Green shoots and leaves start to appear in April and May, nourished by rain. The view from my windows becomes greener every day, and flowering trees grace lawns with white, pink, and lavender flowers.
The first issues of the farm newsletter also appear in April and May and are nourished by articles and photos, the work of a small set of contributors. We need several more writers to craft articles about our farm, which counts toward CSA work hours. If you are interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Farmer
Planting season is upon us, and the greenhouse is bursting at the seams with seedlings. We celebrated Earth Day by distributing seedlings to everyone who participated in the Early Spring Seedling sale (thank you all, and I hope your plants are growing beautifully). We’re struggling a bit to get things planted in the field, what with April’s showers. But we have to get them out there—not only because the only sure road to harvesting is planting but because we need the room in the greenhouse! So we’ve been poking plants into muddy beds, a task that makes me feel like I’m five again. And certainly the plants are happier being planted on rainy, cool days than on hot, sunny days.
We’re hoping this year’s Seedling Sale this month will be a roaring success. We’re growing so many seedlings that we’ve actually had to hire another person to help out in the greenhouse. There are so many tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, peppers…it’s truly a sight to behold!
We’re trying something new in one of our high tunnels this year: grafted heirloom tomatoes. As with fruit trees, grafted tomatoes join a root stock bred for things like vigor and/or disease resistance with a fruiting top bred for, well, fruiting. Last year we trialed (that is, did a side-by-side comparison) of grafted verses non-grafted slicing tomatoes and found that we didn’t see enough of a difference to bother with the grafting. But heirlooms are different. They’re more finicky. They aren’t super productive. They get diseases. But boy, do they sure taste great. So we’re going to give it a go and see if growing some grafted heirlooms in one of our high tunnels will help address the perennial problems faced by heirlooms (especially disease and cracking). It’ll be fun to see how they do. I don’t expect they’ll be as productive as the slicing tomatoes we’ve been growing in the high tunnel, but I’m pretty sure they’ll taste better. Hopefully, they’ll also be more productive than the ones growing in the field.
If you drove by the farm during April you may have noticed a big, black tarp lying in the field. In another experiment, we’re dabbling in occultation. No, we don’t need to kill any of the chickens for this. Occultation is a method developed in Europe in which you kill things like cover crops by blocking out sunlight for a month or so (hence “occultation,” which means something that is out of view). We’re trying it on some beds seeded last fall with winter rye and vetch—our typical winter cover crop mix. Normally we have to mow these beds in the spring until the ground is dry enough to spade, then spade them up to three times to kill the cover crop and get the beds ready to plant. Our hope with occultation is that rather than tilling the soil three times, we can kill the cover crop with the tarp and then only have to spade it once and away we go. Or maybe not even once—if it works well enough we can increase the number of beds we plant as no-till. Anytime we can reduce the amount we till the soil we’re making progress as good stewards of the land. (And an interesting aside: the “tarp” is actually an old billboard we bought online. Great reuse of vinyl—much better than it going into a landfill.)
As I probably say every spring, I love this time of year. Everything is so orderly. Everything is bursting forth with life. I find renewed energy with the lengthening of the days. I love all the seasons, which is one of the reasons I enjoy New England so much. But spring is definitely a special time, reminding me that no matter how crazy the weather gets, no matter what’s happening within our human realm, the world keeps on doing what it does: waiting until the time is right and then unabashedly springing forth.
Some middle-school students recently remarked that anyone could be a farmer; you just need to read the packet for the instructions and for anything else “You can ‘google it’.” I shared this story with the Farm Tuesday group, elementary-age kids who come to the farm every Tuesday afternoon. They were somewhat indignant about the claim of the middle schoolers and set about listing all the reasons why they thought they were mistaken. In fact, they became so impassioned that they are now drafting a document outlining why they think all kids should be taught about the growing of food and what topics should be included. For me this epitomizes one of the goals of our education programs: to give kids (and adults) the opportunity to reconnect with their food, where it comes from, and the processes involved.
Coming Up this Month
Farm Sprouts (preschool age with a caregiver)
Early Release, May 11 (elementary grades)
Remember, it’s never too late to register for Kids at the Farm: Summer 2017. With programs for toddlers through middle school, we have something for everyone. Weeks are filling up, so don’t delay.
Know a high school student? Our Field and Education intern programs offer high school students a unique opportunity to learn about farming right here in Newton.
As you prepare for our annual seedling sale on May 20 and 21, consider the following key questions:
1. How much direct sunlight do you get in the spot you are planning to plant your seedlings?
2. How large is your garden space or containers?
3. Do you have a water source near your garden or containers?
Spring Seedling Sale
May 20 & 21, Noon–3:00 p.m.
Join us on the farm Saturday, May 20, and Sunday, May 21, to stock up on seedlings for your home garden and help support your local farm. We’ll have your favorite vegetables, herbs and flowers, all specially selected to thrive in New England. These seedlings are grown from the same varieties of seeds that we use to grow the produce we sell.
We will also be selling Vermont Compost again this year to help your garden grow its best.
If you would like make sure you get your favorite varieties, and have us pack up your order, please send in a preorder to be picked up during the Seedling Sale. Click on preorder form. Preorders are due on May 13 and are only available to Friends of the Farm. Interested in becoming a Friend of the Farm? You can sign up here: http://newtoncommunityfarm.org/about/support/join/.
Volunteers Needed for Seedling Sale
May 19, 20 & 21
Each year we depend on the help of many volunteers to make our Seedling Sale a success. Please consider joining us this year! We need help before, during, and after the sale.
Set up on Friday, May 19, in the morning or afternoon, to help us get organized and put out the plants.
Staff the Sale on Saturday, May 20, or Sunday, May 21, by welcoming the crowds, assisting shoppers, keeping the tables stocked with seedlings, helping with checkout, or cleaning up on Sunday afternoon.
We need many hands to make the sale go smoothly. To lend a hand (and get in your CSA work hours) please sign up or contact Emily at email@example.com.
NCF Community Cookbook
Do you enjoy cooking, eating, photographing food prepared using Newton Community Farm produce? Would you like to be involved in a cooking project that brings together members of our community? Want to be a part of Newton Community Farm’s very own Test Kitchen?
We are kicking off a Newton Community Farm collaborative cookbook! We would love to have as many of you as possible be a part of this community-wide project, cochaired by Silka Rothschild and Lisa Schumann.
Here are ways you can get involved:
-Submit recipes using at least one ingredient found on the farm by October 1, 2017 (template will be provided);
-Help test and choose the recipes we’ll feature, possibly in a supper club;
-Photograph both produce on the farm and cooked meals featuring that produce;
-Help write, edit, and prepare the cookbook for publication.
If you are interested or have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please get in touch with Silka Rothschild at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “NCF Cookbook” in the subject line.
Here’s to a delicious season!
Eco-Friendly Food Shopping
Newton South’s senior Sustainability class invites you to the Newton Community Farm at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16, to learn how to make your grocery shopping eco-friendly! This presentation will discuss what grocery labels really mean when it comes to the product inside. Students will explain how labels inform the consumer of the product’s environmental impact, and which labels indicate sustainably produced food as well as the sustainable practices that local grocery stores use when acquiring their meat products. Students will also talk about how to achieve proper nutrition in your life. All of these topics will be presented in the context of Newton and how to make sustainable grocery and nutritional choices given the options available to the typical Newton resident.
Rent the Barn
The Newton Community Farm barn is available to rent! Come to our beautiful and picturesque farm for your family party or other midsize event. Our renovated space captures the look and feel of our traditional 1886 barn and has a kitchen suitable for a caterer to serve your guests. Visit our Web site for more information and photos.
Food for Thought: Myra Kraft Open Classroom
If you are interested in learning more about the local and regional food system, check out Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs spring 2017 open classroom on The Food System: Sustainability, Health, and Equity.
Northeastern University offered this course on Wednesday evenings for the past three months and has provided a video library of many of the presentations from the sessions. This course featured many of the Boston-area individuals and organizations working to make the local food system more sustainable, healthier, and fairer for all. The presentations emphasized front-line actions, neighborhood activities, entrepreneurial start-ups, and institutional efforts of government agencies, universities, and service organizations. The series covered a broad array of topics including food-system resilience, food waste, healthy food choices, food security, and urban agriculture.
The series reminded me of how our small farm is part of the larger local and regional food system. Newton Community Farm grows about 40,000 pounds of produce a year and supplies 164 CSA food shares each season. It hosts training sessions for other farmers; models successful intensive small-scale agriculture and season extension in New England; donates fresh produce to Newton’s food pantries for the entire growing season; provides locally grown food to many people throughout the year; grows and sells 20,000 seedlings to hundreds of home gardeners interested in cultivating their own food; and, most important, educates hundreds of youth each year about sustainable agriculture. This happens thanks to the collective efforts and contributions of so many people including staff, volunteers, and supporters. Kudos to all!
Volunteer Spotlight: Sue Rasala
For the past nine years, Sue Rasala has been a Newton Community Farm CSA member, picking up her shares on alternate weeks and relishing whatever she finds in it. “Any fresh-picked vegetable is my favorite,” she says. Having grown up in Illinois on her family’s grain and livestock farm, Sue says, “NCF grounds me. I love ‘eating the seasons.’”
In addition to being a CSA member, Sue has been connected to the farm through her work on Education Director Alison Scorer’s Education Committee. This will be the seventh year Sue has been involved, doing work as varied as staffing an education booth at one of the farm’s events, assisting with group tours of the farm or with youth program classes geared toward every age from three-year-olds to teenagers, and giving feedback when new programming is developed. As an elementary-school teacher, Sue has experience that greatly benefits the farm. Alison Scorer says of her, “Whether it be helping lead a Boy Scout visit in the pouring rain in the depths of March, conducting program research, getting dressed up for Halloween on the Farm, or committing her time to participate in a six-week pilot intergenerational program at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, Sue is always dependable and willing to jump right in and do what needs to be done.” And Sue, for her part, says, “Volunteering on the Education Committee and working, learning, and caring for NCF cooperatively make me hopeful for the future.”
I’ve been writing this column for a number of years and have shared many of my favorite recipes. But new readers see the newsletter every farm season, and even ongoing readers may forget recipes that appeared years ago. So I often remind readers of recipes that appeared some time ago. I’d love to hear whether you like such reminders or want new recipes each month. Please e-mail me at email@example.com.
Spinach is appearing on the table at this time of year, and a great use for it is in Creamy Walnut Sauce, which is delicious on pasta, vegetables, potatoes, and grains. The link above sends you to the recipe, which is on Shared Harvest, the farm’s recipe collection. So poke around while you’re there and see what else interests you.
We will be opening the farm stand on Saturdays, 9:30–1, starting the first week in May. We’ll have eggs, asparagus, spinach, herbs, and seedlings. As the month progresses we hope to be able to add more produce and increase our hours. Please check our Web site and/or Facebook page for updates.
The farm will sell its produce at the Newton Saturday market, which will open in July. It is located on Elm Street in West Newton and runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the summer and fall.
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