It is a wintery day in Easton, and as the wind whips and snowflakes fly past the window, I fill my cup with hot tea and my head with vibrant images of our farm on warmer days.
It is hard to believe that 2015 was already our fifth season, and our production (exceeding 15,000 pounds), new programs (the Mobile Market), increase in use as a living classroom (more professors and students learning at the farm), and growing family (volunteers and community gardeners) illustrate a clear shift from “chick to fledgling” stage in our development as a farm community.
Our seed order is almost complete and plans for our next season abound, but pausing to reflect on the past five seasons, I’m amazed at how our farm continues to thrive and extend its reach into Brockton and Easton.
This season we forged new relationships in the community and entered new territory when we piloted our Mobile Market this fall in the parking lot of Trinity Baptist Church and The Family Center (1367 Main St). Starting on September 16, 2015, and for the following six weeks, we drove our farm truck to this address and set up a veggie stand.
This program, supported by a $5,000 grant from Project Bread, allows us to partner more closely with organizations like UMASS Nutrition Services and sell some of our organic produce at or below market prices directly to consumers in parts of Brockton that lack easy access to healthy, fresh produce.
Thanks to a generous donation of a Sprinter Van from Craig and Lisa Hyslip, we will be able to transport our veggies to our Mobile Market locations in an environment that protects them from heat, rain, and other kinds of conditions that can impact freshness. We are currently working with students and staff in Stonehill’s Marketing Department to create a colorful, festive logo that conveys the bounty and health the market will bring wherever it goes! We will share market dates, locations, and times by the springtime – we are hoping to offer markets two days per week at two different locations.
As always, we will continue to donate the majority of our produce to our four main community partners: The Easton Food Pantry, My Brother’s Keeper, The David Jon Louison Center of the Old Colony YMCA and The Table at Father Bill’s & MainSpring.
Our farm thrives because of the energy brought in by our visitors – the students and staff who volunteer, the insects that pollinate, and the classes that come to learn – and the gifts of the farm – new friendships, honey made from the nectar, and knowledge learned through experiences.
This season, six faculty utilized The Farm as a space to teach about sustainability. Disciplines included Philosophy, Political Science, Art, Environmental Science, Eco-spirituality and Ecology, and the farm hummed with the energy and activity that these classes brought to the fields. In a Learning Community called The Origin of Resources: From Farm to Studio, co-taught by me and Candice Smith Corby, our students learned about sustainable food production and how to create natural pigments and dyes from some of the plants growing at The Farm. With this course, more than any other I have had the opportunity to teach, I learned and subsequently taught about how to preserve the flavors and the beauty of the harvest. This learning occurred in the fields in the company of Candice, our students, and through the teachings of generous guest teachers like Chef Geoff Lukas and Farmer Linda Reinhardt.
These relationships serve to increase my hunger for knowledge about how to sustainably grow food to increase food security, to maintain healthy, biodiverse landscapes, and to understand and celebrate the traditions that support these kinds of connections with the land.
A relationship is growing with the land that surrounds our production fields. We often see monarch butterflies in our fields, pausing in the flower beds before moving on to an abutting field to find their beloved milkweed.
We have also witnessed the hue of the honey produced by our bees deepen over the course of the season. We know this is because they tend to visit more goldenrod in the fall months. With the long, warm fall this past season our bees were so productive that Best Bees of Boston was able to harvest and provide us with over 75 pounds of honey from our hive!
It is our hope that the bees also enjoyed the flowers that we planted in our fields and that also served as bouquets for staff and students – as well as two brides who chose our flowers to help them celebrate on their wedding day.
While productivity of our crops and activity in the fields certainly slows during the colder months of the year, I am pleased to report that spinach planted in our second hoophouse in October is thriving. We will continue to explore other methods of season extension (utilizing more high tunnels, production of micro-greens and maintaining the TowerGarden on campus) in order to learn about the optimum conditions for sweet, nutritious crops at The Farm.
I have come to believe that the success of a farm is tightly linked to the people who choose to spend time elbow deep in the dirt in many different kinds of weather. In our fields each summer I am always impressed by my hard-working and dedicated summer crew and during the school year it is common to welcome twenty to thirty volunteers to work the fields every week. I am so thankful for all of their hard work and also for my growing ties with other local growers like my friends at Langwater, Round the Bend, Brix Bounty, Freedom Food Farm, Tangerini’s, and Second Nature Farm.
I feel lucky to know that students like Madison and Emily will be ready to meet me when the snow and wind abate – to shovel out the hoophouse once again – and pretty soon plant seeds for the 2016 season!
Over the past five seasons, I have come to learn that these students, the faculty and staff who teach and volunteer at the farm, the folks who receive the produce we grow, and the other local farmers and farming networks ARE The Farm at Stonehill.
I have learned so much from you all and I cannot wait to see where we go from here!