Saturday, August 21, 2010

New Jersey Farm Tour

By Nina Berryman

Last Thursday we took the afternoon off to visit some other farms in New Jersey. As I’ve said before, there are so many different ways to accomplish the same task of growing vegetables; visiting other farms is a great way to generate new ideas and broaden our resource base of knowledge. It seemed like a daunting idea at first, “taking an afternoon off during the middle of the summer?! How will we get the harvest done?” Well, we got to the farm an hour earlier than usual and somehow pulled it off. Here’s a recap of what we saw and learned.
Our first stop was at North Slope Farm in Lambertville, NJ. They are a 50 acre, organic vegetable farm, with a small egg production on the side. The actual land under vegetable production at one time is under 20 acres. Having these “extra” 30 or so acres enables them to rotate their crops from year to year while leaving different parts of the farm fallow, meaning in rest and not in production. This lets the soil rejuvenate and replenish. If only we had such a luxury in our cramped quarters in the city! It certainly inspired me to think about creative ways to incorporate a fallow period rotation into our current production scheme. The head farmer spoke about his take on farmers market production versus CSA production. He used to do a CSA but stopped because of the stress involved. He elaborated by saying he preferred growing for markets because you don’t have to produce a certain amount every week for people who have already paid for their produce! When selling for a market, if you bring 10 lbs less to the market than you expected, the only person you are disappointing is yourself. While I can relate to what he was saying (for example, the painstaking ordeal of making sure every shareholder got one head of broccoli during the first two weeks of the broccoli season!), I also hope that the everyone who signs up for a CSA is understanding and knows what they are signing up for; and that is an agreement to share both the risks and the bounty of the upcoming season!The farmer at North Slope Farm was trying out a new method of weed management called a bare fallow. This means in an area that is fallow, he would let the weeds germinate but not go to seed and till them in repeatedly throughout the summer. This repetitive destruction is supposed to beat down the persistent weeds, draining them of their reserves and eventually kill them. We are thinking about trying this in our potato field across the street from our main growing area where the weeds are terrifyingly aggressive.
The second farm we visited was Honey Brook Organic Farm, the oldest organic CSA in New Jersey, as well as one of the largest in the country. They operate on 250 acres, growing vegetables on about 65 at any given time. They have 2,500 members this year! We were blown away. To be honest, the farm had an eerie feeling of being an organic vegetable amusement park! The grass was perfectly mowed, the beds were perfectly uniform and the soil was a perfect dark, dark brown. I didn’t see one weed and their shareholders had to wear badges into the pick-up area to identify themselves. While I have to admire their ability to maintain such a large farm, I felt the absence of the farmer-to-customer interaction. Their community is divided between three states!
The next stop we made on the tour was Cherry Grove Organic Farm, also a CSA. They grow on approximately 20 acres and have about 160 shares. An interesting aspect of their CSA pick-up was that they simultaneously sold extra produce to the public, like a farm stand. I thought this was an efficient way to use time, so one person could simultaneously staff both the pick-up and the farm stand. This year they were experimenting with a new kind of plastic mulch. Instead of using the black plastic that some of you may have seen in our tomato section, they used silver plastic. The idea behind that is it not only acts like a weed suppressant like ours does, but it also is supposed to deter insect pests.
The last farm we visited was a goat farm. The woman managing this farm was just getting started and was planning on making goat cheese next season. While this farm was less pertinent to our current production, it did inspire me to think about ways we could potentially incorporate Saul’s existing animal programs into our farm.
Time will tell how many of these new ideas will turn into reality here on Henry Avenue!

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