do.

Cooler nights these past few weeks have meant that our first planting is taking a breather after a few bountiful weeks of slicing cucumbers and summer squash that you’ve seen in your share. True to the nature of summer though, as this first planting slows temporarily, we have other plants gearing up for their time in the spotlight. As I walk through our Concord Road field, I have been simultaneously excited, and bracing myself for the harvest that our amazing fruit set portends. Solanaceous plants like peppers and tomatoes are a reward you have to work for, and I find that it’s a fair tradeoff for the big delicious heirlooms, and peppers, sweet, green, and hot. Our next succession of cukes, zukes, and summer squash is gearing up for their turn on the CSA table, and after a big harvest, we’re happy to say we’ve saved a lot of carrots from the deer that had just begun to discover how tasty Land’s Sake carrots really are. I’m also happy to say that the flower garden is open for business to both CSA and Pick-Your-Own! It is one of my peaceful places on the farm, where I’m happy to spend my last minutes before I go home checking on the flowers, deadheading, weeding, or just strolling, and I hope you enjoy it too!

-Olivia

Notes from the Field: CSA Week 6

equipment

As of today, we have 47 different crops in various stages of growth at the farm. Some of those crops are further subdivided into different varieties: we grow over 20 different types of tomatoes alone! Some of these crops we’re currently harvesting for your share; some, like tomatoes,a eggplant, and broccoli, won’t be ready until August or October. And we don’t plant each crop just once–for many crops, we plant multiple successions to ensure availability over a longer period of time. We plant 20 different lettuce successions over the season, for example, each one over 1000 plants.

All these vegetables jostle for room in a farmer’s mind, competing for attention. In a single day we might harvest mature vegetables, rescue a still-growing crop from the onslaught of weeds (by hand or with our cultivating tractors), transplant young plants from our greenhouse out into the fields, and plant new seeds in the greenhouse. On top of that there’s irrigation, tractor work, the flower garden, and dealing with insects and deer who want to eat your food as much as you do. It takes a lot of planning! Farming means more than tractors and getting dirty: it means organization, spreadsheets, schedules, and (at least for us) smartphones.

Each type of plant has different needs and different preferences: the same weather that makes peppers happy makes lettuce very sad indeed. When it rains, we’re happy our crops are getting watered but we’re aware of the risk of tomato blight that comes with damp conditions. Farming organically means we’re more susceptible to the whims of nature, but we have our ways of making it work. Organic farmers learn to balance risks, to include redundancies and backup plans in the crop rotations, to prioritize the crops that most urgently need attention, and to admit when it’s time to give up on that bed of radishes the wireworms have half devoured. We hedge our bets, and we get creative when things don’t go according to plan. The past week of dry, 90-degree days left us with a very unhappy patch of lettuce, but we put together an impromptu custom salad mix (including arugula, tatsoi, and spicy mustard greens) to make sure our shareholders would still have plenty of salad options despite the smaller lettuce heads.

All of this means a little bit of unpredictability, both for us and for you. We try our best to ensure a full array of delicious seasonal veggies for everyone, and we hope that when you see a bit of uncertainty showing through in the list of what crops might be in your share next week, you see that uncertainty as a sign that you’re eating food that’s grown in a way that respects the land and works around its challenges, rather than trying to control it using methods that hurt the land and reduce the quality of the food.

As a final note, I am delighted to thank Olivia, our flower manager, for her hard work on the beautiful flower garden, and to report that as long as the weather cooperates we will probably have pick-your-own flowers starting for CSA shareholders this week!

-Paulette

Get Out in the Fields this Saturday!

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We’re looking for volunteers to come help us get our front Pick-Your-Own field ready! It’s in serious need of a big mulching, and we’re in serious need of some extra hands. Come to the farm on Saturday at 11 AM in closed-toed shoes for our mulching party!

Notes from the Field: CSA Week 5

sunnies

Two weeks past the solstice and I still find myself reflecting upon it. The longest day of the year marks so many transitions on the farm that superficially seem to have little to do with it, and yet our daily tasks have subtly shifted. From relentless greenhouse seeding and transplanting, we’ve transitioned to increasingly large and diverse harvests, the ever present challenge of managing weeds, and irrigating our shallow sandy soils in dry spells.

I always find July to be something of a balancing act. The big greenhouse and transplanting push is over, but we are still planting for the fall. Harvesting our ever increasing bounty is consuming more and more of our time, yet there is still so much to be done to ensure our late season crops are successful. Stuck right in the middle of that are tomatoes, who keep teasing us by getting taller and taller and setting beautiful but unripe fruit.

The true balance of July is knowing which weeds need to be eliminated and which will not cause the crop failure to thrive. Who needs water today and who can survive without? Can the squash harvest wait until tomorrow or will they be baseball bats? Do the tomatoes need to be tied again?? How can we keep the deer from eating the strawberries? The list goes on. Everything seems to happen so fast.

And yet, we seem to end each day feeling satisfied that we have done good work. We’re seeing the first eggplant flowers. The tomatoes almost the size of baseballs. The flower garden is just about ready! There’s a beautiful bounty in the farm shares and the farm stand. We’re loving it.

-Erik

Notes from the Field: CSA Week 4

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Since I began farming I’ve noticed that my sense of hearing has become more acute. With our heads bent, often focused on the task at hand, be it hand weeding carrots, navigating a narrow pass with the tractor or focusing on bunching greens, my eyes are often drawn downward, and sounds emerge from the fabric of the farm. The silence followed by a renewal of birdsong often will tip me off to the arrival then passage of a rain storm long before I can see it, and the hums, rumbles, and whines of our different farm trucks and machines have become distinct personalities around the farm. With the arrival of summer has also come noises that remind me of why I’m happy to be working on a community farm – excited greetings of our workshares after a season apart, the sounds of kids happily exploring the children’s garden, the hum of a bee rummaging inside a squash blossom, friends running into each other at the farm stand, and the frequent laughter of our crew in the fields.

In this farm symphony, the music moves ever onwards, never stopping and always changing. This hot, mostly dry week has made great conditions for weeding and cultivation projects. We try to keep the low ominous rumble of impending weeds away while providing our other thirsty crops with adequate water. As our team sets up irrigation around the farm, we have been finding ourselves very grateful to have our new underground irrigation system installed – a development that improves efficiency, decreases time spent repairing leaking line, and helps conserve water – all things farmers like.

All this water and heat has meant that our tomatoes are exploding with growth – it seems that as soon as we finish twining them, they’re ready for another twine. Our crew has been great at keeping up with stake pounding and twining, and as a result our tomatoes are happy as ever. You can see some of their work in the front field by the farm stand, planned to be a pick-your-own field this year! Keep an eye out too, for summer squash and cucumbers in your share. Our cucurbits are picking up the pace, and beneath their broad leaves we’ve been finding a bounty of summer squash, zucchinis, and the beginnings of our cucumber harvest, including my personal favorite, the Poona Kheera cucumber. I think this particular cuke is a good reminder to be bold when trying new veggies – while it looks far from what you’d imagine a typical cucumber to be, your tastebuds as well as your ears will be rewarded with the satisfying crunch of this delicious variety.

-Olivia