The first day of Spring arrives, and I find myself brimming with hope for another amazing season at The Farm.
My early morning walks with Zuri around the fields are filled with soft, warm light dancing on the frost covered grasses. It is hard to believe that in a few short months the morning dew will offer a welcome coolness compared the blazing midday heat.
This is the time of year when we pause to drink in the sun – lifting our chins towards the sky like turtles sunbathing on boulders in a stream – thankful for the warmth the rays bring to our faces and to our sleepy spirits.
Perhaps it is the power of the full moon on the solstice, but there is something intoxicating about the start of this season. Highs and lows from the previous season are already fading as the fields start to green, the garlic starts to sprout and the seedlings start to grow.
The seeds are the focus this time of year – when will be planting the onions? the kale? the snapdragons? What will thrive and what will bend despite or due to the challenge of drought or disease? We create our seeding charts and dutifully fill trays with nutrient rich soil. We provide water and sunlight.
It is then that the magic happens – we watch as the seedlings emerge. Some of them, like onions and leeks are gangly, lean and angular, while others like snapdragons and Matricaria (a member of the Chamomile tribe) are symmetrical and almost glamorous as they dance in their morning or afternoon shower.
I am reminded of the essential living and nonliving components that help our farm thrive: the students and community members who arrive early and stay as long as they can to plant the seeds, the nutrients in the soil, the water that transports the nutrients into the roots of the seedlings, and the sun which beckons our young plants to grow.
It will not be long before the fields are filled with flowers and veggies bending and swaying with the elements as they produce glorious blooms and fruits that fill our hearts and bellies with joy.
These are the magical days of early spring where we dream and hope for a season filled with growth, beauty and joy – I can feel it – can you?
From the Lab to The Field: Cold-Tolerance Gene Research at the Farm
Guest post by, Danielle Garceau, Class of 2015
Even during the quieter, less hectic winter months, there is still a surprising amount of activity at the farm. From Mesclun mix and other cold weather crops like Spinach growing along in the hoop house, to students learning in their outdoor classroom, the farm is still a happening place.
But what else might be going on? Yes, research! As the temperature begins to drop the farm is the ideal location for an ongoing study that I am conducting with Professor Irvin Pan of the Biology Department with the support of the Farm. Through this research, we are hoping to determine the underlying genetic basis for cold-tolerance in crop species known to be cold-hardy.
Funded by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program, this project is a continuation of research conducted this past growing season that will shift from the lab to the farm this winter. We are collecting and analyzing field data to better understand how certain tasty plant species can survive in outdoor winter weather environments.
Over this past summer, our group identified the cold tolerance genes Inducer of CBF Expression 1 (ICE1), C-Repeat Binding Factor 3 (CBF3), and Eskimo 1 (ESK1) in known cold-hardy crops such as Broccoli, Bok-Choi, and Kale alongside the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. We conducted an experiment to compare the expression of the cold-tolerance gene CBF3 in plants incubated at warm and cold temperatures.
The picture above is one of many gel electrophoreses ran on the DNA (in this case, cDNA or complementary DNA that is made from mRNA or messenger RNA) of these crop species. The bands above are the actual DNA of a specific gene that we are studying. The brighter the band, the more DNA there is in the plant tissue, meaning the plant is turning on this specific gene. As you can see from this gel picture after a 2 hour long exposure to cold temperatures, the expression level of the cold-tolerance gene CBF3 underwent as much as a 15 fold increase! We think that this may be one reason why plants like Broccoli, Kale, and Bok-Choi don’t mind colder temperatures.
Through conducting further cold exposure experiments this winter at the greenhouse we hope to confirm these results on a larger scale and over a longer time period of one month while also recording the temperatures that the plants experience every hour using a temperature data logger.
In addition to our work in the heated greenhouse this winter, we hope to also grow our cold-hardy plants in the newly built cold frame. Using the cold frame will allow us to gather data in a setting in which not only farmers but home gardeners could grow crops during the colder months of the year. This cold frame will also prove to be a useful learning tool in sustainable agriculture practices to students that use the farm as an outdoor classroom and engage in classes like Sustainable Agriculture – taught by Farm Manager Meigs.
In conducting this research at the farm we hope to ultimately extend the farm’s growing season further into the winter through the selection of crops most suited to colder temperatures. Through extending the farm’s growing season we also hope to enable the farm to provide fresh produce to community partners well into the winter season.
As the chilling wind races around the fields, stirring up fallen leaves along the edges, rushing between our spindly apple trees, and bending the recently sprouted cover crops with ease it is clear that our third growing season is coming to a close.
Here are a few fast facts about The Farm that tell some of the story of how productive the 2013 Season has been and how many people are responsible for our bountiful harvest.
2013 Harvest:12,416.5 pounds of over 35 different kinds of veggies – our biggest and most diverse harvest yet!
2013 Donations:These vegetables were donated to our partners: My Brother’s Keeper, the Easton Food Pantry, The Old Colony YMCA’s Family Life Center, and The Table at Father Bill’s & MainSpring.
2013 Volunteers: Over 500 hours contributed by over 250 individuals.
Classes Held at The Farm: Over 18 different classes, including creative writing, photography, mentoring through art, environmental science, religious studies, and first year experience classes used the farm as an outdoor learning space to help deepen certain lessons and provide context for others.
2013 Flower Sales: $2,100.00
As Thanksgiving approaches, we have so much to be thankful for, from the natural elements that create an environment that supports healthy and productive plants to our summer staff and year-round volunteers who join us to make the work of planting, feeding the soil with compost, weeding, harvesting, and finally, delivering our crops both easier and much more fun.
Looking back on this season, I see a different farm than the one we started in February of 2011. The same generous and hopeful spirit, originally found in Professor Paul Daponte’s vision for the farm – to grow organic and healthy food with and for our neighbors in need and raise awareness about food deserts – is thriving!
However, I think that it was in this third season that the dust started to settle and the work of The Farm began to thrive, not just on it’s 2 acre plot next to The David Ames Clock Farm/Facilities Management, but also in the classrooms and in the creation of new student groups like “Food Truth” across the street on the main campus. There are times, I must admit, when I hear people talking about The Farm, and Food Truth – a student organization that works to promote Real Food on campus – who I have not yet had the pleasure of getting to know. It is exciting to see The Farm becoming more integrated into the campus culture!
Still housed under the Mission Division and now under the guidance of Father Jim Lies, The Farm is truly a place of community where new volunteers are now welcomed not just by me and Zuri, but by students who have been working at The Farm for almost their entire Stonehill career!
Despite the freezing temperatures and frost filled mornings, the work of the farm is far from complete. We are experimenting with growing some mustard greens, spinach and a few lettuce varieties in our hoop house. Following the lead of some friends at Langwater Farm, we flipped a few of our seedling tables over, filled them with a rich mix of compost and soil and planted our the seedlings.
We also find that we have time to clean the shed, the hoop house, and clean up the tines on our amazing rototiller that does such important work for us all season long.
The other place to pour our energy is into helping our community learn how to compost!
Members of the Food Politics LC will join me and our TA, Breanne, to help point out what to compost – fruit, veggie, sandwich and salad scraps – and what not to compost – plastic utensils, paper boats, cereal cups as with our new campaign: “You Know How To Compost, Right!?”
Sometimes we find items in the compost pile that simply don’t belong! Help us to keep our operation clean, productive and functional so that we can grow more nutritious crops in the years to come.
Course projects are also involving the farm and our mission. For example, a group in the Climate Change Learning Community is putting a proposal together to suggest that an herb spiral garden be constructed on the main campus. If installed it will serve as a way for students to have access to fresh, flavorful herbs for meals they prepare and allow more students to learn more about the work of The Farm.
Longer nights and shorter days also provide time to meet with our partners to learn which crops to grow next year and strategize about ways to involve more classes and volunteers with the work of the farm in Season 2014!
After our brief waltz with summer temperatures, the more seasonal cool nights and blustery, sunny days of early spring have returned.
The seedlings in the greenhouse are holding up well despite the colder temperatures. Every evening, if it looks like the temperatures will dip into the 30’s, we cover up the seedlings with a thin sheet of row cover to protect them from cold damage.
Some of the seedlings are growing so well that they need to be transplanted into larger “homes” so that their roots can find the moisture and nutrients that they need to grow.
Thanks to the careful work of volunteers, these Mesclun Mix Greens and Arugula are thriving.
Despite the cooler days, volunteers are still filling the fields, and jumping right in to plant seeds in The Sem, transplant seedlings in the greenhouse, and plant seeds in the field.
Last week, on March 30th, 18 volunteers arrived at The Farm and got right to work prepping and “pre-weeding”. Before I knew it, the first bed was masterfully prepared and the group was ready to plant two varieties of radish: Rudolf and Pink Beauty.
The “magic” of this time of year comes during these bustling times of group activity, and also in the unexpected moments of quiet reflection.
These come early in the morning when the frost is still melting away…
…and in the early evening when we tuck the seedlings in to protect them from the cold nights.
Under the cover of night, the seedlings withstand the cold and greet us the next day a little bit stronger, and one day closer to their time to grow to their full potential in the field.
These seedlings are embracing the sunlight of each day, modeling “Carpe Diem” in a whole new way!
Outside of the greenhouse, the soils are warming under consistent sunny skies and temperatures in the 50’s. As a result, today was a perfect day to plant peas.
I prepped the soil with a rototiller, a rake and a hoe and planted the peas in 2 straight rows, with a string to guide my work.
We now have 2 beds planted – many more to come!
I am looking forward to planting our onion and lettuce seedlings next week with the help of our volunteers!
In The Sem we continue to plant our seeds.
In the greenhouse, you’ll see kale, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, collards, dill, cilantro, parsley, and other greens growing in all shapes and sizes.
At The Farm, the perennials are waking up from their winter’s nap, and will be there to greet you!
It is hard to believe that it is only March 23rd! The plants in the field and in the trays are responding well as they drink in the warm rays and grow towards the sun.
It is a bit strange, to say the least, to have temperatures in the high 70’s and low 80’s in March!
What does this mean about the health of our planet?
Weather forecasts look to be dropping to more seasonal highs in the 50’s next week, which is a bit of a relief. As much as I enjoy the “summer feeling,” March is a bit early for that to be kicking in already!
With some luck, the warm weather will allow our seedlings to grow well and hopefully be able to offer our produce to our partners in Brockton much earlier this second season. This year we will deliver produce to The Easton Food Pantry, Father Bill’s and MainSpring, My Brother’s Keeper and the Old Colony YMCA weekly.
Under warm and sunny skies, we quickly got to work at The Farm.
“Getting to work” was made easier thanks to our new, 2002 Chevy Silverado farm truck…
…new greenhouse tables built by Mark Larson, one of the college’s talented carpenters…
…and good farming neighbors!
On March 22nd around 6:30PM, Rory O’Dwyer from Langwater Farm arrived with their John Deere tractor and a chisel plow to turn our first field.
It only took her a little over 1 hour to work her magic, and turn in some of the winter rye that we planted in the fall.
The very next day, under clear skies and 70 degree weather, over 15 volunteers joined me to do some early weeding in the perennial beds!
First they signed in…
…then the weeding began in the perennial beds…
…planting commenced in window boxes on our shed…
…and planting seeds continued in the greenhouse (and later in the Sem basement).
There was even a moment or two to enjoy a snack from the field!
We welcome you to join us this season by following us online or working with us in the fields.“Like us” on Facebook by clicking here to keep on top of happenings at The Farm.
On February 24, Brian and Sean joined me in the basement of the Sem to plant our first seeds, which included 4 varieties of onions (Alisa Craig, Candy, Cortland and White Pearl Drop) and Snapdragons. These two were quick studies, and with ease they prepped trays and set to work planting the small seeds.
It didn’t take long (5 days) before little green sprouts started to pop up into view. We moved them out into the greenhouse to ensure good light quality as they grow!
It didn’t take long for word to spread, and more farm volunteers arrived ready to work on Friday. We planted lettuce, spinach, chard, and a couple of more flower varieties including Statice and Celosia.
The snowy morning at the farm did not diminish our enthusiasm as we moved the onions and greens that have already germinated out into the greenhouse.
It will not be long before we are all out in the fields surrounded by the greens of spring, the vibrant rainbow of summer, and the deeper hues of the fall.
For now we plant and water, watch and plan, as the days become longer and the temperatures begin to climb.
Before we know it, these fields covered in the crystals of winter, will be filled with vibrant colors that only the longer, warmer days of the spring, summer and fall can bring.
Volunteers hours will begin in earnest after Spring Break.
If you would like to receive emails about when you can volunteer please email Erin: email@example.com or send us a message using the Volunteer Tab above.
Colors are filling the fields and our harvest bins at The Farm. Mornings like this it is hard to picture a more beautiful place to be. The dew dances on the leaves of our crops and the rich reds, oranges and yellows of our tomatoes, pumpkins, and sunflowers start to take on their day-lit splendor.
We are currently harvesting crops like carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cabbage…
… and taking care of our fall seedlings that we hope will keep us harveting in the fields through October.
Last week we dug into the weeds in our winter squash field and were pleasantly surprised to find some sugar pie pumpkins already ready for harvest and delicata, carnival and butternut squash not too far behind.
We are pleased by the tomatoes that are starting to come out of the fields. Some, like the Rose de Berne, are as “pretty as a peach”…
We are delighted to also be providing our partners with that include greens, cabbage, peppers, radishes and carrots!
Our staff and volunteers continue to play a critical role in keeping the weeds at bay, harvesting and delivering the veggies and flowers to our partners and customers. Please join us and take home a few sweet cheery tomatoes as a reward!
We are looking forward to this harvesting our fall crops, including leeks, winter squash, more tomatoes, parsnips and greens.
In morning dew, midday heat or in the glow of sundown, many of the colors (and fruits) of the farm are harvest ready.
… and other, larger varieties, sweetly satisfy the saying that “Good things come to those who wait!”
We have three sweet, delicious varieties of cherry tomatoes – Sun Gold, Be My Baby, and Red Pearl – that we are currently harvesting and 7 larger varieties that will be coming out of the fields and appearing on the tables of our partners very soon.
In July we harvested and delivered over 3,000 pounds of fresh vegetables to our partners in Brockton from our fields. We are excited to see what August brings!
We have had some extra help from volunteer groups over the past few weeks including student leaders from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA).
They helped weed beans and flowers to ensure healthy harvests of those two crops, and also picked a few veggies for us including cucumbers and zucchini.
There are many other mid-season veggies and even fruits that are coming out of the fields these days.
They include Islander (Purple) Peppers…
… Apple Pimento Peppers …
… “Luscious” and “Brocade” bi-color Sweet Corn …
… and after many months: Green Cabbage. These seeds were among our first planted on March 17, 2011 in the basement of the Holy Cross Center. One more step – to the table – for this crop, and we’ll have tracked its entire progression from seed to table!
This past week we also harvests 4 varieties of potatoes including Yukon Gold, Purple, Kennebec, and Dark Red Norland. It was a lot of work, but rewarding as we weighed our harvest and learned that we had pulled just over 150 pounds from a 125 foot row that day!
It is hard to believe that many veggies, like lettuce, fall root crops, fall broccoli, baby bok choy and others are just starting to grow into healthy, field worthy seedlings in our greenhouse. We will continue to monitor them and plant them when the time comes to ensure a continued, and plentiful harvest into October.
We are excited to also be pulling sweet, refreshing, Watermelon from the fields over the next couple of weeks to share some fresh, summer treat with our partners at Father Bill’s and Mainspring, the Old Colony YMCA and My Brother’s Keeper.
In under two weeks the greenhouse is up and running!
Chuck and I stand in front of the completed greenhouse!
On May 2, 2011 we completed the greenhouse with help from 4 of Facilities Management’s finest: Paul, Bob, Tim and Shamus.
We rolled out the plastic, hoisted it over the frame and stretched it tight to create a space for all of our seedlings to grow.
The very next day, Ken helped me move our seedlings over from across the street. They were happy to come out into the well lit, warm space after weeks under lights in the basement of Holy Cross Center.
Come visit us anytime. We think you’ll agree that it is the most beautiful, and well-built greenhouse you have every seen!
Thank you Chuck for all of your hard work and leadership on this project.
Our greenhouse glows under a rainbow a few days later as it protects the seedlings from passing showers and thunderstorms.