Countdown to Good Eats!

Countdown to Good Eats!

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The official countdown to good food has begun, and it’s time to mark those calendars!  We are mere weeks away from the start of it all:

We are filling these long spring days with a wild mix of farm activities at Sweet Acre.  Our greenhouse is maxed out with baby plants, from kale to onions to tomatoes, and everything in between.  Bed preparation is ongoing as we strive to create perfect conditions for our transplants.  We have decided to chisel plow our beds to address soil compaction, followed by fertility amendments and a healthy dose of compost.  Last week we got our head lettuce, kale, collards, spinach, carrots, radish, turnip in the ground.  This week is the Week of the Allium, including red, yellow & white onions, leeks, scallions, and shallots, all to be hand-transplanted.

This weekend we moved our massive Rolling Thunder greenhouse into it’s new position.  It is designed to roll from one spot to another on tracks, so that the soil doesn’t degrade, as can happen in a stationary house.  This was our first big move, and we are so relieved it’s done and the house is still standing – all thanks to great farmer friends who came over to provide both physical and emotional support.  Now that it’s in its new position, we will prepare the ground for our first round of tomato transplants, and then a whole new countdown to cherry tomato season can begin.

In our “spare time” we are building intern cabins by the brook and the pond in anticipation of our summer crew arriving later this month.  We’re looking forward to a few extra sets of hands!
Oh!  And baby goats were born 2 weeks ago, so when we need a break we are fully entertained by their adorable shenanigans.

Hoping life is full and bright for all of you this spring.  And looking forward to seeing you at markets and CSA pickups very soon!
Your Farmers,
Charlotte & Jonathan

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Learning From The Best

Learning From The Best

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As we prepare to make the major gear shift into the growing season, we’re soaking up the last bits of the off-season here on the farm and out in the community.  Learning is a major element of the wintertime on the small farm, as there is more to know about growing plants than one could learn from scratch in a lifetime.   So we take out our books and look over our notes and go to conferences.

Last weekend was the CT-NOFA Winter Conference in Danbury where a good friend was presenting on his systems of no-till farming.  I have mentioned this practice before and our aspirations to incorporate it on our own farm.  Well, this neighbor is the man you want to learn from!  He and his wife have been experimenting and perfecting the practice for 10 years now, and he presented his methods in detail to an eager group of ~100 farmers.  We have heard this talk at least 3 times before, but every time there is more information to glean, more relevance to our experience.  And so we keep coming back.  The first step is to rewire one’s focus as a grower – making soil health and biological life the priority instead of the plants.  The idea being that if your soil is not alive with microbes, earth worms, and bacteria, your plant’s roots don’t have enough to eat, and can’t reach their full potential of health and productivity.  Makes sense, no?

Our culture thinks of dirt as dirty, and the unknown as scary, which can lead a farmer to focus on the pretty green plant above ground, rather than the health and relationships below the soil line.  I can clearly remember the moment of mental recalibration when I began to understand that the surface of the ground is not the end of the story: below our feet is a whole additional universe of life with which to coexist.  Back in our years of gardening, I can recall moments when I feared what I might find as I stuck my fingers deep into the soil to transplant a seedling – as if it were the ocean and a shark might be there to bite off my hand. I can tell you wholeheartedly that what I have seen and felt and learned about soil over the last 8 years has been some of the most empowering and exciting stuff I’ve ever come across, and never once has anything bitten me!

The curative power of mycelium, the cooperative community dynamics of microbes, the fortification of the soil by strong root systems… the first time you hear about these things it seems like magic!  The realization that it is soil science really doesn’t do much to take the miraculous edge off of it.  And the contagion of well-being is far-reaching: rich soils that are teeming with life create strong root systems that can fully access the nutrition a plant needs, enabling it to produce the most nutrient-dense vegetable harvestable from that plant.  This wholesome food is then eaten by humans and animals.  If the soil is degraded through mismanagement, the whole system is degraded, including our health.  Pretty epic stuff.  And so we walked out of this talk last weekend (for the 4th time) stunned and enthused to do better.

Thankfully farmers are keen to share their knowledge, breakthroughs and best practices with each other (what other business owners do you know that share trade secrets with their direct competition??).  And thankfully, these growing practices don’t take much money to implement, no real fancy machines or high-tech tools.  But they do require what can often be the hardest thing to come by: a willingness to challenge our own truths.

Winter on the Farm

Winter on the Farm

Winter mushroom logs

It may be an unpopular position, but I for one am thrilled to see some snow on the ground!  I’m a born and bred New Englander who feels downright uncomfortable when a season just gets skipped over like it seemed Winter would on those 60-degree January days.  We’re counting on snow events like last week’s to recharge the depleted groundwater supplies after last summers’ drought.  There is also this neat thing that snow does as it’s falling from the clouds – it captures atmospheric nitrogen and holds onto it as it covers the ground like a winter mulch.  When the snow melts in the spring, that nitrogen seeps into the thawed soil and is available as a nutritional boost our first crops of the season!  Pretty cool.
I will admit that the spring-like days this winter have been put to good use here in South Lebanon: we spent a few days applying cow manure to our field in the hopes of coaxing some outstanding yields from our plants this year!  It’s hard to overstate what an asset our dairy neighbors are, enabling us to amass some serious piles of sh*t on any day of the week that suits us.  Some of this invaluable material goes right onto the field raw in the Fall, to decompose and sink in over the winter.  Lots of it goes into a big pile mixed in with leaves and woodchips to be turned by tractor and allowed to break down into compost over time.  That compost is also a highly valuable source of organic matter and nutrients for our soil.
On the less outdoorsy days lately, we have been choosing plant varieties, organizing our crop rotation, mapping our beds, and ordering seeds for the coming season.  It’s a task that never gets old from one season to the next.  We’re always trying to stay ahead of the curve, to keep things as exciting as they are delicious on the stand or in the box.  Between buying seeds and field amendments, crop supplies, Organic Certification renewal and all the normal bills that don’t only come seasonally, now is the time when expenses are highest and income is lowest.  We are sustained in a big way by our CSA members who put their trust in our skills as growers.  We understand that it is a big commitment on your part and are constantly impressed that there are people like you who care about the longevity of Sweet Acre Farm.
If you are thinking of joining either our box share program, or just want a CSA debit account at the farmer’s market, now would be the best time to join!
As always we are here for answering questions about specifics, or to deliver diatribes about all the benefits that small farms share with their communities and the larger environment, or to scare you into patronage with a detailed description of the demoralizing, dehumanized, environmentally degrading, wasteful, industrial, pathologically profit motivated, corporatized food system that dominates America’s gastronomical reality (if that’s your thang).  Just give us a call, drop a note, or a check with the appropriate CSA form found here.
Eat in good health!

CSA Shares Now Available!

CSA Shares Now Available!

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Looking to show the CT food movement some love? 
Buying a CSA share from a local farm is the way to do it!

Sweet Acre’s 2017 shares are now available:  Join us to reserve your share of stunning, certified organic vegetables picked at the peak of nutrition.

We offer a variety of CSA programs:

At Sweet Acre Farm we care about our soils and your health.   For more on our growing practices and approach to farming, please visit our How & Why We Grow page.

We’d love to be your farmers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The to-do list

The to-do list

 

We thought it might be fun this week to give you some up-close and personal insight into our week via the Almighty To-Do List.

The lists we make at the beginning of each week are generally over-sized for the time we have, and so are an exercise in not letting things slip through the cracks.  As long as a task makes it onto the list, we know we won’t forget about it in the midst of the chaos, and even if it doesn’t get done, it will be moved onto next week’s list as top-billing.
Because the season has undeniably changed over the last week (we had a light frost on Sunday night!!), the tasks at hand are increasing in diversity beyond the pick-wash-sell, pick-wash-sell of summer.  We are now gradually turning our focus to cleaning up the farm for winter, prepping our soil and cropping for spring, infrastructure projects, Tax prep, etc.
It has never been easy for me to hold in the present moment both the reality of the current season and the preparations for the coming season.  This is a very necessary skill for a farmer – always knowing what needs to be next month’s reality, and so planting those seeds (literally and proverbially) in the present.  Calendars and to-do lists, as well as increasing years of experience, help.
So here goes!  Try not to get overwhelmed.  Despite what you might think, this list gets us pretty excited.  Many of these activities are projects that have either been on hold for the summer, or signal the slowing down of the season into winter – either way, we welcome the work.

Everyday Tasks:
Milk goats
Move chicken tractors, feed water and collect eggs
Pick up whey from Beltane and deliver to pigs
Move goats to pasture
Harvest, Process & Pack veg

This week:
Seed greenhouse for winter
Set ground posts for moving greenhouse
Order potting soil
Build grain bin/pick up grain order
Move pig paddock
Move winter squash indoors
Cover crop harvested beds
Order more spinach/radish seed
Set up greenhouse for winter chickens
Finish masonry for woodstove install
Write newsletter
Clean house
Fix bent greenhouse rollup side
Bill pay/bookkeeping
Process damaged winter squash for soup
Can tomato sauce
Mow front yard
Move tomato vines to compost
Collect black plastic from Winter squash field
Solarize
Fill sand bags
Pick up 1000 pound bales of mulch straw from Bryan
Wood chip mulch to apple trees
Deer protection around apples

Pests & Predators

Pests & Predators

This weekend I listened to a TED talk given by Dan Barber (Executive Chef of Stone Barns).  He was relating a love story between himself and a fish.  This fish was raised in an incredibly unique environment on the coast of Spain, on a farm that is a model of a true sustainability.  So much so that it is also one of the largest and most diverse bird sanctuaries in Europe.  Without going into unnecessary details (see the whole talk HERE), the point is that they encourage biodiversity in a way that mimics nature.  This includes an incredible bird population that consumes about 20% of the “farmed” fish.  That kind of loss would be totally unacceptable to agribusiness of any kind.  But it allows for a system in balance that accepts loss in the context of valuing all life and appreciating the true bounty that nature offers.  And Dan Barber’s beloved fish was a product of that system.  And it was delicious.
As Charlotte and I strive to be better farmers, our hope is to produce similarly excellent food from a system in balance.  Easier said than done.   Our farm doesn’t just exist in nature.  The human effort we call farming is extremely destructive at certain times and from certain points of view.  The act of tilling that Charlotte talked about in her last post, completely alters the ecosystem of a field.  Reestablishing the balance from that point requires time and a juggling of all kinds of factors (water, nutrition, plant varieties and their rotation).  When we add the financial pressure to produce enough vegetables to pay the bills it can be easy to lose site of the big picture.  But we’re getting there!
One example: We would like to bring cabbage to market.  But there are three different types of cabbage moths that lay eggs on our cabbage and as caterpillars they chew holes in it.  Conventional farming indicates a threshold for the number of caterpillars per plant at which you begin your pesticide spray regimen which kills the pest caterpillars, but also any other caterpillar that happens to be on the plant.  We choose not to spray pesticides on your food, organically approved or otherwise.  We choose to wait.  As the caterpillars grow, different types of parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside the caterpillar and consume it as they develop, eventually hatching and killing it.  They depend on the caterpillar for food.  Research shows that there is a change in the inoculated caterpillar’s saliva, which triggers an immune response by the cabbage making it less desirable to the moth that lays eggs of the pest caterpillar.
To simply see the crop damage and destroy the pest is short sighted: in destroying the pest by spraying, the beneficial insect that would naturally control the pest population, is also destroyed.   So the cycle perpetuates itself leading to more of the same insecticide use year after year with greater and greater resistance.  We prefer to sell a little less cabbage.
Nature is full of these interrelationships and our goal is to foster those relationships into a more symbiotic whole.  We choose to tolerate losses in the meantime as our land recovers from the huge changes that have taken place in our three-year tenure.  So this year, you may not see much cabbage.  We thank you for bearing with us in our struggles, and may we all look forward to a more and more bountiful Sweet Acre.