When the snow covers the vegetable fields and the spinach sleeps under row covers in the high tunnels I find myself getting outside and playing in the mountains. As you might have guessed my heart resides both in the veggies fields and in the mountains. Taking time to recharge, appreciate all our amazing natural resources and stay active over the winter are just a few things that keep me busy during the winter months. I serve on the Wolfeboro Area Farmers Market Board, as well as the Mount Washington Valley Eaters and Growers Board. I find myself spending hours emailing, coordinating people, places and things, and brainstorming on ways to continue to add vibrancy to our local food movement. I spend weeks surrounded by seed catalogs and spreadsheets while I plan out the harvest calendar. Lots to do and life is good. Grateful for freezers full of abundant summer harvests and time with friends and family.
This growing season has been a bit of a bear. Things started out hot and dry and continued that way until July which was full of heat, humidity and rain. It is just like a farmer to be obsessed with the weather, and it really is something we tend to talk about all the time. The weather is our greatest friend and foe. Farmers perhaps more than most other folks, are constantly reminded of the circle of life. We start our plants from seed, watch them grow and mature and if all goes well we harvest them, mow down the residue to return it to the earth and start the cycle again. We see beautiful birth, and we follow our crops through their generally short lives until harvest. We see plants thrive and die at all stages of life. They might be lost as seedlings, at transplant, mid-season, and even after months of tending and care some are cut short right before they reach their full potential. Farming is a constant balance between keeping things alive, and letting others die.
It has been on my mind a lot this season how the cycles on the farm are reflected in our personal lives as well. Children get sick, relatives get cancer, and friends might get into a freak accident. Of course, human tragedy is much more devastating than when I lose a crop to rot, drought, disease, or a pest, but there is a familiarity in the pain. And what is perhaps more interesting to me this season is how much these losses have affected me. Seeing crops go down early enforces the reminder of the fragility of life that I see mirrored in the human lives around me. It raises within me the questions of how best to spend our time here on Earth.
Farming is a calling in many ways, and farmers often sacrifice having nights and weekends free to make sure that the food keeps growing. I am not trying to make us seem like martyrs, we do choose this life, and yet when people dismiss your struggle saying that it’s okay since “you love what you do”, they are not considering all the losses and struggle that can go into growing food. Most don’t think about the people who grow their food very often. You might not be aware that they are in fact people whose lives and livelihoods are subject to the whims of mother nature. That in a world where we all are seeking to control our lives in some simple way, we toil away in the dirt doing our best to feed you and live daily with the reminder that a hail storm can take it all out in an instant. It is a joy, and it is a constant worry.
Thankfully, the long list of daily chores and ever-growing pile of to-dos don’t leave much time to sit and ponder. Things are in transition now on the farm. August can be the hardest month for farmers. It is when the work that is always endless is reaching a fever pitch of chaos, and bodies that have been pushing for months are starting to struggle to keep up the pace of the daily sunrise to sunset marathon. September is here and the works starts to shift, and the days are getting shorter. We begin to see the bounty of the fall crops coming in to feed us over the winter. We are racing to get this and that done before the first killing frost. In some ways we can’t wait until mother nature decides it’s all over, killing zucchini plants with cold temperatures, and in other ways we are like squirrels trying to get everything in and safe before we are hit with a hard frost.
Now that it is September we have reached the critical time where I need to plant the last of the fall food crops, and just as importantly plant the winter cover crops. Cover crops add organic matter that composts in place in the spring. I will be putting down all sorts of small grain and legume seeds in the next week or so and will irrigate if needed to get them germinated and growing as soon as possible. This is the time when I focus on putting nutrients back into the soil, and make sure that the soil is protected over the winter. By planting a mix with legumes these plants are able to capture nitrogen from the air and sequester it in their roots which will then break down the following season and release it to growing plants. In other places on the farm where pigs have been busy tilling up pastures, we will be planting grass mixes that are more able to deal with drought and what seems to be the new normal of unpredictable weather. We have other areas down in the pasture dedicated to feeding our pollinators. We have a beautiful section of buckwheat that has just started to flower, and should help to fill our hives with yummy honey to feed our colonies throughout the winter. I am truly in awe of all the interconnected systems we are fostering here on the farm. We work to weave our web and leave things better than how we found it. We are always looking forward considering crop rotations, and working to improve our systems and keep things operating smoothly. The farm is an ever-changing canvas that grows and shifts and is improved upon year after year.
Fall is a great time for folks to join in on the culmination of the growing season. Harvest dinners, and farmers markets are a beautiful array of tastes and colors. I would love to invite you to join in with your growing community to experience the abundance of the season before you settle down to a winter routine of grocery store trips to eat sometimes tasteless out of season vegetables from far away. Here are a few opportunities to meet local farmers and enjoy food that is grown right here in the valley!
Tamworth Farmers Market – Unitarian Church Parking Lot, Every Saturday 9am-1pm
Thompson House Eatery Farmer and Artisan Market every Tuesday 3:30-6:30pm until October 2nd.
Conway Farmers’ Market at Twombly’s Market – Every Saturday 9am – 1pm.
Fields on the Saco – The USVLT Farm to Table dinner event full of creative seasonal food and drink! Sunday October 2st.
Max’s Art Over Farm Harvest Dinner – Snow Village Inn’s pairing of local artists with farms to create farm inspired art and a dinner to follow using food from the 7 participating farms. November 2nd & 3rd.
After last year's drought I didn't ever think I would want it to stop raining, but gee wiz we could use some sunlight this week. I am actually so grateful for the rain because it is helping to melt the huge snow banks we still have here, and it is recharging our ground water reserves.
2017 CSA summer signup is well underway and Tuesday is just about full. We had a great season last year and I am already excited to see what this year holds.
Here is a picture of an early July share from 2015. This past year was a great tomato year with lots of learning how to grow more tomatoes by using varieties that have been bred to love the conditions in the High Tunnel. Shares often had 2 or 3 lbs of tomatoes in the individual share and twice that in the family share. It was so much fun seeing all that abundance of juicy fruit get gobbled up by the community. I can feel myself already salivating at the though of the first tomato which is still several months away... Ah well at least I have some frozen ones to get me by until then.
Keep thinking SPRING! And enjoy your food!
Lambs! Piglets! Spinach! Seedlings!
It is all happening here, and we are off to a busy start ! With snow expected tomorrow (on my birthday!) I am scrambling around trying to make sure everything is tucked in and ready for a little cold snap.
CSA sign-ups are in full swing with just a few days left, and Tuesdays are already sold out! I am so excited to be growing food for my neighbors. We are the change we wish to see in the world.