Devin Foote is a 24-year-old beginning farmer at Common Ground Farm in Beacon, New York. Throughout the growing season, Devin will be chronicling his experiences as a young farmer growing for a local food system.
Common Ground Farm began in fall 2001 out of the vision and hard work of community members who wanted to start a farm project in southern Dutchess County, New York. The farm leases nine acres (with six acres in production) from the Stony Kill Environmental Education Center. The farm’s focus is on its 120-member Community-Supported Agriculture program that works toward ecologically sound and economically viable agriculture, with an emphasis on connecting local consumers to where their food comes from. Common Ground participates in two weekly farmers markets, Beacon and Fishkill, and regularly holds workshops, farm tours and community events.
This year, my farming partner Tim Heuer and I will be managing the Common Ground Farm. Last year, we participated in the Mid-Hudson Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmers in Training (CRAFT), a model for sharing supplemental farm training in cooperation with a number of participating farms. Visits to other farms offer a chance to see how different operations work and a chance to network with other farmers and farmers in training.
March 4, 2009 – The Waiting Game
A nor’easter hit last week, dropping five inches of snow and stacking drifts across the fields. It felt like a reality check for the warm weather we have been receiving of late. I walked the fields, attempting to wrap my head around all that is going on here… or, shall I say, all the work that needs to happen.
Although I commute four miles to the farm, it has been on my mind almost every minute. I wake in the morning thinking of trellising peas, wondering if we have enough seed in the cooler to feed our community, which prompts me to place another order of last-minute seed varieties. You know you won't have enough time during the season to wait a week for more seed or a spare part, so you debate, going back and forth on whether to front the cash now or see if you can make it through the year without needing it.
Touching, feeling, seeing, smelling and the occasional swing of the hammer are how I measure my days. I look at seed packets and try to visualize their bounty in the field. I look at our two-bottom moldboard plow (check out the etymology!) and scratch my head because I am accustomed to using a chisel plow… “This will be interesting,” I tell Tim, who is more of a creative spirit than farm implement junkie.
Last week twenty-five chickens arrived at the Post Office in Beacon. Eight of them perished over the course of the week, prompting us to order another 25 courtesy of Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. We got 13 roosters and 12 hens; five have since died.
The first week of March means seeds. Sorting, unpacking, repacking, and rubber banding. After all that, we try and get comfy in the greenhouse. This week we will seed up scallions, celeriac, lettuce, parsley, thyme, rosemary and foxglove.
Farm planning requires patience and as a beginning farmer, I am starting to realize the widespread use of farm planning sheets, aka Excel. It’s amazing how few U.S. taxpayer dollars are diverted to small growers; USDA Extension offices seem to lack any knowledge of farm planning sheets for diversified vegetable farmers.
For instance, we had supper last week with the farm managers at Poughkeepsie Farm Project, comparing notes on farm planning sheets and their inefficiency. We laughed at all the miscellaneous spreadsheets floating around on our computers' hard drives and not in our own heads. In an attempt to resolve this issue, we’ve taken to mapping our spreadsheets out in our living room. Yes, it gets a bit messy but it seems to be the only way to visually picture growing for a 22-week distribution of vegetables.