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?
It has been a productive and delicious fall at The Farm! Thanks to a crew of dedicated volunteers and students studying Sustainable Agriculture and Permaculture our farm is far from sleepy.
Though we do not have as many active projects out in the fields these days, Devin and I can often be found checking on our crops in the hoophouses or walking Zuri on the land.
On October 24th, we hosted the Blessing of Hoophouse #2 to thank the Class of 1964 for their gift, which covered construction costs of the structure. This hoophouse is truly a blessing to us – as it has already allowed us to extend the growing season of crops like cherry tomatoes and currently houses spinach and other hardy greens.
Members of the Class of 1964 were present on October 24th to witness Father Jim Lies’s blessing of the hoophouse and to hear Devin speak about the benefits of structures like hoophouses. We are excited about the addition of this growing structure!
This second hoophouse, measuring 30′ x 48′, dwarfs our original (and still very much beloved 18′ x 48′ hoophouse) offers a nutrient rich floor where we will plant cucumbers and tomatoes earlier that we can in the fields next season. Thus, this structure will help us to make more delicious produce available to our partners for more months of the year!
The fields are still producing a few hearty greens like kale, baby broccoli and carrots, but most of the land has a nice coat of cover crops like hairy vetch and oats to help fix nitrogen and add organic material to the soils, respectively.
One of my favorite crops – High Mowing Mesclun Mix – was still producing flavorful greens in mid-November, which I dressed up with our own carrots and a few chunks of Honey Crisp apples from Brookdale Fruit Farm to create a refreshing salad.
In the hoophouses you can see that a number of crops have already benefited from the slightly warmer temperatures the plastic walls offer.
Though our harvests are lighter, we are keeping busy working on projects like building a herb spiral in our permaculture garden on campus – next to Amesbury in the Senior courts – and planting perennials like pear and peach trees, raspberries and blackberries, and hardy kiwis on campus and at The Farm!
Langwater Farm was kind enough to allow us to take a few field stones from their pile next to their rt. 138 fields for our herb spiral project.
Projects like this are fun because they offer our students the opportunity to work on farm projects on the main campus. It is our hope that this garden will serve to produce vegetables and fruit for our campus community and raise awareness about The Farm and how they can get become (or stay) involved.
The fall/winter is a good time to build growing structures like the herb spirals and is also an excellent time to plan our permaculture gardens and to plant a number of perennials.
We spent some time in November planting Dwarf Chojuro Asian Pear and Dwarf Gala Peach Trees, Auburn Homestead Chestnut Trees, 3 different varieties of Blackberries, Koralle Ligonberries, and Issai Hardy Kiwi from Stark Brothers and Raspberries, Mint, and Jerusalem Artichokes from our partners at Massasoit College on campus…
…at The Farm…
…in our Apple Orchard…
…and in our permaculture garden at The Farm.
Other projects include getting to know our Best Bees bee keepers. Devin and I visited them at their headquarters in Boston to learn how to extract honey and get the inside scoop on their research projects.
We were overjoyed to learn that our bees had been productive enough to share some of their bounty with us!
The results are beautiful and delicious!
We are happy to report that our honey flew of the shelves during a find raiser. We sold 3 oz jars for $10/jar and all of it was purchased within one day of posting an advertisement on our Facebook and sharing an email about the honey with our Stonehill community. We hope to be able to share more of this amber treat with more folks next year.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch – well, Farmhouse – we are cooking up a new program called The Farmhouse Writing Fellows Program. Farmhouse Writing Fellows will be given dedicated writing space on the second floor of the Farmhouse to work on scholarly or pedagogical projects for the semester.
Five Faculty will be joining us this spring: Rachel Hirst, George Piggford, Megan Mitchell, Corey Dolgon, and Candice Smith-Corby. We will be hosting Farmhouse Conversations every other Friday so that our fellows can share a bit about their work with the community. We will share invitations via our weekly “This Week at The Farm” community emails and via our Facebook page and we hope to see you there!
You might be wondering where this mystical farmhouse is located! Don’t worry, we made a sign so that you will be sure to find us!
I knew just the place to create such a sign: my parent’s home in Millerton, NY. First we chose the right piece of cherry, before sketching out the letters, and then used a router to carve out the word and the little shovel icon.
After a few hours of work we had our sign!
Now you can find it hanging at the entrance of our Farmhouse: 411 Washington St.
We look forward to your next visit to see us at The Farm or at The Farmhouse as we chip away at our long list of winter projects and order up seeds for our next growing season – which will start earlier now, thanks to Hoophouse #2!
Sending you warm wishes for a restful and rejuvenating holiday season!
Summer Farmers relax in the new Permaculture test plot located at The Farm.
While the summer harvest is providing us with a bounty of fresh produce for our community partners, a team of students and faculty are actively performing research to create permaculture gardens for the Stonehill College and Massasoit Community College Campuses through funding provided by the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee!
How did this research take root? In the late spring, two faculty members, Bridget Meigs, Instructor and Farm Manager at The Farm at Stonehill, and Melanie Trecek-King, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Sustainable Landscaping Committee at Massasoit Community College met with Rachel Hirst, Assistant Professor of Biology and Marie Kelly, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, to discuss the potential to work together and with students Jamall Plummer of Massasoit and myself, to create on-campus permaculture gardens at each of the respective colleges. When I was approached with this research opportunity while I was studying sustainability in Australia, I was thrilled to become involved and be a part of the project. I became even more excited when I met Jamall Plummer, a passionate student and leader in the garden projects at Massasoit College and active urban farmer at his home in Brockton.
Some of the gardens at the Massasoit College Brockton Campus.
The research project and the resulting gardens will serve as living laboratory spaces, allowing students from both campuses to connect with one another – creating academic and community linkages between Stonehill and Massasoit for years to come.
Jamall Plummer, Massasoit student collaborator, working in the Massasoit gardens!
Now, what is permaculture? Permaculture, also described as “permanent agriculture”, or “permanent culture” (since the two are so often intertwined!) is a regenerative design system that involves observing and mimicking the relationships found in nature to create ecological and edible landscapes and sustainable communities and economies. Therefore, permaculture incorporates organic growing methods that emphasizes growing polycultures (a number of different kinds of crops) over monocultures (one kind of crop) and planting perennial (plants that come back year after year) rather than annual crops (plants that have just one season) to ultimately create a complete and self-perpetuating system!
An herb spiral is a permaculture design. When you visit The Farm you will see one of these in the middle of the meditation garden.
Why have a garden on campus? I think by having a garden on campus, it begins to change people’s perceptions on how they think about food- from production to consumption. I really want students to think about where their food is coming from, how it is being grown, and who is growing it, so we can all begin to change those norms! The garden would show a real life example of how to convert underutilized grass lawns on the campus into edible, educational, and biodiverse gardens!
UMASS Amherst has led the way in integrating Permaculture Gardens into their campus’s landscape. Here is a sketch of their flagship garden, located right next to one of their dining facilities on campus in Amherst, MA.
The garden will hopefully also inspire more Stonehill students and staff to visit The Farm at Stonehill and learn more about food desert conditions in parts of Brockton to help to inspire more lasting solutions. In the future, the garden will also provide educational opportunities and living laboratory spaces for ecological and scientific research. It will bring together students, faculty, and staff from all different realms and disciplines and offer additional volunteer opportunities while being an outlet and source of inspiration for students during the school year.
A college campus is a perfect setting for implementing a permaculture garden as they are replicable, low-maintenance, scalable and can be adapted to suit anyone and in any climate! In addition, all of the food harvested from the garden will be available to the entire Stonehill Community, providing healthy and nutritious food grown from the campus itself!
In the past two weeks, we have been preparing the permaculture garden at the Farm for planting in the fall by outlining the beds with rocks and adding compost and mulch!
Watch the progression below!
Location for the Permaculture Garden test plot at The Farm at Stonehill.
Making progress! Thank you to Langwater Farm for the local rocks that we used to outline the beds.
“The Farm at Stonehill” brick at the entrance to the garden for a unique and authentic touch!
Farm Manger, Bridget and Summer Farmer, Chris, laying down a plastic ground cloth for the pathways to keep the weeds from taking over!
Adding mulch to the beds – a big thanks to all of the farmers, Bridget, Devin, Anna, Andrew, Chris, and Kaleigh for helping with the first stages of implementation of the garden.
Ready for planting! Here we will plant some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and flowers as well as some annual crops in our test plot at The Farm.
On another exciting note, the location of the on-campus garden is in the final stages of approval – it is located behind the split rail fence along the southern edge of Duffy Parking Lot behind the senior courts. We are very excited about this high visibility location that many students will pass on a daily basis! The garden beds will be planted with a variety of annual and perennial plants that will be maintained by students affiliated with the club Food Truth and under the supervision of Bridget Meigs, Farm Manager.
Proposed site for our Permaculture Garden on campus.
Once we receive approval, we are excited to begin sheet mulching on campus soon and begin planting our perennial crops in the fall! Sheet mulching is a no dig, no till gardening technique that reduces labor inputs, improves soil quality, prevents soil erosion, and improves plant health and productivity. Sheet mulching involves aerating the soil, reducing soil compaction while disturbing it a lot less than using a tractor, then covering the area with compost, organic matter that will improve soil health and add nutrients to the soil. The compost is then covered with a layer of cardboard or newspapers, which will prevent weeds from growing. Lastly, the area is covered by a mulch layer, which will hold in moisture and nutrients for the plants!
We can’t wait to continue the work on this project and begin to watch the garden grow!
Please contact me if you’d like to learn more and get involved in Food Truth or these garden projects: email@example.com.
I never cease to be amazed, enthralled, and at times worried by weather patterns that visit us here in New England during the busy growing season. Farmers in our region typically say that hot, dry weather is much more desirable than cool, wet conditions. This is because we can usually get water to the crops that need it the most during dry spells – be it through pressure-fed drip irrigation or, if need be, a hose with a water wand – however, we cannot keep the fields dry when heavy clouds pass through and leave puddles in their wake.
Thus far, our plants have not suffered terribly from the heat or from the rain. In fact, quite the opposite is occurring on our 1.5 acre vegetable and flower farm!
Thanks to hard working summer farmers, Devin, Alphonse, and Jake, our many volunteers and volunteer groups – including individuals participating in Camp Shriver, BostonWise!, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s New England Leadership Conference, an Old Colony YMCA Day Camp: Rise Up!, and students from Whitman-Hanson High School – and our Kubota tractor and Kuhn Rototiller, the plants in our fields are producing beautiful and delicious fruits and flowers!
This year we have harvested over 3,500 pounds of produce thus far – over 1,000 pounds more produce than last year at this time! Crops include 4 varieties of kale, 5 varieties of lettuce, summer squash, 2 varieties of zucchini, 5 varieties of onions, a number of different kinds of tomatoes (over 1,000 plants are growing away), 5 kinds of potatoes, green beans, sugar snap peas, herbs – including basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley, 2 varieties of eggplants, 2 varieties of cucumbers – one day we harvested over 160 pounds of them, and a number of different kinds of root vegetables.
We couldn’t accomplish all of this without the hard work of volunteers who join us each year from groups like the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s New England Leadership Conference.
In addition, some of the successes of our farm are directly related to the generosity of organizations like the Harold Brooks Foundation who provide funding for important farm equipment like our tractor and rototiller.
We are excited to share that this support continues! Just last week, Marie Kelly, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, informed us that we have been awarded a $15,000 grant from The Harold Brooks Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Co-Trustee for the second year in a row! We are very thankful for this support and plan to utilize these funds to sustainably produce more vegetables in the fields and increase the number of individuals who participate in and benefit from our central mission: to educate about and to address food desert conditions in our region.
Please enjoy some of the colorful images captured in the fields over the past few weeks!
I enjoy arriving at the farm each day a few minutes bit before the crew to walk the fields with Zuri and plan how we will spend the day – harvesting, cultivating (AKA weeding!), or planting seeds of fall successions of vegetables such as cabbage, kale, lettuce, spinach, carrots, or beets.
Once the students are hard at work harvesting the vegetables, I often find myself in the rows of flowers fulfilling orders for bouquets.
Surrounded by Black Eyed Susans, Zinnias, Snapdragons, Salvia, Sweet William, Strawflowers, Love in a Mist, and Sunflowers, I snip long stems and hum along with the bees who are busying themselves collecting nectar – pollinating as they go.
Sometimes the flowers have other exotic looking visitors…
The flowers double as our the sole on farm revenue generator, and also attract beneficial insects and their predators, and fill our fields with a cheerful array of colors.
The fields continue to produce and we zip around like busy bees, attempting to collect and share all of their bounty!
We reap the rewards of the hard work in the fields when we deliver the produce to our partners who often exclaim and smile when they see the diverse and colorful veggies arrive.
We are so very thankful for the opportunity to work with excellent partners at My Brother’s Keeper, The Table at Father Bill’s & MainSpring, The Family Life Center of The Old Colony YMCA, and The Easton Food Pantry, and for the support we receive from volunteers and organizations like The Harold Brooks Foundation to ensure that this work continues!
Today we constructed the herb spiral in our meditation garden at the farm. This has been something that I have been wanting to build and plant for years, so I was very excited to have the opportunity to spend the day with stones, gravel, sand, compost, and a good helper: student and farmer Greg (Class of 2014).
Herb spirals are a permaculture* design and offer a good way to grow a diverse array of herbs in a small space that is easy to water and harvest.
Using field stones from Langwater Farm, compost from Clover Valley Stables, sand, and gravel, and cardboard we went to work – a good project for a day with 90+ degree temperatures in the fields.
We started the project by laying cardboard on the ground and sketching out a spiral. We gave the cardboard a good soaking to help boost microbial activity in the sod that lay beneath it and slow weeds from growing in among the rocks. We then started to build the spiral stone wall in a clockwise fashion to mimic the natural way that water drains down a pipe in the northern hemisphere. The gravel went in first to help stabilize the spiral rock wall, and help the water escape in the event of a heavy rainfall.
After the gravel layer was in, we added a couple of inches of sand. The sand and the gravel both help with drainage and help to maintain heat in the soil.
Next we filled the spiral with a healthy planting mix of horse manure based compost.
Next, it was time to plant our herbs!
As the rocks warm, they will help to dehumidify the soil and the extended edge, wrapping in on itself, provides a wide diversity of conditions. We will plant herbs like rosemary, sage, and oregano near the top of the spiral as they require less moisture, and plant mint and other moisture loving herbs near the bottom of the structure.
We still have some important plantings to do around the garden, – perhaps some vibirnums and native grasses – but it is starting to feel more and more like a good space for quiet contemplation or a lively class discussion!
*“Permaculture design emphasizes patterns of landscape, function, and species assemblies. It asks the question, “Where does this element go? How can it be placed for the maximum benefit of the system?” To answer this question, the central concept of permaculture is maximizing useful connections between components and synergy of the final design.
The focus of permaculture, therefore, is not on each separate element, but rather on the relationships created among elements by the way they are placed together; the whole becoming greater than the sum of its parts.
For more information on how to build an herb spiral please visit this site.
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!
The past few morning at The Farm, I arrive to find that the fields are all dressed up in a sparkling and frosty coat.
This cooler weather brings with it a flurry of activity!
We have been harvesting the last crops, which include parsnips, kohlrabi, and cabbage.
We work together to remove drip tape and irrigation lines from the fields and wrap them up for next year.
We had to accomplish these projects by Friday, November 4th, before our friends (and their tractors) arrived from Langwater Farm to turn the fields one last time.
Before the fields were turned, I made sure to mark the rows, so that we can rotate our crops next year and grow healthy crops as we are mindful about keeping our soils healthy and nutrient rich.
Rory O’Dwyer arrived at the farm right on time, and within a couple of hours she and her John Deere and disc harrow transformed the fields!
A few hours later, Chuck Currie and Kevin O’Dwyer arrived with 2 more tractors to smooth the fields with a lighter harrow, spread winter rye seed, and incorporate the seed with the harrow.
According to UVM Extension: “Winter rye is an excellent winter cover crop because it rapidly produces a ground cover that holds soil in place against the forces of wind and water. Rye’s deep roots help prevent compaction in annually tilled fields, and because its roots are quite extensive, rye also has a positive effect on soil tilth.”
Rory, Kevin and Chuck completed their work in record time!
Yet again I am reminded how lucky we are to have such good neighbors. We are thankful for their help to make this first season such a success, and look forward to working together for many years to come.
The fields are now a bit bare, but soon the winter rye will germinate and a green, protective coat will adorn the fields for the colder months.
The quiet beauty of the winter is starting to make it’s voice heard.
Time to reflect upon this season is arriving, and plans for next season will not be far behind.
With the help of healthy soils, mild spring weather, and a growing crew of energetic volunteers, our crops are thriving and a diversifying harvest continues to come out of the field.
Each week we are collecting more kinds of roots…
from our fields…
…for our partners.
We aim to deliver enough fresh produce to this year’s 3 partners each week to provide at least 1 portion of produce to the individuals or families they serve. 1 portion could equate to 1/3 to 1/2 lb of kale or swiss chard, 5 beets, 2 to 3 zucchini or summer squash, or a large head of lettuce.
We are currently harvesting 75 portions for My Brother’s Keeper, 30 portions for the Old Colony YMCA and do one large bulk delivery for The Table at Father Bill’s and MainSpring to enrich the nutritious meals the serve up every day to over 150 people.
Come visit us soon and watch the yellow-greens of spring turn deepen to shades that only the long, warm days of summer can bring.
To be a farmer in the spring is to be presented with an endless list of projects and the opportunity to witness countless moments of beauty.
Passing thundershowers duel with gusty breezes and warm sun rays. The seedlings respond to all of these cues and grow.
Sun rays warm the fields in the magic light of sundown and paint the Farm in the springtime. The palate is full of shades that highlight the new life growing there: yellow-greens, soft yellows and light blues – tentative and seemingly shy. I watch each day as they deepen and develop a necessary toughness to weather life in the field.
Beets and Mustard Greens growing and toughening as their green color deepens.
We plan, we build, we plant and before we know it the sun is going down on another day that has been filled with important and endless decisions that will help us to create a growing, living world at The Farm.
Cirrocumulus clouds fill part of the sky as sundown’s magic light warms the field.