Farm Week: October 7-11, 2013

Things are winding down a bit here at Chubby Bunny. We still have a few weeks left of CSA deliveries and pickups, but other than our normal harvests and deliveries we are starting to get to those "when we have time" types of jobs. This week we seeded a rye and vetch mix on the open parts of the field, around the crops we're still harvesting and even over some of the crops that will be in place through the winter. We hand broadcasted the seed, then used a shallow chisel plough to incorporate the seed on the empty fields. The mornings have been cold and foggy, but there have been a few days of beautiful weather, and the fall colors are hanging on for a little longer. We had our penultimate CRAFT visit this week, to a 400-acre farm further south in Connecticut that sells pick-your-own berries, pumpkins, Christmas trees, and wine. It was a lovely farm, and the pumpkin season was in full swing. You can tell that they really know what their customers are looking for in a farm experience. The current farmers are the fifth and sixth generation on the land, and they've really done quite a bit to keep the farm relevant and financially successful. Even when you don't go into one of these visits very interested in that particular farm's specialties, you still end up being able to learn quite a bit.    

The big news this week was a visit from Maija, a good friend since high school. She's the first person from the "outside world" to come see me on the farm, and it was really fun to bring her around to see some of our local haunts. She worked with us on the farm for a few days, and her friend John, who has been farming up in Maine for the last few months, came down to join in the fun. Besides the show and tell aspect of having visitors, it was also nice to have an appreciative audience to cook for. As much as I enjoy cooking for myself and the occasional potluck, I really love cooking for other people, and it was nice to have hungry mouths to feed. Maija is leaving shortly for a yearlong stint in Melbourne, Australia, so it was nice to be able to spend some time together in person before she moves halfway around the world with two other of our friends from high school. I can't wait to hear all about their adventures!

Thinking about: old friends, new paths, holey wool socks

Reading: Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, another mystery novel, Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness

Eating: beet tzatziki with homemade yogurt and mint; roasted garam masala delicata squash, carmelized fennel with kale and cumin pork patties; spinach, pepper, onion and cheddar fritatta; the first delicious taste of our milk- and grass-fed Jersey bull

Farm Week: September 23-27, 2013

It was another beautiful week here on the farm - so far fall has been picture perfect. Days are shorter, certainly; it's dark when I wake up now, and daylight fades fast after work. What sunlight remains is more appreciated than ever with the nights and even the days turning cooler. So far, we've been spared a hard frost, and our outdoor tomatoes, peppers, and even eggplant are still producing. The last of our transplants and seeds are in the ground, and we even cleared out the jungle of tomato plants and weeds in the lower greenhouse in preparation for some winter greens. With the cool weather, the weeds have slowed down a bit, and we've moved from cultivation to cleaning up. We're tilling in the remains of old crops, readying the soil for the rye and vetch that will be our winter cover crop. This Monday was another CRAFT visit, this time to a nearby raw milk dairy. It was a nice, if low-key visit, the highlight being the adorable new calves and a really lovely flock of laying hens. Friday night brought another fun birthday bonfire on the farm, which has brought another mellow Saturday. Hopefully I'll be back at 100% by tonight, when we've been invited to a barn dance party. The fun never ends!

Thinking about: warm boots, flannel layers, darning socks

Reading: Gabriel Thompson's Working in the Shadows, Jacqueline Winspear's Pardonable Lies, William A. Owens This Stubborn Soil

Eating: more potlucks, ploughman's lunches, home fries and eggs

Farm Week (Plus): September 9-15, 2013

This week was an abbreviated farm week and a mini-vacation. Apprentices here get five vacation days each, and since it was nearing the end of the season and I had yet to take any, I decided to treat myself to a long weekend in and around Burlington, VT. I took a day and a half of vacation, leaving after the morning harvest on Thursday and narrowly (mostly) beating the heavy rains coming in from the southeast.

First, however, I had most of a farm week. As the busiest part of the season has passed for the most part, the CRAFT visits have resumed in earnest. This past Monday we visited a family-run orchard down in Roxbury, CT, Maple Bank Farm. Although they're not an organic operation, they were one of the first farms in the area to be growing food locally to sell at their very popular farmstand. Besides vegetables, sweet corn, and apples, they also have a pick-your-own blueberry patch and some sheep from which they sell lambs and fiber. While two hours isn't long enough to go into all of the knowledge necessary to run a successful small orchard, we went over the basics of pruning, grafting, variety selection, and marketing. The tour and talk was followed by a lovely (as usual) potluck. As the potluck was winding down, there was a hay delivery, and everyone jumped up to help stack the hay in the barn's hayloft. Dusty work, but it was many of the young farmers' first time even touching a fresh bale of hay and it was done in a fraction of the time it would have taken if we weren't there.

The rest of the week passed mostly like a normal week, and after Thursday morning's harvest was completed with some very far-off but menacing rumbles of thunder I jumped in the car for the five hour drive up to Burlington. The weather wasn't any better two hundred miles north, but it was good enough to walk from the hostel to a beer bar with a book! I spent Friday wandering around, browsing thrift stores, and generally people-watching. Saturday, I took a ferry across Lake Champlain to Essex, where I went on a farmers-only tour of Essex Farm (more on that in another post, I think). In the late afternoon, I drove up to Keeseville, where I had been a few months before at the Greenhorns solstice event in June. I met with some people I'm thinking about living with over the winter, then made it up to another ferry across the Lake and back down to Burlington just in time to fall into bed well past my bedtime. Sunday morning I went on a twenty-mile bike ride along the lakeshore and up to a land bridge/causeway in to the lake. Normally, there's a bike ferry that connects the causeway to an peninsula to the north, but the lake was too choppy to complete the fifty-foot crossing. The wind that I'd not even noticed pedaling north was quite a battle on the return trip. After one quick last shower in the hostel, I hit the road for a beautiful drive southward. On the way back, I stopped to scope out a forest farm where I was considering applying to for next season, which was worth the detour to cross it off my list. Overall, it was a great week and an even greater weekend!

Thinking about: winter possibilities, continuing education, intensity

Reading: Margery Fish's We Made a Garden, Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs

Eating: potlucks galore! farmers officially have the best potlucks! vermont cheese and beer!


Farm Week: August 5-9, 2013

This week brought seasonally apt weather, another CRAFT visit, chickens coming in and chickens going out, and some seasonal sneezing. A nice week, weather-wise, ended with a Friday wet enough to preclude most farm work. So today we finished harvesting some tomatoes from the greenhouse and setting up the CSA pickup room for our members before calling it a day.

Last weekend, we did our second chicken harvest. It went much better than the first, largely because it was much cooler than the first time around, and we also had enough helpers to get an efficient flow going. With the last of the birds in the freezer for sale, I made a trip to the post office on Thursday night to pick up a box of peepers. Fifty-one tiny day-old chickens can sure make more noise than you'd expect. They're the fourth batch out of five, and it seems every time we get new chicks in the mail we're surprised at just how small they are. After making sure the new guys were all cozy in their brooder, I went to a barbecue where we grilled up some of last weekend's chicken in some of my homemade (farm grown) bbq sauce. Since the juxtaposition caused me no lack of appetite, I think it's safe to say I've made the transition from vegetarian to farmer-omnivore pretty completely.

In other news, I've finally looked up what ragweed looks like, but I'm not sure it will help me avoid it. It's all over the farm, and it's not really in full bloom yet. Already, my sneezes are echoing through the valley, so I better stock up on antihistamines before next week!

Thinking about: counter space, histamines, post-season plans

Reading: Melissa Bank's Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Augusten Burrough's Magical Thinking, Michael Pollan's Cooked

Eating: polenta with gorgonzola cremificata; polenta with chicken neck, tomatoes, jalapenos, and homemade farmers cheese; rigatoni with homemade sausage and chard ragu

Farm Week: June 3-7, 2013

In a milder week after much May weather, we slogged through much mud on the farm this week to do an escalating battle with weeds. Monday brought a visit from the CRAFTers, and Dan and Tracy's assigned topic was the CSA model and the finances behind a CSA farm on this scale. The apprentices really appreciated his openness and transparency in talking about the financial realities of running a CSA farm, because so many of them work for people who would never disclose their financial situations, or that came to farming with lots of family resources. Dan and Tracy's start-up story is full of lucky turns, but they relied mostly on their hard work to slowly build a farm at a comfortable scale.

This week brought the first substantial harvest and subsequent vegetable delivery. They organized the CSA calendar in such a way that the first harvest is the only one that week, providing a way for us to learn the mechanics of harvesting all the different vegetables, as well as the routine that takes vegetables from the ground to a box in the back of the van. We started harvesting right away in the morning, wearing our bibs to keep dry in the mud and the dew. This week's harvest included salad mix, spinach, arugula, dandelion greens, komatsuna, scallions, dill, and turnips. We bring big plastic bins out to the fields and fill them with rubber-banded bunches or loose leaves, depending on the crop. We bring them back to the packing shed, where we wash them in large tubs of cold water and stick them in the cooler. After the greens have dried off a bit, we come back and bag them to the appropriate weight before sticking them back in the cooler. The next day, we started in the packing shed, first counting out the right number of boxes (this time 83), then filling them in the right order (heaviest first, most crushable last), moving down the rollers in the packing line and ending up in the back of the van. We flipped a coin to see who would make the first delivery, and I won (or lost, depending on your point of view). I ended up driving down to White Plains, NY, which was a little more than two hours each way. Next week, we'll ramp up to the full harvest schedule, which will be about triple this week's. At the same time, we'll be battling the weeds (now in full force) and the wet weather (which shows no signs of letting up).

Thinking about: pollen, saison yeast, essays

Eating: wraps of all kinds, spicy radishes, sweet juicy turnips, greenest greens, eggiest eggs

Reading: Gene Logsdon's Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind, David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster and Other Essays, George Saunders' Tenth of December

Farm Week: May 6-10, 2013

This week brought the full range of spring weather, including some much-needed rainfall. The trees are waking up, and the view up the hillsides in all directions from our little valley becomes greener every day. The winter rye is over knee-high, and the smell of apple blossoms has caused me to stop moving and breathe deeply at least once per day.

Now a little over a week old, our broiler chicks are bigger and more fully feathered every time we feed them. They're still small and cute, and they still have a few weeks to go before they go outside. We decided not to buy organic feed because the price was prohibitively high, but we did find some conventional feed without all the unnecessary antibiotics. If the farm were certified organic and we were selling them formally to the CSA members, we might have made the decision to shell out for the organic feed and price the birds accordingly higher. Instead of going for the omnipresent fast-growing hybrid Cornish Cross, we opted for Freedom Rangers, which is a breed known for its hardiness and its foraging, which makes it the perfect bird for pasture-raising.

This week brought a bit more transplanting, and lots of cultivation. The same amount of transplanting that would have made us tired and sore a few weeks ago is now just a matter of course. The first round of spring carrots also needed to be thinned - Dan chooses to over-seed these notoriously bad germinators to avoid long gaps between carrots so we all sat down in a pathway and weeded and thinned the carrots to 1-1.5 inches. It is very slow-going, monotonous, and miniscule work. I loved it. We've done some hand-hoeing, which always makes for some great conversation as we move down the rows. The carrots also provoked hours of interesting conversation, but for some reason I have a skill for this particular task, and after awhile I was too far ahead to take part. So I put on some old-timey fiddle and banjo music and somehow my fingers moved even faster.

Another highlight this week was the first CRAFT visit of the season. At first twice and later once per month, all the apprentices from sustainable farms in the area get out of work early on a Monday and gather on one of the participating farms for a two-hour workshop followed by a potluck dinner. This week's topic was cover crops and compost, and I'm working on an essay about the thoughts the tour and workshop provoked. For now I'll say that I'm really looking forward to these visits all season. Even besides the workshops, I think it's immensely instructive just to see how different farms are set up and how they operate. The potluck was great, too - good food and good conversation, and I'm looking forward to many more.

Thinking about: bare feet in the soil, wide-brimmed hats, smells of spring

Eating: Pita with homemade hummus, avocado, apple, and homemade sauerkraut

Reading: Michael Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef, Dave Eggers' A Hologram for the King