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Community Guest Post Summer 2013 Summer Cultivation 2013 Summer Harvest 2013 Summer Volunteers 2013 The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Sun Gold Cherry, Indigo Rose, and the Pleasures of The Farm at Stonehill

Guest Post by Stephen Siperstein, Adjuct Professor at Stonehill College, Writing Program

A glorious fall-like day in August at The Farm.
A glorious fall-like day in August at The Farm. A great day for picking, planting, weeding, and simply enjoying the fresh air filtering down the rows of ripe veggies and colorful flowers out in the fields.

Was yesterday the first day of autumn?  The calendar said no, but the Farm at Stonehill shone brightly in the crisp, cool air.  A cloudless sky, a strong breeze, the smell of pine duff wafting over rows of ripening vegetables: I was glad that I had picked this day to volunteer.  However, once I got into the tomato rows, which were significantly warmer than the rest of the farm, I could tell that it would not be as enjoyable working here during the dog days of summer.  The rows heat up like an oven, and, as a former student of mine and former farm intern pointed out, the tomato plants are covered in a fine, nettle-like fuzz: not fun for hours of picking.

 Even with the realization that this was not a cool paradise but an environment requiring hard, hot work, I was nevertheless a little disappointed in myself that it had taken until August for me to make it across Washington Street.  Should have been here all summer long, I thought to myself.

As I walked through the rows, Jake Gillis, a rising senior and one of this summer’s interns, cheerfully called out to me and offered up a handful of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes.

Tomatoes in all of the colors of the rainbow!
Tomatoes in all of the colors of the rainbow! Tomatoes pictured here from upper right, going clockwise are Big Beef Tomato, Sun Gold Cherry Tomato, Indigo Rose Tomato, Red Pearl Red Grape Tomato – and Rose de Berne Tomatoes in the center.

“You should try these,” he said.  “We snack on them while we’re out in the fields harvesting.”

So I tried.  And I thanked him, because the name is apt; I suddenly had a mouth filled with golden sunshine.  Glorious.  I have always loved tomatoes, but these were some of the best and sweetest I had ever tasted.  Amazing that there can be so much pleasure in a tiny orange fruit.  Orange, you wonder.  I have come to learn that most tomatoes are not actually just red; they are infinite shades of red, yellow, green, purple, pink, and orange.  And usually, the ones that aren’t the expected shade of red are the ones filled with the most pleasure.

Big Beet Tomatoes - a variety we are accustomed to seeing.
Big Beet Tomatoes – a variety we are accustomed to seeing. They are delicious, don’t get us wrong, but trying all of the different varieties is a real treat.

Big chain grocery stores and fast food burger commercials might have us believe otherwise, but they are misleading.  Tomatoes grown in a place like The Farm aren’t the perfectly red, spherical, plastic-looking items you can pick up in the produce aisle.  They are multi-hued, oddly shaped, and sometimes, like in the case of the heirloom variety called Indigo Rose, they look and taste a little strange.  Strange, but pleasurable.

Nubia Eggplant - not as purple as those we are used to seeing in most grocery stores, but more tender and definitely delicious!
Nubia Eggplant – not as purple as those we are used to seeing in most grocery stores, but more tender and definitely a tasty alternative. Hooray for diversity!

The great poet and agriculturalist Wendell Berry has written about the pleasure that comes from knowing, and eating, one’s own food.  He explains that “A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes,” and that “[those] people who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown…and remember the beauty of the growing plants” will more easily attain such consciousness.  The Farm at Stonehill is a haven where such consciousness, and such pleasure, is possible.  Just try a Sun Gold cherry or an Indigo Rose (which some say tastes like licorice when slightly under ripe) while standing in the hot but beautiful fields, and you will taste it.  Or ask the interns and volunteers who have been working here through the summer.

Red Pearl Red Grape Tomatoes - ready to be weighed and then delivered.
Red Pearl Red Grape Tomatoes – ready to be weighed and then delivered.

You might protest that I’m making a big deal out of a little fruit, freighting it with a kind of pastoral, agricultural fantasy, or imagining that it is only by being at The Farm (which is a great privilege for those of us at Stonehill and our guests who visit from surrounding communities) and standing in its fields, that one can enjoy a tomato.  Such a fantasy would belie the hard work that goes into the fruit.  Furthermore, it would belie the fact that people depend on it.  It’s just food, you might say.  And I would agree.  First and foremost, a tomato is food, not a bucolic charm.

Later that afternoon, after the interns, Bridget, and I had harvested over 150 pounds (a good haul for an early season harvest) of tomatoes of various varieties, we hopped into the farm’s pickup truck to bring the multi-colored bounty to the nearby Easton Food Pantry and My Brother’s Keeper.  As we were unloading boxes outside the Food Pantry, an older couple walked out with a few bags of food.  We offered them some of the fresh tomatoes to add to what they had, and though they were at first hesitant, they eventually accepted.  We made sure that they tried a few different varieties.  At My Brother’s Keeper, we chatted with Beth Collins, who organizes the food distribution there.  Anyone in the Easton and Brockton area who is having trouble getting food for the week can call up My Brother’s Keeper and get a box of food, no questions asked.  Beth makes sure also to include info in those boxes about the different kinds of produce, with recipes and suggestions about how to prepare them, just in case someone doesn’t know what to do with a purple tomato or potato (as few of us would).

Rocky Ford Muskmelon - an Heirloom Variety that we found in The High Mowing Organic Seed company's catalog.
Rocky Ford Muskmelon – an heirloom variety that we found in The High Mowing Organic Seed company’s catalog.  These are still ripening up, but we are looking forward to sharing these sweet melons soon.

            Berry writes, “The pleasure of eating should be an extensive pleasure, not that of the mere gourmet.”  Berry thinks that the pleasure of eating should be extensive, meaning that it should extend out from plants to people, from fruits to taste buds (and not just the taste buds of the foodies or the gourmands, but everyone’s taste buds), from farm to community.  In such a vision, a farm and the food that is grown there becomes, like the tomato plant’s roots that bind the soil, the connective tissue that bonds the community.  Extensive becomes another word for democratic, and the farm embodies democracy in the most radical way: having to do with roots.

With Bridget, the interns, and volunteers working through both the glorious and sometimes more humid or rainy days, The Farm at Stonehill flourishes with its partners, weaving the roots of community.  And by so doing its pleasures are not confined to the rows of plants themselves, but are tasted in many homes.  The Farm connects so many of us through its food and its pleasures, because really, why should the two be separate?

 

Categories
Community Reflections Summer 2013 Summer Cultivation 2013 Summer Harvest 2013 Summer Volunteers 2013 The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Productive Plants Weather New England’s Heat and Rain

photo of sunset
Another beautiful and dramatic summer sun sets on a another full and productive day in the fields.

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!

photo of summer Straight Neck Summer Squash, Galine Eggplants, and Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes.
Straight Neck Summer Squash, Galine Eggplants, and Sun Gold Cherry Tomatoes.

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!

Camp Shriver participants take a break with Zuri after harvesting over 7 pounds of Green Beans for us!
Camp Shriver participants take a break with Zuri after harvesting over 7 pounds of Green Beans for us!

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.

An organic variety of kale called Ripbor is producing well for us this year!
An organic variety of kale called Ripbor is producing well for us this year!

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.

An excellent group of volunteers participating in the New England Leadership Conference helped us weed our winter squash and harvest our first row of potatoes on a day with 95 degree heat - no complaints!
An excellent group of volunteers participating in the New England Leadership Conference helped us weed our winter squash and harvest our first row of potatoes on a day with 95 degree heat – no complaints!

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.

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Please enjoy some of the colorful images captured in the fields over the past few weeks!

photo of A flower on one of our tomato plants - soon to become a sweet, flavorful fruit!
A flower on one of our tomato plants – soon to become a sweet, flavorful fruit!

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photo of An organic plum tomato variety called Granadero is producing beautiful fruit - soon to become red and delicious!
An organic plum tomato variety called Granadero is producing beautiful fruit – soon to become red and delicious!

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.

photo of A beautiful variety of Black Eyed Susan - "Cherry Brandy" - adds a sophisticated flare to the bouquets.
A beautiful variety of Black Eyed Susan – “Cherry Brandy” – adds a sophisticated flare to the 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.

photo of A honeybee makes her approach to a radiant zinnia.
A honeybee makes her approach to a radiant zinnia.

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photo of A honeybee - hard at work!
A honeybee – hard at work!

Sometimes the flowers have other exotic looking visitors…

photo of A dragonfly
A dragonfly takes a rest on one of the zinnias.

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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.

Sweet William - the prettiest smelling perfume in the field!
Sweet William – bearer of the prettiest smelling perfume in the field!

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photo of salvia
Salvia – a honeybee’s heaven on earth!

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.

Fields of plenty - quietly producing!
Fields of plenty – quietly producing!

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!

Categories
Community Community Partners Summer 2013 Summer Cultivation 2013 Summer Harvest 2013 Summer Volunteers 2013 The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Long (mostly) Sunny Days Yield Bountiful Fields

The fields are producing veggies and flowers galore for us this summer. We’ve already harvested and donated over 800 pounds of our organic veggies – mostly lettuce, greens like kale, collards, and chard, onions, zucchini, and summer squash.  Our yields are higher than last year, due to careful cultivation and applications of rich compost, and we expect them to really explode now that the heavier crops like cucumbers and summer squash as starting to appear.

Beth of My Brother's Keeper picks up summer squash and kale on June 27th for their clients in Brockton.
Beth Sheehan of My Brother’s Keeper picks up summer squash and kale on June 27th for their clients in Brockton.

The veggies are all finding homes with our partners: The Easton Food Pantry, My Brother’s Keeper, The Family Life Center of the Old Colony YMCA, and The Table at Father Bill’s & MainSpring.

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So far, the rain has not impacted our production in a negative way, but we are keeping an eye out for any sign of Early Blight on our tomatoes or Downy Mildew in the squash.

Raised Beds help to keep the tomatoes and eggplants dry - reducing the possible spread of diseases like Early Blight.
Raised Beds help to keep the tomatoes and eggplants dry – reducing the possible spread of diseases like Early Blight.

Raised beds are helping to keep any flooding in fields from damaging the plants.

Squash, Pepper and Zucchini Plants - healthy and starting to produce fruits and flowers.
Squash, Pepper and Zucchini Plants – healthy and starting to produce fruits and flowers.

When the sun does shine, honeybees return to the fields and love the clover that grows around the shed and greenhouse. This is MOSTLY a good thing, except for bare or flip flop clad feet of unaware farmers – namely, Farmer Manager Meigs. I managed to get 2 stings this past week, one on my right pinkie toe and the other, a few days later on the arch of my left foot. Here is what I learned:

1. Remove the stinger ASAP.

2. If you work on a farm, grab an onion, break it open and rub it on the effected area!

I was much better at these steps the second time around!

(I suppose I could also wear close-toed shoes… but that’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?)

Honeybee hard at work - beware barefooted farmers!
Honeybee hard at work – beware barefooted farmers!

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We are happy to bear witness to the changing colors of the fields – from greens to golds in the rows of summer squash, and a wide array colors in our flower beds.

Early bouquets arranged for a celebration for Father Mark Creagan in Boston in early June.
Early bouquets arranged for a celebration for Father Mark Cregan in Boston in early June.

There is something magical about the way that seemingly overnight the yellow flowers appear on the squash, cucumber and tomato plants and white and purple flowers bloom on the eggplant and potato plants.

Summer Squash ready for the picking on June 28th.
Summer Squash ready for the picking on June 28th.

The nutrients and moisture in the soil and the energy from the sun provide most of the fuel for the bounty appearing in the fields, but some of the credit also goes to my 3 hard working summer farmers, Devin, Jake, and Alphonse, and to the volunteers.

Jake and Alphonse - on the hunt for Colorado Potato Beetles.
Jake and Alphonse – on the hunt for Colorado Potato Beetles in one of the rows of eggplant.
"Harvested" Colorado Potato Beetles - before they were disposed of.
“Harvested” Colorado Potato Beetles – before they were disposed of.

On Friday afternoons, a number of students working in Admission and some of our college staff  appear on the scene to help us tackle larger projects like hilling the potatoes.

Volunteers hill 5 rows of potatoes with us on Friday afternoon.
Volunteers hill 5 rows of potatoes with us on Friday afternoon.

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Abbey, Christina, Tom, and Anthony pause for a quick smile before going back to work.
Abbey, Christina, Tom, and Anthony pause for a quick smile before going back to work.

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Our youngest volunteer this season, Liam, plays in the compost while mom, Kim Wheeler, works in the fields.
Our youngest volunteer so far this season, Liam, plays in the compost while mom, Kim Wheeler (in blue), works in the field with Lisa Gualtieri.

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Alphonse makes sure that Liam doesn't eat too much compost ;).
Alphonse makes sure that Liam doesn’t eat too much compost!

Sometimes we are lucky enough to receive an extra hand on weekdays or on a Saturday from Stonehill alums or from local groups looking to lend a hand.

Farmer Devin and Volunteer Evan Sorgi (2013) weed a row of beets.
Farmer Devin and Volunteer Evan Sorgi (2013) weed a row of beets.

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A welcome surprise visit from Nick Howard (2013) - still growing smiles!
A welcome surprise visit from Nick Howard (2013) – still growing smiles!

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Two members of a Loyola University Alumni volunteer group help us stake "Tomatoes 2".
Two members of a Loyola University Alumni volunteer group help us stake “Tomatoes 2”.

Zuri keeps busy protecting our tender greens by warding off bunnies.  She then enjoys joining us for a rest during lunch before heading out for her afternoon rounds.

The team takes lunch!
The team takes lunch!

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On my morning and afternoon strolls around the fields, it’s easy to feel like I can actually SEE the squash and cukes growing right before my eyes.

Marie helps to hill and feed the potatoes.
Marie helps to hill and feed the potatoes.

With the help of rich compost our crops and flowers are flourishing!

Devin and Jake help fill up a van from My Brother's Keeper.
Devin and Jake help fill up a van from My Brother’s Keeper.

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Flower bouquets out for delivery on campus.
Flower bouquets out for delivery on campus.

We invite you to come join us for a visit or a quick hour or two of planting, harvesting or… you guessed it… weeding!

If you would like to place a flower order, please email me and we’ll create an arrangement filled with Snapdragons, Cosmos, Zinnias, Black Eyed Susan, Sweet William, Salvia and Statice (bmeigs@stonehill.edu).

Early flower bouquets.
Early flower bouquets.