Big Train Farm

Rhode Island Certified Organic Vegetables Since 2008

April!

April 6th, 2018

IMG_3001Spring is trying to break out of Winter’s rugged grip!  We are still having very cold days and there is even more snow in the forecast today (April 6th).  But Winter has no choice in the matter, it must relent.  The sun is slowly creeping higher and higher into the southern sky.  Snow can fall by the buckets but it can’t resist the stronger angle of the sun and the, soon anyway, warmer temperatures.  So we farm on and get ready for the planting blitz that will soon erupt as our fields dry out and become accepting of tractor tires and muck boots.

Our propagation greenhouse is stuffed to the gills once again as we wait for spring to break loose.  Normally we would feel comfortable bringing trays of hardy stuff outside to harden off before planting but not this year… still too cold.  Instead we are finding corners of the greenhouse we didn’t know existed to stick eager plants.  Tomatoes are filling their plug cells and will soon be moving into the high tunnels where they will be until October.  Basil and spinach await to be buddy-planted with them.  The first plantings of head lettuce, mesclun lettuce, beets, radishes, and greens are almost ready for their voyage into the fields and high tunnels.   Young carrots are popping up and the garlic has emerged from it’s Winter slumber.  The rhubarb, parsnips and burdock also are starting to demand attention.

IMG_2956Plants and people are eager to get busy this time of year.  We have our crew all hired up and ready for business.  Work-shares are starting to join and re-join our CSA program for 2018.  Having our weekly visits from our Work-Share members is one of the highlights of the farming season.  So many people are eager and happy to be outside and take part in growing some of their own food.   We’re looking forward to getting back together with our long-term volunteers and getting acquainted with our new folks.

We are really excited to move forward with some of our goals in 2018.  In particular we are trying to get some traction in regards to a project that will link organic farms with local shelters and soup kitchens in order to supply top-shelf, consistent deliveries of farm fresh produce while also compensating the grower.  We are trying to build a Community Advisory Board of farmers and homeless advocates in order to higher someone to manage funding for such a project.  Have something to offer in this regard?  Get in touch with us for more information!

IMG_2954We thank you for your support of our farm, either through our CSA program, our accounts, or simply by reading this blog.  Spring is a time of great anticipation and promise.  We hope that your goals and aspirations for 2018 come true and you have great success in your endeavors.  Good luck in 2018 Everyone!

 

 

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Farm Fable

March 7th, 2018

IMG_1639Here is a fable that I made up on Monday while seeding.  It is probably some distortion of Aesop, but I wasn’t familiar with it.  Here it goes:

A farmer was seeding trays of mustard, arduously rolling each tiny little seed into her trays.  She had three trays of mustard.  One was red, one was green, and one was purple.  She had all three tags written out and placed in the trays accordingly.  Then she realized that “Oh No!” she had accidentally seeded the green mustard seeds into the purple mustard seed tray and the purple mustard seeds into the green mustard seed trays.  She hastily began pulling out the thousand tiny seeds from each tray, laid them aside, then replaced them into their appropriate trays.  She had a lot to do that day, so she hustled and figured that she probably missed a dozen or so seeds from each tray.  When she was finally done she stepped back and looked at her work.  Slapping herself on the forehead she cried out “I should have switched the tags!”  Moral – Work smarter, not harder…

That is a lesson that I always have struggled to actualize.  My new mantra is “switch the tags”.  Making things easier on themselves should be every farmers priority.  But with all the big and little things to do it’s easy to barge ahead like a rhinoceros.

IMG_1663The first wave of seeding has begun.  My good pal Jeffrey came out during his winter break from teaching to help me shlep pallets in the mud.  Now all of those pallets are covered with seedling trays.  Onions, leeks, celery root, parsley, celery, beets, lettuce, micro greens, salad mix, tomatoes, and flowers are all settled into spring potting mix.  Next week we will seed our first planting of spinach and watch as our first planting of carrots germinates in our high tunnels.  From this point we will be seeding in the greenhouse until Oct, making a constant succession of vegetables for our customers and ourselves.

IMG_1693We have so many exciting projects to look forward to in 2018 it’s actually hard to know where to begin.  Our biggest projects for the spring include building another 96’x30′ high tunnel, a tool shed, and a lunch shed.  We have to clear about a 1/4 acre of woods to expand our chicken and compost yard.   We’ve got piles of brush to burn and workshops to prepare for.  Our seventh annual Soil, Plant, and Farm Methods course is coming up as well (always a lot of fun).  When the ground drys up we will be preparing raised beds over the whole farm for our annuals and also be putting in some of our first perennial crops (strawberries, rhubarb, elderberry and asparagus).  It’s an exiting time, with lots of promise.  The seasons operate like this in my mind:  the promise of Spring, the reality of Summer, the glory of Fall, and the relief of Winter.  Spring is the time to lock down your plans for the year, arrange your ducks, and start movement in the right direction.  As the pace picks up you have to sometimes remember to, simply, move the tags.

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Crossroads RI and Big Train Farm

January 11th, 2018

146.crossroads_2In 2017 we began a conversation with Don Liberte and David Rocheleau from Crossroads about how to get high quality, organic produce to the neediest people in our community.  How can an organic farm directly impact homelessness in Rhode Island?  Establishments that serve homeless and persons in need are in a unique position to provide nourishment.  Cafeterias and kitchens that serve these populations often rely on donations and/or small budgets.  Under these circumstances the best quality food is often overlooked in order to simply provide volume.  As we all know local, organic produce is not affordable for everyone.

We are attempting to raise $4,000 this winter and spring to support a weekly delivery of Big Train Farm produce to the Crossroads RI kitchen and possibly Food 4 Good food truck as well.  The produce will be delivered fresh every week during the main growing season (June-Nov) and, if more funds are made available, we would like to continue providing produce through the winter and into the spring.

Clover coming in nicely! Mindy Walls 2016

Clover coming in nicely!
Mindy Walls 2016

We are asking for our CSA members to contribute a donation, either big or small, to this cause.  We believe that we need to make healthy food available to everyone and we think you probably do too.  Farm Fresh RI has pledged to support us in this effort as well.  Please make a donation when you sign up for your CSA membership in 2018.

Big Train Farm will match 10% of your donation with extra produce each week to the Crossroads’ kitchen.

And Thank You!

Big Train Farm

check out Crossroad’s blog here

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2018 CSA Season, Open

January 11th, 2018

IMG_1321Hello and let us welcome you back (or for the first time) to Big Train Farm’s 11th Three-Season CSA program.  We are extremely excited to be starting our first full season at our new property in Chepachet, RI.  For the past three years we have been transitioning off of the farm we called home for ten years.  After three years of preparation we are finally making the move complete.  In 2018 we will be living and growing on the Snake Hill property.  After all we have been through to make this happen it is a huge thrill to be taking these last steps to independence.  We will greatly miss our friends and colleagues at Urban Edge Farm and Southside Community Land Trust.

Our outlook for 2018 is pretty positive.  We are transitioning all of our annual vegetable fields to permanent raised beds this year in order to realize a long-held goal of growing our produce “no-till”.  In order to manage a soil to produce the most excellent crop we believe this is necessary.  Although a difficult system to implement (and we’ve tried many approaches) we are optimistic that we have the equipment and the know-how to make a complete transition to no-till organic vegetables this year.  To read more about our methods check out this page of our web-site.  Let us know what you think.

IMG_1392We’re going to have awesome produce again for you this year, and a lot of it.  After 2-3 years of prepping the very raw soil we purchased at Snake Hill we are starting to see the benefits.  Fertility and composition of the soil is becoming more uniform and crops are healthier and more reliable.  It takes time to renovate land to organic annual vegetable production and we have made the investment.  In 2018 we expect the land to pay some handsome dividends.

This will of course will contribute to an outstanding CSA season we hope.  In 2017, if you are a returning member, you will remember how difficult the spring weather was for farmers in the northeast USA.  The spring rains severally effected some of our most important crops.  Despite this difficulty we were very pleased to have so many satisfied customers with our CSA.  We are confident that with last years extra remediating of our soil and with our raised bed system we will have the integrity built into our land to be more resilient when difficult weather presents itself in the future.

IMG_1173Another greenhouse on the property will help our season extension into the Fall and Winter.  We are going to expand our offerings with different varieties of cucumbers, beets, basil, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, winter squash, and others.  We also will be planting some perennials in 2018 and perhaps some fruiting plants like strawberries and blueberries which will be ready in 2019.

Economic realities have influenced us to raise our prices in the CSA a little.  By adding less than $2 per week to a half share and less than $4 per week to a full share we will be able to meet our economic obligations to our employees, our mortgages, and the farm itself.  We have also decided that if these prices are too difficult for our lower income customers we can negotiate a share price for the season on an ad hoc basis.  We want to be clear that we are not charging our customers more for the same amount of food.  Rather we are adding a small amount each week to your share.

November CarrotsWe are so thankful for the people who support Big Train Farm year after year.  We hope you will join us again for another trip around the New England agricultural calendar.

Best Regards,

John and Big Train Crew

 

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Ten Years

December 29th, 2017

Farm Fresh Rhode Island Farmer's Market in downtown Providence, RI, 10/8/2010. Photos by Scott Kingsley for SharecanvasThis year we celebrate ten years in business as Big Train Farm.  I have to admit that at this juncture it’s difficult to know what to address.  So much time, money, people, fun, heartache, and work has passed into history.  Physically the farm has changed almost completely, relocating from one location to another over the past three years.  Mindy’s graduating class address was given by a woman who referred to the Argo, the ship of Jason and the Argonauts, being completely destroyed and then rebuilt again, nothing original remaining.  I find that to be mostly accurate in our case as well.  Nearly everything I’ve believed about work and farming has changed over the past ten years, from method to intent.  I’ve had the opportunity to reexamine my past in all my roles: a student, a teacher, a boss, a boyfriend, a husband, a writer, a musician, a farmer.  Now, looking back at the past ten years I’m struck by how much I still recognize myself even though my ship is nearly fully renovated.IMG_2467

I realize now that, even as an employee working for other farmers, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to comprehend the intimacy of farming for a living when you are solely responsible for your land, your employees, and your customers.  When farmers say that what they do is a lifestyle, they mean it.  The farm holds you in a way that is difficult to explain.  Yes, farming is hard work, but when words like menial or drudgery start floating around your daily vocabulary it’s time to re-assess your practices.  Farming is a joy.  Nature is a joy because it offers an example everyday of reality in all it’s beauty, power, love, cruelty, and inexplicably.  When you revel in a rainstorm, a blizzard, a hundred degree afternoon, or a cold spring morning you experience a sublime joy.  A sensibility like this is something I liken to grief or love:  It has the power to destroy you or make you a better, deeper person.  So perhaps you have to be tough, but you also have to be receptive.  Work on the farm offers this to a high degree.  Farming has offered this to me and I’ve tried my best to appreciate it, deserve it, and share it with others.

IMG_0245A farmer I respect spoke about the state of the nation.  He said that only two percent of Americans are farming these days.  He then said “I’m not sure what the other 98% are doing , but they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves very much.”  This is a bit hyperbolic of course, but it resonated with everyone in the room in kind of a tribal way.  Those of us lucky enough, privileged enough, to do what we do revel in it.  Yes, we are not motivated by simple pleasures.  We are motivated by deep commitments to things and we try to actualized them for ourselves and for our customers, friends, and neighbors.  I don’t believe that the rest of the country is not enjoying their lives and ought to be farming in order to do so.  I also don’t believe that the sublime connection to nature I refer to is only enjoyed by people standing out in their fields in a hail storm.  However it is clear to see that we have a problem in this country in regards to how we treat ourselves and our landscapes.  Agriculture needs a place in our communities because farms foster purpose in our landscapes that transcend simple needs like gasoline, burgers, cheap mattresses, or hiking boots.  Green places offer solace, calmness, confidence in our lives simply by being there.  The term chlorophila is one that people need to think about more.  It means love of green (or literally : love of chlorophyll).  We all have an innate love of green hardwired in us.  Our society has simply ignored this basic need in designing our food system, our suburbs, our cities, and many of our rural areas everywhere except our most affluent communities.  This is obvious to anyone when you simply think of a green place you’ve counted on being there suddenly disappearing to development or some other disturbance.  Nature offers one of the only solid reprieves in our lives and should be highly valued and integrated into our societal fabric.

IMG_1398So, ten years.  Is it even very long?  It seems like both yes and no, and is all relative I guess.  Some instances seem so very far away, others so naturally familiar.  What to do with it all?  I always gravitate to the philosophy that you should go into the world half-baked rather than not at all.  Meaning even if you haven’t sorted everything out on a subject dive in anyway and get dirty.  I haven’t been shy about getting dirty these last ten years but maybe I have been too reserved on some issues.  This New Year requires more than a New Year’s resolution.  It requires a Ten Year Resolution!  What will be the goal of the farm and of myself over the next decade?  So much of the first ten years was just trying to hold it together!  To make a living on two acres of marginal farm land in Cranston took some intrepidness and plenty of focus.  Three years of moving my business from one place to another did as well.  But now things are a little more streamlined, a bit more organized, even a little dialed in.  Despite a horrendously difficult growing season to be transitioning from one farm to another we managed to hold it together and accomplish many of our goals for 2017.  For that I am not only thankful but feel unbelievably blessed.

IMG_0903I have a lot of hopes.  I want success for everyone who is involved with Big Train Farm and Urban Edge Farm.  I want something in people’s lives to be owed to the farm, hopefully a bright spark of some kind.  I want my wife to be strong and happy and I want my friends and my dog and cat to thrive.   For myself I want a better understanding of how farms and farmers can benefit, make more money, support their communities and propagate more growers.  I want to take all I’ve learned over the past ten years and flesh it out, research farming methods and grasp the healthiest, most efficient ways to grow food, sequester carbon, and provide profit to farmers.  I also want to bridge the gap between the best food in our communities and the neediest people in our communities.  I hope that whether you are a friend or customer (or both) you and I can work it all out and check in again in 2028.

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Lots of love and respect to everyone who made it possible.

You know who you are.

John

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Ode To The Crew

November 21st, 2017

IMG_1468Of all the assets that we can number on the farm the most valuable one is our crew.  The people who come to the farm every week to work or volunteer are the life blood of the business and the most important aspect of farming.  Big Train Farm is an amalgam of people from different walks of lives, coming from different States, cities, and towns who all find something gratifying in their farm work.  Many of our crew have been with us for years and we hope to continue our friendships and working relationships with them into the far future.

IMG_1477My two star employees are both leaving us after this season.  Cassidy Whipple, finishing her second year at Big Train, is starting her own farm business in Richmond, RI (look out for Frontier Farm!).  Sabra, wrapping up three seasons with me, is heading… we’re not sure!  Maybe Colorado? Maybe Guatemala?  Where ever she ends up she will be greatly missed.  Cassidy and Sabra can be credited with either seeding, planting, weeding, harvesting, washing, and/or packing virtually everything you received this year in your CSA shares.  They deserve a lot of credit and I know that they will do well in whatever endeavors they attempt.  I hope they will take a little bit of BTF with them and that it will inform their efforts in a positive way.  Thanks dudes, you raised the bar.

IMG_14792017 was unlike any year I’ve experienced farming.  There were so many people coming and going, getting into car accidents, crashing motorcycles, dealing with sick partners, getting new jobs, moving away, and on and on.  It’s hard to even keep everybody straight.  But everyone who has been involved has given us their best efforts and has shared a little bit of their uniqueness with us.  I used to have a somewhat anti-social investment in farming, but over the years I’ve realized that it is always the folks who share the trip around the agricultural calendar with you that make it worth it.  Thanks to everyone who kicked ass in 2017 and helped make BTF what it is and should be.

There is something comforting in the current atmosphere of people in power being called-out for their indecent and harmful treatment of women, wether they are women in a professional setting or in public.  Women feel empowered now to speak out against the abuses that they have suffered at the hands of powerful men, men who have stifled their careers or caused them untold burdens.  And, maybe for the first time in history, these women are being taken seriously en mass.  The farming community in RI is one of empowered women starting businesses and setting new bars.  I am so proud to have worked with so many strong and passionate young women over the years and I hope that their time with BTF will prove to be an asset, not a hurdle, in furthering their careers.  IMG_1470

 

 

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2017/2018 Winter CSA Shares Now Available

September 14th, 2017

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Winter CSA is currently full.

 

Hello!  It’s time to start signing members up for our Winter Time CSA!  We still have a few weeks left in our main season CSA which will bring us to the end of November (last pick-up will be the Tuesday before Thanksgiving).  After the last Summer/Fall pick-up we continue with a 14-week share through the months of December, February, and March (we do not hold pick-ups during the month of January).

Below are the details and pick-up info for the season.  Important to note that pick-ups are every other week, pre-bagged, and there are no pick-ups in January.

Details: The Winter CSA is a 14-week share that runs through December, February, and March (no pick-up in January)… We condense the weekly shares into one pick-up every other week.  This way you will not have to travel to the pick-up every week but will pick up two weeks worth of vegetables at one pick-up.  The crops we are selling in the winter will last for a long time in your fridge so you don’t have to worry about things spoiling over the two weeks.  We will be pre-bagging the shares, so you will simply come to the pick-up and we will pass over your bags.


img_0692What’s Offered?
We will be offering winter-harvested greens from our greenhouses every week such as kale, bok choi and spinach as well as garlic, onions, potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, leeks, celeriac, fall radishes, turnips, daikon radishes, and parsnips.  In early December and late March there may be some other hardy vegetables available as well.

Price: A Winter CSA share is $300. (EBT can be accepted for Winter CSA shares)

Where and When?  Pick-up will be at the Bell Street Chapel (5 Bell Street Providence) on Thursdays from 5-7pm (the pick-up window is tighter, please be aware).  If you would prefer to pick-up at the farm we can leave your bags in a cooler.  The dates will be as follows:  Dec.7th, Dec. 21st, Feb. 1st, Feb. 15th, March 1st, March 15th, March 29th.

There is a limit of shares that we can accommodate in the winter so sign-up early!  Payment can be made anytime between now and the first pick-up.  Payment plans are also available.

Sign Up Today by emailing John and say “I want a Winter CSA Share!”

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Farm Tour/CSA Update

August 3rd, 2017

IMG_1278Hello!  We hope everyone is doing well and enjoying this fairly erratic summer weather we are having.  Mindy made it down to the beach yesterday for her birthday on what seemed like potentially the best beach day possible.  I was jealous!   Stuck on the farm like a dolt!

We are making some progress on our new property and would like to invite you all out for a farm tour!  We haven’t managed to hold a farm tour in many years due mostly to the high degree of distractibility I incumber in the summer time.  But thanks to the efforts of some of our CSA members persisting in their demands we have acquiesced!  Farm Tour will take place:

Saturday August 19th @ 1pm

1012 Snake Hill Rd N Scituate RI 02857

Please Park on HuntingHouse Rd on the Farm-Side of the Road (coming from Providence this is a left hand turn off of Snake Hill Rd)

Use HuntingHouse Rd Farm Gate to Enter.

We Will Converge at the Barn

The tour will begin promptly at 1pm so feel free to drop in earlier and get settled.  Important! The farm has much poison ivy in the headlands so WEAR CLOSED FOOTWEAR AND LONG PANTS.  We have washing area and a porto-john to accommodate you.  The tour will last for a couple hours or so and will be an opportunity to ask questions and get a holistic view of whats going on out there.  Look forward to seeing you there!

IMG_1292CSA Update 

We hope you have been enjoying all the produce that we have been bringing.  We have been happy (and relieved) to be bringing tomatoes to pick-up these last few weeks and hopefully they will continue streaming in through September.  Our peppers and eggplant will be in very short supply I’m disappointed to say, but we will be bringing summer potatoes, celery, fennel and more tomatoes to pick-up this month.  Fall vegetables will soon be on their way as well.  Starting in September we will have lots more kale, spinach, bok choi, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, beets, carrots, radishes, and potatoes.  Summer squash is making a comeback too and we should have some more squash and zucchini at the pick-ups soon.

Our chickens are laying copious amounts of eggs and we are accepting a few extra egg share customers.  If you are interested in signing up for eggs (1/2 dozen or full dozen each week) let us know!  Thanks as always for your enthusiasm and support of our farm!!!

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Rain, Rain, Rain, HOT, Rain, Rain, Rain

May 28th, 2017

April 2017Folks, it’s been wet.  And dark.  And cold.  And that can be a problem when you are in the business of making plants grow.  We are only slightly behind in our planting schedules, but we are going to be behind in our harvest times going into summer.  Crop plants simply do not grow without warm soil and sunlight.  We are planning on starting our CSA pick-ups on time this year (this week!) but our shares may be a bit light in June and there is a possibility of postponing a week if the weather does not improve.  This is something all farmers are going through in the Northeast this spring.  We are confident that we will have a large assortment of produce for your shares this year, it may just take some extra time to get them to you.

IMG_1118However, we do have some very nice plants growing in our greenhouses right now and we should be able to collect a fair assortment of spring greens and young root crops this month.  For the first pick-up we have some excellent looking rabe and kale, radishes, scallions, spinach, head lettuce, and bok choi for you as well as a variety of potted herbs to choose from.  Our peas haven’t begun to flower yet but we are trellising them as they slowly irk their way towards the clouds.  Even though the fields are muddy many of our crops are looking content, just waiting for some photosynthetic stimuli.  Potatoes, Summer Squash, Beets, Carrots, Broccoli, Cabbages, Tomatoes, and Cucumbers (and many others) are all in the wings trying to shake off this cold spring weather.

IMG_1131Good news is that we have electricity at our new farm and just last Friday during the last rain storm (until tomorrow of course) we had a concrete pad poured in our barn!  We took advantage of that one hot weekend and got our water lines installed as well.   So we are setting up our wash station which has been furbished by our extremely generous CSA members who have made a donation to our transition period.  Thank You to those who gave extra this year to help us make the leap from Urban Edge Farm to Snake Hill Farm.  Through your gift we have been able to purchase : pex piping and hardware for our washroom plumbing, wash tubs, irrigation lay flat, produce carts, and lots of bolts, screws, clamps, bits and what-not to put it all together.

So the agricultural venture is always at the mercy of the elements.  However, through our work in remediating the soil, improving and introducing soil biology, we are hopeful that we will pull out of the storm of May into the safe harbor of June.  Here’s to an excellent CSA season and a bountiful summer.  See you all on Thursday for the first CSA pick-up!

 

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MAY!

May 2nd, 2017

Well Folks, the planting season is upon us again.  We have been diligently popping plugs and seeds into the ground and trying to capture as much sunlight and photosynthetic potential as possible.  So far we have planted either in greenhouses or outdoors in our fields: carrots, beets, radishes, cabbages, kales, swiss chard, parsley, dandelion, broccoli rabe, celtuce, head lettuce, scallions, onions, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, peas, and a few other things I’ve probably forgotten.  We are in the midst of our big onion planting right now and will soon be getting in our fall leeks, celeriac, and summer celery.  We had the pleasure of some North Providence 8th graders join us at the farm yesterday and they were a big help getting some squash and zucchini planted (thanks Jeff!).

So the CSA will be starting soon.  The first Thursday of June falls on June 1st.  Please take a minute to review the CSA details  so that you don’t miss anything.  Our pick-ups will be the same format as in the past (point system with scales) and you will have the choice to take what you like.

IMG_1089We Need Your Help in promoting the CSA for some last minute sign-ups before we begin in June.  If you have enjoyed the CSA over the years please help your friends, family, and co-workers learn about the Big Train Farm CSA.  Feel free to use the poster-image here (thanks Dave!) to distribute as you please.  Also, we encourage you to promote the CSA to anyone you may know who receives EBT (AKA Food Stamps) to consider joining the CSA.  Paying with EBT can save you over 40% on your vegetables.  You can read more about the EBT payments here .

EM-1 FermentDid You Know that microbes help provide soil nutrition to plants, as well as providing other health benefits?  We are always considering our microbial populations at Big Train Farm.  This year we are trying a product known as Teruo Higa’s Effective Microbes (or EM-1) which is a collection of saccharomycetes, actinomycetes, nitrifying and photosynthetic bacteria that provide a range of benefits to the soil ecosystem and contribute to healthy plant growth.  We “activate” this product by fermenting it with molasses over several weeks and then apply it to our seedlings at transplant.  These EM-1 microbes then join the food web which is already in place in our soil, mixing with other bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and larger order predators like arthropods and earthworms.  The picture here is a carboy with EM-1 material being activated.

 

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