We are at the last week of the farm share for 2016. If you are a regular reader of our blog, you will have seen lots of pictures and stories that feature our wonderful farm team: Marshall, Matheson, Dakota, and Erin.
The time has come to begin saying good-bye to our crew. Dakota is leaving at the end of the week to begin her adventure of farm ownership on a beautiful piece of land near Middleton NS.
Matheson and his lovely girlfriend Meghan are leaving next week for Ontario with plans to farm there next season.
Erin and Dermot are staying on the farm until early December, which is great, since there’s lots of work on the farm that only seems to get done in that precious time after the harvest is mostly finished but winter has not yet come in full force.
With Marshall and Hilary moved into the farm next door, I’m looking forward to a whole winter of working with Marshall, mostly tackling repair and construction jobs around the farm.
Like many farmers, we see hiring employees as a way to provide experience and training to future farmers. This year we tried a new way of delegating responsibility that seems to have worked out well for everyone.
In the spring, we gave every employee a field to manage. Following the crop plan, planting, cultivation, irrigation, and supervising others workers. If it happened in that field, the employee responsible would be directly in charge.
Marshall said that when he found a farm to buy, he planned to set up a permanent raised bed market garden and focus on high value; short season crops like salad greens, herbs and bunched carrots, radishes and beets. Since this is what we do in the Front Field, we decided to have him manage it.
A mutual friend and former employer once characterized Marshall as “an eagle” since like an eagle perched high in a tree, he watches life with a quiet and calm demeanour until his pray (work) is in sight. Once he leaves that branch, he is a perfect picture of focused energy.
Over the winter we worked together to make a very detailed and accurate crop plan on Google Drive. Marshall organized the plantings in ways that made sense to him, and he asked numerous questions about the little things only someone who has been on the farm for several years would know to ask.
As soon as the snow was gone, Marshall was off and running with the front field. Early in the spring, we decided to experiment with using a very thick layer of weed-free compost on our permanent beds. It was great to watch Marshall make this experiment work. He quickly figured out just how deep the compost needs to be to block any weeds from sprouting up from the ground beneath and made sure that everyone helping him to spread the compost followed his example.
He also figured out how to make the best use of the black plastic tarps we use to smother out weeds between plantings. This is no small trick when faced with one hundred and eight 100’ long beds and only enough tarps to cover one third of them at a time.
I walk through the field with him every week or two. As we make our way from one gorgeous bed of greens to the next, we chat and ponder, as farmers are apt to do. It seems more like a visit to another farmer’s place where I offer the occasional helpful comment but mostly admire a job well done.
Erin was given all the outdoor crops grown on plastic mulch. These are long-season, heat-loving crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, and squash.
Since most of these needed to be transplanted as soon as the risk of frost passed, but no later than mid June, there was a huge time crunch to get them in the ground on time. Erin rose to the challenge, showing a lot of grace and grit. Even before we could start planting, we needed to lay the mulch, which anyone who has done it can tell you, is just about the fussiest job we do all year on the farm.
I’m thankful that she had some experience with mulch laying from another farm, so she was able to make sure everything went smoothly and taught me some great mulch laying tricks along the way.
One hot summer day Erin casually asked me about using the farm’s lawn mower and string trimmer. I wondered what she was up to but was too busy to ask right then.
Later that evening I noticed that the mower and trimmer been taken out to Erin’s field. Turns out that she carefully mowed and even trimmed all around her field the day before her mother, aunt and cousin came to visit.
Lesson learned: When you give someone a field to care for, they want it looking really good, especially when people they care about are coming to see what they have been doing.
Matheson was in charge of all the crops grown in widely spaced rows. This would include potatoes, parsnips, cabbages, beans, peas, celery, storage carrots, and many more.
All told, he had about two and a half acres to tend. To say this is a lot of work would be a gross understatement. To add to the challenge, the home-made tractor he had to use for weed control broke down more times than we could count during the busiest part of the season. And then of course there was the drought… The field was planted and weeded thoroughly and on time, and then we ran out of water for six weeks.
We had no other choice but to give what little water we had to the highest value crops while Matheson’s carefully tended crops stopped growing and just barely survived for most of August and half of September.
I think this was harder for him to take than for Jen and I. This was after all his field. Earlier in the season, when most of the plants where just getting established, Matheson came up to me with a look of grave concern, and asked me to come take a look at something.
He spotted a place where three cabbage plants and a few beans had been eaten by deer!
Since Matheson’s field was the only one on the farm without an electric fence set up to keep the deer out, I suggested the obvious solution- put up a fence.
Work was finished for the day, but there was still many hours of light left. As I walked back to the house to have supper and take care of other things, Matheson, along with Marshall and Dermot, were getting busy fencing. They finished at ten pm.
We have had great farm crews before, but I’ve never seen anything like this. I really liked how Marshall and Dermot rallied behind Matheson. Supporting him when his field was threatened seemed to be the motivation to get it done right away, over and above the farm’s goal of raising veggies for you all to enjoy!
Dakota came to us with many years of experience working on farms throughout BC and the far corners of the world. When asking her about previous experiences, she had great things to say about all the farms she worked on except for one place that let her grow a large amount of tomatoes but then did not give her the time to harvest and market them because they were too busy with harvesting grapes and tree fruit, which was their main focus. Understandably, this was highly frustrating, especially since it happened two years in a row.
When asked what aspect of the farm she would like to focus on, she said greenhouse tomatoes and marketing. Ah yes, her previous frustrations were like a tightly coiled spring that was about to be let loose in a flurry of tomato growing, veggie marketing action the likes of which we had not seen before!
As the date for the first Seaport market approached, Dakota asked who was going to go with her. In a stroke of what I must admit was some mighty good thinking, I replied, “no one. Jen and I completely trust you.” What looked like a mixture of surprise, delight and fear came across her face and then she said, “but what if the people at market don’t like me?” I responded that this was highly unlikely and a risk we were willing to take.
Of course she sold out of everything by ten thirty and has proven to be a smash hit at market. About twenty people have let me know how much they appreciate the passion and knowledge she brings to our stand.
So there you have it, a few short stories about a remarkable group of young farmers that have made this year particularly pleasurable season for Jen and I. We hope it has been for you, our customers, as well.
Thanks for showing up week after week, supporting all of this activity with your choice to buy food from a local, human-scaled farm.
To celebrate the end of the farm share season, the whole crew will be with us in Victoria Park this week. So this is your chance to meet the people who grew all the lovely veggies this year.
Your farmers, with gratitude,
David, Jen, Marshall, Erin, Matheson, Dakota, Dermot, Lori, and Meghan