Every year we start the farm season breaking heavy ground, making beds and seeding or transplanting early crops at the first possible moment. These first plantings have to be able to stand the ups and downs of temps and rainfall that characterize April and May. Carrots, beets, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes and the like suffer a bit but like adults with rough teenage years, they seem to be stronger for the experience and give us our first real ‘heavy’ vegetables in late June and July. One thing these crops don’t have to endure too much is weed pressure. The cold soils of these early season months don’t allow too many weeds to germinate and our vegetables a good start with little competition. Over the past week we have seen arrival of the first weed of the year, lambsquarters. In the world of weeds this is probably one of the best to be cursed with as it is easily killed with a tractor, hoe or able fingers up to about two weeks from its emergence. The downside of lambsquaters is that it is prolific. Each plant can produce upwards of 75,000 seeds which can remain viable in the soil for up to twenty years. Needless to say we work hard to get them before they set seed! If things get bad, lambsquarters are edible…so look for lambs quarters in the greens mix and match.
Lambsquaters has special significance this year as we have a new crop of lambs coming at the same time. In the past two weeks we have had over forty-five lambs born in the pastures around the farm. There are a handful of ewes left to bare and it appears we may have over fifty new lambs to add to the seventy we had this past February and March. Most of the ewes are giving us twins and weights have been mostly around eight pounds per lamb–which is right where we want them to be. Lambing at this time of year is new for us but we are hoping that it works in the long run as it means a lot less work for the farmers and a much easier transition into this world for the lambs. Lambing in the winter is hard on everyone. Temps are cold, buildings are drafty and new weak lambs will struggle to stay warm. Because of this farmers have to check for new lambs every four to six hours, which will wear down even the staunchest night owl. In addition, ewes need extra nutrition to keep warm while they make lambs and then make milk for new lambs, which means lots of grain…which in the age of ethanol is not cheap. Lambing on pasture will hopefully be a good option for everyone for several reasons. First of all it put ewes in the best grass of the year right when they need energy and protein to finish their pregnancies and then make milk (lots of milk!) for their lambs. Second, the mild May temperatures mean lambs can be born and cared for by the ewes right in the pasture without worry or lost sleep on the part for the farmers (yippee). And lastly it makes traffic on Pleasant Hill Road, which is entirely too fast, slow down to a manageable speed so that everyone can watch this flock do their thing.
New Lamb Open House. This Sunday the 31st from 1-3pm will be our annual lamb open house here at the farm. Hosted by Crystal Spring Community Farm and The Brunswick Topsham Land Trust. The public is welcome to come and see the new crop!
When does the CSA start? Soon is the short answer…we will know more next week about several varieties of greens that we are waiting to mature. We will contact you via email and phone when we have chosen a start date.
Crystal Spring Farm Day Camp still has spaces available The two one-week sessions for kids here at the farm will run during the weeks of July 6th and July 13th, Monday through Friday, 9am-3pm, kids ages 6-10 are invited to join us here at the farm. Read more and register for camp at our website: http://crystalspringcsa.com/farm-camp or contact Maura at firstname.lastname@example.org or 729.1112.
CSA Shares still available! Tell your friends, family, neighbors, strangers on the street! www.crystalspringcsa.com
Hooray! This is going to be a great year!
What a transition! Spring has blossomed from winter in no time flat this year as we raced from frost laden ground to workable soil in the matter of a couple weeks, giving us the shortest mud season in recent memory. Luckily, we were ready here at the farm and with our crack new crew we’ve been keeping pace with the coming warmth.
It’s good to be back in touch as I just realized we haven’t written a newsletter since January! In the months since, we have been working hard to fill the greenhouse with young plants, prepare for the arrival and breaking-in of our new group of farmers-in-training and remembering how a spring is supposed to feel.
Our biggest spring task before the apprentices arrive the first week of April is always seeding onions, leeks, flowers and celery in the artificial warmth of the greenhouse. We had help this year from my dad and a crew brought along from our neighbor Lucretia Woodruff. We started about 13,000 onions and leeks the first week of March, right after we put a new layer of plastic on the greenhouse.
We are very lucky to have a sharp crew of new farmers with us this year. Bethany, Douglas, Kate and Kelsey are all gung-ho and have been getting their feet wet in everything from the details of sheep nutrition to the challenges of running a tractor in a straight line at .14 miles an hour. They are all eager and hardworking and I am looking forward to a great season of fun and hard work shoulder to shoulder with them. I know you will all enjoy chatting them up on pick-up days here in June. In the past month, before the rain, we planted out all those onions from the greenhouse along with 2500 cabbage plants, 2000 broccoli plants, and almost a ton of seed potatoes. In addition we’ve been seeding beets, carrots, parsnips, lettuce, chard, kale, arugula, spinach and our exotic Asian greens varieties in the fields.
As May gets going we still have many shares left for the coming season. Please let your friends, family and neighbors know that we would love to sign them up for the best organic produce in town! On that note, those of you on the winter payment plan, thanks for your April payment, the last payment is due in June.
Farm Camp at Crystal Spring! This summer we will be running two one-week sessions of day camp for kids here at the farm. During the weeks of July 6th and July 13th, Monday through Friday, 9am-3pm, kids ages 6-10 are invited to join us here at the farm. This year is a pilot year, with the potential to expand to more weeks next summer. Kids will be mini-farm apprentices, learning about growing food and taking care of animals by participating in day-to-day happenings on the farm. Maura will be directing the camp with the help of college-aged teachers and high school aged junior counselors. We would like to offer the camp to our CSA families before we open it up to the general community. We will register CSA members only until Friday May 15th. After this date we will open registration to the greater community. You can read more and register for camp at our website: http://crystalspringcsa.com/farm-camp or contact Maura at email@example.com or 729.1112.
As the month of May progresses we will try to keep in touch with another newsletter to let you know what’s happening here and when to expect the first CSA harvest to begin. As a reminder, pick-up days are Tuesdays or Fridays each week from 3:30-6:30pm and as always you can change which day to come each week -as long as you only come once a week.
We will be hosting two orientations for new CSA members on Saturday May 23rd at 9:00 am and at 10:00 am here at the farm. It’s a great way to learn the lay of the land and see how everything works before we get started harvesting your shares. Check out the Upic field, the distribution barn and ask those need-to-know questions of Farmer Seth. Please park in the Crystal Spring Farmer’s Market lot and walk up to the farm. You can RSVP for the 9am or 10am slots via phone (729.1112) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
See you soon!
Let it Snow
What a winter! There is nothing like real cold and heavy snow for a farmer. When I’m not walking the dog, tending the sheep, or sledding with the kids this weather is a great excuse to stay inside with a hot cup of tea and dream about the acres of green that lie ahead after the thaw. The plus of all of this snow is that it fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere and brings it down to earth – up to 12 pounds of it an acre! Mother Nature working while I drink tea, it doesn’t get any better.
We have actually been cranking things up around here the past couple months. The seed orders are in, we have one apprentice hired and a couple more circling, new plastic for the greenhouse just arrived, and half of the ewes will begin lambing before Valentine’s Day. It feels great to be looking forward to a year of hard work. Thank you all again for the making this feeling possible, I’m honored to be your farmer.
For all of you CSA “old timers” there are a few new things to look forward to this coming year. We have taken strawberries out of the upic field, allowing more space for flowers, beans, and peas…worry not, strawberries will still be part of your share, but we will be picking them for you. A strawberry root maggot infestation in the upic field in 2007 forced us to rotate this crop out until 2010. There will also be 80 feet of raspberries available for picking come the fall and more in the coming years if we all like them. What’s not to like?
In other farm news, we added a new full-time member of the farm crew this year, our border collie pup Nell. She’s just 10 months old but already showing signs of being a real farm workaholic. We have started a bit of training for her and the sheep (and me for that matter) and she shows great promise. She is both very focused on the sheep (translation: she always wants to go to the barn) while at the same time is reserved in her herding (translation: she doesn’t chase them over gates or fences). Her formal training is slow now because of the weather and the fact that most of the ewes are close to lambing, but we hope to start her up again full-time in the spring. Tom Settlemire, Sheep Guru and our sheep business partner has Nell’s sister Tibee and the two of them are like Dr. Seuss’ Thing 1 and Thing 2 when they get together.
We have been receiving a steady stream of memberships since Thanksgiving but still have many more shares available. Those of you that haven’t signed up please do. Thanks to those of you that have, and please let your friends know that they too can join in the fun with food. We are coming up on the second payment date if you are on our winter payment plan. If you have sent in your $100 deposit, the next payment of $138.33 is up February 1. The next payments of $138.33 are due April 1, and June 1.
I hope all of you will find some time this winter to do some good reading about local food. First on my list of recommendations is “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan. This is the nuts and bolts follow up to his bestseller “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” In this very readable guide he tells you what needs to happen so that we can all eat as well as he did in the “Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Beginning this next week the annual Midcoast Community Read will be jumping into Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal Vegetable Miracle.” Kingsolver and her family take “readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it.” This is a great point of entry into the “localvore” mindset and you have the added bonus of having the whole Midcoast as your book club! The library website has more info on the book and how to join in the read. http://www.curtislibrary.com/CRweb09/events.html
Hopefully you all have been able to take advantage of the two winter farmers markets we now have in Brunswick. One is located in the Fort Andross Mill adjacent the “Flea Market” on the first floor, the other can be found at Granite Farm, 93 Casco Road, just past the intersection of Casco and Pleasant Hill. They both have a good selection of local foods and are open every Saturday from 9am until noon.
Freezing So We Can Enjoy the Thaw
The wind is getting colder and the sheep have been growing winter fleece like chia pets the last few weeks –the chance of an Indian Summer has surely past. The last trees to lose their leaves here (the oaks and the big silver maple in the dooryard) have done so two weeks early this year. I’m not sure if this means we should brace for a strong start to winter or see the glass half full and hope for spring two weeks earlier. Our woodstove is working well so I’ll put that one away for hindsight consideration next year.
We have been trucking along here at the farm with some fun projects like sandblasting and painting Tom Settlemire’s old sheep trailer and beginning the process of fencing several of the fields. The latter project we were able to take on with the help of a cost-share grant from the Land for Maine’s Future Program. These new fences have been on our wish list for a few years now. Having permanent barriers to protect our flocks from traffic, predators and their own mischief will allow us to safely and easily move sheep all over the farm, increasing our grazing potential. The hope is to bring many of the open hayfields along Pleasant Hill back into fertile production through grazing and fertility inputs. Much of the new fence line will also enclose our vegetable fields making it possible to really work the sheep and their fertility into the production rotation.
Thanks for all of your membership deposits. We are working with new software so we can produce efficient payment confirmation for you – we’ll get there soon. There have also been quite a few new members enrolling which is always exciting this far ahead of springtime. As always the faster we can sign everyone up the less we have to worry about come the farm season. We hope to start promoting the CSA through brochures around town in the weeks to come. Those of you who are past members continue to be our best marketers as stories passed by word of mouth are always the truest explanation of what happens here each summer when some farmers and some families come together to make a piece of land into a community.
Here are a few things coming up that Maura and I thought you all might be interested in…
• “Assessing Genetic Engineering: Empowering Students to Navigate in a Complex World” is the title of a lecture by Craig Holdrege to be held at Bowdoin College’s Searles Science Building, Room 315, at 7:30 p.m. on November 18. The lecture, sponsored by Merriconeag Waldorf School, is free and open to the public. “Preparing students to meet the complexities of modern life requires educators to foster careful observation, thoughtful consideration of different perspectives,
discerning judgment and sensitive action,” explains Holdrege, a Waldorf high school biology teacher for 21 years. Currently the director of the New York-
based Nature Institute, Holdrege will use the topic of genetic engineering to illustrate the importance of a discovery-based, holistic approach to science education.
• Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program is holding a “Sharing the Bounty” Auction November 22, 2008 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Frontier Café, 14 Maine St. Fort Andross Brunswick. MCHPP served more than 26,000 hot meals in 2007 in addition to a food pantry that supports almost 1000 Midcoast families in need. We have donated Crystal Spring produce for the past five years to MCHPP and have been consistently amazed with the care and efficiency of this organization, which run by a group of over 200 volunteers and only eight paid staff. Please support their vital work this fall, especially with the uncertain times ahead. Learn more about the organization and this event at their website: http://www.mchpp.org/new.html
• The Brunswick Winter Farmer’s Market is up and running at Granite Farm (93 Casco Road) every Saturday from 9am until noon. Many of the vendors you know from the Saturday Market are here selling produce, bread, meat and cheese in abundance. Take Pleasant Hill west out of Brunswick and go left on Casco for ¼ mile.
Greetings after a Long Winter
At this point, we are wishing the English language had more words to express gratitude. Thank you all for all your wishes of support, your efforts for the community gathering at Frontier Café, and your generous contributions to the Farmer Seth Fund. We have been overwhelmed to be so bolstered by our community. Before this year we thought we knew a lot about community supported agriculture; as it turns out our understanding was just a drop in the ocean of possibility.
First things first… Everyone is wondering about the health of the farmer. Seth is feeling well. Springtime has brought renewal with work to be done around the farm, from lambing, to spreading compost on the fields, to turning soil. Seth is still not definitively diagnosed, although he continues to work with a rheumatologist who has been treating him for an elusive autoimmune disorder. To supplement this treatment Seth has been taking a holistic approach, getting support from Eastern doctors and herbalists, as well as pursuing a daily regimen of diet, exercise, and health-focused awareness.
Lambs You may recall last Fall our pregnant ewes grazed on high protien cover crops and while cleaning up the broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts stubble down in the fields. This diet left them in great shape to start the winter and the second half of their pregnancies. Their outstanding condition yielded a very successful lambing season with 76 vibrant lambs from 42 ewes. The ewes and lambs both went out onto pasture this past week to much fanfare. There is nothing that says spring more than lambs testing their verticles and ewes wrestling over clover tufts. If you walk the trails at the farm, you will be able to say hello and may be surprised at how big the lambs are, some already nearing 100 pounds. We plan to be at the Saturday Farmer’s Market starting the last weekend of June with your favorite cuts of lamb for sale.
Fields Those of you riding up and down Pleasant Hill Road will notice how different this season is from others past. Big swaths of lush cover crop and dark brown open ground has replaced our usual patchwork of vegetables. The difference is stark to us, looking out over big areas of order, so different from the welcome chaos of the regular season. We are trialing a few new cover crops this year, like sorgum-sudan grass, a jungly tall mass of stalks and leaves, and will be trying to use the sheep to mow them as much as possible. This will save us time and diesel all while leaving behind a great “digested” product for the soil. Many of you have surely read about the horse farmers who have gotten together to grow hard spring wheat in our fields. It’s been great fun for us to see their quiet graceful animals plow, harrow and plant. If all goes well they will truck their 1800’s thresher into the field in August to separate the grain from the straw. We’ll keep you posted, it should be quite and event.
Family… With the changes on the farm this year, Maura has decided to dedicate her time to the farm and the family, and take some time off from social work. It is amazing how quickly a list of things to do can develop. Griffin (who joyfully turned five last week) and Leila (now two and a half) have planted some apple trees behind the farmhouse and have been regular helpers feeding the sheep.
Website Please check out our website! www.crystalspringcsa.com We are updating and revising it into a resource for members of the CSA old and new. In addition to the nuts and bolts of how our farm works we have added a recipe section that allows you to find new dishes by vegetable (this is great for kohlrabi novices). You’ll also find links to other local businesses in and around Brunswick that we think are vital to keeping our community vibrant and unique. We plan on updating the site regularly so check back to see what’s new on the farm.
Enjoy the spring and we’ll be in touch again soon. We’ll see you around town and at the farmer’s market.
What’s in Upic?……
Snap Beans Cherry Tomatoes
This week, as we dive into signing you all up again for next year’s shares, I have also been talking to lots of new folks interested in joining the farm. As you would expect they have a lot of questions about vegetable varieties, amounts, harvest days, “how does the whole thing work?” etc. and at some point most will ask about our animals. Generally they want to know what kinds of animals we have, if they are kid friendly, and if they can see them on pick-up days. Some want to know if they can buy meat or eggs from us but that is for the most part where the questions stop. I’m always tempted to go into a big explanation of the larger role that our livestock plays on the farm, but stop myself short, knowing this is almost always more info than a perspective CSA member may want to hear. I realized the other day that most of you reading these newsletters probably haven’t heard this big explanation and being as you are already members of the CSA I don’t need to spare you any boring details of how this farm works.
After farming organically for over ten years I can say definitively that livestock are vital to the health of any sustainable farm. Animals, and especially ruminants (the sheep in our case), have the unique ability of being able to digest the complex energy found in plants and convert it into protein and carbohydrates. This obviously supports the growth of the animal, but because up to 70% of the plant matter also comes out the back end of the animal, there is a great benefit for our vegetables. The digestion process breaks the plant matter down into “simple” elements that can be easily absorbed again by the plants and the soil they grow in. On a farm scale this process is so important because vegetables take so much out of the soil to grow. On this farm we have applied over 1000 cubic yards of animal manure (mostly as compost) to the fields in the past four seasons. The majority of this manure has come from sources off of the farm and has made it possible for us to expect good yields for all of your shares. As we learn more about our livestock and further explore crop rotations that include our animals we hope to be able to reach a point where we can minimize or eliminate the need for off farm sources of manure. We envision being able to run sheep and or chickens through vegetable crops after harvest, allowing the animals to graze off the leftover plants while leaving behind manure. The nutrients in the manure is then absorbed by cover crops we plant after the animals leave. Once the cover crop is put down and worked into the soil it releases the nutrients it absorbed from the manure, making them available to the next vegetable crop. I’ll write more on this subject next week, including some of the hurdles small organic farms are facing in the marketplace as they try to maintain these systems of sustainability.
2008 CSA sign-up begins this week. We will be taking deposits ($100) for your 2008 shares starting this week. This is a great time to sign up as you can space your payments out over the winter. These deposits also help the farm budget through the winter months as well. We will begin opening up shares to our waiting list starting art the end of the month so if you would like a share for next year please don’t delay.
Pork Pre-orders this week. Talk to Spencer at pick-up about pre-ordering pork cuts from the pigs he and Jill raised at the farm this year.
Apples this week. We’ll have apples from Willow Pond Farm in Sabattus this week for sale at Friday pick-up. Paula Reds will be the first variety followed by Macs and Galas in the weeks to follow. Some of their great cider will be coming soon too.