Gianna Desrochers was one of our hardworking summer farmers this season! She shares here about the highlights of her summer – and why you should grow some veggies with us or on your own.
The biggest thing I learned from working on the farm is how much work is put into growing produce.
Personally, I didn’t think much about how that plump, red tomato made it’s way on the grocery store’s shelves nor how much labor it took just to make it possible to be grown.
You start by making a hospitable environment for the seed, which means starting with fertile soil. This soil is put into seeding trays and the seeds then pushed into it, and are then watered until germination occurs. When the seedlings become strong enough to be grown in the crop beds, they are carefully taken out of the seeding trays and planted in the soil.
We made sure that the plants that need regular watering had drip tape in the soil of each of the rows, and we would patch them if a leak sprung out. These seedlings are checked on a daily basis, where we make sure they’re all happy in their new home.
Daily weeding of these areas is also necessary because the weeds would overwhelm the seedlings and would lead to competition of resources. When one area of weeding was finished, another area would be ready to be weeded, making it a never-ending cycle. I found this work to be difficult and time-consuming, especially on the hot summer days. I would have never realized this amount of work that is put into produce unless I personally experienced it, like I did here on the farm.
My favorite part of working on the farm was harvesting the produce we had successfully grown. I find it so rewarding to be able to see what we have worked so hard to get all season by harvesting. I also get to examine the plants, checking for any possible disease or pest issues, knowing that if I have a problem or a question, Bridget would be able to give me a great answer. I loved learning about the wildflowers and weeds that grew around the farm. Bridget would answer my constant questioning of what’s what from everything I found around the farm, whether it was a weed or a bug I found on one of the crops.
I really enjoyed working on the Farm at Stonehill because of the huge amount of things I have learned, varying from the mindfulness on how that tomato has made its way onto the supermarket’s shelves and all the knowledge of the plants we tended or grew freely on the farm.
It’s an experience that I ask everyone to try themselves because it really makes you think more about our food system and how that tomato really made its way into your grocery basket.
When entering the 2016-2017 school year, farming was probably one of the last things on my mind. I had signed up to take Sustainable Agriculture with Bridget as an elective, just because I thought it looked interesting. Little did I know, four months later I would be begging to travel join Bridget and Candice in Italy with their Origin of Resources LC, and eventually becoming part of the Summer Farm Team. Becoming part of the Summer Farm Team was one of the best decisions I have ever made and the year could not have played out more perfectly than it did. Things truly do happen for a reason.
When Summer began, I did not know what to expect. I had volunteered at the farm throughout the year, but a full-time position was a whole different ball game. The first few weeks were cold and were filled with hard work. We planted hundreds of crops, made hundreds of holes and pounded hundreds of stakes. While the work sounds tough (it was), it wasn’t at the same time. While accomplishing all of this hard work, I was surrounded by some of the most kind-hearted people you will ever meet. Bridget, Celia, Gianna, Jackie, Melissa and Michelle. These fellow farmers made the work not seem so hard, they made if fun and easy. Bridget’s amazing outlook and attitude towards everyday makes you want to put your heart into everything and it is truly inspiring.
Bridget is no doubt a great leader and an even more incredible person. She would constantly buy us iced coffees or frozen yogurt just to make our days that much better. She brought us to here barre classes and truly made us a part of her daily life. I also am a now a regular attendee of barre, and I am the only male so if males are reading this, support Bridget and come to barre! When Bridget wasn’t around, she left Michelle in charge. Michelle is a graduate and was a great leader for us. I may not act like it Michelle, but I look up to you and you would make an excellent assistant farm manager! The rest of us crew members did various different things and all contributed to the positive attitude and outlook that the team had every day. It really made this year fun and an amazing experience. If you don’t know the farmers, you should get to know them and become one yourself.
Being a Summer farmer also helped me learn many new things. Things I thought I would never know, I now do. I never thought I would learn all of these types of tomatoes, cucumbers or squash. I never thought I would squeeze potato beetles bare hand, but I did and I began to enjoy it. I may have even learned how to cook? The farm included so many questions, so many bugs, so many memories. I am saddened that the Summer has come to a close, but I will return to the farm throughout my senior year (which is bittersweet). To a Summer I will never forget, thank you!
This summer, we were lucky to have (from left to right) Melissa Mardo (2017), Michelle David (2017), Jackie Lerner (2019), Gianna Desrochers (2019), Alex Pica (2018) and Celia Dolan (2019) on our summer farmer crew – quite the dream team! For the next few weeks, we will give you and inside peek into what these summer farmers experience working at The Farm through guest posts.
We will begin with Celia Dolan (2019) who has been an essential member of our team for two growing seasons!
“Farming is in your blood,” he said.
I nodded my head in agreement with Jay McHugh, my distant cousin, whose pig farm I went to visit last weekend. Well, I’m not sure that it can be called a pig farm considering pigs no longer live there. In fact, it is hardly even a farm. Weeds have taken over, the barns have dilapidated, and equipment has rusted. For decades, miserly developers tried to buy the land from Jay and his father; a few times they stooped low enough to attempt to burn them out. After putting up such a big fight, it seems a shame to sell the land. Yet, that is what Jay decided to do. And it does not take much imagination to wonder why.
The farmer who once worked the land seems to have fallen apart alongside his fields. He is tired, needs knee replacements, and is anxious to move off his family farm. While we talked, he recalled times when his neighbors called to complain about his livestock grazing. In his area, there is little support of local farmers or open land. People push for progress, with money and bulldozers to do the pushing for them.
As I gazed at the drooping pasture gates and thriving weeds, I was reminded of how nature dictates our actions and how we are so closely tied to the land. However, I would never have recognized such a connection if I did not recently start working on a farm myself. In fact, I probably never would have visited my cousin’s pig farm in the first place.
Last summer, I volunteered at the Farm at Stonehill often enough to apply for a full-time position working there this summer. I loved it last summer and I have continued to love it this season. It seems that each day I learn something new at the farm.
We’ve eradicated potato beetles with the organic finger-pinching method. We’ve discussed blossom-end rot on tomatoes, types of mildew that attack plants, how to store seeds – we were even lucky enough to have a crash-course in rototiller tractor driving (though we have not actually done and driving or tilling)!
We learned about which battles you should choose to fight. Do you make a third attempt to grow produce in a hydroponic garden? Do you pull up weeds in an area that will soon be tilled, or simply till them under? Do you grow tomatoes next season when tomato blight seems to have a strong hold in the soil? Often, it seems there are no right or wrong answers. Rather, Bridget demonstrates how we take signs from the farm. She once said that unlike people, plants don’t tell you what they need. While this is true, I have learned that plants communicate in other ways.
They show us when they are thirsty, or hungry for nutrients. The plants communicate with each other, helping each other grow as the Three Sisters – beans, corn, squash – do. Or they try to tear each other apart, as weeds compete for nutrients, sun, and water. In this way, plants are not very different than people; they know what they want and they aren’t afraid to show it. When they do show it, we farmers act accordingly. We work for and with the plants.
We also work for and with each other. As a result, we have also learned a lot about human connections. Each farmer has asked questions, made suggestions, or offered ideas about the farm and how it operates. We divide up tasks and have our go-to harvest crops. For example, I usually meander through the summer squash rows, while Michelle proclaims that she is going to zucchini land and Alex peeks under prickly leaves to find cucumbers. Gianna gathers hundreds of cherry tomatoes and Jackie searches for eggplant. We share our knowledge with each other. If one of us notices something, like a new bug or suspicious mildew on a plant, we ask Bridget.
Our learning extends beyond the work day, as well. Bridget shares farm newsletters and emails that she receives from other local farmers. She helps us stay active, leading barre class every week. We’ve cooked and shared food with each other using fresh veggies from the farm. With all that we do, we see our hard work come full circle. From seeding, to transplanting, to harvesting to cooking, we have helped plants grow, and we have also grown alongside each other throughout the season. Walking through the farm and connecting with nature, I feel completely satisfied with our hard work.
Knowing what a healthy farm looks like made the dereliction of my cousin’s farm even more painful. I found myself teary-eyed over losing a farm that was never mine to begin with. I imagined what it must have been, could see what it looked like now, and feared what it would look like in a year. Pristine and identical houses would stand where pigs once roamed and where nettles grew now.
I wondered how someone could so easily give up on a farm that he had worked hard on his entire life. Working at the farm with Bridget and the other summer interns taught me so many valuable lessons that I could not learn anywhere else. I cannot thank her enough for sharing that with us and I would not trade a day that I have worked there for anything else.
So, if you have yet to visit the Farm at Stonehill, I highly recommend stopping by. Who knows what you might learn!
Guest Post by Stephen Siperstein, Adjuct Professor at Stonehill College, Writing Program
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.
“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 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.
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.
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).
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?
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!
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.
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.
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 are helping to keep any flooding in fields from damaging the plants.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the help of rich compost our crops and flowers are flourishing!
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
On September 12th, eleven students joined me at the farm to harvest sweet Sugar Pie Pumpkins, and 4 varieties of winter squash.
We worked in small teams to pluck, pile and weigh Butternut, Delicata, Carnival and Acorn Squash.
These pumpkins and winter squash are jam packed with Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium, Dietary Fiber and Manganese.
Roasted, steamed or sauteed, these veggies are delicious, filling and nutritious and definitely signal the final days of Summer and the onset of the Fall.
All tolled, we harvested 1120.22 pounds of pumpkins and winter squash.
Here is the breakdown: 661.38 lbs. of Pumpkins, 216.82 lbs. of Delicata Squash, 228.79 lbs. of Carnival Squash, 64.9 lbs. of Butternut Squash, and just a few random Acorn Squashes (8.33 lbs.)
Thank you Erin, Brandon, Nick, Michelle, Jackie, Ryan, Sage, Sam, Sean, Alex, and Kayla for coming over to help with the harvest! With your help we harvested over 1100 pounds of food in under 2 hours!
Just this morning, Beth from My Brother’s Keeper joined me at the farm to pick up a good chunk of yesterday’s harvest. As a result, we hope the sweet smell of roasted winter squash will fill the air in 75 Brockton homes this week.
The rest of the harvest will be delivered to our other partners within the next week or two, and can either be stored or cooked and eaten the day of delivery.
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.