Market Days #4 and #5 (July 12 and 19)

The stand on July 12

Our stand on July 12th

I did make it to the market over the past few weeks, despite being deep in the midst of workshopping my play at the Huntington Theatre Company.  On each Thursday so far, sales have continued to climb–we’ve had good weather for the market and we’ve been picking more and more produce.

On July 12th, we added mustard greens, zucchini, and sweet cubanelle peppers to the mix (plus lots more garlic).  Last week, on the 19th, we added sweet bell peppers and hot serano and jalapeno peppers, tavera green beans, and some potatoes.  And the basil bunches grow larger and larger.  Last week, I actually had to use all three tables to set up our stand, we had so much stuff to sell.  And the good news is that we managed to sell most of it.

Bonnie and Meaghan

Bonnie Duncan visits w Meaghan Overton from Boston Main Streets

On the 12th, we had a new neighbor, as Boston Main Streets intern Meaghan Overton set up next to us, to conduct a survey of the market customers.  It was great fun chatting with her, and I very much look forward to seeing the results of the data she was gathering.  Finding ways to increase the traffic at the market is important to all the vendors, and having real, meaningful numbers should help.

We continue to check books out from our lending library.  About half of the books are now out–I’m hoping that some will start to come back soon.  One of the great pleasures of being at the market is interacting with return customers (especially when they tell me how much they enjoyed the veggies they bought the previous week).

wall of garlic

Garlic drying on the wall of our back porch

Back at home our garlic is now curing nicely on the wall of our back porch.  I love the way it looks and smells.  We harvested about 250 heads of garlic, and our customers really like them.  I don’t think they’ll last long.

Tomorrow looks to be the first market day for us with inclement weather–we’re expecting rain and thunderstorms.  I’ll have to figure out how much to adjust the amount of produce that I pick and bring to market. I’ve got my fingers crossed that maybe it won’t be too bad and some people will still come out to buy our vegetables.

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Field Report – July 9

pile of garlic

More than 250 heads of garlic!

On Sunday, Tracy and the kids came with me up to the farm, for a lot more weeding and working.  I’ve got a two-week workshop of my new play, Flight, with the Huntington Theatre Company that started today, so it was important that we get the field in as good a shape as possible before I get too wrapped up in rehearsal and rewrites.

In addition to weeding paths, we also tilled in the spent row of snowpeas.  Sadly, the BCS tiller broke (temporarily) before I could switch the attachment to put the new raised bed together for the beets, so I had to rake it together by hand.  A lot of work for a hot day.

I also sprayed copper sulfate, in an organic formulation, on the potatoes, tomatoes, and tomatillos.  Copper acts as an anti-fungal agent, and Late Blight has appeared in several Massachusetts towns and counties.  Late Blight spreads fast (it’s wind-borne) and can devastate an entire crop, quickly.  (The plants must be destroyed.)  This is the kind of thing that makes farmers very nervous.  (It certainly has me nervous.)  We’ll probably be spraying weekly until the danger has passed and just keep our fingers crossed that it will work.

Summer veggies are growing well now.  Zucchini and cubanelle peppers will be ready for market this Thursday.  I harvested beets for the World PEAS CSA delivery yesterday, though our early beet crop did very poorly.  We were originally supposed to deliver 85 bunches of beets, but only had enough for 20.  I hope we’ll do better later in the season.  The beets were still small, though the Bull’s Blood greens (they should call them reds) were gorgeous.

beets in cooler

Lots of beets in the cooler.

Most exciting was the garlic harvest (see the top of this post for photo).  We harvested about 250 heads of garlic.  They’re now bundled together on our back porch, out of the sun, to cure for 1-2 weeks.  After they’re cured, they’ll store much better.  We’ve got some really big heads.  I can’t wait to get it to the market!

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Market Day #3 (July 5)

our table July 5

Our market table on July 5

Our third market, last Thursday, went very well.  Jamaica Plain has a “First Thursdays” event, where there are various open studios and vendors around, so we had lots of traffic.  We almost sold out!  All I had left at the end of the day was one bunch of chard (and two little bunches of sage, but I’m not counting those).   It felt great to sell almost all of our produce, though as our offerings shrunk, it got harder and harder to sell.  No one comes over to at able with just one bunch of chard.

pretty rainbow chard

Lovely fresh, rainbow chard.

In addition to having more customers, our produce also looked a lot better this week.  That’s because I got up at 5 a.m. and picked all the greens that morning and put them on ice in the coolers to have them be super fresh for the market.

We also had our first garlic this week.  I picked three giant heads of it, seeing if it was all ready to harvest.  (It pretty much was.)  We were able to get $2/head for this super fresh stuff.

first garlic

first garlic of the season!

We also finished with the last of the snow peas.  But we’ve got summer veggies starting up this week, with cubanelle peppers and zucchini on the way.

whoopie monster table

Ally from Whoopie Monster

For First Thursday, we had a new neighbor at the market.  Ally from Whoopie Monster was there, selling whooppie pies made with all natural ingredients at a local incubator commercial kitchen.  (I had one and they’re very yummy.)

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Field Report: July 1

We’ve been working hard in the fields over the past week, trying to get caught up.  The heat and rain helped our plants grow, but they also gave a huge boost to the weeds.  Combine that with a busy week of theatre stuff for me (TCG had their national conference in Boston June 20-23, I had a play in Mill 6’s T Plays Festival, and I had a reading of a new play from Fresh Ink Theatre on Tuesday, the 26th), and we ended up falling a bit behind.  And the cabbage white butterfly caterpillars stared devouring our kale at an alarming rate.

But the good news is that there are solutions.  Weeds can be pulled.  Plus I sprayed Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) to see if we can stop the caterpillars.  This is an organic (OMRI listed) remedy, a naturally occurring bacterium that is supposed to do a fine job killing caterpillars (and nothing else).  I’ve never been one to spray anything on my gardens, but I’m seeing quickly how growing at the farm level is very different. I can’t afford to lose my entire kale crop, and this seems like the least poisonous way to control the infestation.  Part of the benefit of being in the New Entry training program is learning how to use organic pest controls in a safe and thoughtful manner.

We’re seeing a lot of Colorado Potato Beetles on the potatoes right now, but so far hand picking has done the trick. (We only have about 70 plants.)  I hope that keeps up.  We have had to use some iron phosphate to keep the slugs down, especially in the very damp weather we had a few weeks ago, when they were tearing up the chard and lettuce.  By keeping up with the weeding and keeping the field borders mowed, we’ll probably have fewer slug problems.  We’ve also taken off the row covers from all the crops, which will further reduce slugs, but will expose them to more damage from beetles.  Farming is a constant game of trade offs.

We’ve continued with our deliveries to the World PEAS CSA.  Here’s the inside of the cooler where we drop stuff off:

inside the cooler

inside the cooler

Every week, we pack our produce in grey plastic boxes, like the ones on the upper left for our delivery.  They’ve got a system for keeping track of who has delivered which vegetables that seems to be working smoothly so far.  We got our first check on Friday–$63!

I’m greatly relieved that World PEAS is used to dealing with beginning farmers. We’ve had a hard time making the originally bid amounts for just about everything.  We were supposed to have 80 pints of snow peas for them, but weather, rabbits, and just not enough peas planted, left us far short.  Everything has taken longer to grow than expected.  We lost half our crop of beets to disease and will not come anywhere close to having 85 bunches of beets ready next week. This has been tough, because I place great value on following through on my commitments.  But farming is a constant stream of lessons, in patience, in learning to acknowledge mistakes, in accepting forces behind my control.

For now, we just keep on planting, weeding, and harvesting, trying to do the best we can.  And try to pay attention to the mistakes we’ve made, so that next time, the mistakes we make will be different ones.

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Market Day #2 (June 28)

the stand on June 28

Our farm stand on June 28 at the JP Market

Last Thursday, we were back at the JP farmer’s market.  Or rather, I should say, I was at the market, because the kids were off doing their own things.  Luckily, I was able to get everything set up on my own, because the kids will either be working or at camp for all of July.

This week we had kale, chard, snow peas, lettuce, basil, and a little bit of sage, mint, lavender, and cilantro.  It wasn’t nearly as hot this week–the weather was perfect, actually–and we had a lot more traffic than we did the first week (and took in almost twice as much in sales).  We’re still struggling to keep the greens crisp over the duration of the market.  I’m going to try picking greens the morning of the market, which means getting up super early on Thursday, rather than picking the night before and keeping them in the coolers.

Greens remained a tough sell overall.  Snow peas were popular, as was basil and all the herbs.  A clear lesson from the market has been the importance of having something a little different from the other stands. I could have sold lots more basil and herbs.  People are already looking for peppers, but we’re at least a few weeks away from peppers.

We already had our first repeat customers.  Our very first farm stand customer, Cait, returned, as did our friend Bonnie with her kids in tow.

And we loaned our first library book!  Peggy was the very first patron of our tiny little lending library.  I hope we’ll have many more.

first library patron

Our first library patron!

Speaking of libraries, there’s also a new table at the market.  The Friends of the JP Library will have a regular mini book sale at the market to raise funds for the Jamaica Plain branch library.  I was thrilled that we’ll have another table there drawing readers to the market (who might be interested in some of our books, too) (and maybe some of our veggies).

friends of JP Library table

Elizabeth staffed the table for the Friends of the JP Library

We’ll be back at the market again this week, on July 5.  I’m curious to see if traffic dips severely with so many people away for the 4th of July week.

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First Farmer’s Market

Kira and Noah at our stand

Yesterday, I dragged both kids out into the 95-degree heat for our first farmer’s market.  We’ll be at the market every Thursday, 2-7pm, in Jamaica Plain, on the lawn of the Loring-Greenough House.  It’s a lovely spot, with families with kids running around under the trees and food trucks (Bon Me and BBQ Smith) giving folks a chance to grab some dinner.

The first test was seeing whether everything fit in the car, with enough room for all three of us.  Luckily it did, but it’ll be a lot harder when we have more veggies later in the season.

car full o' farm

All the produce fit into two large coolers that we filled with frozen bottles of water and juice to try to keep them (and us) cool a little bit longer.  Once at the site, the three of us got everything set up in short order.  I brought every basket and apple box we had, unclear of exactly how I’d set it all up.

veggies with our library

In addition to vegetables, we also have a tiny little lending library.  It only has ten books, but they’re all good conversation starters.  Yesterday, it was so hot, people weren’t that excited about standing around in the heat chatting about the books, but a few people noticed, including a librarian from outside of Boston.

Andrea and Hallie from Stillman's Farm

Andrea and Hallie, from the neighboring tent from Stillman’s Farm, were quite patient with all my million questions (where’s the bathroom, how much are you charging for lettuce, etc.).  Stillman’s is much a larger operation than ours, with multiple stands at farmer’s markets almost every day of the week.  There’s a lot we can learn from them.

Jim Buckle at his stand

Our other neighbor is Jim Buckle from Buckle Farm, a long-time organic farmer who used to run Allandale Farm in Brookline, and now owns his own organic farm in Dighton.  Some of his CSA members pick up at the Thursday market, which brought in a stead stream of folks for their shares.

It was a slow day, because it was just too hot for most people to think about buying food and taking home and cooking it.  But it didn’t take long before we had our first customer:

This is Cait, with lavender and garlic scapes.  Thanks for being the first one to try us out, Cait!

Customers trickled in throughout the afternoon, though most were drawn to delicious strawberries over at the Stillman’s tent.  The lavender sprigs and snow peas were our most popular offerings, though we managed to sell a little bit of everything.  With the heat and bored/hot kids, we probably spent about as much on cold drinks and food truck lunch as we made, but it actually went quite smoothly for a first day.  We didn’t forget anything and the greens stayed as fresh as you might expect over the course of the day.

Later in the afternoon, sun started creeping onto the tables, threatening to melt our chard.  This gave me a chance to try out one of the tent sidewalls (which I almost didn’t bother to bring, since I figured they were just for rain).  It helped a lot in keeping the sun off and keeping everything just a bit cooler.

keeping the sun out

A few friends and neighbors stopped by, including Bonnie Duncan (who was about to head over to perform in the T Plays, where I’m one of the writers) and our backyard neighbors, Ryan, Simone, Cedar, and Hudson who bought up the last of the snow peas.

The Gabridge guys at Market Day #1

We had a great day visiting with customers and continuing to learn more and more about this whole farming business.  We’ll be back again next week, with more greens and lettuce (and cooler weather).  I can’t wait.

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First Farmer’s Market Today!

The field on 6-20-12

How the farm looked yesterday after harvest.

This afternoon, we’ll do our first ever farmer’s market, in Jamaica Plain, at the Loring-Greenough House, from 2-7pm.  In the raging heat.

I’m as nervous as a kid on the first day of kindergarten.

Yesterday, Noah and I went up to the farm to harvest. I’d originally planned to pick this morning, but we’re in the midst of a heat wave, and it made sense to try to get the greens picked before they got really heated up.  They’ll actually be fresher this way (staying in our new coolers overnight), than if I’d picked them today.

This morning, I need to load up the car and see if everything will fit (and still fit Kira and Noah, whom I’m dragging along with me).  It’s supposed to be in the mid- to upper-90s today, so it could seem like a long afternoon.  I have no idea if customers will actually come out to brave the heat.

Selling greens is particularly challenging on hot days, because they tend to wilt in the heat (as do the farmers).  But we’ve got everything on ice right now, so we’ll do our best to keep it all perky.

This early in the season, our harvest is still very small.  Here’s what we’ll have today:

  • snow peas (4-5 pints)
  • garlic scapes (4-5 bundles)
  • 9 bunches of kale
  • 5 bunches of chard
  • 14 heads up lettuce
  • 3 bunches of lavender

It’s not a lot, but it’s a start.  Hopefully people won’t be too shy to visit a small farm stand like ours (at most markets, customers tend to flock to the larger, multi-tent, overflowing stands).  It’d be very, very good to sell out, but I really don’t know what to expect.

If you’re around JP this afternoon, I hope you’ll come by and chat.  (And check out our tiny lending library, too.)  (And buy some veggies.)


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First Chard Harvest

chard fills 3 bins

Our first chard harvest - 25 bunches

On Monday, I got up to the farm to harvest our first chard delivery for the World PEAS CSA–25 bunches.  The weather was cool and overcast which made spending almost 4 hours in the field quite pleasant.  Yep, I’m still VERY slow.  As with the kale last week, the first harvest required a lot more plant maintenance, plus a little weeding.  Also, we had some leaf damage from slugs and other early pests, so there was a fair bit of sorting involved.  I probably had almost 5 pounds of “seconds” that had too many holes to sell, or the color was slightly off–those came home and we’re eating lots of chard for dinner this week.

chard in tugs

I love the new tubtrugs we bought last week. Perfect for harvesting greens!

This time, I did the bunching in the field, which make it go a lot faster.  I brought my little portable digital scale out there with me, so I could make sure each bunch was up to weight (12-16 ounces).

chard in wash tub

The wash tubs can handle about ten bunches at once.

I enjoy being up at the farm and harvesting.  But after a full morning picking, I can see how harvesting chard for 10 hours a day for a few months would get old very, very fast.  That’s the nice thing about working on a tiny, diversified farm–lots of variety to tasks.

World PEAS CSA managers

Kate and RIck at the World PEAS packing site.

At the World PEAS dropoff today, I got to meet the people in charge of making our 400-customer cooperative CSA run smoothly: Kate Petosky, CSA coordinator, and Rick Stec, Assistant CSA Coordinator.  They bring good cheer and competence to a job that features a large number of moving parts.  I’ll be working closely with them all season to make sure we’re delivering the right stuff of the best quality.  Fortunately, they’re very understanding about crop failures (i.e. our snow peas) and reduced yields (our kale). World PEAS offers a great model for provide tiny farmers like us with a way to market our vegetables in a sane way, to a large number of customers. It’s hard to imagine this season without them.

world PEAS packing site

The World PEAS packing room

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First World PEAS delivery

Yesterday, we made our first delivery to the World PEAS Cooperative CSA.  More than 25 farmers supply produce to this venture, which then sells shares to customers.  We’re contracted to grow six different crops for them: kale, chard, snow peas, heirloom tomatoes, tomatillos, and hot peppers.  Every week, we’re supposed to box up a certain amount and deliver it the CSA cooler and warehouse, where it is then packaged the next day and delivered to customers.

Our first delivery was supposed to be for 20 bunches of kale (each 12-16 ounces, which is a lot of kale), but the rabbits and early bad weather destroyed our early kale, leaving us with only enough for 10 bunches.  Soon, we should be able to start delivering 20 bunches reliably every other week.

Kale ready to be picked.

It took a while to pick it all.  Of course, I didn’t make it easy for myself when I first planted–we have three (really four) different kinds of kale, so that meant several passes through the row.  It turns out that three big buckets of kale (Ripbor and Red Russian) was enough to make 5 bunches.  Right now, this early in the season, the stems are very short, which makes them hard to bundle.  They’re also super tender.  Later in the season, you might not want to eat kale raw, but right now this stuff is a real treat.

After I got the first batch picked, I took it just a few feet over to the wash station, and put the kale through two washes before bunching.

wash station

The wash station is where I'll spend a lot time this summer.

kale being washed

kale in the wash tub

Doing any new task takes a lot of concentration, as well as time.  I was pretty slow this first time, but I was also doing plant assessment, pruning, and a little weeding along the way.  With practice, I hope to get a lot faster.  (Getting ready for the Thursday farmer’s markets is going to be tricky.)

kale ready for World PEASOnce I had it all bunched, I put the kale in these handy plastic boxes for delivery to the World PEAS cooler in Lowell.  (Important lesson:  harvest early, the traffic in Lowell is a bear in the late afternoon.  Yikes.)  I’m glad I had the GPS to get me there, because it’s tucked away in a little industrial section of Lowell that doesn’t at all look like somewhere you’d deliver vegetables.

But I found the right place, dropped off the full boxes, got empty ones, and was on my way.  (Next time I’ll take photos of the inside of the cooler.  It’s a simple but effective setup.)

the coolerIt doesn’t look like much on the outside, but it does the trick.

Making the delivery made me feel a little bit more like a real farmer.  (I’ll get paid in a few weeks, and then I’ll feel even more like a farmer.)  Soon the deliveries will get larger and I’ll get faster and more efficient at making them.

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New Tent is here!

In addition to trying to grow vegetables, we’re spending a lot of time trying to get ready for our first farmer’s market (Thursday, June 21, in Jamaica Plain).  There’s a lot of stuff to get–baskets, boxes, tables, a banner, a scale, and a tent.  The tent arrived last week, and we went to a nearby empty parking lot over the weekend to see if we could put it up.  It took a few tries, but we finally got it right.  Now I know how to put it up all by myself, which will be very important, because most days I’ll be there solo.  The tent is a standard 10’x10′ which feels pretty huge when there’s nothing but me and a scale under it.  The brand is Undercover, and it feels pretty sturdy.  We’ll see how it handles the first rainy/windy day.

Pat under the tent

Our new tent (w/ scale and farmer)

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