Winter into Spring

Sometimes photos say it best. A visual stroll through the past few months at the farm.

Reskinning, aka putting new plastic on the greenhouse. It is a task that needs to happen about every five years, and our greenhouse was overdue for new plastic. So we sent an email out to the farming community to recruit helpers, made a big ol' pot of soup, and set out to get the job done one February day. Photo by Doug.

We got our greenhouse plastic up just in the nick of time. A week later, we seeded our onions and about two weeks after that, our onions looked like this. We used Vermont Compost Company for our greenhouse starts this year and are thrilled with the results. Our plants look far more vigorous and healthy than they have in the past.

Onions are the first crop we seed in the greenhouse, but peas are the first seeds we plant directly in the soil. Here they are a couple of weeks ago, vibrant and lush despite the dry soil.

Laura and Brett put the finishing touches on our NEW greenhouse(!!) during their first week at the farm. It is not totally complete (still needs electricity and heat) but we already have many planned uses for it this season, including curing our garlic, onions and winter squash.

hilary seeding

Hilary seeding tomatoes in the greenhouse.

Ben and Steph checking out our new root washer on the day it was delivered. We are all so excited about this piece of equipment. It is going to revolutionize our vegetable washing process and it will mean cleaner carrots for everyone! Photo by Doug.

irrigation talk

Melanie explaining how to repair our irrigation system during a farm walk. We put our irrigation system out earlier than ever this year! Photo by Hil.

steph

Stephanie, our field manager, keeps close track of what is planted where and what is going where next.

New farmer Laura's very first day operating the John Deere tractors.

brett on g

Brett cultivating some itty bitty greens on the G.

Tidy rows of eggplant seedlings. These are being potted up into bigger containers as I type this!

Plants are great to look at and all, but they can't compete with Doug and Megan's baby bunnies! We've been sneaking peeks at them on our weekly farm walks.

The 2011 Farming Season is Coming to a Close

Hilary is our amazing CSA manager and one of our farmers. One part of her job, (a piece we sometimes share depending on how busy we are), is to write and put together the CSA newsletter for our shareholders. Below is Hilary’s final CSA newsletter reflection of 2011. It’s beautiful, and full of wisdom. Enjoy!

Melanie Hardy, Farm Manager

Ah, 2011…This year we did a good job building onto systems we created last year and problem solving to fix some of our many challenges. For example, we improved the timing of our direct seeding to keep quick crops like arugula, radishes, and salad greens almost always available. A very intentional lettuce plan kept that crop on the farm stand and under the CSA tent nearly every week. Our equipment fleet was regularly maintained and has never been so well greased. Each member of the crew was assigned an important area to oversee which distributed responsibilities (and stress) more equally. Everyone got a chance not only specialize in a specific area but also to see how it fits into the larger whole of the farm.

For me, it’s been great to be so involved with the CSA and be a part of its evolution as we search for the right balance of what we can do as farmers and what you, our shareholders, are looking for in a CSA. Having a second year here has provided me with a chance to get to know many of you either while working in the field or visiting at the tent or farm stand. Having a strong network of support is vital to every farm and I’ve enjoyed exploring and getting to know the Land’s Sake community more deeply this year.

As our collective knowledge of this place builds it will help us improve our planning, systems, and rotations. At the same time, the more we know the more complicated our decision-making and planning processes become. The beauty and terror of farming is its complexity and unpredictability, which has the potential to be both positively mind-blowing and heart-wrenching.
My time at Land’s Sake has opened my eyes to a whole new level of farming, allowing me to witness the complicated seasonal relationships of weather, pests, land, crew, and crops. I’ve seen that sometimes last year’s victories are this year’s defeat. It has become clear that no matter how much you plan, you can never become too comfortable in farming and that so much of what happens in a season is out of your control. The truth is, we’ll never be safe from crop failures and bad seasons. In a year when many CSAs had to end early due to lack of crops and some farms were completely devastated by Hurricane Irene, we were extremely lucky to end our season with a bang.

Enjoy the abundance of hearty greens and root crops! Have a great winter and I hope to see you next year!

Hilary Crowell, CSA Manager

New Path to Farm Stand

This week, Land’s Sake and the Town of Weston installed a gravel path to the farm stand from the new driveway.  We hope this makes our customer’s trips to the farm stand easier and more enjoyable, especially on rainy days (no more walking through wet grass!).  This should be the last phase of construction at the farm related to the new driveways – thanks to all our customers who took the long route to the farm stand while the path was being completed.

Irene Knocks Down Trees, Knocks Out Power

While the Boston area was spared from the brunt of Tropical Storm Irene, she still managed to stir up some trouble for Land’s Sake, its staff, and its trees. If you’ve been to the farm stand over the last two weeks, you’ve probably noticed that we lost a large tree next to the parking lot. The storm took down a significant portion of the tree, and unfortunately the remaining trunk was too dangerous and had to be removed. Sadly, over the last several years, many trees on the grounds of the farm, which was once a part of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum, have come down due to old age and wind. Jordan McCarron, our Conservation Land Manager, has been hard at work cleaning up after Irene.

Downed tree at the farm

The Land’s Sake office was without power or phone service for almost a week following the storm (Aug 28th – Sept 3). We apologize if you tried to call or email us and were unable to get through to leave a message. We are now fully up and running, so please call and let us know if you have not received a response to a message from that week.

We’d also like to thank all the volunteers who showed up to help prepare for the storm before it arrived. Thanks to your efforts, Land’s Sake made it through with no major storm damage to equipment or crops.

Land Care & Food Justice

Volunteers harvest collards at the Field of Greens

Right around the time the founders of Land’s Sake set their dreams in motion here in Weston, a like-minded group of folks in Cambridge founded Food For Free. A non-profit like Land’s Sake, Food for Free sought to connect families and individuals around Boston most in need of food assistance with the massive amounts of “excess” within our food system. Food for Free visited super markets, wholesale clubs, bakeries, farms and farmers markets, “rescuing” the end-of-the-day leftovers from being discarded as “waste” and distributing it within the local emergency food system.

Nowadays, Food for Free is still going strong. In 2010, it “rescued” 1 million pounds of fresh food, distributing it to 25,000 individuals via 76 food programs in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.

Food for Free also now runs a small, ¼-acre farm in Lincoln, MA called the Field of Greens, of which I am the manager. The land as well as the seeds, organic fertilizer, tools and invaluable advice is donated each year by Lindentree Farm and head farmer Ari Kurtz. Every Wednesday from 8 a.m. until mid-day during the growing season, my assistant farm manager and I oversee the planting, cultivation and harvesting of cabbage, collards, beets, carrots and swiss chard. These crops have a high nutrient density, store well, are popular amongst the families and individuals who receive the food, yet are rarely donated to Food for Free.

Each week, we are assisted in our work by a crew of approximately 10 regular volunteers and occasional groups. By seasons end, we will see more than 50 volunteers at the Field. The food that we produce at the Field of Greens goes directly to meal programs, shelters and pantries; it is either prepared or taken home by a family the same day we harvest it. In 2010, we harvested just over 7,000 pounds of food!

My work at the Field of Greens has been a great compliment to my work as Conservation Land Manager here at Land’s Sake. In both capacities, I am able to affect, in a very real way, the relationship we all share with the natural world. As Conservation Land Manager, my work in maintaining the town’s fields and hiking trails as well as the grounds of our main farm seem equally important in ensuring a connection between us humans and the land around us. Though the farm crew here at Land’s Sake does all the important work to grow such amazing food, I feel like I’m cultivating something as well: a respect for our common land through my work maintaining the towns fields and trails and an appreciation for the cultural heritage of New England farming towns through my attention to aesthetics at the main farm and our work on field-edge preservation projects.

At the Field of Greens, we often play host to volunteers’ first experiences with growing food. The power of those first experiences with farming is multiplied tenfold when volunteers learn that the organic and highly nutritious food they are helping produce is going directly to families that desperately need it. Respect for the land, an interest in our food system and an awareness of its strengths and inadequacies are all in cultivation at the Field of Greens.

In the end, it might be these experiences in farming and food justice that are more important than the actual food itself. However, that won’t keep us from trying our best to produce as much healthy, tasty organic produce as we can 🙂 Our goal for this season is 5,000 pounds of food. As I write this in mid- August, we have harvested just over 2,200 pounds of food thus far. I think we can do it!

Jordan McCarron, Conservation Land Manager

Green Power and Farmers Unite!

As I type this, our full time Monday crew (3) is harvesting garlic with volunteers (3), our weeding crew (4), educators (2) and their Green Power teen farmers (10!) That adds up to a very dreamy total of 22 harvesters! When we popped the garlic in the ground last season, we planted 13 beds that measure 275 feet in length. There are three rows planted in each bed, and the are spaced plants at six inches apart in row.  We’d already gotten one bed’s worth out of the earth for our spring garlic harvest, so that left us with approximately 19,800 plants to pull out of the ground.

garlic tables

Doug (our Education Director here at Land’s Sake) and I spent a good amount of time this winter dreaming up different ways to incorporate the Green Power teens into the farm so that the experience would be both helpful to the farm and rewarding for the them.  Land’s Sake’s roots are in growing food with kids, but as the farm and education divisions of this organization grew over the years, they both became more professionalized, and as a result grew to become completely separate endeavors.  The Green Power program eventually even became geographically isolated from the farm and its farmers.

This evolution, while perhaps not always ideal, makes a lot of sense, and is one that happens at many other community farms. Separate gardens for the education program, and separate work projects as well.  Land’s Sake, while a community farm, is also a working farm with a budget to meet.  We are managing 25ish acres, and this year, growing on almost 20 acres, spread around the town of Weston.  There is a lot of work to be done.  Most people think “the more help, the better, right?”, but can actually be quite difficult to occasionally incorporate unskilled labor into a farm operation.

Doug and I came up with a plan.  The first one was that we could have the teens harvest crops that we normally exclusively reserve for pick-your-own, and that the farm would keep half the profit, the kids the other half.  The farm crew doesn’t have quite enough time to pick peas, beans, or cherry tomatoes, but probably about 2/3 of customers that come to the stand would prefer that we have these items pre-picked.  These crops happen to be ones that people LOVE, so they are guaranteed to sell, provided the teens do well with quality control.  Win for the farm, win for the Green Power Farmers, win for customers who don’t have the time or ability to pick-their-own.  So far, it is working really well!  We have sold out of every Green Power harvested crop that we have had on the stand.

The second thing that we agreed upon was that we could have kids occasionally jump in on larger weeding, harvesting and planting projects.  The Green Power crews have done an excellent job so far of weeding the strawberries, for example (keeping the strawberries weeded is an epic battle for us). If the past couple of weeks are any indication, they will be jumping on even more farm projects as the Green Power season continues.  Which brings us back to today’s huge, huge garlic harvest.

The garlic field is the one that Doug chose to leave to the farm last year after deciding to relocate the home base of Education programming to the Wellesley Street location.  We planted the garlic in early November, also around the time that Doug began his planning for this year’s education programming.  It is fitting that nearly eight months later, we find ourselves completing the garlic harvest side by side with the Green Power teens.

I truly am looking forward to completing many more work projects with the Green Power farmers and their educators/leaders.  It’s amazing to be working in partnership with my peers at this organization to foster something that is larger, more engaging, and more compelling than the amazing work that we already do.  The potential seems almost infinite!

Melanie Hardy, Farm Manager at Land’s Sake Farm

Considering Agriculture through Paint

Hello! My name is Eliza Murphy. Growing food and its implications has been very important to me for a long time, and I owe a lot of that to the summers I worked at Land’s Sake. Currently I am not farming but focusing on my art practice, in which agriculture is integral.  A lot of how I understand the food system and farming comes from my experiences working on farms, and I want to pursue some works that study how other people relate to farming and food. In order to delve into these ideas about the relationship to land and farming, I am creating a series of paintings.

Specifically, I will look at the way people relate to farming and memory in two very different places, starting with Boston, MA and Bolero, Malawi. In each of these disparate places, I will interview a sample of people. In order to get a fuller idea of their experiences, while I record the interviews I will also sketch, take notes and photographs. From this gathered material, I will paint portraits, either of the interviewee’s likeness, or the memories they relate to me. Through the paintings and information I gather, I will study the variables and facets that make up the communities relationships to food and agriculture. I will build up a series of paintings that will work alongside these findings, that address the comparison between the two places and whatever else may come up. As a vehicle for this work, I will create a book, which will provide a different mode for expressing my findings.

To view a video about this project or to provide support, please click here.  Please become a backer if you can!!

Eliza Murphy, Guest Blogger

On how being a rabbi and a farmer are connected.

by Assistant Grower Joseph Berman

This week is the one year anniversary of my ordination as a rabbi.  What did I do after ordination last summer?  I’ll give you a clue:  I followed in the tradition of my Biblical ancestors…  I attached myself to the land and headed to the farm.  After spending five years in rabbinical school cooped up inside sitting and studying ancient texts, I decided that I wanted to be active, outdoors, and working with my body.  I was blessed to land a gig as a summer intern at Land’s Sake where I fell head-over-heels in love with farming.  Three weeks ago I returned to the farm as an assistant grower:  this season I am becoming a farmer.

On the one hand, I simply came to Land’s Sake for a change of pace: after the monotony of the classroom and the disembodiment of the computer screen, being outside all day working in the dirt just seemed like the right thing to do.  And it was.  I love (and sometimes hate) the sweaty, dirty, back stretching work of pulling weeds.  Then I really love looking back after 5 hours of weeding on our hands and knees and admiring the weed-less fennel and beet leaves blowing in the wind.  And of course, I love operating the tractors.  I love these pieces of the work and many others.  Surprisingly though, I have also discovered that the work of farming is deeply connected to my work as a rabbi.

I have learned from my congregants at Temple B’nai Israel in Revere what community is.  Community is not primarily paying membership dues or coming to services, although both of these things are an important part of community.  Yet it is possible to do these things and still live with the fiction that we are autonomous individuals exist on our own.  My congregants know this is not true: they are deeply concerned with the well-being of one another and they act on it.  They call and visit when a member is sick, they celebrate each other’s birthdays and milestones, and they take on each other’s congregational responsibilities when someone is away or unable to do them.  They have taught me that community is acting on the underlying belief that we are intimately connected to on another.

At Land’s Sake I have come to understand that this sense of community, this sense of interconnectedness, must extend beyond our own species. Sometimes we presume, in the words of the philosopher Norman Wirzba, “to be the authors of ourselves and our destinies” thinking that we “exist by, from, and for ourselves.”   But this is not true, we are part of a much larger Whole.  In order to live, we need to eat.  In order to eat, we need to grow food. And in order to grow food, we need healthy bodies, smart flexible minds, and a well-oiled team (and tractors) but we also need healthy soil and the right amount water and animals for fertilizer and decent weather and and and…  Through farming I have learned that we are dependent on things much greater than ourselves that I can only begin to comprehend.  As such, I am called to live responsibly.  In the words of the agrarian theologian Wendell Berry:  “There is, in practice, no such thing as autonomy.  Practically, there is only a distinction between responsible and irresponsible dependence.”

Make no mistake about it, farming is very hard work.  It is hard on the body and we work for little pay.  And yet I love it.  I love it for many reasons.  And chief amongst them is that I am learning not only how dependent and interconnected I am to the rest of the planet and Something much greater than myself; at Land’s Sake, I am also learning how to be responsibly dependent.

beets

Communities that Work Together, Stay Together

Many hands make quick work.

When ever we get a request from a group to help us out on the farm, the first things that flash through my mind are logistics. Do we have the time, resources and the need for a mass of people to join us in the fields or forest? There are a lot of moving pieces and to top it all off we are completely at the mercy of mother nature’s whims. Coordinating so many details can be a daunting task, but one that I can assure you all is well worth it.

This Spring a group of 25 freshmen from the Rivers School in Weston came to work on the farm. Together with the Land’s Sake farm staff we planted nearly 5000 strawberries in about an hour and a half. That is a serious amount of work. A project that may have taken days of time out of the farm staff’s limited schedule was accomplished in one fell swoop.

Jeanette Szretter, Director of Community Service and Spanish Teacher at Rivers School, said, “The weather cooperated and our faculty and students have nothing but raves about the success of their work with you today! What an impressive amount of strawberries! Thank you so much for your willingness to host us and to partner with us. We look forward to many more such opportunities!”

These projects go far beyond the tangible work that is accomplished. By focusing our physical energy on a common goal we build stronger connections with our friends, neighbors and to the community as a whole. My experience at Land’s Sake over the past two and a half years has been that when we call upon our community for support in a time of need we are often rewarded by a profound outpouring from all over.

When I arrived at Land’s Sake I felt like I was immediately adopted into a truly unique and strong community. Every day I am proud and grateful to contribute to an organization with such deep roots. Now in our thirtieth year we are working harder then ever to assure that those roots remain healthy and will support us for another thirty years. If you live anywhere near Weston and want to feel connected to an amazing community, don’t hesitate any longer, explore all we have to offer. Join us in working towards a sustainable and rewarding future any way you can.

-Douglas Cook, Education Director

The heart, and soul, of Weston

One handful of Dandelion at a time

Land’s Sake is one of the greatest things about Weston.  I have long believed this since ‘discovering’ it during my third year as a Weston resident. Driving by the farm one warm May day, I decided to enter the long driveway to poke around  and see what the wooden farm stand, and the fields, were all about. A tall, thin man with a long beard was there, hoeing a field. It was a wonderful sight for my Wyoming-raised eyes that ached for familiar scenes of farmers working their fields.

“Hi. Do you work here?” I asked, naively.

“Sort of,” the man answered, with a bit of a grin.

Little did I know that I had just met Brian Donahue, a co-founder of Land’s Sake, an internationally known academic and a champion of suburban farming and forestry programs, of which Land’s Sake was a national model.

And little did I know that Land’s Sake would forever change my life.

Now, eight years later, I am honored to serve as Board Chair of this great organization and to work for the Land’s Sake community.  As a mom, a customer, and a volunteer, I can attest to the many impacts that this land, and the people who work on and for it, have made on my family. Whether it’s stopping by the farmstand on a steamy July day for fresh basil and carrots for dinner, or watching my children frolic in the farm and forests that Land’s Sake staff help maintain, the memories we’ve made are fresh and powerful. I have grown attached to this part of our town in a way that I never expected.

Land’s Sake is a place, a model of sustainability, a community of dedicated citizens that value open space, working landscapes, and community involvement. It is a source of healthy local food, a proud steward of forests, an inspirational teacher to children and adults. It is a board of leaders and a hardworking, talented staff, it is the tired hands of volunteers that give of their time, and the smiles of children that depart their buses and discover where their food comes from. Land’s Sake is all of this, and much more.

Interestingly, as our roots grow deeper in Weston and my kids experience more of the farm and forests, I find that Land’s Sake keeps on affecting my family in new and memorable ways. My oldest son, a 4th grader, decided to ‘try’ the After School Explorers program just last week. He’s always enjoyed being outside, but I’ve been careful not to inundate him with too many farm-related outings—not to push the agenda, if you know what I mean.

After one day of sign painting, planting, watering, playing, learning, and doing valuable outdoor work, the sports nut fell in love with Land’s Sake on his own, much to my surprise. He now has the Land’s Sake “bug,” and has returned to the farm as often as his program will allow. Thanks to Doug and Geeta, our dedicated education staff, and the magic of the land that sits in the geographic center of Weston, my son has been turned on to science, farming, and community service in a new way. Here, in his words, is the proof.

Mom: What made you interested in the After School Explorers program?

Lukas: My mom told me about it and I wanted to give it a try.

Mom: What did you think of the first day? What did you do?

Lukas: We planted some seeds in the education garden and took a tour of Land’s Sake. We did Name games, had snack, and met the nice teachers.

Mom: What is the favorite project that you’ve done in your last four visits?

Lukas: My favorite thing about it is that I bring something special home to my mom each time, such as a bouquet of various things around the farm, a cup of worms from the Norway maple, blossoms from the Norway maple, and rhubarb. I liked to paint signs for the education garden, work with other kids, and be around the farm.

Mom: How does the After School Explorers program compare to other sports or music activities?

Lukas: I like it the same amount and it’s different from other sports because we walk around a lot outside in nature.

Mom: What else would you like to say about the after school program?

Lukas: I would really recommend it to someone who likes to be outdoors and in nature a lot.

So there you have it. A new generation of smitten Land’s Sakers are sprouting up before our eyes. Our job, as parents, Westonites, and Land’s Sake supporters is to ensure that this story continues. Through your support as a member, donor, or parent that enrolls your child in the after school or Summer Programs, you can help this community gem keep on giving. And that way, when you or your child are at the farm, you too will be part of its community and its special history.

– Alyson Muzilla, Board Chair

Check out our New Education Garden