Items filtered by date: May 2013

With June almost over there is now a certain rhythm which sets pace here at the farm.  It is one where the back beat is always constant, one which may include extended jams like planting tomatoes for 12 straight hours, or picking peas for 10 hours.  But more then the harvesting which is fully underway, more then the CSA program which provides the farm with a solid investment base, the part of the farm experience which really tells you how you are doing is the farmers market.  We participate in five markets - Kent, Weston, Newtown/Sandy Hook, and two in New Haven (Wooster Square and on the historic Green).  During the winter we are involved with two in New Haven , as well. 

Farming for a market is what excites many growers.  It is a chance to get off the farm and see other producers up close.  It offers the chance to see what other crops may be good to grow that you may have over looked, and also catch a trend before everyone else does.  It is a the way we best represent our brand, too. Few things are as satisfying as a packed truck heading off to market.  Thinking about the set up, what the weather will be like, if a crwod will be there, all of these come into play all season long.  Now, certainly it sucks when it rains, especially at the more rural markets like Kent.  But in a city like New Haven there is always a crowd out during even the most inclement weather.  

How does one stand out against the competition?  That can be tricky when we all grow such similar fare.  However, one basic of marketing is those who have the most stuff set up will gather the biggest crowds.  Price points and knowing the true value of  things also works in your favor.  Setting up an inviting tent stall, with clearly labeled products, and employing solid, dependable, workers for the markets all make for a good market experience all around.   

We have been slowly moving our business away from the "tomato farm" we were once known for, and have increased the production of just about everything we grow.  Yes, we still grow a lot of tomatoes but were are also at markets for months before they arrive so we need other product.  After all, farming is an inventory based business and if you do not have supply then you will lose your customer base.  One cannot survive on the risky tomato crop alone, its just too risky.  

So, its late June and we have a lot of great produce heading off to markets three days of the week.  This week we have baby lettuce heads (romaine, red leaf and green leaf), arugula, radishes, collard greens, tuscan kale, winterbore kale, redbore kale, red russian kale - yes, we grow a lot of kale - salad mix, bok choy , and sugar snap peas.  Of course we are asked when the tomatoes will be ready, or when the corn will be available (we do not grow corn, btw), or even if the apples are ready.  We gently remind the customer that it is June in New England and what is available is primarily green, mostly leafy, as well as some early root crops like hoop house grown tomatoes and potatoes, and carrots.  There were even summer squashes out this week and cucumbers, too, though for us they will arrive sometime in early July.    The cold weather set them back a few weeks as well as the dreaded stripped cucumber beetle.

So thats the word from the markets.  As the summer goes along we will add further market reports.  The season is off to a good start despite the awful weather we have had ad the set backs will be felt in the middle of the summer when June's plantings are late to produce.  People want the mid summer produce now and grow impatient. But, the cucumbers, summer squashes, and tomatoes will come, maybe slowly, and the peppers and eggplants, too. They always do.

"Still the rain kept pourin', fallin' on my ears 
And I wonder, still I wonder who'll stop the rain" - John Foggerty

Ah, the early morning sun is rising in the east, the farm is quiet, and the hounds are still not up from their midnight slumber.  After a long week of very wet, soggy, and depressing farming weather we can at least enjoy a  weekend and dry out before the rains come again early this upcoming week.  Connecticut is close to a record for June rain fall and the crops are starting to show signs of fatigue.  We need some sun, and fast!  Its a little too early to start crying foul on Mother Nature but shades of '09 are starting to emerge and, like Fight Club, we don't talk about '09...

A lot of people wonder what us worse, rain or drought?  Obviously both are an issue but most veggie growers are active users of irrigation systems - though for those big commodity growers out in the plains (and west), its a little more tricky, they rely on rain a lot.  We would much rather it be dry then wet.  After all, who in their right minds likes to sit in water day after day?  Who likes to sink up to their knees in mud when harvesting kale or radishes?  What plant encourages slugs to come en masse to wallow on their leaves?  Exactly.  

Most damaging to the farm in the past two weeks of rain is the fact that for every day we cannot get our big machinery into the fields, its another day we CANNOT plant.  Every day lost is a day later in the season where we don't have a crop yet.  Its all a matter of timing right now and time is not on our side.  October is a mere 100 plus days away and we gotta get stuff in the ground!  We still have half our tomato crop to get in (around 10,000 more plants for those keeping score at home) as well as the next wave of direct seedings like salad greens and beets, and all our fall winter squashes and pumpkins, too.  Ugh.  

Funny, over the weekend at market, where it was sunny and beautiful way too many people asked if the water was "bad" for the crops?  It's amazing to us that the disconnect is so complete between the growing life and the consumer regarding this issue.  Yes, too much rain is bad, plain and simple.  Next topic please...

The week has been, and continues to be, a very busy one for all of us at the farm.  Major tomato and potato plantings, a bus load of 5th grade school children from NYC, and the raising of the new barn.  The story of the new barn is one which like many things revolving around Waldingfield has a lot to do with history, family, and luck.  And so, come to think of it, does the connection between the Allen Stevenson School annual field trip.  All that plus the start of the 24th year of our CSA program!  

We will start with the barn and some history.  Back in 1920-21 our great-grandfather, grandfather and his brother (Mr C.B. Smith and his sons, Carlton and Alexander) planted the white and red pine forrest which sits along the western side of our property along East Street.  In what was once pastured hill side they planted several thousand trees with the idea of it being harvested in the future years and sold.   A simple, long term, farm plan to help bring in extra revenue to what was then a dairy farm.  

Fast forward to the 1970's, the dairy having been long disbanded and Waaldingfield serving as a country home for our grandparents, we boys used to wander through these now mighty pines collecting cones and the needles which fell onto the forrest floor.  Then in late 1979 the white  and red pines were hit with a major blight and we lost more then half of the forrest.  Within a few years the once mighty trees were snapping like matchsticks and down below new hard woods emerged. 

However, seeing an opportunity to make good one the years earlier plan to do something with the remaining timber, Quincy (grandson) and John Horan (son in law to Carlton Smith, father of the boys, and current owner of the farm) devised a plan to build a new barn for the now thriving organic Waldingfield Farm.  The original barns - a woodshed from the 1770's and the main barn from the 1830's - we in need of some relief after years of use.  So a plan was devised to cut the timber, mill it locally, and then hire a true post and beam architect to erect and new barn.  And so it has been done.  Ninety years, three generations, and as luck would have it, the same alma mater as our grandfather was there to see it rise... sweet!

After much waiting for the milling to happen the logs began to come back as cut timber, the foundation was built (by Lenny Manz) and the date was set for May 31st to start building the structure.  There would be help from the farm crew, as well as a crane to come and lift the massive beams.  It was indeed a sight to behold!  On the 4th of June the Allen Stevenson School - both Patrick Horan and his grandfather Carlton Smith attended - came for their annual 5th grade field trip to the farm.  Who would have thought that roughly 90 years after Carton Smith had left Alleen Stevenson, and planted the trees, that there would be forty four school children from his alma mater there to watch it go up?  Indeed, a little luck there for sure.  The kids really enjoyed the afternoon planting potatoes but the crane lifting up the massive beams was what really held their attention. 

So, a barn was raised, spuds were planted, and now the beginning of the CSA program.  With well over one hundred families investing in the season, we look forward to the harvest to come.  It will be hard work but as our grandfather proved, there is glory in planting and harvesting, only this will take ninety days, not ninety years...

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