Last weekend Many Forks Farm broke its all time record of sales at a single farmer’s market. We are currently in the height of the growing season and have been very busy harvesting a lot of food for markets and CSA’s. We have been attending the North Adams market all season, but we also recently joined the Adams market because we have so much food to sell. Here are some pictures from last week’s market. The carrots are the best carrots I have ever tasted! The cherry tomatoes are also amazing.
Petersburg Pass is a stretch of road through the mountains between New York State and Massachusetts. The Pass is filled with trails and is home to the Hopkins Forest – the research forest for Williams College. It is a great place to go for a hike or jto stop to enjoy the incredible view. The first time I witnessed the beauty of the Petersburg Pass I was with my fiancé. We were on our way back to the farm from the Tulip Festival in Albany, NY (awesome festival). I pulled off the road into a parking lot and asked a gentleman where we could get the best view. He did not disappoint. This post will take you through how to get to a secluded overlook.
First, to get to the Pass put this into Google maps: 651 Taconic Trail, Petersburg, NY 12138. This will take you to the general location of the parking lot (pictured below) where you will pick up the trail. I haven’t seen more than a couple cars in this lot at any one time. Actually, when I went last night, I was the only one in the parking lot.
Next is the dangerous part. To get to the hidden trail, you must cross a road with poor visibility in both directions. I advise listening for cars as well as looking for them and I would quickly walk or run across the road. It looks like this:
You will find a small, steep opening in the trees (pictured below). This is the most difficult portion of the hike. From this point, it shouldn’t take more than 5 or 10 minutes to get to the overlook. It is a very short hike.
The hike will look like this:
You will eventually see a sign for the Hopkins Research Forest and the Sign in Here sign.
Once you pass the Sign in Here sign there will be a small trail to the left (pictured below). It is almost immediately after the sign, so don’t miss it!
You take this small trail for another couple hundred feet and it will lead you to a clearing on the side of the mountain that has an amazing view of Petersburg Pass. I usually go at sunset because it faces directly west. But I have been during the day a couple of times and it is just as amazing. I can’t wait to see it in the fall! Enjoy some pictures below.
One of my previous posts covered the CSA program at Many Forks Farm. Every Wednesday we have our CSA pickup for our members. For the pickup, we harvest all of the vegetables, but the members have the option to harvest fresh herbs and flowers from the garden. We call this U-Cut. The herbs that are currently available to the members are parsley, basil, and cilantro. The flower garden has a variety of colorful flowers and has these beautiful red sunflowers (pictured below). The farm does U-Cut for these products to allow the members to get involved with the farm. It encourages them to walk around the farm and get their fresh herbs and flowers. U-Cut also creates less food waste. Many members do not want all the herbs or flowers. If we picked the herbs in advance for everyone, a lot of food would go to waste. Other things that may become U-Cut crops are sugar snap peas and sage.
MARKET UPDATE: we have sold out of everything the past two weeks! This past week we took over 60 lbs of squash. Squash is an incredible crop. It grows so quickly that sometimes we have to pick it 3 times a day. Below is a picture of the assortment of squash we offer.
Farmers have to deal with many different threats to their crops. One of the biggest threats are insect pests. They harm plants by either having a feast or by getting the plant sick by spreading disease. The most efficient way to get rid of these pests is by spraying pesticides. However, we all know pesticides are bad for human health and they damage ecosystems! So, here at Many Forks Farm, we do not spray pesticides. You may say: we treat our insects humanely.
One of the worst pests, especially for potatoes, is the Colorado Potato Beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata). It will also attack other plants in the nightshade family such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, but it is less of a problem for those plants. It is a medium sized beetle that has a round, yellow body with black stripes (picture below). It is quite cute, don’t you think? The adult beetle actually isn’t the destructive life cycle stage of the insect, the larval stage (pictured above) causes the most damage. About once a day, in the late morning, we go out and scout our precious potatoes for the beetle’s larvae. We use a mixture of soap and water to put the larvae in so that we don’t have to make a mess by squishing them in our hands. Scouting in the late morning, when the plants are dry, is important. Handling plants when they are wet can spread disease from your hands, especially if you have been working in the soil – most plant diseases are soil born.
(Photo Credit: http://www2.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef312.asp)
We grow a small amount of Shiitake Mushrooms which we sell at the farmer’s market and to local restaurants. The mushrooms are seen as a small crop that adds value and diversity to the farm, but there is not enough to provide our CSA members with a share. The farm just doesn’t have the infrastructure or time to take on a big mushroom operation. However, they can be a big money maker! Below is a picture of our mushrooms at the market. We sell them at $3.50 for ¼ pound.
The process of growing mushrooms can be easy, but it takes a lot of space and the right infrastructure. First, one has to posses A LOT of logs for the mushroom spores to grow upon. One also has to have a sizeable shade structure to house the logs. These are two big limiting factors of mushroom production.
The basic process (below are some pictures):
- Inject the mushroom spores into the logs using a drill and some wax to seal the hole.
- Soak the logs in a water bath. This is called ‘flushing’ the logs.
- Lean the logs against some sort of structure so that all the holes are able to produce mushrooms
- Harvest the mushrooms!
The water bath is simply a sizable plastic bin that can hold about a dozen logs at a time. The shade structure consists of pvc piping, rebar, robe, and shade cloth. There a multiple ways one can go about constructing a shade structure. The most important material is the shade cloth which provides the mushrooms with 50% shade.
Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) is an educational resource for farmers and farm apprentices. CRAFT programs are broken up into regional organizations and are run by participating farms in each particular area. For example, the CRAFT region that I participate within is comprised of the Hudson Valley, Berkshires, and Pioneer Valley (http://www.craftfarmapprentice.com/). Every year the topics and participating farms varies, but there is always a wide range of interesting subjects for farm apprentices to explore. This year there are 20 participating farms and some of this year’s topics are soil health, crop planning, business management, and dairy production.
If a farm is part of the CRAFT organization they must allow their apprentices to attend any CRAFT session they choose. However, Many Forks Farm isn’t actually part of the organization, so Sharon is allowing me to attend three sessions and I have to get special permission from the hosting farm to attend their CRAFT session. Anyways, so what is a CRAFT session? A CRAFT session is a three hour workshop run by a participating farm. The farm will prepare a presentation that may include a tour of the farm, hands on activities, detailed hand outs, etc. Each participating farm usually does one session per year, but some farms do multiple sessions.
My first CRAFT experience was at Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown, MA (http://cricketcreekfarm.com/). Cricket Creek is a grass-based dairy farm comprised of about 500 acres, with about 100 in pastures. They specialize in milk and cheese production, but they also produce beef, pork, and eggs. The topic of their CRAFT Session was:
“Our workshop will be an overview of running a small diversified dairy farm. We will discuss rotational grazing, dairy cow health issues, our nurse cow system, milking schedules, farmstead cheese production, raw milk and cheese marketing and sales including farmers markets, a diversified year-round CSA, and wholesale accounts”
It was a really great experience. They showed us the cheese making process, the milking process, and they took us out into the field to help bring the cows in for their daily milking. Two topics that stood out to me were 1) how they run their farm store and 2) how they manage their finances. Cricket Creek has a small farm store where they sell their products and other locally made goods. They run this store on a self-serve system which means when someone purchases an item they simply leave their money in a box and take whatever change is needed. No one is there to make sure you have paid the correct amount or have paid at all. I love that they are willing to put faith in the community. However, this system hasn’t worked well for them and they seem to be losing money. Cricket Creek is in the process of switching over to a barcode system and are allowing people to now pay with a card. They feel that this new system may make it easier for people to pay the correct amount for their purchases. I just bought a block of cheese using the new system. It was easy and the cheese was delicious!
The second topic that caught my attention was how Cricket Creek runs their finances. They run the farm as if each part of the farm was a separate business. For example, when keeping financial records, cheese making is seen as an entirely separate business from milk production, meats, and haying. So, when the cheese maker needs milk, she has to purchase it from Cricket Creek’s milk production ‘department.’ In the end, the purchase and sale cancel each other out creating a net zero. It seems silly to go through this trouble when it does not directly affect the financial status of the farm. However, it allows Cricket Creek to visually see all of the financial moving parts of the farm. I am sure many companies operate in a similar manner, but it was my first interaction with this business model.
Below are pictures from my day at Cricket Creek. Can’t wait for my next CRAFT session!
Photo: Week 2 CSA distribution at Many Forks Farm
Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a share program, used by farmers, to generate a stable source of income. It is also a great way to market one’s farm and become connected with one’s community. CSA is usually used only by smaller farmers that rely heavily on local and regional sales.
CSA comes in many different shapes and sizes. CSA can consist of vegetables, just meat, eggs, dairy, or baked goods. For instance, Many Forks Farm only offers a share of vegetables to its CSA members. Square Roots Farm, another local farm, has a vegetable share, an egg share, and a chicken share. These three entities are separate from one another so a community member can buy a share of one or all three of them. CSA’s can also vary on frequency of share pickup for its members. Many Forks Farm has share pick up once a week whereas a share of meat might be bi-weekly. It just depends on the size and capital of the particular farm.
What does buying a share of CSA entail? A CSA share is typically bought in full before the growing season begins. The price of a share varies from product to product and from farm to farm. The length of time of the share also varies. For example, a share of vegetables at Many Forks Farm costs $500 and runs for 20 weeks ($25 a week). However, to buy a share, one has to pay the whole $500 before the season begins. Paying up front is very important for a farm because it generates much needed revenue for startup costs. The vast majority of the money spent on a farm is at the beginning at the growing season for equipment, seeds, potting soil, soil amendments, etc. Having this money up front allows a farmer to plan more efficiently and have a peace of mind during the growing season.
When a community member decides to buy a share from farm they are committing themselves to all of the successes and hardships that farm may experience. There is an understanding that each week the share will be different. Some weeks will be very fruitful and some weeks may be sparse. There is also a commitment by members to eat vegetables that are in season.
Below is a picture of our first broccoli harvest! We distribute broccoli in early summer and in the fall.