My, how quickly we move from one season to the next. It seems like just last week I was picking big, beautiful heads of Napa out of the garden at Waltham Fields, when in reality it was almost four months ago. I’m sure the freakishly-mild and dry winter we’ve experienced in the Northeast has much to do with this lost sense of time. And I suppose that whole master’s degree business consumes a good chunk of my time, too.
Amidst the relative chaos of my current endeavors- full-time school, part-time jobs, eating, breathing- and the perpetual uncertainty of what lies ahead, I am planning to the greatest extent possible. Career-oriented jobs are being pursued, finances are being organized, and food growing and preserving projects are being devised. And as INCREDIBLY exciting (and kind of terrifying) as those first two items may sound, it is the latter which truly owns my heart and mind.
To inform you of these matters, allow me to explain where I stand on the growing-side of things. For more details on how exactly I got here, check out the ABOUT section of the blog.
First, a bit about the farm.
I could go on and on about this organization, but I won’t… because I’ll just link you to their website. Their mission reads:
“Waltham Fields Community Farm (WFCF) promotes local agriculture and food access through our farming operations and educational programs, using practices that are socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable. We encourage healthy relationships between people, their food supply, and the land from which it grows.”
I’ll also mention that they utilize a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farming model as their main source of revenue. They have a 20-week summer CSA share distributed mid-June through October and a winter CSA share distributed several times in the months of November and December. As of right now, winter shares are only available to summer shareholders on a first come, first serve basis. Waltham Fields is not certified organic, but they have been practicing organic methods since day one of operations. And you know the produce must be something special when spaceship-earth-mother Frances Moore Lappé is a shareholder. Just sayin’.
My role at the farm has changed somewhat over the past couple of years, and may even change again this season (stay tuned). As of right now, however, I am committed to: maintaining the Learning Garden, used for children’s educational programs throughout the spring, summer, and fall; regularly contributing to the farm’s blog, which I launched in the summer of 2010; and redesigning the organization’s print brochure as part of a directed study through Tufts. In 2010 and 2011, I worked as an educator for various summer programs catering to children ages 6-15. It’s likely I will also assist with some of these programs this season, but my focus has shifted over to the production side of operations. THAT said, I do have a little side project in the works, too…
Education programs at the farm, including its formal Farmer Training program, children’s activities, and adult workshops, rely heavily on charitable contributions made to the organization. And while Waltham Fields has seen these programs grow substantially over the past several years, they are always in need of more funding. Reliance on in-kind donations has (mostly) worked so far, but figuring out a more sustainable means of providing these services and opportunities is certainly something the organization is looking to achieve in the near future.
After two seasons of working in the Learning Garden and several years working at Tempo Bistro, a local restaurant, a partnership between the two organizations seemed like a no-brainer to me. We grow crops all season long in the Learning Garden, just like the farmers do in the fields, yet children’s programming does not run continuously during this period, nor does it ever use up all of the produce borne out of the garden. Though I’m not yet willing to believe that this crazy, unseasonal weather will last the entire year, it just might; with proper planning, we could get even more food out of that near-eighth of an acre once again.
If you couldn’t figure it out by now, the cornerstone of the project is the direct sale of fresh-picked, organically-grown “surplus” produce to the restaurant as it is available. Due to the needs of the restaurant and expected inconsistency of produce delivery, what is sold to the restaurant will most likely be featured in special appetizers, salads, and entrees. Logistically speaking, it doesn’t make sense to even try to provide staples (storage onions, garlic, etc) to the restaurant. What DOES make sense is to grow and sell many specialty items, like purple scallions, striped beets, tender and hearty greens, and edible flowers. Of course, the Learning Garden first and foremost caters to the needs of education programs, so this year, our trial run of the project, might be a bit less robust in sales than what is actually possible.
On a similar but different note, perhaps one of the coolest parts of the whole arrangement is that I can sell the crops at competitive prices since no other market really exists for them. It’s pretty much a win-win-win situation- the restaurant gets fresh, organic food at a good rate, farm programs get a new funding stream, and I get to spend more time micro-farming, which is a learning experience and pleasure in and of itself. If there is anything that has been drilled into my head during my master’s studies, it’s COLLABORATE, COLLABORATE, COLLABORATE; I’m beyond excited to see what comes of this partnership.
I should also mention that I don’t exactly get paid, in the traditional sense of the word, to do most of these jobs; my education work is the exception, but I do not intend to pursue that position this year. I do the blog because I enjoy it, and I receive academic credit for my directed study hours. Garden maintenance is part of the farm’s workshare program; I put in a set minimum of hours over the growing season in return for a summer CSA share. I’m sure there are plenty of people who think this is totally nutso, but I absolutely love the time I get to spend in the garden, helping to support an established but expanding organization through the power of organic vegetables. Besides, this form of payment is actually a bigger value to me than a weekly check. Instead of spending even more money on heavily-transported organic produce at a grocery store or conventional fresh foods at my local farmer’s market, I get to take home more just-harvested organic vegetables than I know what to do with all summer long and into the fall.
GROW is a volunteer-run, organic garden project at the Waltham Field Station, which is exactly where the bulk of the farm’s productive acreage, gardens, and main office are also situated. They rent out 15 x 15-foot garden plots for about $25 a year. Once you have a plot, you can return to it year after year as long as you keep it organic and productive. Local, inexpensive, and convenient, GROW is an absolute boon to landless growers in and around Waltham.
I got on the waiting list for one of these fertile patches in the spring of 2010. Last spring (2011, y’all) I got an email saying that those in the top twenty of the waiting list would most likely get a plot this year (2012). I’m #19. Let me tell you, the suspense is KILLING ME. Fingers crossed I get to plant these gorgeous Charentais melons, sauce tomatoes, Thai eggplants, and tasty kai-lan, better known in the west as Chinese broccoli. Based upon past examination of the plots, I think mine would be the most eclectic of the bunch in terms of varieties grown.
Alright, enough about me. I’d love to hear what others are planning to do for the growing season ahead. Depending on where you’re located and what kind of set up you have, you may have already started some seeds or begun to work your soil. I’m especially interested in community garden projects and small-scale urban/suburban growing arrangements, but any and all feedback is welcome. Feel free to share your plans in the comment section below.
Check in again soon to read about my preservation plans for the season ahead and updates on my summer growing opportunities.
Video credit: “2 + 2 = 5” performed live by Radiohead via YouTube (2006).