by Russ Cerocke, Farm Manager
What’s that? It’s November!? Isn’t it strange how the night moves with autumn closing in? This month, change is certainly in the air. At Green Earth Harvest our goal is to provide healthy food grown with the intention of maintaining healthy land to build healthy communities. To do this, it takes a lot of work, which is great! We all need to work and be active, so I feel that my time may as well be spent working hard toward an honorable goal. Promoting good health, not only for humans, but for all the life and land that surrounds us, to me, is the noblest of goals.
So, you may be wondering, what exactly does it take to promote health all around us? Time, energy, and a positive attitude. Sounds simple right? Drop some seeds in the ground, sprinkle with water, then sit back and watch the food grow! …Well, not exactly. My father used to say that farming was easy, and he didn’t understand how one could make a full-time job out of it. When many people think of farming, like my father did, they think of corn and soybean production. If we were growing commodity crops, the equation would look a lot more like the idea that my father and so many others hold when they hear the word farming. At McDonald Farm however, we do things a little differently.
There are 4 seasons in the year, and we work through all of them. Even in winter, when there is no food actively growing, there is a lot of brain power burning the midnight oil over here. We are constantly trying to figure out how to grow more food, more effectively, with a smaller impact on natural resources. It may seem like winter is a long season, but that is a large bill to flip in 3-4 months. During winter we need to take account of what we have, what we need, and get our orders in before all the other farmers do to ensure that we have the varieties and quantities of seed that we will need to get the season started. In the process, we also need to take time to be with our families and loved ones, something that’s hard to do in the heart of the growing season. Reading books and watching videos takes the place of late day tractor work and early morning harvests. Winter does have its perks!
In the autumn months, where we currently find ourselves, our time is spent harvesting the last of our mature crops, protecting the still-growing crops from early freezes, and cleaning up our operation so that it is ready for a potentially cold winter. Winterizing irrigation pipes, rolling out the row covers, filling the heaters, and being sure to turn off our water at night are just a few of the chores that kick in with colder weather. Even during the hottest year on record, we have had to deal with several October freezes. In addition, our crew goes down to part time this time of year which adds pressure to do those things 3 days a week, rather than 5. Even though we reduce our farmshare pickup days from 2 to 1, you may not realize that our fall share pickups on Tuesdays are the largest pickup days of the year! With fewer families in our fall share, it reduces the total amount of food we need to produce, but when all our members come on one day, it can make for a busy time!
As fall winds down, and the crops find their way into the cooler, we start working on other projects. Greenhouses need upgrades, fields need clean-up, and equipment needs to be winterized and stored away. These are not the most glamorous jobs in farming, but they’re essential. When the crew finally leaves for the season at the end of the month, the planning phase kicks in. We will be looking over the number of shareholders we expect to serve next year as well as the food pantries that will be looking to us for fresh nutritious food and calculating what we will need to grow, where we can grow it, and how we want to go about the process in the next season for each and every vegetable we grow, and there are a lot! We will also discuss the successes and lessons learned from the previous season, to do our best in ensuring a smoother operation the following season. Continuous improvement is always on my mind, which means that no matter how good you do one year, there is always a list of how to do better the next.
Soon enough the sounds of cardinals chirping at my window will transform into the songs of robins in the spring, and all will begin anew. Onions get planted out in February, before even the robins make it out, and then the preparations for our big spring plant sale will be fully underway. Hiring for next year’s crew will also be a part of our spring. We do our best to provide opportunities for our crew to return, but inevitably, people have their own lives and are often pulled in different directions. The time that goes in to finding the right people for this place is long, but worthwhile. The hours spent combing through resumes last winter brought us the best group of first-year farmers that a farm could hope for.
With a little luck, some of those farmers will be back, and a few new faces will find their way to our farm to begin their journeys to seek out a better way to grow. And together, we will make it happen! Thank you all for being with us on this journey to a better tomorrow, it starts today!
Wishing you all enough in your lives,