On Saturday, I was walking around the fields admiring the amount we’d already gotten into cover crop and feeling so good about the fact that we hadn’t double cropped very much land—that is, planted successive crops on the same land within the same season. We are finally realizing our goal of easing the growing pressure on this precious patch of soil.
Since I arrived at Stearns Farm three years ago, I was concerned about the production pressure on our main farming site. We had the field down the road, but it was marginal, there was no irrigation, the weed pressure was outrageous, and the pest pressure from deer and woodchucks was way more intense there. In 2016, a year of intense drought, when it became clear that we were going to lose the crops we had planted there due to the lack of water, we abandoned that field—and along with it, thousands of dollars worth of fertilizer, seedlings, fuel, and labor time. I was honestly relieved when the farmer who’d been loaning us this plot emailed to let me know he wanted it back.
However, the decrease in acreage left us with a predicament. While the crop loss there was significant from year to year, it *had* yielded plenty of food in the past. Suddenly, we were down from about five acres to less than two. I decided that our approach to solving the problem should be multi-pronged:
- Find a sources of revenue that would not require more work from our soil and simultaneously welcome the broader community to our pretty little farm. We created a bigger, more comprehensive Annual Plant Sale, with far greater variety of vegetable seedlings and flowers! Our goal is to slowly but steadily grow the plant sale as we decrease the number of shares we sell. We cut back the number of summer shares we sold this season, and are doing so again for 2019.
- Figure out which crops required too much land and specialized equipment for us to grow well, and buy those in. We started purchasing our potatoes from Sparrow Arc Farm, a sustainable, family owned farm in eastern New York (we get most of our winter squash from them as well). We also occasionally buy in from other organic farms in the area when things are tight.
- Focus on growing what most families really want, and move towards a more choice based system, so that the more obscure, specialized crops take up less space on the farm since we have to grow less of them. No more forcing kohlrabi on people!
- Minimize pick-your-own veggies. We did this for two reasons: one, for customer convenience and equal accessibility to crops (not everyone can pick for an hour due to time constraints and/or limited mobility) and two, to minimize the space the crops take up. People don’t realize it, but pick-your-own requires planting significantly more of each crop, because there is a lot more picker error! We kept the “fun” crops—herbs, berries and flowers—as pick-your-own because we know you all value spending time here at Stearns.
There are quite a few more changes we’ve made to keep Stearns Farm thriving in the face of changing markets, competition, and a decreased land base. I won’t outline these here, but I am more than happy to discuss farm economics in depth with you all. Ask me all the questions you want! I am so thrilled that with all of these tweaks, we’ve been able to decrease the pressure on the land and farm in a more financially and ecologically sustainable way while still providing bountiful, healthy, more convenient shares for you and yours.
Parking Lot Update
Many of you have been asking, and rightfully so, about when we are going to repair the parking lot entrance. I’m happy to report we have what looks like a good solution in the works, though it will take more coordinating and planning to make it happen.
I was about to spend some money on new blocky gravel to fill the gigantic hole there a couple of weeks ago when it occurred to me that I should inquire about the possibility of a longer term solution to our steep slope, high-volumes-of-runoff, water-splashing-from-tires woes. Every couple of years, this problem rears its head (it’s not new!) though the endless, heavy downpours we’ve gotten this season have certainly made the problem worse than its been in a while.
I can’t express how much I’ve appreciated your patience and care with the situation these past few weeks, and I appreciate your continued patience as we move forward with our new solution
Speaking of Slow….
A while ago, many of you expressed interest in knitting with me! Actually, that was a year ago. Well, I’m ready to organize and host a weekly knitting/crocheting/fiber arts gathering at my home (at least to start!), and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be sending out a Doodle poll to find out which nights work best for folks. Please email me with the subject line “knitting group” and let me know if you still want in! Or if you are a new person who wants in! I’m thinking these will start in December.
Over and out, and thanks for reading along.