Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Garden to Bed

Happy Thanksgiving to all! After a whirlwind conference and family visit in Boston, today is a beautiful, sunshiny day to get some photo updates...

Garlic is planted, with a few different varieties and some experimental early shallots...

Sunshine is great for drying up the last of the summer herbs. Rosemary, lavender, thyme, sage.

Still some nice, sweet red cabbage out there in the field. The kale, parsely, fennel, and salad burnet are still going strong!

Cover crop with a nice view.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Week 12 CSA, Plus one

Hi there,

It's that time of year again. You know, the time where you turn around, and all of a sudden it's been a month since I've written anything, the nighttime temperature has dropped thirty-five degrees, everyone's busting out the wool, and recipes are being tinged by sage and thyme...

So we've closed the official season of the second year of GPF's CSA, and I hope that it has been a good experience for all. I will publish a survey, similar to last year's, and email it around. I welcome your comments, and love that you members have so many fantastic ideas. I look forward to hearing your support in the form of honest feedback that will continue to help Green Peak Farm develop a stronger CSA program. Thanks in advance.

And, as you know, I am a bit disappointed in my ability to be one of the last gardens in the area to have ripe tomatoes... Which is a great reminder to me as a grower about TIMING, and what an important role it plays in successful crops. I hope you've been enjoying the tomatoes, and soon there will (finally) ripe heirloom tomatoes that are worth waiting for. I've got some Aunt Ruby's German Green, one of the finer-tasting toms, in my opinion, that are big and beautiful. Soon!

I had the honor of presenting a short talk about food preservation and home-gardening season extension techniques this past Saturday at Live Green in Manchester. It was a lot of fun, and I'm always interested to hear other people's ideas about season extension, and "Best Practices" to get the most out of the garden. We (everybody) have been doing this for a long time, and it's amazing how much knowledge is out there, ready to be shared.

And on that note, here's a random trivia fact that I learned in a new-to-me book, Seed to Seed, published by the Seed Savers' Exchange... Did you know that the chenopod family (think beets, swiss chard, spinach) also stretches to encompass the lovely, South-American wunder-grain, Quinoa?

I've been hearing a lot of great recipe ideas floating around, too... and here are some to share: carmelized sage as a lovely, delicate garnish or accompaniment to a nice, stinky soft cheese; slicing, dousing in olive oil, and salt-and-peppering then roasting tomatoes for frozen storage (bonus by-product: delicious, super-fragrant olive oil infused with that distinct tangy bite of tomato.... toss with copious amounts of fresh basil and pasta, and done!); zucchini blended into pesto for a little extra body; oiled and roasted, thick onion tops for those that didn't quite bulb up fully; in-pumpkin residency for pumpkin soup (especially with the Rouges)... So many ideas!

And, with Jane's permission, here I shamelessly post her lovely recipe for using up hot peppers, appropriately...

"a ga ga gorgeous thing:

Char peppers over an open flame (gas stove) until they are blackened.
Scrape the skin off. Cut off the top, open up, and take most or all of the seeds out.
Do the same with a big sweet red bell pepper
Puree the above in your cuisinart with enough olive oil to make a thin paste. Add salt to taste.

O MY GAWD is this ever GOOD! Thinking of using it as a drizzle over the grilled steaks tonight. It's creamy, spicy, with lots of smokey flavor and yumminess. I'm sure it freezes will, as it's full of olive oil."

(Thanks, Jane!)

Shares will continue for at least another week, after six pm on Tuesdays, or plus some when it's convenient. More chickens and illicit frozen/canned goods are available for purchase... The password is "Autumn"! Enjoy, and thanks again!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Everready Dressing Recipe

This one's a constant in the fridge...

1 small shallot, diced
handful of parsely, chopped with scissors
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinager
3 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp maple syrup

I like to put all the ingredients into a pint mason jar, then cap, shake, and enjoy! Keeps easily in the fridge for 2 weeks, and would be a great glaze for grilled squash, too!

Week 9 CSA

A couple of important notes:

Your next two chickens will be ready for pickup this Saturday, anytime after 2pm. You are welcome to pick them up fresh anytime Saturday or Sunday. After that they are going into the freezer, and can be picked up on Tuesday with your next share.

In your share this week:
summer squash
green and purple beans
lettuce mix
red onions - loose
yellow onions - loose
bunch of cippolini onions
bunch of red shallots
green peppers

More peppers are coming on this week, as well as onions. You can use the onion tops to add a dash of flavor and color just like scallions, and I'm excited to run a few taste-test-trials to see how great a difference there is in using shallots, cippolini, red, and yellow onions. Please let me know your thoughts!

Onion family bulbs store best in the dark of the refrigerator, and if you're interested in keeping the greens crispy, store them in an untied plastic bag. If you don't intend to use your onions/shallots/cipps in the next few weeks, you can "cure" them for storage by bending the greens back and leaving them in the sun for a few days. The sun cues the bulb to develop a thin, papery shell to help prevent bruising and permeability-- like wrapping itself in a brown paper bag. All onions that you purchase in a grocery store have been cured-- and then stored from the summer. As onions and allia are one of the few commercial crops that are sensitive to seasonal day-length periods, they can only be grown in the summer. Of course, we can't forget about South America and the southern hemisphere-- but still, that only gives us, as eaters in a modern, global community, two growing seasons for onions. Scallions and leeks are, to some extent, exceptions.

Here's a pickle recipe, as promised. Adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Dill Sandwich Slices-- Makes about 5 pint jars. I like this recipe because it takes the "cold pack" method-- you don't have to cook the cucumbers twice, which is faster, neater, and ends with a nice, crispy pickle.

3 tbsp pickling spice (available in bulk at natural food stores)
4 cups cider vinegar
4 cups water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup pickling or canning salt (non-iodized)
5 bay leaves
5 cloves garlic
2.5 tsp mustard seeds
5 heads fresh dill
13.5 cups sliced, trimmed pickling cukes

Other supplies:
mason jars with metal bands and lids
medium square of cheesecloth
large ladle
clean dish towels
towel-covered cutting board for letting jars rest overnight.

I also really like having the gizmos that Ball sells for canning-- small tools that make everything very easy and neat--jar grabbers for removing jars from water or steam bath, a medium-sized funnel for filling jars with liquid, and a small, magnetic lid grabber to get them out of hot water without burning fingers.

1. Prepare canner, jars and lids. I prep these in a dishwasher, making sure that your dishwasher has a "sterilize" setting. While these are washing and heating up, wash, trim, and slice cukes into spears, and prep garlic cloves.

2. Tie pickling spice in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag.

3. In a large stainless steel saucepan combine vinegar, water, sugar, pickling salt and spice bag. Bring to a boil over med-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Reduce heat and boil gently for 15 minutes, until spices have infused the liquid.

4. [I like to go jar by jar, start to finish here-- keeps things hotter, in my opinion, but the book has you ...] Place 1 bay leaf, 1 garlic clove, 1/2 tsp mustard seed and 1 head of dill into each jar. Pack cucumbers into hot jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of the top of jar.

5. Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover cucumbers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot pickling liquid. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to finger-tight.

6. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.

Disclaimer: this recipe is not recommended for first-time canners, as risks exist with food preservation (as in all things) and I can't be held responsible for mistakes or incorrect information. Please familiarize yourself with basic canning techniques before consulting this recipe! Whew!

Anyway, this recipe also works well if, instead of canning for long-term storage, you just want cooked pickles -- in which case, skip all the jar parts and toss everything in the pot! This style of pickles should keep in the fridge for 2 weeks or so.

Chickens Saturday!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

CSA Week 8

In your share this week...
cukes-- slicers and picklers
summer squash
sugarsnap peas (likely the last week for these)
bunch cippolini onions
bunch scallions
small bulb fennel
bunch beets
lettuce mix
baby carrots
mixed green and purple beans
lots of sunflowers!
bunch cilantro
bunch parsely

Recipes for this week... Two Dressings adapted from Vegetarian Planet, by Didi Emmons

Lime-Cilantro Dressing (makes about 2 cups)

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup lime juice (from 2-4 limes)
  • 1 cup canola or corn oil
  • 1 cup sour cream (your choice, whole, low-fat, or non-fat)
  • 1/2 tsp salt or more, to taste
  • fresh-ground black pepper to taste

In a blender or food processer, puree garlic, sugar, cilantro and lime juice. With the machine running, add the oil in a thin stream. Then add sour cream, 1/2 cup at a time, blending between additions. Season with salt and pepper. This will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Shocking Beet Vinaigrette (makes 1.5 cups)

  • 1 small beet, trimmed but unpeeled
  • 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 shallot or cippolini, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Simmer the beet in a small saucepan until it is tender. Drain the beet, cool with cold, running water, and slip the skin off-- cut into a few pieces. In a food processor or blender, puree the beet, ginger, shallot/cippolini, and mustard. Blend in the balsamic vinegar. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil, then salt and pepper. Should keep well for 5 days.

Chicken Scratch

Some notes on your chickens...

Your chickens are a hybrid cross between Cornish and Rock breeds-- known for their efficient grain:meat ratio. They were fed premium grain from Green Mountain Feeds, a Vermont-based, family-owned company. In addition, for the final day, your chickens were fed the most local grain possible: soybeans grown here at Green Peak Farm. It's a good feeling to complete the cycle of energy-- even if it is only one day in seven weeks-- and feed grain that is grown here.
Chickens and dried soy plants-- edible beans are inside the shells.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chickens, Round One

Our first batch of chickens will be ready for pick up on THURSDAY, August 5, anytime after noon.

Youur birds will be fresh on Thursday. If you'd like to freeze your birds in sections or halves, please be sure to pick them up fresh so you can divide them before they're solid.

The second harvest will be approximately three weeks after Thursday. If you'd like to order additional birds, or are not a member of the CSA, please contact me to reserve a bird at $4.25/lb (birds average 5-6 lbs each.)

Winner, winner-- Chicken dinner!

Week 6 CSA

Hi there,

Another week of incredible conditions-- warm sun, a little rain, and happy, happy plants.

This week's share includes the following items:
bunch small beets
bunch of baby rainbow swiss chard
pint of sugar snap peas
lettuce mix
cippolini onions
summer squash
cucumbers: English (dark, thick skins) and Persian slicing (thin skins, lots of crunch, super sweet), and picklers (shorter, warty)
bunch cilantro

Cippolini onions are a smaller, flatter variety of onions, that once they harden off at the end of the season will be disc-shaped. They have a mild, sweet flavor, and are ideal for using fresh as a garnish on salads, or chopped in cold salads. You can also use the greens like scallions.

I'm debating throwing in the towel on all other crops but cucumbers. They get me every time. I hope you're enjoying them, too! Who's in for a cucumber CSA?

Here's a recipe from my neighbor at the Dorset Farmer's Market, Robert, of Ana's Empanadas. Robert worked for years as a chef in New York, and now helps create and craft the delicious, oven-baked treats available at market. Slow markets mean lots of recipe swapping and chatting, and Robert has a million great ideas. Here's one...

Skillet-roasted Summer Squash with Mint

summer squash, sliced into rounds
olive oil
large handful fresh mint
salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet on med-high heat, warm oil to just before it begins to smoke. Add summer squash discs and sautee until the squash is slightly charred. Squash will shrink in size as cooking, so prep a lot! Remove from skillet, drain squash on a paper towel if desired, and let cool slightly, until squash is warm-to-cool, but not hot. While squash is cooling, chop lots of mint ("gobs", as he put it,) and then toss together until well-coated in oil. Add salt and pepper to taste, serve immediately.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Week 5 CSA


This past week has been a busy one for the garden-- the break in the heat has made all the difference, and the onions, squash, and cucumbers are really loving the scattered showers. Pickling cucumbers, and my absolute favorite garden harvest, a Middle Eastern cucumber variety (beit alpha type), are here, and will be happily making their debuts in your share. I've been looking for recipes for the cukes when I'm inside, then heading out to the garden only to realize that they never make it back inside to be prepared... Snack attack central.

Jeff and I have been making a lot of pizza-- the summer squash pairs beautifully with chevre and dill, and I think that'd be a great, simple appetizer...

Summer Squash Rounds

summer squash
olive oil
dill, basil, thyme, mint... any fresh herbs!
pinch of coarse-ground cornmeal

Preheat oven to 425. Sprinkle a pinch of coarse-ground cornmeal on a baking sheet to keep squash from sticking. Slice summer squash on the bias (so you get oval discs), and arrange on a baking sheet. Spoon a dollop of chevre on each disc of squash, add a drizzle of olive oil, and garnish with a sprig of dill (thyme, basil). [If using mint, add garnish AFTER baking, as mint loses its potency when heated.] Bake for ten minutes and serve hot.

Also, I heard a great idea for salad dressing on the "Splendid Table" last week-- nice and simple, but with powerful, different flavors, and a nice thick texture:

Mint Garlic Dressing

handful of fresh mint
three cloves fresh garlic
4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
4 tablespoons olive oil
cracked black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, whir away, and dress greens. I made this when I had some raspberries on hand, and tossed them in, as well, for a little twist. A small cooked beet would add a similar twist-- or the dressing would be great on sliced, cooked beets, too!

In your share this week:
cucumbers- slicers and picklers
sugar snap peas
beet greens/baby beets
summer squash
baby scallions
bag of salad greens
dill, thyme, sage
sunflowers and echinacea

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Help with Chicks

Baby Chicks, Round II

Another one for a hot day. Our second batch of baby chicks are here, and loving the heat. As you may know, chicks get shipped through the good old USPS as soon as they are hatched-- and arrive 24-48 hours later at your doorstep.

Our chicks are a hybid cross of Cornish and Rock varieities, and are basically the industry standard for meat bird production, regardless of the scale of the operation. What differs dramatically is the treatment of the birds once they arrive on site-- our birds are brooded for as short a time inside, which is entirely weather dependent-- as you can see in the photos, our day-old chicks are outside already! For the first week of brooding, or baby-chick-raising, chicks need an average temperature of 95 degrees F. This is most often achieved (not during heat waves) by using heat lamps to help warm them up.

Once the birds start to develop feathers in addition to their chicky down, they're ready to move outside and stay out through the day- and nighttime. Once outside, they're placed in a 6x8' pen that is moved every 24 hours, so that the birds get the opportunity to forage a bit on fresh grass, as well as evenly distribute their natural fertilizer. How's that for farm euphemism?

It's incredible what a few weeks' difference can make. Here are some photos-- here's a chick at one day old:
And here's a side-by-side of the day-old chick and its three-week old counterpart. Same hatchery, same breed, feed, and process...

In another three to four weeks' time, the birds will be dressing out between 5.5-6.5 pounds each. Our first chicken harvest will be August 5, and members, friends, and anyone who's interested and willing to be trained is welcome to help process our birds, just let me know. CSA members will be able to pick up their birds fresh that afternoon. The next harvest will be roughly three weeks later; I'll keep you posted as soon as I set a date.

It's hot out there... inside, as per NWS guidelines, it is. The garden is LOVING the heat, and we're looking good for next week.

Here are some interesting takes on Braddock, Pennsylvania, an urban offshoot of Pittsburgh on the north shore of the Monongahela River. In the wake of the collapse of the steel mills in industrial Pittsburgh and a serious "brain drain" on the population, Braddock was literallly left behind. What separates this urb from many like it in Western PA is that an organized movement of people, artists, urban farmers, students, young families, and all them yinzers who've always been there are joining together to bring Braddock back.

Levi's is helping to sponsor some of the redevelopment, and are documenting their progress here:

Orion Magazine also wrote a feature on some of the personalities pushing the progress ahead:

It's incredible to see not just the push for urban agriculture, and not just the motivation of artists and working-class families to make a place for themselves, but that all of these people are working, together and in whatever ways they individually can, to reinstate the integrity of the place. There's hope.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Week 3 CSA

This week's share we'll be moving to Tuesday and we will continue to stick to Tuesdays through to the end of the season.

Your share includes a quart of sour cherries picked with help from some lovely assistants, Brian and Sarah, who were visiting from New York. Brian was and is an invaluable visitor to the farm last year, and a fellow farm apprentice from Gardenripe Farm in Silverton, OR. He and Sarah just closed up their first year as Teach for America service workers, and are due for some country time. Big thanks to them for their help! Also, major thanks to Jane and John for letting us in on the season.

Your cherries are from Hick's Orchard in Whitehall, NY. For those not familiar with sour cherries, these are a bit smaller and more tart (flavorful!) than your standard sweet cherries, and are great for jam, sauce, pie filling, and general purpose baking. The cherries should be rinsed and then pitted-- and then can be frozen, or turned into something delicious immediately. Here's a link to a handy contraption (unfolded paper clip) to help keep pitting neat. And here are some ideas about what to do with your cherries...

Jane's Dad's Cherry Sauce-- great with oatmeal, ice cream, or on top of Cherry Calfoutis (next recipe!)

4 - 5 cups of pitted cherries with their juice
4 tablespoons granulated (or instant) tapioca
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup honey

Mix the ingredients and let them sit for 15 minutes or so. Then heat up gently in a heavy saucepan until thickened and bubbling. Let cool. I added a squeeze of lemon juice because the cherries were not that tart. I also added a dash of vanilla.

Because blueberries were also starting to come on at Hick's, we added some bluebs to our sauce, as well.

Cherry Calfoutis (adapted from Earth to Table)

3 tablespoons ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
4 large eggs
grated zest of 1 lemon
grated zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cup whipping cream (greater than 35% milkfat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound pitted cherries

In a food processor, pulse together almonds, salt, sugar, flour. Add eggs, lemon and orange zest, cream, vanilla, and blend until smooth. Cover and let chill in fridge for a minimum of a half hour (I let mine sit overnight.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange cherries in the bottom of 6 ramekins or one 8" pie pan, and pour chilled mix over cherries. Bake for 35-40 minutes for ramekins, or an hour for round pan.

Instead of ramekins, I used cupcake liners for a simple one-serving setup, and baked them for approximately 35 minutes. Serve with ice cream and cherry sauce.

Any other good cherry recipes? Let me know!

Your share this week also includes:
Lettuce mix, snap peas, baby kale, broccoli rabe or summer squash, herbs (dill, sage), edible flowers (viola, calendula-- note, pull the petals from the centers and discard centers for eating.)


Week 2

Hi all, hope this note finds everyone staying cool... The thermometers are surpassing the 90 degree mark today, and whew... The garden, Burt, and I can feel every one of those degrees.

In your share last week, you received a mix of dried beans from last season (multicolored mix bag); you also received dried edamame (yellower, more rounded beans.) Both need soaking before they are cooked-- Edamame will cook faster (25-30 minutes) and the beans will be closer to 35-40 minutes.

Here's a super simple recipe for bean dip... Inspired by our CSA's own Jane and Koala the kitchen muse.

2 cups cooked beans, drained
3 tablespoons of the saved cooking juices from beans (use the rest for stock, gravy, etc.)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
summer savory herbs - oregano, thyme, sage
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and mix until smooth. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and herbs. For a chunkier dip, leave a half cup of the beans out, mix all other ingredients, and then pulse in the remaining half cup at the end for more texture.

Edamame is traditionally eaten steamed in the pod, and served simply with a dash of salt; this edamame has been shelled, and is convenient for edamame salad, or cooked and added on top of a green salad for an extra protein boost.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

First CSA Share - Thurs. June 24th

Dear CSA members,

Happy Summer!

Just a reminder that your first CSA share pickup will be tomorrow, Thursday, June 24 at the farm. Please come between 5-7pm, and bring a reusable bag to tote home your produce. Tomorrow's harvest includes:

Lettuce heads
Bag of mixed greens (lettuce, kale, pea shoots, edible flowers..)
Garlic scapes
Flower bouquet
Herbs: Dill, Sage, Cilantro (limited!), Thyme
Dried hot peppers (from last season)

Can't wait to see you -- check back tomorrow for this week's newsletter/update from the farm.


Friday, May 7, 2010

Up and Running

Dear Members,

Welcome to the blog! Here you'll find weekly updates about the farm, recipes, links to good reading, and a list of what you'll find in your weekly CSA share. Feel free to post questions or comments, as well!

With the recent flurry of topsy-turvy weather-- gorgeous, high pressure, bluebird mornings followed by dumping rain (or the opposite, as in yesterday's case here!), as well as the oil leakage in the Gulf of Mexico, I've been thinking about all of the different ways we/nature is compromising our ability to produce our own food. From the crazy fluctuations in temperatures early on this spring that made for a tough maple season, as well as the oil spill affecting important shrimp and oyster beds in the Mississippi delta; one of the rainiest summers on record in Vermont, plus the revenge of the late blight creating rather inhospitable conditions for vegetable growers, I'm hungry for any signs of success.

Cue: the onion. Onions thrived in the wetness of last year, producing a fine crop that did not require any extra irrigation, and are still lasting in the root cellar. I've been appreciating them a lot lately-- so far, we've got seedlings going predominately in the Allium family: red onions, yellow storage onions, cippolini onions, scallions, leeks, and new this year: red shallots. I haven't grown shallots from seed before (they are often grown similarly to garlic: place a nice, large toe of shallot into the ground in the fall, let it overwinter, and up shoots a stock in spring that is then harvested in the mid-late summer) but I am excited to learn about the plants as seedlings, as well as test their storage capacity. Like garlic and storage onions, they're good keepers through the winter.

Speaking of garlic, our garlic plants are coming up nice and healthy after having been planted in the late fall. Our organic, local seedstock comes from Merck Forest, and is a hardneck variety with nice, big toes (cloves) that are easy to handle, as well as a nutty, mellow flavor.

Exciting new additions for the farm this year include a 6hp rear-tine, counter-rotating, walk-behind tiller that is already proving itself a workhorse in the field, as well as a small-scale drip irrigation system for the extra sensitive crops that need super-consistent watering to thrive.

Our first pickup date is set for Tuesday, June 29, from 5-7pm, and I'll be sending out a link to a Google calendar with more details soon.

First farmer's market in Dorset is in a little more than a week-- Sunday, May 16th! Hooray! GPF will make its first appearance the following week, Sunday, May 23rd.

That's the news so far-- hope this finds everyone well and enjoying the chaotic green of spring! I'll be in touch soon about this year's Dirtday Party sometime toward the end of May/early June.

Take care, and looking forward to seeing you all soon!


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Web Issues

Due to some technical errors, the farm's website ( as well as my email account ( are out of service for a short spell.

Please don't hesitate to contact me at in the meantime, as we're working as hard as possible to shake the right answer out of the Google Machine.



Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2010 CSA Shares

....And, we're off! Supplies, seeds, and hopeful glances toward summer are in the works.

I'm happy to announce that Green Peak Farm is now accepting registration for its second year of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Similar to last year, your CSA share will include 4 broiler hens averaging 4.5-6 pounds each (market value = $100.) This year I'm going to expand the vegetable season by two weeks at the end of the season-- your final two shares will be fall-harvested storage crops (think winter squash, pie pumpkins, onion braids, hot peppers for drying, potatoes.)

Click the thumbnail image below for a printable version.

Shares are limited to 10 for this season, and there will be two pickup days; choose Tuesday or Thursday.

*Early registration discount this year-- Return your registration and payment before April 1st and save $20!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thoughts on Getting Started

Recently, a friend of a friend contacted me with some questions about getting involved with organic farming. Here are some thoughts...

There are so, so many great farms out there to help you build experience-- I'd highly recommend checking out ATTRA/NCAT: These guys are the National Sustainable Ag Information Service folks, and have a good reputation for valuable farming apprenticeships/internships. Farms that have their acts together enough to post on NCAT are usually pretty well-poised to give you a good experience.

Personally, I have not WWOOFed, though I've heard several mixed reviews. I think WWOOF is a great program to dip your toes into the sustainable agriculture world, and also really useful if you're looking for a short-term, low-commitment experience or a place to stay while you're travelling. From a farmer's perspective, having untrained, uneducated workers (granted, farming is not rocket science...) can almost be more of a liability/time-sink, as most farmers can do the work that needs to get done in half the time it takes to explain someone new where to go, how to do it, what you expect, and all that jazz. So, in my opinion, if you're looking for a valuable apprenticeship, the farmer ought to be willing to invest a fair amount of his or her time in educating you-- and, though this is not always the case-- money, too. As with any job, there must be fairness in the exchange of labor/knowledge/time/money, etc. Also, the infrastructure for farm apprenticeships is forming; passing along education is easy enough, but the next generation of farmers must also be endowed with enough opportunities to capital to be able to start their own operations up.

(This is all not to say that I haven't worked 65-hour weeks for almost no pay. But, you know when it's worth it, and when it's not.)

Other good links to valuable internships: look into the regional Organic Associations-- most of them have newsletters, and they're often available online. For example, in Oregon, there's Oregon Tilth, which is the certifying agency/association; the Northeast Organic Farming Assoc. (NOFA) has several different state-associations ( or for Maine. OSALT is anther good one for Oregon.

Good questions to ask yourself and potential farms that you might like to work for:

- what kind of turnover does the farm labor have? Do former interns stay in the area? How long are you willing to be in one spot?

- what specific tasks will I be doing? (a lot of big CSAs will simply have you harvesting, all. day. long. Is this interesting to you?) Will you actually be included in the planning phases, seed ordering, etc? (Most of this planning is happening mid-late winter) What are you interested in learning?

- where do most of the farm laborers/other apprentices come from? Are they local folks, college kids, migrant workers?

- how much time will you spend working side-by-side with the lead farmer?

- what is your farm's primary geographic market area? What's your farm's idea of local produce (for example, the scale of what-is-local shifts massively when you get out West)

- this one's surprisingly revealing: what does the crew do for lunch? Do people eat/cook together? Does everyone part ways? Is there a break-room/table/fridge for you guys to use?

- why does he/she farm? Go to a place where they love what they do. It's way too hard a job/lifestyle to not love what you do.

A lot of saavy farmers will invite you to come and work for a day or two, or sometimes even a week, as a trial run. In really small operations, as most sustainable, organic farms are, it is so, important to find the right fit of people that you can work side-by-side with, as well as live with, eat with, and sweat with during quite long days. I'd almost be wary of a farm that's willing to take you on without trying you out/letting you try them out.

Other great opportunities lie in educational farms/foundations. You may find that, as the pressure to maximize yields and capital decreases (albeit slightly), your farmer's willingness/time to educate you increases. This is certainly not always the case; some farmers are truly superhuman, and these are the best ones to work for!

Good luck, and please keep me posted about your progress. I love hearing stories!