Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A farmer's notes

Hello Farm Girl Farmers

One week ago I never would have imagined that I would be writing about total crop loss on the farm.

I’ll cut to the chase and let you know that despite three solid days of spraying with an organic fungicide, we have lost our entire tomato crop with the possible exception of some cherry tomatoes. We will see in the next few days how these vines fare.

Our disappointment is enormous. In the best of conditions, tomatoes are a very labor intensive crop. From painstakingly choosing varieties in January to arrive at the perfect balance of early, middle-, and late-season ripeners, color shape and size...to starting the seedlings and potting them up into bigger cells and watering and fertilizing and transplanting outside...to buying and laying the plastic and buying and pounding in stakes every four feet and trellising, trellising, trellising, we have invested enormous time, money, and love into our tomato crop. To lose these plants, laden with green fruit, on the brink of tomato season is unfathomable.

Last week was the first instance I heard of farmers in our area struggling with the blight. I began hearing from friends close-by that they had spotted the fungus in their fields and were considering pulling their tomatoes—within 24 hours, all three of these farmers HAD pulled their tomatoes and told me of many others in New York and Massachusetts who had done the same. I’d been monitoring my plants, of course, and had seen no signs of the blight.

But on Thursday, I went out to the fields to inspect again and found infected plants in all beds of tomatoes. We began spraying on Friday despite the knowledge that this would probably be ineffective—how could we not at least try? We sprayed on Saturday and Sunday and on Monday, had to concede that we’d lost the battle and lost the tomatoes.

The fungus affects potato plants as well, and this fact could be the most serious aspect of managing the spread of Late Blight: if the fungus makes its way from the vines down into the tubers themselves, the fungus will survive the winter on any potatoes that remain in the ground. Growers are being advised to harvest all potato crops now, ready or not. We are almost done harvesting our early potatoes and will not be planting a fall crop.

At Farm Girl Farm (and, I’m sure, at all the neighboring farms), we have three intertwined priorities now: first is to get alternative crops in the ground as soon as possible. With the weather continuing to make it nearly impossible to till the fields, this is more difficult than it would be in an ordinary season, but we did have two partially dry days (Monday and today, Tuesday) and we’ve got the rototiller running.

Second, we need to manage the disposal of the affected plants in the best way possible so as to minimize further spread to our neighbors and minimize residue left in the soil for next season. There is conflicting information about the best way to achieve this goal, in sum, it seems the tomato vines must be bagged and removed or buried far from our growing spaces. Either way will be time consuming and tough on morale!

Thirdly, we hope against hope that a few plants may survive—a few hot days could stem the spread of the fungus and stop the progress of the damage. We haven’t heard of this happening in anyone else’s field—the power of hope and denial are enormous, though!

I almost forgot to end on a bright note: the beauty of being a diversified vegetable farm is that tomatoes were not the only thing we had going for us. I take much solace in casting my gaze on the unaffected crops which are doing their best to produce in this crazy season: the peppers and eggplant, the melons (come on melons!), the cucumbers and squash, the kale and collards…we’ve got food, and more food on the way.

Dealing with late blight, a farmer's notes

“During the last couple of weeks dealing with the reality of late blight has been incredibly frustrating. Even though we knew of its imminent threat, we still have been stunned to see it on our plants. We realize that for all of you, especially for those who haven’t been following this issue in the news, this information regarding the tomatoes and potatoes is shocking. The saddest aspect for us is that, after putting in a tremendous amount of work preparing the soil, seeding in the greenhouse, transplanting to larger containers, moving the plants in and out of the greenhouse when frost was forecasted, planting them individually in the field in holes dug with a post hole digger, covering them with row covers when the frosts came around in late May/early June, pounding stakes in every 2nd plant, trellising them up to 4 times with twine so that they are held up, and spreading straw at their base to provide a mulch, we will be lucky to distribute even a handful of tomatoes to farm members. And, just last week the plants looked so large and healthy.

“Tomatoes and potatoes are important crops for our members, for our apprentices, and for our family. This is a big deal. It is the most extensive crop loss that we have ever faced in my past 14 years of farming. Please know that we are trying our hardest to both deal with these challenges and still keep the wheels turning on the rest of the land so that we can keep providing a wide diversity of vegetables. Thank you again for your continued support of the farm and our crew as we work to provide your food.” Don Zasada, Caretaker Farm

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wild Oats Market to Host Second Annual
Eat Local Challenge

Wild Oats Market in Williamstown is sponsoring the Eat Local Challenge from July16 through August 14. To encourage participation and make the challenge fun two levels of participation are available this year:

Level One participants are encouraged to eat local foods for one meal out of every three.

Level Two participants are challenged to make two out of every three meals local.

Participants can sign up for all or part of the month. All participants are eligible to win a raffle prize of a basket of local food from Wild Oats.

Throughout the challenge month Wild Oats will be featuring local food specials, local menu ideas, and prepared foods made with local ingredients. On July 14 from 7-8 pm, the store will host an evening on "How to Shop for and Prepare Meals Using Local Foods" with General Manager Michael Faber.

Eat Local Challenge begins
July 16 with a local foods BBQ

"There are so many good reasons for eating local," said GM Michael Faber. "It's healthier, safer, and good for the community and the local economy. And local foods are fresh, which makes them taste better. Wild Oats is lucky to be located in a region of the state that offers a variety of local produce, meat, dairy, eggs, honey, bulk foods, and many other products, making it not only a pleasure to eat local, but relatively easy, especially at this time of year."