Sunday, August 24, 2008

Do It Again

"Standing in the middle of nowhere, wondering how to begin. Lost between tomorrow and yesterday, between now and then. And now we're back where we started, here we go round again. Day after day I get up and I say I better do it again."

Farming is an incredibly long distance race; marathoners have it easy. During the 'off' season farmers spend their time cleaning, organizing, planning, and ordering. Once the actual season starts, sometime around late March/early April, the labor doesn't cease until the end of October/early November. While there are variations from farm to farm, depending on the size of the farm operation and the number of helpers (paid/volunteer/intern), those farmers who are involved in local, sustainable agriculture, and especially those who are farming organically (as Gravity Hill Farm is doing) are engaged in an extremely challenging endeavor. Farming is a seven-day-a-week job; as often as not, working from just after sun up to sun down. It is uncertain if John Lennon had farmers in mind when he sang about working class heroes, but farmers, past and present, are truly heroes for their persistence and tenacity. There is much that a farmer has no control over (rain, heat, bugs [those nasty bastards]), but through it all the farmer must get up and persevere, day in and day out. That is what the farmer has control over, and regardless of how they are feeling - physically, emotionally, or mentally - the farmer, whether it be Farmer David or any other, needs to get up each day and do it again and again. Those reading this who are aware of the challenges facing small, local farmers appreciate what the farmer is doing in order to bring fresh, nutritious and gorgeous seasonal produce to market or to community-supported agriculture (CSA) members. For those who aren't aware, it is hoped that this message provides some small insight of what goes into providing you food that is fresher and tastier than you can find in most supermarkets.

The farm season is a continuous cycle of seeding, germination, growing in the green house, seasoning on a table outside of the green house, and planting. While waiting to be planted, the newly seeded plants and those that have started growing need to be watered - daily. If the greenhouse is full, and the outside tables are full, watering can take upwards of two hours per day, depending on the size of the farm operation. Once planted, the plants need to be watered through irrigation, weeded, and, in certain cases, trellised (tomatoes, peas, cucumbers). And while most 'stuff' starts in planting trays in the greenhouse, some plants are directly seeded into the ground. And this doesn't happen just once at the beginning of the season. While some crops do well in the spring, others prefer the heat of the summer, and some do best once fall weather rolls around. There is no break from the entire process; the cycle is repeated many times throughout the entire season.

So, the next time you go to a farmer's market, say hi to your local farmer. Tell them how much you appreciate the great produce they are making available to you and thank them for all they do. Farmers truly are working class heroes.

Here are some seeds that have germinated. At this size they are still in the greenhouse.

This is a view inside the greenhouse. Plants are in various stages of growth. The plastic sides of the greenhouse can be rolled up and down. This allows the plants to be kept at the right temperature and to be protected from rain. In the back center of the greenhouse is the housing for a fan which is used to cool off the greenhouse if it gets too hot. On the right side is a heater which will provide heat when it gets too chilly.

This shows the increase in the amount of seeding that has been done.

This shows Farmer David watering seedlings that have been moved outside to prepare them for their lives in the field. This needs to be done outside and inside the greenhouse on a daily basis. Watering requires a great deal of patience as it is not something that can be rushed. To state the obvious, a poor job of watering can be life threatening to the plants.

These are tomato plants. The wooden stakes will be used to trellis the tomatoes to provide them with stability to prevent them from toppling over. Trellising is very time consuming.

These are tomato plants that have grown up and are being held up by trellising. To trellis special string is tied to a stake and is wound in and out between the plants and is tied off at the next stake. As mentioned, very time consuming and damaging to the hands and fingers.

As long as you gaze on Gravity Hill sunset, you will be in paradise.

More pictures showing the process of planting and growing next time.

In the last posting an important friend of Farmer David's was overlooked - so, a big shout out to Adam for all he's done. And speaking of Adam, he has a blog describing the garden that he is growing at the Lawrenceville, NJ communtiy garden plot. You can follow Adam's exploits at:

Another blog to check out is Farm Blogs From Around the World: The site is as its name indicates, blogs from farms from around the world. A very cool place to visit.

Happy and healthy eating to all.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

With A Little Help

"What would you think if I sang out of tune, would you stand up and walk out on me. Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song, and I'll try not to sing out of key. Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends, he gets high with a little help from his friends, oh I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends."

First to redress an oversight from last years (farm season 2007) postings. There were a great many people who provided Farmer David with invaluable time, effort, energy, emotional, and spiritual assistance. While they know who they are, here is a shout out to those who assisted either by their labor or support in various other ways. If any have been forgotten, humble apologies. To correct any oversight contact David and you will be sure to be included in a future posting. Big Shout Outs!! to the following- Gab, Mikey and Emily, Adam, Betsy, Natalie, Farmer Dean, Farmer Matt, Farmer Mike, Mary Jo, and Farmer Rob and Pam. Much appreciation to the various Spoonies who spent time volunteering at one time or another. Farming is an arduous lifestyle and any farmer is dependent on the kindness of others. Without all of these fine folk, Gravity Hill Farm would not have been as successful as it was during its first year of production. So again, a heartfelt thanks to one and all for all that you did.

As the second year of production was gearing up the land in production went from 1.7 acres to a little over 4 acres. In increasing the size of land being put into production, and thus increasing the amount of work that would need to be put into making the farm a success, the Gravity Hill Farm Team of David and Maria and Farmer David, recognized that it would be necessary to hire a couple of people. Along with two full time people one other person was hired to work on a part time basis. And then came unexpected help from two young women who are volunteering a tremendous amount of their time. A joke could be made questioning their sanity for working as long and as hard as they are for little compensation. However, humor in this case would devalue their commitment to the success of the farm.

So, let's introduce Gravity Hill Farm's 2008 work crew.

Last year Natalie would show up every Sunday morning for the Lawrenceville Market and help with getting everything set up. More importantly Natalie was most instrumental in putting flowers into beautiful bouquets to be sold. This year Natalie still comes most Sunday mornings to help with the set up.

Emma is spending a portion of her summer vacation from college working part-time at the farm. As with the other workers, Emma is proof that not all people of her age group (late teens-early 20's) are self-centered and concerned only with material wants. There are easier ways to make money than farming.

Over the past couple of years, Patrick has done various odd jobs on the farm, but this is his first year working as a true farmer. Patrick is another college student finding that working the land is far more challenging than most people might imagine. Sadly, both Patrick and Emma will be leaving at the end of August to return to college.

Emily is going to be a senior in high school. She has been spending at least 40 hours a week volunteering!! Her time and efforts have proven invaluable, especially in the context that she is volunteering.

Malaika is the other volunteer at the farm. She is giving about 30+ hours of her energy a week to the farm. Malaika spent the first part of her summer as an intern learning how to make cheese. As does Emily, Malaika has a strong commitment to local, organic, sustainable agriculture. Sadly for Farmer David, just as Emma and Patrick, Emily and Malaika will be leaving at the end of August to return to their respective schools.

Valerie is working as an intern and will be staying with the farm through the end of the season some time in October. She is yet another example of a young adult accepting the challenge of working hard on a daily basis. As do the others Valerie demonstrates commitment to a job well done.

Farmer David trying to get a point across to his staff about their need to stay focused on their tasks. Just kidding. While the heat and the grind can take their toll,Patrick, Valerie, Emma, Emily, and Malaika all perservere against the elements and the challenges that farming presents on a daily basis.

If you can't make out what the document below is, it is the official notification that Gravity Hill Farm is certified as organic. It was a long process to apply and then it took a long time for the document to come. Regardless, congratulations to David and Maria and David, the team behind Gravity Hill ORGANIC Farm.

For those who choose to farm they need to avoid building walls. They can not afford to be either a rock or an island. They have need of friendship, laughter, support, and love. So, to those of you who helped last year, once again, much thanks and appreciation. To this years staff and volunteers, much thanks and appreciation as well, the farm wouldn't be the success it is without you.