Growing Before Our Very Eyes

photo of Golden Nugget and Sakura Cherry Tomatoes - some of the sweet fruits of the season.

Golden Nugget and Sakura Cherry Tomatoes – some of the sweet fruits of the season.

Looking out at the fields at the end of the day today I was struck by the jungle of tomato, squash, eggplant and pepper plants that met my gaze.   Are the winter squash already ripening – the tomato seeds that we planted back in late March now giant plants busily producing delicious fruits in varying hues?

photo of potato harvest

Anna, Christine and Kayleigh harvest potatoes in July.

We are in the fields every day, harvesting, planting and weeding, but it’s easy to forget how these vibrant plants were once fragile seedlings in our propagation hoophouse.

photo of Seedlings growing along in our "propogation house" (formerly called Hoophouse #1) in August - but the view is much the same in mid-May!

Seedlings growing along in our “propogation house” (formerly called Hoophouse #1) in August – but the view is much the same in mid-May!

These seedlings grow up quickly and by mid-August THEY are the ones that dictate the rhythm of the days – for everyone knows that if you leave a productive zucchini plant unattended for even one day the fruits will double in size!

photo of Devin and I make a delivery to The Table at Father Bill's & Mainspring on August 21st.

Devin and I make a delivery to The Table at Father Bill’s & Mainspring on August 21st.

Our days are also guided not just by the speed at which the plants produce their fruits, but by our deliveries to our partners: The Easton Food Pantry (Monday), The Table at Father Bill’s and Mainspring (Thursday), and the Family Life Center (Thursday).  We visit My Brother’s Keeper a few days throughout the week, as they make deliveries to their clients at least three days per week and we like to try to pick and deliver the same day to ensure freshness and maximize nutritional benefits of the veggies for those who they reach.

photo of Devin and I make a delivery to The Table at Father Bill's & Mainspring on August 21st.

A few of visitors from the Old Colony Y visited us on August 20th to pick their own veggies.

We who have been at The Farm all summer have grown accustomed to these rhythms and the full fields, but I have heard from our students who have recently returned from their summers elsewhere that the farm that they returning to barely resembles the one that they left in late April.  It is fun and refreshing to take a look back at images throughout the season to track some of the changes and appreciate the fecundity of the plants that have quietly grown and produced delicious vegetables for us all season.

photo fo Field 2, freshly planted in June.

Field 2, freshly planted in June.

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photo of Field 2 in early August

Field 2 in early August!

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photo of Volunteers plant peas in late April.

Volunteers plant peas in late April.

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photo of Peas starting to grow up their trellises (left) in May.

Peas starting to grow up their trellises (left and center) in May.

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photo of Peas start to flower in June.

Peas start to flower in June.

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photo of Finally time to harvest the peas in late June!

Finally time to harvest the peas in late June!

It’s really incredible to think about the speed at which a zucchini or summer squash produces fruit once the plants mature – I almost feel like you could watch them grow right before your eyes.  Every once and awhile a few plants go unattended for a couple of days in a row, and the resulting zucchini are as big as our crews calves – and more cut out to become Zucchini Parmesan than a side dish of delicate grilled spears.

photo A couple of zucchini that we forgot to harvest for a day or 2!

A couple of zucchini that we forgot to harvest for a day or 2!

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photo of Straight Neck, Djuna, Cozelle, and Zephyr Summer Squash that we picked at the right time!

Straight Neck, Djuna, Cozelle, and Zephyr Summer Squash that we picked at the right time!

One of my favorite places at the moment is the propogation hoophouse where the kale, lettuce, pac choi, and chard seedlings are sharing their growing space with curing Honey Bear Acorn Squash and delicious Delicata Squash.  It illustrates the productivity of the season thus far and the promise of a green and flavorful fall.

photo oPac Choi and Broccoli seedlings share space with Honey Bear Acorn Squash and Delicata Squash.

Pac Choi and Broccoli seedlings share space with Honey Bear Acorn Squash and Delicata Squash.

Another fun place to be is our second hoophouse, constructed through a generous donation by the Class of 1964 and the Harold Brooks Foundation and Bank of America, N.A., Co-Trustee, which we are nicknaming the “growhouse.” It is already brimming with life – healthy tomatoes and freshly seeded rows of carrots and turnips – and within the next couple of months we will replace the rows of tomatoes with spinach and other cool weather crops.

photo of Cucumbers and Tomatoes in the Growhouse in mid-July.

Cucumbers and Tomatoes in the Growhouse in mid-July.

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photo of Cucumbers and Tomatoes in the Growhouse in mid-July.

Tomatoes and freshly seeded rows of turnips in the Growhouse in late August.

Every spring when I look out at our field I feel a bit like a writer staring at a blank manuscript, pen in hand, and hoping that a sudden bought of intense writer’s block does not decide to take up residence in my head.  Thankfully, without fail over the past four season, we start to plan and plant our veggies that will include peppers, tomatoes, kale, onions, eggplants, herbs, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, flowers and potatoes his year.  Pretty soon we are harvesting, washing, packing and delivering our crops and that worry fades.

photo of Andrew and Chris washing Swiss Chard in July.

Summer Farmers Andrew and Chris washing Swiss Chard in July.

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photo of Summer Farmer Kayleigh ensures that the chard stays cool.

Summer Farmer Kayleigh ensures that the chard stays cool.

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photo of Beautiful Rainbow Chard freshly harvested in July.

Beautiful Rainbow Chard freshly harvested in July.

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photo Summer Farmer Kayleigh ensures that the chard stays cool.

The chard reaches it’s destination: The Table at Father Bill’s & Mainspring.

Once we till in the winter cover crops and plant our first rows of radishes and peas the worry starts fades and we move through the days prepping beds with compost, filling them with seedlings, and within a month or two the fields are filled once again.  And we watch in wonder as the hard work pays off and gives back much more than one could ever expect.

photo of The joy of the carrot harvest - something my summer farmers will be able to attest to!

The joy of the carrot harvest – something my summer farmers will be able to attest to!

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photo of Farm Fridays Volunteers enjoy freshly made salsa from veggies at The Farm after a couple of hours of work on August 29th. Welcome back!

Farm Fridays Volunteers enjoy freshly made salsa from veggies at The Farm after a couple of hours of work on August 29th. Welcome back!

As the cooler nights arrive, we continue to farm, planting crops that will enjoy the fall in the fields or in the “growhouse” as we start to store up images and save seeds to keep us warm in the colder months and well prepared for another bountiful season at The Farm!

photo of Students visit The Farm during their First Year Philosophy Seminar with Professor Megan Mitchell and help to save bean seeds to plant next spring.

Students visit The Farm during their First Year Philosophy Seminar with Professor Megan Mitchell and help to save bean seeds to plant next spring.

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A few small arrangements of flowers for a little summer dinner party.

The colors of summer – captured for cooler weather consumption!

 

 

 

 

Guest Post! — Permaculture: Why Mow When You Can Grow?

Why Mow When You Can Grow?

 By: Christine Moodie (Class of 2015)

photo of Summer Farmers relax in the new Permaculture test plot located at The Farm.
Summer Farmers relax in the new Permaculture test plot located at The Farm.

While the summer harvest is providing us with a bounty of fresh produce for our community partners, a team of students and faculty are actively performing research to create permaculture gardens for the Stonehill College and Massasoit Community College Campuses through funding provided by the Lloyd G. Balfour Foundation, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee!

How did this research take root? In the late spring, two faculty members, Bridget Meigs, Instructor and Farm Manager at The Farm at Stonehill, and Melanie Trecek-King, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Sustainable Landscaping Committee at Massasoit Community College met with Rachel Hirst, Assistant Professor of Biology and Marie Kelly, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, to discuss the potential to work together and with students Jamall Plummer of Massasoit and myself, to create on-campus permaculture gardens at each of the respective colleges.  When I was approached with this research opportunity while I was studying sustainability in Australia, I was thrilled to become involved and be a part of the project.  I became even more excited when I met Jamall Plummer, a passionate student and leader in the garden projects at Massasoit College and active urban farmer at his home in Brockton.

photo of Some of the gardens at the Massasoit College Brockton Campus.
Some of the gardens at the Massasoit College Brockton Campus.

The research project and the resulting gardens will serve as living laboratory spaces, allowing students from both campuses to connect with one another – creating academic and community linkages between Stonehill and Massasoit for years to come.

photo of Jamall Plummer working in the Massasoit gardens!
Jamall Plummer, Massasoit student collaborator, working in the Massasoit gardens!

Now, what is permaculture? Permaculture, also described as “permanent agriculture”, or “permanent culture” (since the two are so often intertwined!) is a regenerative design system that involves observing and mimicking the relationships found in nature to create ecological and edible landscapes and sustainable communities and economies.  Therefore, permaculture incorporates organic growing methods that emphasizes growing polycultures (a number of different kinds of crops) over monocultures (one kind of crop) and planting perennial (plants that come back year after year) rather than annual crops (plants that have just one season) to ultimately create a complete and self-perpetuating system!

An herb spiral is a permaculture design. When you visit The Farm you will see one of these in the middle of the meditation garden.
An herb spiral is a permaculture design. When you visit The Farm you will see one of these in the middle of the meditation garden.

Why have a garden on campus?  I think by having a garden on campus, it begins to change people’s perceptions on how they think about food- from production to consumption. I really want students to think about where their food is coming from, how it is being grown, and who is growing it, so we can all begin to change those norms!  The garden would show a real life example of how to convert underutilized grass lawns on the campus into edible, educational, and biodiverse gardens!

photo of UMASS Amherst has led the way in integrating Permaculture Gardens into their campus's landscape.  Here is a sketch of their flagship garden, located right next to one of their dining facilities on campus in Amherst, MA.
UMASS Amherst has led the way in integrating Permaculture Gardens into their campus’s landscape. Here is a sketch of their flagship garden, located right next to one of their dining facilities on campus in Amherst, MA.

The garden will hopefully also inspire more Stonehill students and staff to visit The Farm at Stonehill and learn more about food desert conditions in parts of Brockton to help to inspire more lasting solutions.  In the future, the garden will also provide educational opportunities and living laboratory spaces for ecological and scientific research.  It will bring together students, faculty, and staff from all different realms and disciplines and offer additional volunteer opportunities while being an outlet and source of inspiration for students during the school year.

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A college campus is a perfect setting for implementing a permaculture garden as they are replicable, low-maintenance, scalable and can be adapted to suit anyone and in any climate!  In addition, all of the food harvested from the garden will be available to the entire Stonehill Community, providing healthy and nutritious food grown from the campus itself!

In the past two weeks, we have been preparing the permaculture garden at the Farm for planting in the fall by outlining the beds with rocks and adding compost and mulch!

Watch the progression below!

photo of Location for the Permaculture Garden test plot at The Farm at Stonehill!
Location for the Permaculture Garden test plot at The Farm at Stonehill.

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photo of Making progress! Thank you to Langwater Farm for the local rocks that we used to outline the beds!
Making progress! Thank you to Langwater Farm for the local rocks that we used to outline the beds.

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photo of     “The Farm at Stonehill” brick at the entrance to the garden for a unique and authentic touch!
“The Farm at Stonehill” brick at the entrance to the garden for a unique and authentic touch!

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photo of Bridget and Chris laying down plastic for the pathways to keep down the weeds!
Farm Manger, Bridget and Summer Farmer, Chris, laying down a plastic ground cloth for the pathways to keep the weeds from taking over!

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Adding mulch to the beds - a big thanks to all of the farmers, Bridget, Devin, Anna, Andrew, Chris, and Kaleigh for helping with the first stages of implementation of the garden!
Adding mulch to the beds – a big thanks to all of the farmers, Bridget, Devin, Anna, Andrew, Chris, and Kaleigh for helping with the first stages of implementation of the garden.

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Ready for planting! Here we will plant some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and flowers as well as some annual crops.
Ready for planting! Here we will plant some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and flowers as well as some annual crops in our test plot at The Farm.

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On another exciting note, the location of the on-campus garden is in the final stages of approval – it is located behind the split rail fence along the southern edge of Duffy Parking Lot behind the senior courts.  We are very excited about this high visibility location that many students will pass on a daily basis! The garden beds will be planted with a variety of annual and perennial plants that will be maintained by students affiliated with the club Food Truth and under the supervision of Bridget Meigs, Farm Manager.

photo of Proposed site for our Permaculture Garden on campus.
Proposed site for our Permaculture Garden on campus.

Once we receive approval, we are excited to begin sheet mulching on campus soon and begin planting our perennial crops in the fall!  Sheet mulching is a no dig, no till gardening technique that reduces labor inputs, improves soil quality, prevents soil erosion, and improves plant health and productivity.  Sheet mulching involves aerating the soil, reducing soil compaction while disturbing it a lot less than using a tractor, then covering the area with compost, organic matter that will improve soil health and add nutrients to the soil.  The compost is then covered with a layer of cardboard or newspapers, which will prevent weeds from growing.  Lastly, the area is covered by a mulch layer, which will hold in moisture and nutrients for the plants!

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We can’t wait to continue the work on this project and begin to watch the garden grow!

Please contact me if you’d like to learn more and get involved in Food Truth or these garden projects: cmoodie2@students.stonehill.edu.

All A-Buzz at The Farm

Guest Post: All A-Buzz at The Farm

By, Devin Ingersoll (2014)

As the weather warms up there is something new buzzing about among the fruits and veggies at the Farm at Stonehill – Italian Honey Bees!

photo of Some of our honeybees hard at work on June 13th.

Some of our honey bees – hard at work on June 13th.

            In May of this year the Farm began working with The Best Bees Company, a company based out of the South End of Boston, MA offering beekeeping services to over 200 clients throughout New England in rural, suburban, and urban habitats.  All profits fund research to improve honey bee  health at the Urban Beekeeping Laboratory & Bee Sanctuary, also located in the South End.  The company installed our very own beehive stocked with Italian Honey Bees on May 16th. The hive is located near a boggy area (for water) and our Apple Orchard, but the bees can travel up to 5 miles from the hive as they complete their work and will happily pollinate our crops for this season and years to come. 

picture of The bees will help to pollinate many of our crops, including our apples.  Pictured here: Crimson Gold Apple Blossom - located about 100 feet from our hive.

The bees will help to pollinate many of our crops, including our apples. Pictured here: Crimson Gold Apple Blossom – located about 100 feet from our hive.

           Why Italian honey bees, you say?  This species of honey bee is known for its productivity and docile nature – hardworking and friendly (a lot like our farm crew!).  Beekeepers will come out to the hive once a month to check on the bees and at the end of the season harvest the honey and wax for us as well.  The company provides friendly and informative monthly reports like this:

Dear Bridget,

After checking your hive last Thursday, we are happy to report that your hive is very active and healthy.  The queen has been laying, giving your colony around 8 frame sides of brood.  There are nearly 4 frame sides of honey production under way, but nothing fully capped to pull yet.  We added a second box to your hive, giving your bees another 20 frame sides to inhabit. Your colony is utilizing 16 out of the now 40 frame sides currently in place. 

Warm Regards,
Operations at Best Bees

Alia, one of the beekeepers informed us that we may see up to 10-20 lbs of honey this first season.  Depending upon the amount of honey we see we will decide upon where it will be sold or donated – keep an eye on the blog for more information on this as the season progresses!

photo oHoney bees arrive on May 16th. The beekeeper pictured here is looking for the queen.

Honey bees arrive on May 16th. The beekeeper pictured here is looking for the queen.

            Honey bees live in a very well-organized and well-maintained hives usually in small, enclosed spaces.  Humans have used this trait to their advantage and have created boxes where honeybees are usually perfectly happy to create a home. The bees work together to build their geometric honeycombs from wax secreted from their abdomens.  Each individual honeycomb hexagon is used to store pollen, honey, or developing bee larva.  Just as caterpillars turn into butterflies, bees undergo metamorphosis as they transform from the egg to larva to pupa to adult honeybee. 

photo of Alia, a Beekeeper from Best Bees shows me a healthy crew of our honey bees on June 13th - less than 1 month after installation!

Alia, a Beekeeper from Best Bees shows me a healthy crew of our honey bees on June 13th – less than 1 month after installation!

            When you peek into the hive thousands of bees – our hive was started with around 10,000 bees – are busily buzzing about performing their designated tasks.  Each hive has one queen bee that lays all of the eggs for the hive (up to 1,000 a day!). The majority hatch into worker bees who take care of the larvae, build and clean the nest, and leave the hive to forage for food all in their 5-7 week lifespan.  Lastly there are about 100-500 male or drone bees that hatch and subsequently leave the nest to mate with other queens in hives nearby and immediately die.

photo of Rows and rows of tomatoes will soon produce flowers and undoubtedly be visited by the honey bees from the nearby hive.

Rows and rows of tomatoes will soon produce flowers and undoubtedly be visited by the honey bees from the nearby hive.

            As worker bees forage for food (pollen and nectar) from the flowering plants nearby they also act as pollinators for those plants. Without pollination the plants could not complete their life cycle and produce all of the fruits and seeds necessary to continue life as we know it – there would be no fruits or seeds to provide energy to humans and all living things to thrive. We need bees and other beneficial insects, no matter how small, to ensure a healthy ecosystem.

photo of The Lady Bug - especially while in it's larvae stage - is another beneficial and naturally occurring insect thriving at our farm - they are known for their good work of eating soft-bodied pests like aphids.

The Lady Bug – especially while in it’s larvae stage – is another beneficial and naturally occurring insect thriving at our farm – they are known for their good work of eating soft-bodied pests like aphids.

As the summer rolls on we are excited to see the bees buzzing about knowing that without the bees and other pollinators our crops – flowers, veggies, fruits and herbs – would not be as bountiful and delicious as they are today!

photo of The Lady Bug - especially while in it's larvae stage - is another beneficial and naturally occurring insect thriving at our farm - they are known for their good work of eating soft-bodied pests like aphids.

Our first bouquet of the season picked on June 13th. The bees will love these flower and we, in turn, will enjoy all of the colors and perfumes they provide.

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photo of I hold up our first - of many - bouquets that we will harvest this summer!

Farm Manager Bridget holds up our first of many bouquets that we will harvest this summer. Lots of rain last week with sun this week will produce hundreds of blossoms – which will make our bees and customers very happy!

             For more information about the social behavior of bees check out the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium following and Beespotter.

            Maybe you may want to try out beekeeping for yourself next year – check out this site for some information to get you started!

            Next time you are at the Farm check out the hive (next to the compost pile) and watch our bees buzzing about!  

 

 

Elements of a Living Canvas

Spring is a miraculous time to be a farmer – it is a time of creativity, renewed energy and productivity.

On these cooler days in May the fields appear to be a blank canvas that we are given the opportunity to fill up with colorful, nutritious crops.  We start each growing season with the memory of bountiful fields – thousands of plants producing fruits faster than we can harvest them – as we look out at many open rows waiting to be filled with tiny, seemingly vulnerable seedlings.  With the knowledge that these small, fragile seedlings often grow rapidly into strong, vibrant plants, we forge ahead and begin to paint the farm once again.

photo of Volunteers plant sunflowers and onions in early May.

Volunteers plant sunflowers and onions in early May.

The volunteers are plentiful and eager to help the farm have another successful year!  During the months of April and May we often welcomed 25-30 helpers each Friday who quickly got right to work: planting, mulching, watering and prepping beds.  We have them to thank for the rows and rows of healthy plants that are growing along beautifully now on these longer, warmer days.

photo of so many seedlings to plant

I choose a tray of zinnia seedlings for Ryan and Jeremy to plant on a sunny Farm Friday.

The plants are adapting well to the somewhat harsher environment that lies outside of the protective hoophouse, and with some water and time in the sun they start to grow.  We can’t help but anticipate all of the delicious flavors that our first harvests of High Mowing Mesclun Mix, Shanghi Green Pac Choi and Deer Tongue Lettuce will bring to the table.

photo of busy farm volunteer hours

Busy farm volunteers water and plant flowers, onions, collards and kale.

In addition to careful planting, the light and heat from the sun, and nutrients in the soil, our crops will also require water and some help competing with the weeds to ensure that they achieve their full potential.  Volunteers assist in the important tasks of rolling out the irrigation “lay-flat” tubes and drip tape and delivering mulch to the fields.

photo of tijana and dan unroll the drip lines

Tijana and Dan help unroll the lay-flat that will carry water to the drip tape that will water the plants in the fields.

We are experimenting with doing some more mulching between the rows this season using hay purchased at the end of the last season and newly purchased salt marsh hay.  This mulch will add organic material back to the soil and allow us to cut back on hours spent weeding and weed whacking!

photo of mulching

Sarah, Kaylie and Devin transport seasoned hay out to the field to mulch the areas between the rows.

photo of spreading out the mulch - adding organic content and suppressing weeds

Devin helps to spread the mulch between rows of sunflowers, zinnias and onions.

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In addition to volunteer groups, a number of classes visit the farm regularly to deepen lessons introduced in the classrooms across the street.  The Farm was the subject of this year’s Faculty Focus piece, created by our marketing team to highlight how a number of faculty members are utilizing The Farm as an outdoor learning space.

photo of Father Steve's students help with the grapes

Father Steve’s students help to cultivate the grapes.

Father Steve Wilbricht is one of the faculty who is utilizing the farm as a living classroom. He is committed to growing grapes with the help of his class on the Sacraments and can often be found weeding, watering and monitoring the health of the grapevines at The Farm.

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One strategy to ensure productivity or all of our crops involves supporting our populations of pollinators, both native and imported.  This year we are adding a hive of Italian honeybees to the farm, which will be managed by the beekeepers of The Best Bees Company in Boston.  This addition to The Farm is the result of a Sustainable Agriculture semester long project by students Devin Ingersoll and Jess Lantos – both members of the Class of 2014.

photo of bees arrive Best Bees

10,000 bees arrive at The Farm with a Best Bees Beekeeper on May 16th.

The construction of our second hoophouse is another current exciting activity at The Farm, and is also the result of a student project.  In my Sustainable Agriculture class last spring, Dan Gardiner (Class of 2014) and Jack Bressor (Class of 2013) outlined how we could extend our growing and learning season at The Farm with the addition of a second growing structure like this.  With the help of a second year of funding from the Harold Brooks Foundation we were able to purchase the supplies to make the addition this spring.

photo of hoophouse going in

Chuck and John set the ground posts for Hoophouse #2.

Despite their own busy spring at Freedom Food Farm in Raynham, MA, Farmers Chuck Currie and John White are making some time to put up the hoophouse for us. We plan to grow tomatoes, cucumbers and other warm weather crops in this structure during the summer and then chard, kale, lettuce and other greens during the colder months.

photo of pounding in the stakes

Sledge hammers, bulb augers, a level and pure, hard work are the most important tools for pounding in the ground posts.

One of the unexpected benefits of this construction project includes temporary perching for local tree swallows. Seeing them enjoy this space reminds me of the lessons I teach in the classroom – we are part of a larger ecosystem here at The Farm and have an important duty to be stewards to the land and to support the biodiversity that thrives on the farm and in the fields and trees that surround us.

photo of Sparrows enjoy ground posts

Tree Swallows enjoy the view from the ground posts after construction is done for the day.

We have also seen toads, bees, crickets, robins, bluebirds, nesting killdeer and many other creatures at The Farm this spring, which encourages us to continue to think about ways to provide a diverse habitat as we simultaneously work to grow, harvest and deliver our crops to nurture the human members of our community.

photo of Killdeer in the lettuce

A Killdeer sits on her nest which she chose to build in the shade of a Red Oakleaf Lettuce seedling.

I was relieved to see that this Killdeer (pictured above) decided to lay her eggs in a row after it had been planted it with seedlings.  She actively defends her nest whenever we approach the area to plant or weed in a nearby row.  We are happy to let her have this head of lettuce and hope that she stays in this part of the field out of harms way of the rototiller or a hoe.

photo of Summer Farmer Chris plants onions with Jeremy, our new Farm "Into the Streets" coordinator.

Summer Farmer Chris plants onions with Jeremy, our new Farm “Into the Streets” coordinator.

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photo of Summer farmers planting

Summer Farmers Kayleigh and Andrew plant out the last of the onions in late May.

This summer, 3 summer farmers will be helping to care for our farm: Kayleigh McDonnell, Andrew Curran and Chris Astephen.  Together we will work with the volunteers, visitors, killdeer, bees, community members, and whatever the weather brings us to grow vegetables and flowers.

photo of seedling enjoy the hoophouse head as they prepare for life in the field

A view of The Farm through Hoophouse #1 – thousands of plants that will soon be moved out into the fields to grow.

We are keeping busy moving the seedlings from Hoophouse #1 into the fields and have started to harvest a few things – lettuce and Pac Choi – for our community partners and the people that they serve.

photo of first harvest

First harvest of colorful Mesclun Mix – delivered to the Easton Food Pantry on May 19th.

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Season #4 is officially underway… looking forward to seeing what new elements we can add to this year’s masterpiece.

Visit us at The Farm or on Facebook to see it all unfold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring’s First Heralds Hum!

With temperatures falling into the teens at night for much of March, it feels like an understatement to say we have had a slow start to spring  here in Easton, MA.  In his poem, “I Have a Rendezvous With Life, “ Countee Cullen includes the line “I have a rendezvous with Life, When spring’s first heralds hum.”  This year it is almost as if Spring is waking up a bit late and almost lackadaisically going about getting herself ready for a very important date with the calendar.  Rest assured, I’m confident that the tilt of the earth and the intensifying sun rays will hurry her along and these colder days will be replaced by warmer days before we know it!

photo of Crocuses burst from the earth despite frigid nighttime temperatures on March 20th.

Crocuses burst from the earth despite frigid nighttime temperatures (March 20, 2014).

At The Farm at Stonehill, we are making good use of this slower start to the season to organize our growing spaces and to plant early crops like onions, greens and flowers to ensure a productive fourth season!  Regular “Farm Friday” volunteer hours will recommence on April 10th promptly at 2:30, but thankfully some of the students have started to appear at The Farm to lend a hand even though they must do so clad in hats, gloves and windbreakers to keep out the chill.

photo of Kraig, Gabby, Dan and Devin use the wind to help them fold up a tarp that was used to protect a sling bag of our seed starting Fort Vee mix from Vermont Compost from the elements during the winter.

Kraig, Gabby, Dan and Devin use the wind to help them fold up a tarp that was used to protect a sling bag of our seed starting Fort Vee mix from Vermont Compost from the elements during the winter.

Volunteers have helped to clean up our hoophouse to make way for trays upon trays of seedlings that are currently germinating in the greenhouse at Shields Science Center.

photo of volunteers

Kaylie Bissonnette and Kayleigh McDonnell (both students in the Sustainable Agriculture class) help to clean up an experimental plot from last year’s Sustainable Agriculture class.

Some of the projects seem small, but to the farmers at Stonehill, an organized hoophouse, is satisfying and beautiful thing to behold – especially when we picture the tables filled with trays teeming with a diverse array of crops!

photo of Chris, Burke and Kraig help to set up seeding tables.

Chris, Burke and Kraig help to set up seeding tables.

It won’t be long before these onion seeds have germinated and turn from brown to green (or red and purple)…

photo of Seeding onions on March 6th under sunny skies in the hoophouse.

Seeding onions on March 6th under sunny skies in the hoophouse.

…like these beets,

photo of Beets seedling drink in the sun in the greenhouse.

Early Wonder Beet seedlings drink in the sun in the greenhouse.

…these lettuce,

photo of two star lettuce seedlings

Two Star Lettuce Seedlings.

…and these Mesclun Mix seedlings.

photo of mesclun mix

My favorite – High Mowing Mesclun Mix!

In addition to our intrepid volunteers, we have had other visitors to The Farm, like Candidate for Lieutenant Governor James Arena-Derosa  in Massachusetts.  One of the main focuses of his campaign is “Ending Hunger While Creating Jobs” and he took some time while he was on campus to visit with me and Professor Chris Wetzel at The Farm and also meet with students in my Sustainable Agriculture class to share his views on the matter.  We all enjoyed his visit and wish him the best of luck with his campaign.

photo of Candidate for Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, James Arena-Derosa visited with me and Chris during his visit to the campus on March 17th.

Candidate for Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, James Arena-Derosa visited with me and Chris at The Farm during his visit to the campus on March 17th.

Unlikely as it may seem, Spring is arriving and bringing the sensation of softer fields underfoot, the lively whooshing of running water in the melting streams, and the cheerful songs of Spring Peepers and Robins.  

It won’t be long before Season #4 is in full swing!

photo of Melissa, Burke, Kaylie, Gabby, Kraig, Devin, Chris, Dan and Kayleigh - basking in the post volunteer hours glow.

Melissa, Burke, Kaylie, Gabby, Kraig, Devin, Chris, Dan and Kayleigh – basking in the post volunteer hours glow.

Stay tuned for updates on the true arrival of spring here – with exciting news about the college’s commitment to Real Food to come in my next post!

photo Zuri is happy that mud season has arrived and is looking forward to welcoming any and all volunteers to The Farm!

Zuri is happy that mud season has arrived and is looking forward to welcoming volunteers to The Farm!

 

Winter Research: From the Lab to the Field

From the Lab to The Field: Cold-Tolerance Gene Research at the Farm

Guest post by, Danielle Garceau, Class of 2015

photo of Cold-hardy crops ready for winter in the hoop house

Cold-hardy crops ready for winter in the hoop house.

Even during the quieter, less hectic winter months, there is still a surprising amount of activity at the farm. From Mesclun mix and other cold weather crops like Spinach growing along in the hoop house, to students learning in their outdoor classroom, the farm is still a happening place.

But what else might be going on? Yes, research! As the temperature begins to drop the farm is the ideal location for an ongoing study that I am conducting with Professor Irvin Pan of the Biology Department with the support of the Farm. Through this research, we are hoping to determine the underlying genetic basis for cold-tolerance in crop species known to be cold-hardy.

Funded by the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Program, this project is a continuation of research conducted this past growing season that will shift from the lab to the farm this winter. We are collecting and analyzing field data to better understand how certain tasty plant species can survive in outdoor winter weather environments.

Over this past summer, our group identified the cold tolerance genes Inducer of CBF Expression 1 (ICE1), C-Repeat Binding Factor 3 (CBF3), and Eskimo 1 (ESK1) in known cold-hardy crops such as Broccoli, Bok-Choi, and Kale alongside the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. We conducted an experiment to compare the expression of the cold-tolerance gene CBF3 in plants incubated at warm and cold temperatures.

This figure represents the changes in CBF3 levels over a 2 hour time period. Red arrows indicate CBF3 levels before the cold exposure and blue arrows indicate CBF3 levels after the cold exposure with numbers below the bands representing expression level as compared to before the cold exposure.

Cold Exposure Experiment: Gel Electrophoresis:   This figure represents the changes in CBF3 levels over a 2 hour time period. Red arrows indicate CBF3 levels before the cold exposure and blue arrows indicate CBF3 levels after the cold exposure with numbers below the bands representing expression level as compared to before the cold exposure.

The picture above is one of many gel electrophoreses ran on the DNA (in this case, cDNA or complementary DNA that is made from mRNA or messenger RNA) of these crop species. The bands above are the actual DNA of a specific gene that we are studying. The brighter the band, the more DNA there is in the plant tissue, meaning the plant is turning on this specific gene. As you can see from this gel picture after a 2 hour long exposure to cold temperatures, the expression level of the cold-tolerance gene CBF3 underwent as much as a 15 fold increase! We think that this may be one reason why plants like Broccoli, Kale, and Bok-Choi don’t mind colder temperatures.

photo of Greenhouse Cold Exposure Experiment in the Greenhouse at Shield Science Center.

Greenhouse Cold Exposure Experiment in the Greenhouse at Shield Science Center.

Through conducting further cold exposure experiments this winter at the greenhouse we hope to confirm these results on a larger scale and over a longer time period of one month while also recording the temperatures that the plants experience every hour using a temperature data logger.

photo of The new cold frame at The Farm.

The new cold frame at The Farm.

In addition to our work in the heated greenhouse this winter, we hope to also grow our cold-hardy plants in the newly built cold frame. Using the cold frame will allow us to gather data in a setting in which not only farmers but home gardeners could grow crops during the colder months of the year. This cold frame will also prove to be a useful learning tool in sustainable agriculture practices to students that use the farm as an outdoor classroom and engage in classes like Sustainable Agriculture – taught by Farm Manager Meigs.

In conducting this research at the farm we hope to ultimately extend the farm’s growing season further into the winter through the selection of crops most suited to colder temperatures. Through extending the farm’s growing season we also hope to enable the farm to provide fresh produce to community partners well into the winter season.

Thanksgiving for a Fruitful Season!

A turnip green wrapped up in a light coat of frost.

A turnip green wrapped up in a light coat of frost.

As the chilling wind races around the fields, stirring up fallen leaves along the edges, rushing between our spindly apple trees, and bending the recently sprouted cover crops with ease it is clear that our third growing season is coming to a close.

Here are a few fast facts about The Farm that tell some of the story of how productive the 2013 Season has been and how many people are responsible for our bountiful harvest.

2013 Harvest: 12,416.5 pounds of over 35 different kinds of veggies – our biggest and most diverse harvest yet!

2013 Donations: These vegetables were donated to our partners: My Brother’s Keeper, the Easton Food Pantry, The Old Colony YMCA’s Family Life Center, and The Table at Father Bill’s & MainSpring.

2013 Volunteers: Over 500 hours contributed by over 250 individuals.

Classes Held at The Farm: Over 18 different classes, including creative writing, photography, mentoring through art, environmental science, religious studies, and first year experience classes used the farm as an outdoor learning space to help deepen certain lessons and provide context for others.

2013 Flower Sales: $2,100.00

Zuri approves of this year's harvest!

Zuri approves of this year’s harvest!

As Thanksgiving approaches, we have so much to be thankful for, from the natural elements that create an environment that supports healthy and productive plants to our summer staff and year-round volunteers who join us to make the work of planting, feeding the soil with compost, weeding, harvesting, and finally, delivering our crops both easier and much more fun.

protecting apple trees

Members of the Food Politics Learning Community help to protect our young apple trees from rodents that might attempt to snack on saplings in the colder months.

Looking back on this season, I see a different farm than the one we started in February of 2011.  The same generous and hopeful spirit, originally found in Professor Paul Daponte’s vision for the farm – to grow organic and healthy food with and for our neighbors in need and raise awareness about food deserts – is thriving!

A group of students helps to plant garlic on October 28th.

A group of students helps to plant garlic on October 28th.

However, I think that it was in this third season that the dust started to settle and the work of The Farm began to thrive, not just on it’s 2 acre plot next to The David Ames Clock Farm/Facilities Management, but also in the classrooms and in the creation of new student groups like “Food Truth” across the street on the main campus.  There are times, I must admit, when I hear people talking about The Farm, and Food Truth – a student organization that works to promote Real Food on campus – who I have not yet had the pleasure of getting to know.  It is exciting to see The Farm becoming more integrated into the campus culture!

Food Truth held a Banana Split To Commit event on Food Day, October 24th. In this photo, students sign a petition asking for more "real food" on campus as they await their turn to make a banana split comprised of local, organic, fairly traded, or humanely produced items.

Food Truth held a Banana Split To Commit event on Food Day, October 24th. In this photo, students sign a petition asking for more “real food” on campus as they await their turn to make a banana split comprised of local, organic, fairly traded, or humanely produced items.

Still housed under the Mission Division and now under the guidance of Father Jim Lies, The Farm is truly a place of community where new volunteers are now welcomed not just by me and Zuri, but by students who have been working at The Farm for almost their entire Stonehill career!

Three of the students who have, much to my delight, made The Farm a second home during their time at Stonehill. Gabby Gobiel (2014), Breanne Penkala (2015), and Sean Davenport (2015).

Three of the students who have, much to my delight, made The Farm a second home during their time at Stonehill. Gabby Gobiel (2014), Breanne Penkala (2015), and Sean Davenport (2015).

Despite the freezing temperatures and frost filled mornings, the work of the farm is far from complete.  We are experimenting with growing some mustard greens, spinach and a few lettuce varieties in our hoop house.  Following the lead of some friends at Langwater Farm, we flipped a few of our seedling tables over, filled them with a rich mix of compost and soil and planted our the seedlings.

Three volunteers help to plant greens on Halloween!

Three volunteers help to plant greens on Halloween!

We also find that we have time to clean the shed, the hoop house, and clean up the tines on our amazing rototiller that does such important work for us all season long.

I heard a clanking as the tiller spun through the soil and crawled under to discover a few wires had gotten tangled in the tines.

I heard a clanking as the tiller spun through the soil and crawled under to discover a few wires had gotten tangled in the tines.

The other place to pour our energy is into helping our community learn how to compost!

If you don't know how to compost, simply read the signs above the bins or ask a friend!

If you don’t know how to compost, simply read the signs above the bins or ask a friend.

Members of the Food Politics LC will join me and our TA, Breanne, to help point out what to compost – fruit, veggie, sandwich and salad scraps – and what not to compost – plastic utensils, paper boats, cereal cups as with our new campaign: “You Know How To Compost, Right!?”

The scraps from the Commons kitchen and from the tri bins near the tray return area are added to this pile daily where they are mixed with leaves and become nutritious compost.

The scraps from the Commons kitchen and from the tri bins near the tray return area are added to this pile daily where they are mixed with leaves and become nutritious compost.

Sometimes we find items in the compost pile that simply don’t belong! Help us to keep our operation clean, productive and functional so that we can grow more nutritious crops in the years to come.

These plastic bottles were pulled out of the compost pile at The Farm the other day.

These plastic bottles were pulled out of the compost pile at The Farm the other day.

Course projects are also involving the farm and our mission. For example, a group in the Climate Change Learning Community is putting a proposal together to suggest that an herb spiral garden be constructed on the main campus.  If installed it will serve as a way for students to have access to fresh, flavorful herbs for meals they prepare and allow more students to learn more about the work of The Farm.

Six students taking the Climate Change Learning Community met me and Zuri outside of the Chapel of Mary last week to discuss where to construct and herb spiral.

Six students taking the Climate Change Learning Community met me and Zuri outside of the Chapel of Mary last week to discuss possible locations for an herb spiral on campus.

Longer nights and shorter days also provide time to meet with our partners to learn which crops to grow next year and strategize about ways to involve more classes and volunteers with the work of the farm in Season 2014!

Our third season draws to a close, but winter projects abound, and Season #4 is just around the corner - you know that summer's coming soon!

Our third season draws to a close, but winter projects abound, and Season #4 is just around the corner – you know that summer’s coming soon!

Autumn In All of Her Glory

It has been a gorgeous and productive fall at The Farm.  Just last week we harvested our sweet potatoes, which put us over 12,000 pounds of veggies picked and donated for the 2013 growing season.

photo of the fields in early october.

Greens, browns, pinks, and purples still adorn the fields in early October.

We’ve been keeping busy, harvesting and delivering veggies, hosting a wide array of classes, and participating in the celebration of the inauguration of our new President, Father John Denning, by providing flowers from the fields for the reception.

photo of 25 bouquets adorned the tables at President Father John Denning's Inauguration Reception on Friday, September, 20, 2013.

25 bouquets adorned the tables at President Father John Denning’s Inauguration Reception on Friday, September, 20, 2013.

On many sunny, and a few cloudy, rainy days, students have been showing up at The Farm to help harvest sweet potatoes, hot and sweet peppers, cabbage, broccoli, beets, kale, and other hearty greens.

photo of students harvesting sweet potatoes

A crew of volunteers dig for sweet potatoes on a sunny “Farm Friday” afternoon.

Just a few of the volunteers who joined us in the fields on October 18th.

Just a few of the volunteers who joined us in the fields on October 18th to remove black plastic, harvest peppers, and plant garlic.

Though many parts of the field have started to turn from green to brown, the vibrant pink, purple and white Cosmos and our glorious green cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli plants are doing their darnedest to stave off the certainty of the frost filled mornings that await us.

photo of This cosmos is visited by a late season honey bee.

This cosmos is visited by a late season honey bee.

It is a time of year when change is omnipresent. If you look to the left you can still see fields decked with cabbage, broccoli, and sweet potato vines, but if you look to the right, the rows and rows of tomatoes are no more, and in their place cover crops are germinating.

A colorful cosmos in the foreground with broccoli growing along behind.

A colorful cosmos in the foreground with broccoli growing along behind.

Though we are sad to see the tomatoes go, it is always fun to plant the next crops. This time of year we broadcast cover crops like Bell Bean, Hairy Vetch, and Perennial Winter Rye to feed and protect our soils and help them rest over the course of the cold winter that lies ahead.

photo of Winter rye (the grass-like seedling) germinates beside Hairy vetch - a nitrogen fixing legume (in the foreground)

Winter rye (the grass-like seedling) germinates beside Hairy vetch – a nitrogen fixing legume (in the foreground).

It is clearly a magical time of year, when we can spend part of the day harvesting summery crops like Habanero Peppers…

photo of Habanero Peppers ready for the picking.

Habanero Peppers ready for the picking.

…before moving on to sweet potatoes…

photo of Freshly harvested Sweet Potato.

Joe holds a freshly harvested Sweet Potato.

…then pull up black plastic from rows that housed eggplants…

photo oNick Howard helps remove black plastic - used to help grow eggplants - from the fields.

Nick Howard, a member of Stonehill’s Advancement Team, helps remove black plastic – used to help grow eggplants – from the fields.

…before finally planting garlic.

photo of planting garlic.

Laura plants garlic seed from Red Fire Farm on October 18th.

 

phot of Volunteers help feed our garlic seed compost and the cover them with soil for a long, productive winter's nap.

Volunteers help feed our garlic seeds compost and the cover them with soil for a long, productive winter’s nap.

With the combination of help from volunteers on “Farm Fridays,” multiple classes, and our Fall Farm Intern, Devin, all of this fall work seems to unfold with ease.

photo of Many muddy hands help make the work of fall harvest light.

Many muddy hands help make the work of fall harvest light.

As many parts of the farm turn green with cover crops, other sections continue to produce delicious crops like cabbage, kale, broccoli and Brussels Sprouts for our Community Partners.

photo of A head of cabbage - almost ready for harvest.

A head of cabbage – almost ready for harvest.

We will continue to harvest and prepare our fields for the winter for the next month and hope to see you at volunteer hours even as the colder days (and nights) start to arrive!

Some of our harvesters pause from their labor - digging for sweet potatoes - for a quick smile.

Some of our harvesters pause from their labor – digging for sweet potatoes – for a quick smile.

See you at the next Farm Friday!

photo of Zuri

Zuri looks up from her rabbit hunting duties to welcome volunteers to The Farm.

 

 

Students Make Light Work of Fall Harvest

My calendar tells me that it still summer, yet the start of classes and the ripening winter squash in the field indicate that the fall is upon us!

photo of I work with some of the volunteers who joined us at The Farm this Friday to help bring in our first round of Butternut and Spaghetti Squash.

I join some of the volunteers in our field of winter squash this Friday to help bring in our first round of Butternut and Spaghetti Squash.

We have been lucky to host a number of groups during this busy time of the year who enthusiastically jump right in to help harvest ripe vegetables at their peak.

Farmers Gabby, Breanne and Sean with Rocky Ford Melon Smiles.

Farmers Gabby, Breanne and Sean display their Rocky Ford Melon Smiles.

Some of the groups include students and staff participating the Resident Assistant and Moreau Student Minister day of service, freshmen involved in the Into The Streets day of service, students enrolled in The Food Politics Learning Community, and students and staff volunteering during “Farm Fridays” – offered every Friday from 2:30-5:00pm, weather permitting.

Photo of student harvesting veggies

Summer Farmer Alphonse picks tomatoes with RAs and Moreau Student Ministers.

It is a busy time of year and I am happy to have the help with the harvest, while Zuri is very pleased to bask in the attention of her admirers.

Conner and Tom, take a break from their work in the fields to visit with Zuri.

Conner and Tom, take a break from their work in the fields to visit with Zuri.

Some of the crops we are currently harvesting include 9 different varieties of tomatoes, 2 varieties of eggplant, 2 varieties of sweet peppers, 3 varieties of hot peppers, 4 varieties of winter squash.

photo of Rose de Berne tomatoes

Rose de Berne Tomatoes – my favorite heirloom variety.

Our community partners at My Brother’s Keeper, The Easton Food Pantry, The Table an Father Bill’s and MainSpring, and The Family Life Center of the Old Colony YMCA tell us that everything is being enjoyed in countless ways – salsas, sauces, salads, and pasta dishes to name a few dishes.

Tomatoes - sorted and boxed up for delivery.

Tomatoes – sorted and boxed up for delivery.

~~~

Some of the veggies picked by the RAs and Moreau Student Ministers went to The Easton Food Pantry.

Some of the veggies picked by the RAs and Moreau Student Ministers went to The Easton Food Pantry.

~~~

To date we have harvested and delivered over 8,500 pounds of organic produce – and some of the heavier and nutrient packed crops such as winter squash and sweet potatoes are just starting to come in.

Candy and Red Baron Onions cure in the hoop house.

Candy and Red Baron Onions cure in the hoophouse.

Our onions and winter squash are curing up well in the hoophouse next to trays filled with spinach and lettuce seedlings for fall production.  I love walking into the hoophouse this time of year and seeing the fruits of season long care and labor lined up next to young plants that are only just beginning to make the move out to the fields where they will grow to their full potential.

photo ofGreens growing on the left and harvested Spaghetti and Waltham Butternut Squash curing on the right.

Greens growing on the left and harvested Spaghetti and Waltham Butternut Squash curing on the right.

This past Farm Friday, on August 30th, Breanne Penkala (2015), a seasoned farmer and the TA for the Food Politics Learning Community suggested that we make salsa at The Farm to invite our farm volunteers to literally enjoy some of the fruits of their labor.

photo of chefs

Chris and Chanel jumped right in and got to work chopping up the tomatoes, cilantro, habanero and jalapeno peppers, garlic, and onions for the salsa party.

The chefs prepared hot and mild versions to please the palates of all present. The mild version also included diced pieces of Rocky Ford Melon – an heirloom musk melon variety – also grown at The Farm.

Father Jim, VP for Mission, joined us to sample the salsa!

Father Jim, VP for Mission, joined us to sample the salsa!

The Fiesta during Farm Fridays was a huge success – over 35 volunteers came over to help with the harvest – and I’m looking forward to doing more events like this to reward the many helpers who make light work of harvesting hundreds, if not thousands of pounds of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, winter squash, and greens with us!

photo of Some of the volunteers who came out for our first Farm Friday to help harvest veggies and to enjoy farm fresh salsa!

Some of the volunteers who came out for our first Farm Friday to help harvest veggies and to enjoy farm fresh salsa!

We will continue to harvest a wide range of veggies as we weed and cultivate fall crops for the next couple of months. We look forward to seeing you in the fields!

photo of flowers

Flower bouquets lined up and awaiting delivery to customers on the main campus.

Sun Gold Cherry, Indigo Rose, and the Pleasures of The Farm at Stonehill

Guest Post by Stephen Siperstein, Adjuct Professor at Stonehill College, Writing Program

A glorious fall-like day in August at The Farm.

A glorious fall-like day in August at The Farm. A great day for picking, planting, weeding, and simply enjoying the fresh air filtering down the rows of ripe veggies and colorful flowers out in the fields.

Was yesterday the first day of autumn?  The calendar said no, but the Farm at Stonehill shone brightly in the crisp, cool air.  A cloudless sky, a strong breeze, the smell of pine duff wafting over rows of ripening vegetables: I was glad that I had picked this day to volunteer.  However, once I got into the tomato rows, which were significantly warmer than the rest of the farm, I could tell that it would not be as enjoyable working here during the dog days of summer.  The rows heat up like an oven, and, as a former student of mine and former farm intern pointed out, the tomato plants are covered in a fine, nettle-like fuzz: not fun for hours of picking.

 Even with the realization that this was not a cool paradise but an environment requiring hard, hot work, I was nevertheless a little disappointed in myself that it had taken until August for me to make it across Washington Street.  Should have been here all summer long, I thought to myself.

As I walked through the rows, Jake Gillis, a rising senior and one of this summer’s interns, cheerfully called out to me and offered up a handful of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes.

Tomatoes in all of the colors of the rainbow!

Tomatoes in all of the colors of the rainbow! Tomatoes pictured here from upper right, going clockwise are Big Beef Tomato, Sun Gold Cherry Tomato, Indigo Rose Tomato, Red Pearl Red Grape Tomato – and Rose de Berne Tomatoes in the center.

“You should try these,” he said.  “We snack on them while we’re out in the fields harvesting.”

So I tried.  And I thanked him, because the name is apt; I suddenly had a mouth filled with golden sunshine.  Glorious.  I have always loved tomatoes, but these were some of the best and sweetest I had ever tasted.  Amazing that there can be so much pleasure in a tiny orange fruit.  Orange, you wonder.  I have come to learn that most tomatoes are not actually just red; they are infinite shades of red, yellow, green, purple, pink, and orange.  And usually, the ones that aren’t the expected shade of red are the ones filled with the most pleasure.

Big Beet Tomatoes - a variety we are accustomed to seeing.

Big Beet Tomatoes – a variety we are accustomed to seeing. They are delicious, don’t get us wrong, but trying all of the different varieties is a real treat.

Big chain grocery stores and fast food burger commercials might have us believe otherwise, but they are misleading.  Tomatoes grown in a place like The Farm aren’t the perfectly red, spherical, plastic-looking items you can pick up in the produce aisle.  They are multi-hued, oddly shaped, and sometimes, like in the case of the heirloom variety called Indigo Rose, they look and taste a little strange.  Strange, but pleasurable.

Nubia Eggplant - not as purple as those we are used to seeing in most grocery stores, but more tender and definitely delicious!

Nubia Eggplant – not as purple as those we are used to seeing in most grocery stores, but more tender and definitely a tasty alternative. Hooray for diversity!

The great poet and agriculturalist Wendell Berry has written about the pleasure that comes from knowing, and eating, one’s own food.  He explains that “A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes,” and that “[those] people who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown…and remember the beauty of the growing plants” will more easily attain such consciousness.  The Farm at Stonehill is a haven where such consciousness, and such pleasure, is possible.  Just try a Sun Gold cherry or an Indigo Rose (which some say tastes like licorice when slightly under ripe) while standing in the hot but beautiful fields, and you will taste it.  Or ask the interns and volunteers who have been working here through the summer.

Red Pearl Red Grape Tomatoes - ready to be weighed and then delivered.

Red Pearl Red Grape Tomatoes – ready to be weighed and then delivered.

You might protest that I’m making a big deal out of a little fruit, freighting it with a kind of pastoral, agricultural fantasy, or imagining that it is only by being at The Farm (which is a great privilege for those of us at Stonehill and our guests who visit from surrounding communities) and standing in its fields, that one can enjoy a tomato.  Such a fantasy would belie the hard work that goes into the fruit.  Furthermore, it would belie the fact that people depend on it.  It’s just food, you might say.  And I would agree.  First and foremost, a tomato is food, not a bucolic charm.

Later that afternoon, after the interns, Bridget, and I had harvested over 150 pounds (a good haul for an early season harvest) of tomatoes of various varieties, we hopped into the farm’s pickup truck to bring the multi-colored bounty to the nearby Easton Food Pantry and My Brother’s Keeper.  As we were unloading boxes outside the Food Pantry, an older couple walked out with a few bags of food.  We offered them some of the fresh tomatoes to add to what they had, and though they were at first hesitant, they eventually accepted.  We made sure that they tried a few different varieties.  At My Brother’s Keeper, we chatted with Beth Collins, who organizes the food distribution there.  Anyone in the Easton and Brockton area who is having trouble getting food for the week can call up My Brother’s Keeper and get a box of food, no questions asked.  Beth makes sure also to include info in those boxes about the different kinds of produce, with recipes and suggestions about how to prepare them, just in case someone doesn’t know what to do with a purple tomato or potato (as few of us would).

Rocky Ford Muskmelon - an Heirloom Variety that we found in The High Mowing Organic Seed company's catalog.

Rocky Ford Muskmelon – an heirloom variety that we found in The High Mowing Organic Seed company’s catalog.  These are still ripening up, but we are looking forward to sharing these sweet melons soon.

            Berry writes, “The pleasure of eating should be an extensive pleasure, not that of the mere gourmet.”  Berry thinks that the pleasure of eating should be extensive, meaning that it should extend out from plants to people, from fruits to taste buds (and not just the taste buds of the foodies or the gourmands, but everyone’s taste buds), from farm to community.  In such a vision, a farm and the food that is grown there becomes, like the tomato plant’s roots that bind the soil, the connective tissue that bonds the community.  Extensive becomes another word for democratic, and the farm embodies democracy in the most radical way: having to do with roots.

With Bridget, the interns, and volunteers working through both the glorious and sometimes more humid or rainy days, The Farm at Stonehill flourishes with its partners, weaving the roots of community.  And by so doing its pleasures are not confined to the rows of plants themselves, but are tasted in many homes.  The Farm connects so many of us through its food and its pleasures, because really, why should the two be separate?