This past Saturday gave us a pretty rainy Earth Day and first sharer work day of the season, but that didn’t stop us from getting work done and enjoying our day. It was also the first day of our Saturday Mornings in the Children’s Garden program, and though we had only one child attending, it was a smashing success!

In the greenhouse, a sharer helped with potting up a bunch of plants for the plant sale. Outside, a small but determined crew powered through the rain to get all ten beds of strawberries raked and transplant some yarrow that we had overwintered in the flower field. In the next few days, as the strawberry plants start to photosynthesize in response to the sun, we will see them looking greener and stronger.

Sara and our single Children’s Garden participant went on a treasure walk, built sandcastles, painted rocks, and painted a mini Earth Day mural in the greenhouse (see the photo below). They had fun and beautified the farm! We hope you’ll bring your 4-8 year-old kids along to enjoy this sweet program in the coming weeks while you complete your work hours! See our Children’s Garden page for more information.

Meanwhile, I spent Earth Day thinking about actions I can take to protect the Earth beyond my work as a farmer. More on that below, along with an update on the plan for this year’s basil crop.

Earth Day Beyond the Farm

Earth Day felt especially important this year, as we find the values of protecting and loving this Earth being challenged by the current administration in Washington. Probably because I’ve been farming for so long, loving the Earth and its creatures and acting on that love is a part of my everyday life, so I honestly never think much about Earth Day. I live very lightly in general: I mostly eat local food, barely fly anywhere, don’t drive a lot, live in a very small house. But in addition to my Earth Day goal of becoming engaged with a climate change group in the area, I spent the day thinking about other ways to make a small, meaningful change.

Two of my not-so-secret loves are fashion and textiles, though I usually just watch the fashion world from afar. As a farmer, neither my budget nor my daily wardrobe needs really lend themselves to this interest! I’ve also found that my personal values conflict with most industrial clothing production–much like large scale agriculture, the world of clothing production is fraught with worker exploitation. There are nasty chemicals used in textile production, and as trends turn over more and more quickly thanks to the internet, clothes have become increasingly disposable and low in quality.

I was delighted to discover that there is a group of sewists who have started a movement called “slow fashion.” This idea really defines all that I want from and for my wardrobe. You sew your own clothes with the intention of making them high quality and long-lasting, and you don’t chase after trends. Slow fashion also involves a return to the practice of mending and/or reusing worn and tired clothing in different ways (for example, by quilting, making rag rugs, cutting up rags, etc.)–basically, doing things the way they used to be done. Ha!

I learned to weave twenty years ago, and I’ve been knitting and crocheting with varying degrees of enthusiasm since I was a teenager. I’ve also been sewing my own clothes since I was a teen, again with varying degrees of enthusiasm and interest. Since I have all of the tools and skills I need, I decided that this year I’ll dedicate 80% of the money I’ve budgeted for clothing and shoes to purchasing the materials I’ll need to sew or knit 12 items of clothing for my wardrobe. In addition, I’ll spend some time “upcycling” some older clothes that need updating or re-purposing. I’ll play with dyes made from plant materials, including some collected from the farm last year! I am really excited about this project. Sadly, I won’t be wearing any of my creations to the farm, since I usually purchase used clothing to work in. But talk to me if you are are ever interested in chatting about this project or want a knitting buddy–I’ve also been thinking a lot about knitting groups and joining one or creating one!

It’s time to talk about basil.

When I first started farming in Massachusetts, both tomatoes and basil were more or less sure bet cash crops. You knew you could plant both of them and have heaps to sell together or give to sharers. Then, in 2009, the dreaded tomato Late Blight (the same plant disease that caused the Irish potato famine! Potatoes and tomatoes are related.) moved into the area for the first time and wiped out most tomato plants in the Northeast. Now it is here to stay. Organic growers in the region have adapted to this new reality–we watch the weather even more closely, and have accepted that applying organic treatments to these plants in advance of wet weather will always be necessary to protect our most beloved crop from failure.

In 2010, farmers started noticing another new plant disease had moved into the area, this time in basil. Just like Late Blight on tomatoes, Basil Downy Mildew moved quickly up the East coast and settled in. Now, successful basil years are a rarity here, I’d guess especially for organic growers. This fast-moving disease can wipe out an entire planting in a week. I know a couple of farmers who have even found it on plants in their greenhouses, causing them to have to compost the whole thing before it was even planted. Returning sharers, and those who have shopped at local farms: have you noticed far less basil in the past few years? This disease is why.

I know farmers who have completely given up on growing it, waiting to see if plant breeders will develop a variety that is resistant to the disease. I’ve grown several different varieties over the years, hoping to find that one is more successful, and I’ve tried planting and harvesting it in different ways to “beat” the disease. This year is no different. I’ve purchased seed for two different “lettuce leaf” types, which are reported to be a little bit more resistant . Cross your fingers for us and our basil, dear shareholders! Growing basil is beginning to feel like a bit of an exercise in futility, but we are still plowing ahead with a small degree of hope for this new (to us) type of basil.

Whew, that was a long one. If you made it through, thanks for following along!

Do you have any questions about my rambles? Send them my way.

I look forward to meeting you and to seeing you again out in the fields!