Some people seem to think that farming is a seasonal business and that during the winter we take it easy. Not true. The farm planning season starts in November when the first of the seed catalogs come out and continues well into the spring. We are just as busy, if not more busy, during the winter than in the summer. So just what keeps us busy?
First, as a year round farm, we are sending veggies to market 52 weeks of the year. This involves barrel washing the roots, harvesting the greens, seeding more greens and starting transplants, covering and uncovering the greenhouses every day, and then washing bins and cleaning up after the process every week. Fortunately, we have an excellent crew that handles this pretty much on their own; I give oversight and drive the truck to the Saratoga market each week.
As seed catalogs come in in the Fall, we sit down and glance through them, scanning for any varieties that we like, think that we would like, or are just too crazy not to grow. We’re also sitting down and reflecting on the previous season discussing what worked, what didn’t, and how we can make the farm run more smoothly, safer, and more efficiently.
As the winter progresses, we start making a master sheet of which vegetables to grow when and the quantities. This is a big sheet of paper ruled out with dates and crops which we look at, discuss, erase, pencil in again and erase some more. We try to get our seed orders out by January 1st (didn’t happen this year) to make sure we get all the varieties we want in a timely manner. Being a farm that is very interested in growing the crazy, new, and unusual, we have to make sure we get the seed before the limited quantities get sold out.
We’re also making spreadsheets that show what weeks we’ll be harvesting different crops, irrigation and cultivation sheets, rotation plans, and CSA item of the week plans. This allows the farm to run smoothly during the summer, with us all just doing our set schedules and tasks.
Another big part of our planning is equipment, SOP (standard operating procedures), and supply ordering and updating. This week, I’ve spent days on the phone and email with suppliers and farmers as far away as California, Florida, Kansas, Maine, and the Netherlands.
We’re also taking trips to some of the top farms in the country, seeing how they have different systems and parts of their farm set up. We’re searching out the most innovative equipment and ways to farm, to mechanize as much as possible (which takes stress and the brute labor off of us), and to figure out how to work smarter, not harder.
Keith will then update our SOP’s, which are given to new employees so that they can easily learn how we, for example, transplant salad mix, set up irrigation, or harvest leeks. As we find better and better ways to accomplish tasks on the farm, and add the equipment to make it more efficient, we can produce more food for the same amount of work, and make local food more affordable.
As a leader in the local ag community, I also stay quite busy with boards, lobbying, the media, and speaking about farming. I’m the winter market manager and promotions officer for the Saratoga market, which involves many long meetings.
This winter alone, I gave 9 different presentations about how and why we farm, some locally but also traveling as far as NH and Ontario. Education is a significant emphasis for us, as we believe that there should be more farmers in sustainable agriculture, and are actively working to educate, romance, and inspire others about farming.
And that’s what we stay busy with, 6 days a week, 10-12 hours a day, working to bring you the best food possible.
Special: 5# bags of onions for $10
Always growing upward and forward,
Keith explains our eggs!
***This text comes from an email Keith sent to a customer who wanted more info about our eggs. We get lots of questions at the markets about them so here’s a great explanation about how we take care of our hens.***
Our eggs, like our produce, are not certified organic. We have found that at our scale it is more cost effective to do the right thing and educate our customers directly instead of waving a banner around that can be misleading.
All of our poultry (laying hens, meat chickens and turkeys) are pasture-raised seasonally. This is better than free range as our birds see more square footage of pasture as they a routinely moved, every 1-3 days, from spot to spot. This reduces disease pressure, allows them to have the best grasses, grubs and insects to munch on, and all the sunshine and fresh air they could ever desire. This also gives the pasture a chance to rest and regrow.
We provide them with a local feed from a mill and growers just south of our farm in Schahticoke. We are working with them to provide us feed that is not only locally sourced, helping other local farmers, but in transition to be GMO free. While we have never run a nutritional analysis on our eggs the fact that our chickens are foraging means that there will naturally be omega 3s in their eggs; omega 3s that are gained out on pasture and not by us supplementing their feed with flax or other high omega 3 laden foodstuffs.
Our eggs arrive at the market fresh, compared to grocery stores or markets where the eggs could be at a minimum a month old. During the winter when the fields are covered in snow we have the birds all in one place and if the weather is warm enough they are able to free range and scratch around and keep themselves occupied. In the barn they are part of a dynamic system with our other livestock on top of a deep composting bed of wood chips, shavings and hay.
I can tell you on a personal level that I was turned off to meat and egg production until I saw the type of system that was being used here. I know that the chickens here get to live their lives as chickens, for the benefit of them, the land and us.