With temperatures falling into the teens at night for much of March, it feels like an understatement to say we have had a slow start to spring here in Easton, MA. In his poem, “I Have a Rendezvous With Life, ” Countee Cullen includes the line “I have a rendezvous with Life, When spring’s first heralds hum.” This year it is almost as if Spring is waking up a bit late and almost lackadaisically going about getting herself ready for a very important date with the calendar. Rest assured, I’m confident that the tilt of the earth and the intensifying sun rays will hurry her along and these colder days will be replaced by warmer days before we know it!
At The Farm at Stonehill, we are making good use of this slower start to the season to organize our growing spaces and to plant early crops like onions, greens and flowers to ensure a productive fourth season! Regular “Farm Friday” volunteer hours will recommence on April 10th promptly at 2:30, but thankfully some of the students have started to appear at The Farm to lend a hand even though they must do so clad in hats, gloves and windbreakers to keep out the chill.
Volunteers have helped to clean up our hoophouse to make way for trays upon trays of seedlings that are currently germinating in the greenhouse at Shields Science Center.
Some of the projects seem small, but to the farmers at Stonehill, an organized hoophouse, is satisfying and beautiful thing to behold – especially when we picture the tables filled with trays teeming with a diverse array of crops!
It won’t be long before these onion seeds have germinated and turn from brown to green (or red and purple)…
…like these beets,
…and these Mesclun Mix seedlings.
In addition to our intrepid volunteers, we have had other visitors to The Farm, like Candidate for Lieutenant Governor James Arena-Derosa in Massachusetts. One of the main focuses of his campaign is “Ending Hunger While Creating Jobs” and he took some time while he was on campus to visit with me and Professor Chris Wetzel at The Farm and also meet with students in my Sustainable Agriculture class to share his views on the matter. We all enjoyed his visit and wish him the best of luck with his campaign.
Unlikely as it may seem, Spring is arriving and bringing the sensation of softer fields underfoot, the lively whooshing of running water in the melting streams, and the cheerful songs of Spring Peepers and Robins.
It won’t be long before Season #4 is in full swing!
Every once and awhile it is important to leave the farm to see what other farmers are producing and how they go about doing it! On the weekend of April 13th, Zuri and I took 8 students up to the beautiful state of Vermont to do just that.
We traveled to Montpelier, the state’s capital, where we were warmly welcomed by Jack’s parents and quickly introduced to the generous hospitality of this small and strong state where local and enticing goods are produced, marketed, consumed, treasured and enjoyed.
Early April equals the “Mud Season” in VT and much of New England, but that doesn’t keep hardy Vermonters (and weekend guests) from walking in the woods.
Over the course of the next couple of days we visited a number of businesses, such as:
…before we headed up to Hardwick to visit Highfields Composting and Claire’s Restaurant.
Our first day was filled with many planned and unplanned lessons on the many ways to be environmentally and economically sustainable and the related challenges. On our drive, we saw fields filled with solar panels and a biodiesel station. Cam Hill reflects on the solar fields here:
While driving through Vermont there were numerous solar fields visible from the roadside. These ranged from small solar panels on the roofs of houses to much larger solar fields of free standing solar panels. Vermont has a commercial production of 8.8 million watts through solar fields, which currently provides 18% of all electricity used in Vermont. The numerous solar fields are due to Vermont’s numerous state programs that incentivize the installation of solar panels through different state programs. For example, a 100% sales tax exemption on renewable energy systems, a 100% property tax exemption for photovoltaics of 10kW or less and a business energy conservation loan program up to $150,000. All these different state level incentives, coupled with an environmentally aware populace have created a situation where it is very beneficial to install renewable energy systems.
At the cider mill, we learned that the solar panels out in the field nearby are owned by Green Mountain Solar. A woman working at the mill informed us that energy they harness feeds back into the grid and is utilized throughout the area.
On our way back to Montpelier for the night, we stopped off at a covered bridge to take a walk and enjoy the cool, spring weather.
The next morning we started the day with a visit to Vermont Compost. It was incredible to see how this operation – that produces the “Fort Vee” mix which we start all of our seeds in at our Farm at Stonehill – works. Upon our arrival, our guide took us right into the center of the operation where we were quickly surrounded by steaming piles of nutrient rich piles of organic material.
The chickens and two working German Shepherds were clearly important components of this operation – as well as bulldozers that run on biodiesel, thermometer gauges, screens to sift the soil, and important soil amendments like sphagnum, kelp, and mica.
We made a quick stop at Morse Maple Farm Sugarworks where we learned about how the syrup is made by boiling down gallons upon gallons of sap from the Sugar Maple trees.
Our last stop of the trip was at Fable Farm in Barnad, VT. A good friend of mine, Chris Piana and his brother started this community focused farm a couple of years ago.
Paige shares a bit about our time with Chris here:
Fable Farm is a CSA Organic Farming Project situated in Barnard, Vermont. At Fable, we talked to Chris and learned about their community partnerships and support and the farm’s commitment to growing healthy, local produce. Though many of the fields we saw were covered in snow, the promise of produce was near. Because of their relationships with Barnard community members, Fable Farm has been able to expand their growing area and now have plots in many places across the town. Chris and Fable Farm are a constant reminder that the promise to live a sustainable, organic lifestyle is attainable with support, dedication and passion. As Chris shared with our class, he does what he loves, and sees farming as a lifestyle, not an occupation.
Many thanks to our hosts for a fun and informative weekend in a beautiful state. It was a wonderful weekend away, made possible in part by funding from Stonehill’s Green Fund.
We learned a number of sustainable farming techniques that we look forward to employing at our farm this season!