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Community Summer 2015 The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Season Five Arrives – Our Community Thrives!

After one of the snowiest winters on record, the promised and long-awaited spring arrived.  As the last of the ice and snow melted away in early April, I looked out at the fields and tried to envision what our fifth season would offer.

Zuri enjoys a sunny spring day at The Farm on April 15th - the fields finally in view after feet of snow melt away.
Zuri enjoys a sunny spring day at The Farm on April 15th – the fields finally in view after feet of snow melt away.

Every year, the fields wake up and transform – via the help of volunteers and now, our summer farmers – into neat, and colorful rows of vegetables and flowers – but what will this year bring?

Tulips brightened up The Farm early on as we await the reds of tomatoes, the yellows of summer squash, and the deep green of cucumbers.
Tulips brightened up The Farm early on as we await the reds of tomatoes, the yellows of summer squash, and the deep green of cucumbers.

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As our fifth season begins, I am keenly aware of all of the people who lend a hand at The Farm and I am filled with gratitude for their enthusiastic support!  Here are just a few key relationships that I’d like to highlight as our fifth season shifts into high gear:

For farming advice or to get help with soil tillage I know that I can always turn to our friends at Langwater Farm.

All it takes is a quick call up the street to Kevin or Kate O’Dwyer to set up visits from members of their crew to either arrange for some chisel plowing to help maintain soil health, or to lay plastic beds for full season crops like tomatoes and flowers.

Jim Lawrence from Langwater Farm chisel plows our field on April 23rd.
Jim Lawrence from Langwater Farm chisel plows our field on April 23rd.

It is important to vary the depth of tillage in our fields in order to avoid creating “hard pan” conditions at 6 inches – the depth that our rototiller reaches.

The tines of the Chisel Plow go down about 12-14 inches.
The tines of the Chisel Plow go down about 12-14 inches.

The plastic mulch is laid with a line of drip tape which helps us provide a consistent amount of moisture to crops like tomatoes, peppers, onions, flowers, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash.  These beds have been especially important this summer with the warm and dry conditions we have been experiencing.

Justin Clark of Langwater Farm works with me on May 4th to lay out plastic mulch beds.
Justin Clark of Langwater Farm works with me on May 4th to lay out plastic mulch beds.

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Spring is a time of new life, and it is always exciting to welcome the youngest members of our community to The Farm.  Since the first season at The Farm, we have worked very closely with Beth Collins at My Brother’s Keeper to distribute our produce via their 84 weekly home deliveries.  As our first greens started to come out of Hoophouse #2 this spring, Beth visited us with her son Teddy to chat about how we can continue to grow desirable and delicious vegetables for the clients of My Brother’s Keeper.

Beth and Teddy Collins visit The Farm on April 28th to discuss production and delivery goals for the season.
Beth and Teddy Collins visit The Farm on April 28th to discuss production and delivery goals for the season.

Lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and pumpkins are some of the most popular veggies, and we look forward to donating them as the season unfolds.

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The Farm also serves as a living classroom for faculty and students at Stonehill College.  Some of these projects have been growing with us for years – you might remember posts about Father Steve Wilbricht’s grapes for his Sacraments course, and the honeybee project led by Devin Ingersoll (2014) and Jess Lantos (2014).

father steve grapes2
Father Steve Wilbricht visits on May 20th to prune and feed his Concord and Niagara grapes.

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Our bees survived the winter and are more productive than ever!
Our bees survived the winter and are more productive than ever! The folks from Best Bees of Boston visit us monthly to give us updates on their productivity and health.

This spring, a number of students worked on independent research projects with me at The Farm to see projects they had started last summer or during the their sustainable agriculture course in the fall to fruition.  They ranged from permaculture gardens at The Farm and on campus to biochar plots, from edible forest gardens to calculating real food in our dining commons, and from studies on soil health to towergardens.  The energy that these students bring to their projects at The Farm is inspiring and is what keeps us strong, vibrant, and productive!  Here are images from just a few of the projects to give you a sense of the positive energy that the students bring to their work – a key ingredient to their success.

PERMACULTURE

Christine Moodie (2015) and Zuri planting strawberries in the on campus permacutlure garden near Amesbury.
Christine Moodie (2015) and Zuri planting strawberries in the on campus permacutlure garden near Amesbury.
Christine plants Garden of Eden Pole Beans in a Three Sisters Plot in the permaculture garden at The Farm.
Christine plants Garden of Eden Pole Beans in a Three Sisters Plot in the permaculture garden at The Farm.

BIOCHAR

Colin Walker (2015) (left) gets a hand from Melissa Mardo (2017) setting up his biochar test plots.
Colin Walker (2015) (left) gets a hand from Melissa Mardo (2017) setting up his biochar test plots.

EDIBLE FOREST GARDEN

Hayley Bibaud (2017) plants a peach tree in the edible forest garden she created in the northeast corner of The Farm.
Hayley Bibaud (2017) plants a peach tree in the edible forest garden she created in the northeast corner of The Farm.

TOWER GARDEN

e and a towergarden
Ellen Edgerton (2017) and Abby Bongaarts (2015) offer a smoothie making workshop at in the Atrium at Shields with kale produced on the Tower Garden.

REAL FOOD – FOOD TRUTH

Melissa Mardo (2017), also serving as a summer farmer this season, started to calculate how much Real Food (local, sustainably, fairly traded or humanely raised) food Stonehill currently purchases (second from right in the back row).
Melissa Mardo (2017), also serving as a summer farmer this season, started to calculate how much Real Food (local, sustainably, fairly traded or humanely raised) food Stonehill currently purchases (second from right in the back row).

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Another important relationship to highlight is that of our farm as a home to biodiversity – including native pollinators, toads, honeybees from our Best Bees of Boston hive, and our killdeer families.  We strive to create a farm that is as an agroecosystem an ecosystem under sustainable agricultural management that is both an ecosystem unto itself and connected to the surrounding ecosystem.  As such, I am always thrilled to see the killdeer come back every year and to watch them produce healthy broods.  This year we think our pair is so pleased with our farm as a home that they are having 2 broods – 4 nestlings hatched on May 11th, and there are currently 3 eggs in a row of onions.

A killdeer parent actively protects her eggs in early May.
A killdeer parent actively protects her eggs in early May.
Happy bees - hard at work on
Happy bees – hard at work on May 6th.

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Last, but definitely not least, our student and staff volunteers make our farm what it is – one that grows  both vegetables and community.  Whether we are planting potatoes or delivering seedlings to community or school gardens in Brockton, it is more common than not for our crew to offer up a smile or two as they work.

Anna Tallmadge (2015) helps to hoe a row for potatoes on May 1st.
Anna Tallmadge (2015) helps to hoe a row for potatoes on May 1st.
Devin preps a few trays of seedlings to support some community gardens in Broctkon.
Devin preps a few trays of seedlings to support some community gardens in Broctkon.

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As we enter our fifth season, I am looking forward to seeing all of the places that these strong and positive relationships can take us!

The fields are filling up with seedlings! Chris Landfield, one of our summer farmers, pauses to take it in with me after staking a couple of rows of sugar snap peas on May 27th.
The fields are filling up with seedlings! Chris Landfield (2016), one of our summer farmers, pauses to take it in with me after staking a couple of rows of sugar snap peas on May 27th.

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Three new born killdeer chicks start out life at The Farm at Stonehill.
Three newly hatched Killdeer chicks start out life at The Farm at Stonehill.
Categories
Community Spring 2014 Spring Cultivation Spring Volunteers 2014 The Farm at Stonehill Volunteer

Elements of a Living Canvas

Spring is a miraculous time to be a farmer – it is a time of creativity, renewed energy and productivity.

On these cooler days in May the fields appear to be a blank canvas that we are given the opportunity to fill up with colorful, nutritious crops.  We start each growing season with the memory of bountiful fields – thousands of plants producing fruits faster than we can harvest them – as we look out at many open rows waiting to be filled with tiny, seemingly vulnerable seedlings.  With the knowledge that these small, fragile seedlings often grow rapidly into strong, vibrant plants, we forge ahead and begin to paint the farm once again.

photo of Volunteers plant sunflowers and onions in early May.
Volunteers plant sunflowers and onions in early May.

The volunteers are plentiful and eager to help the farm have another successful year!  During the months of April and May we often welcomed 25-30 helpers each Friday who quickly got right to work: planting, mulching, watering and prepping beds.  We have them to thank for the rows and rows of healthy plants that are growing along beautifully now on these longer, warmer days.

photo of so many seedlings to plant
I choose a tray of zinnia seedlings for Ryan and Jeremy to plant on a sunny Farm Friday.

The plants are adapting well to the somewhat harsher environment that lies outside of the protective hoophouse, and with some water and time in the sun they start to grow.  We can’t help but anticipate all of the delicious flavors that our first harvests of High Mowing Mesclun Mix, Shanghi Green Pac Choi and Deer Tongue Lettuce will bring to the table.

photo of busy farm volunteer hours
Busy farm volunteers water and plant flowers, onions, collards and kale.

In addition to careful planting, the light and heat from the sun, and nutrients in the soil, our crops will also require water and some help competing with the weeds to ensure that they achieve their full potential.  Volunteers assist in the important tasks of rolling out the irrigation “lay-flat” tubes and drip tape and delivering mulch to the fields.

photo of tijana and dan unroll the drip lines
Tijana and Dan help unroll the lay-flat that will carry water to the drip tape that will water the plants in the fields.

We are experimenting with doing some more mulching between the rows this season using hay purchased at the end of the last season and newly purchased salt marsh hay.  This mulch will add organic material back to the soil and allow us to cut back on hours spent weeding and weed whacking!

photo of mulching
Sarah, Kaylie and Devin transport seasoned hay out to the field to mulch the areas between the rows.
photo of spreading out the mulch - adding organic content and suppressing weeds
Devin helps to spread the mulch between rows of sunflowers, zinnias and onions.

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In addition to volunteer groups, a number of classes visit the farm regularly to deepen lessons introduced in the classrooms across the street.  The Farm was the subject of this year’s Faculty Focus piece, created by our marketing team to highlight how a number of faculty members are utilizing The Farm as an outdoor learning space.

photo of Father Steve's students help with the grapes
Father Steve’s students help to cultivate the grapes.

Father Steve Wilbricht is one of the faculty who is utilizing the farm as a living classroom. He is committed to growing grapes with the help of his class on the Sacraments and can often be found weeding, watering and monitoring the health of the grapevines at The Farm.

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One strategy to ensure productivity or all of our crops involves supporting our populations of pollinators, both native and imported.  This year we are adding a hive of Italian honeybees to the farm, which will be managed by the beekeepers of The Best Bees Company in Boston.  This addition to The Farm is the result of a Sustainable Agriculture semester long project by students Devin Ingersoll and Jess Lantos – both members of the Class of 2014.

photo of bees arrive Best Bees
10,000 bees arrive at The Farm with a Best Bees Beekeeper on May 16th.

The construction of our second hoophouse is another current exciting activity at The Farm, and is also the result of a student project.  In my Sustainable Agriculture class last spring, Dan Gardiner (Class of 2014) and Jack Bressor (Class of 2013) outlined how we could extend our growing and learning season at The Farm with the addition of a second growing structure like this.  With the help of a second year of funding from the Harold Brooks Foundation we were able to purchase the supplies to make the addition this spring.

photo of hoophouse going in
Chuck and John set the ground posts for Hoophouse #2.

Despite their own busy spring at Freedom Food Farm in Raynham, MA, Farmers Chuck Currie and John White are making some time to put up the hoophouse for us. We plan to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and other warm weather crops in this structure during the summer and then chard, kale, lettuce and other greens during the colder months.

photo of pounding in the stakes
Sledge hammers, bulb augers, a level and pure, hard work are the most important tools for pounding in the ground posts.

One of the unexpected benefits of this construction project includes temporary perching for local tree swallows. Seeing them enjoy this space reminds me of the lessons I teach in the classroom – we are part of a larger ecosystem here at The Farm and have an important duty to be stewards to the land and to support the biodiversity that thrives on the farm and in the fields and trees that surround us.

photo of Sparrows enjoy ground posts
Tree Swallows enjoy the view from the ground posts after construction is done for the day.

We have also seen toads, bees, crickets, robins, bluebirds, nesting killdeer and many other creatures at The Farm this spring, which encourages us to continue to think about ways to provide a diverse habitat as we simultaneously work to grow, harvest and deliver our crops to nurture the human members of our community.

photo of Killdeer in the lettuce
A Killdeer sits on her nest which she chose to build in the shade of a Red Oakleaf Lettuce seedling.

I was relieved to see that this Killdeer (pictured above) decided to lay her eggs in a row after it had been planted it with seedlings.  She actively defends her nest whenever we approach the area to plant or weed in a nearby row.  We are happy to let her have this head of lettuce and hope that she stays in this part of the field out of harms way of the rototiller or a hoe.

photo of Summer Farmer Chris plants onions with Jeremy, our new Farm "Into the Streets" coordinator.
Summer Farmer Chris plants onions with Jeremy, our new Farm “Into the Streets” coordinator.

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photo of Summer farmers planting
Summer Farmers Kayleigh and Andrew plant out the last of the onions in late May.

This summer, 3 summer farmers will be helping to care for our farm: Kayleigh McDonnell, Andrew Curran and Chris Astephen.  Together we will work with the volunteers, visitors, killdeer, bees, community members, and whatever the weather brings us to grow vegetables and flowers.

photo of seedling enjoy the hoophouse head as they prepare for life in the field
A view of The Farm through Hoophouse #1 – thousands of plants that will soon be moved out into the fields to grow.

We are keeping busy moving the seedlings from Hoophouse #1 into the fields and have started to harvest a few things – lettuce and Pac Choi – for our community partners and the people that they serve.

photo of first harvest
First harvest of colorful Mesclun Mix – delivered to the Easton Food Pantry on May 19th.

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Season #4 is officially underway… looking forward to seeing what new elements we can add to this year’s masterpiece.

Visit us at The Farm or on Facebook to see it all unfold.

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!