March is the month of transition from a (hopefully) restful winter. So many things begin “springing to life” on the farm during the muddy month that it often jumps off to a quicker start than I’m prepared for. What to tend to first? Well as many of you know we are in our final transition year from our old place of business to the land we purchased in 2014 with a USDA line of credit. In order to make this jump smoothly we have needed to: drill a well, put up deer fencing, gather equipment, build greenhouses, and remediate old, overgrown hay fields into productive vegetable acreage. We are currently (as you can see from the picture) building. Morton Buildings has been constructing two buildings, a small barn and an even smaller house (framed in background), where we intend to live and work. This month we are putting in water lines so that we can irrigate our fields, water plants in the greenhouses, wash our produce in the barn, and (someday) take a shower and wash dishes.
This week we are trying to finish framing another greenhouse which will be used for seed propagation. We start the majority of our crops as transplants (seeding into plug-flats or containers and then planting them into the field or greenhouse). In contrast to our other greenhouses this one will be heated during the spring time in order to keep the tender seedlings from freezing. While we are in the process of building the “prop house” at Snake Hill we are still using the greenhouses at Urban Edge Farm in Cranston. We have already seeded our onions, leeks, scallions, celeriac, celery, and our first rounds of beets, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots. Next week we will begin seeding the early kales, chards, broccolis, dandelions, and many more things will follow quickly.
We have also brought on some new blood to the farm in terms of two interns. Andrea and Kathryn will be with us throughout the growing season in 2017 and will be working at our CSA pick-up on Thursdays. Cassidy and Sabra are both back for another go as assistant managers and we are so thankful and happy to have them back. Internships are a great way to get fully immeshed in a farming season and we try to make education of future farmers a priority at Big Train Farm. If we are serious about small-scale agriculture making a big-scale impact then we need to conserve and effectively use our farm land. This requires more farmers, more customers buying locally produced agricultural products. Thank you for your support!
Education. March also is typically when we are involved in giving work-shops and classes around southern New England. Last week we attended the NOFA/RI Conference and had a round-table discussion about no-till methods for conserving carbon in soil. This week I’m going to Amherst for the ELA (Ecological Landscaper Association) Conference to give a couple work-shops on Soil Food Web management. Then next week I’ve got a YFN (Young Farmer Network) work-shop to host and finally our 2-day Soil, Plant, and Farm Methodology Course to teach during the weekend. Teaching is a passion of mine and doing these work-shops is so helpful to me to get exposed to other growers and work in concert with them to better our growing practices and develop more succinct skills to teach the next generation of farmers, landscapers, and gardeners.
Finally, March is a good time to set up our goals and aspirations for the year, to make sure we have what we need to accomplish our goals, and to get amped about making it happen. So far we are off to a good start. Our CSA program is about 2/5 full at the moment and we thank you for your early sign-up and your early payments. They are so important to get the farm off the ground in the spring and moving in the direction we need to go. Our survey from the Fall showed that the vast majority of our membership is gathered by word-of-mouth so please promote our CSA to your friends and co-workers. Tell them about the fresh produce, awesome supplementary products like eggs, mushrooms, local meat, and herbs. And tell them about the big returns membership gets you in terms of extra produce. If people start to understand that a CSA is not only convenient but saves you money on local, organic products we shouldn’t ever have to scramble to fill our membership. (Picture on left is of onion, leek, celeriac, and celery seed pre-soaking in a kelp/fish solution).
Have an excellent muddy month of March. Enjoy the thaw and take some time to set your goals for the year. On behalf of myself, Mindy, and the Big Train Farm crew we welcome you back for another trip around the agricultural calendar. Best Wishes. John