On The Farm: Week 2

Week two on the farm was a bit warmer than the first week.  Every Monday morning we do a “Farm Walk” to observe everything and make task lists of the work that needs to be done.  It’s inspired me to try to do some similar weekly assessment / task list in my own garden at home.

At the end of each day on the farm, we do record keeping and make sure that the sowing, irrigation, and harvest logs have all been updated and that any completed tasks are checked off.

While in the hoophouse on our Farm Walk this week, we notice leaf miner damage once again:  (sorry, I’ve forgotten what plant this leaf belonged to!  Chard perhaps?)

white blotchy area indicates leaf miners at work…

This spinach planted in the hoophouse also has a lot of leaf miner damage. We will have to thoroughly wipe each leaf of each plant in this row to hopefully get rid of them and prevent more damage.

I’m really excited to have the chance to learn some basic carpentry skills this year.  It rained on Wednesday, throwing our schedule off a bit, so we worked in the hoophouse.  Half of us pricked out basil…

While Bret & I got to make a propagation table!  First we stapled some hardware cloth to this existing frame to make a sturdier platform to hold seed trays:

this 8′ x 4′ frame will hold a lot of seedling trays. It’s stacked on crates, so it’s easy to move and/or store if need be.

The real treat was when I got to learn how to use a circular saw.  No big deal, really, but  power tools with BLADES do freak me out a little bit, so I was glad to have some supervised instruction!

Bret & I made this 8′ x 3′ frame, including the supports and corner braces.

We then covered it with some metal garden fencing wire using the staple gun.

Here it is filled with seed trays:

the garden fencing creates a surface sturdy enough to lots of trays

There were a few small restaurant orders to fill, so we got a lesson in harvesting last week as well.  Here are some large green onions we pulled, ready to be hosed off, trimmed, and cleaned up.

We got to harvest some flowers for the restaurant as well…

Flowers from sage, cilantro, crimson clover, and batchelor’s buttons

On Friday I got to help out with pH testing.  Every year they test the pH level of each and every bed on the farm.  It was pretty easy with this Rapitest reader.

Of course there was more weeding to do.  For some reason I’m really enjoying weeding on the farm.  (check in with me 4 months from now on that!)  It seems much easier and more pleasant than weeding in my own yard.  Go figure.

We also spent some time discussing special projects.  Time has been allotted into the schedule each week for us to devote some time to a special, independent project of our choice.  We need to make decisions by Wednesday of next week so that we can begin setting up a plan and timeline with the staff.  It’s going to be VERY difficult to choose what to work on.   I had hoped to do something with rainwater harvesting, but unfortunately the roof of the school is set up to drain into the center of the buildings, so we can’t collect water that way.  (Or at least it would be a much larger job than an independent project could pull off.)  We could, however, build a shed or structure that allowed us to harvest water…

I also thought it might be cool to have elementary school kids who come for field trips – perhaps through an art class – select a plant to sketch, draw, paint, or write a poem about – and to auction their artwork off later on at a fundraising event.

Some other ideas that were presented as choices included:

  1. hosting / organizing a community Farm Dinner  fundraiser
  2. working on the Farm’s presentation display and supplies
  3. creating educational signage for plants or for restaurants who use our produce
  4. organizing supplies in the shed and creating a system to make use of vertical space / hanging things
  5. making dibblers – suggestions included old bicycle tires with bolts attached…can be rolled down a row to create regularly spaced holes for seeds, etc.  Lots of opportunities to be creative with this one!
  6. a Farm Photo Exhibit – create a book or documentation of how one bed changes over the season, or of the farm in general…again, lots of ways you could approach this.
  7. social media – working on promoting the farm, creating online events calendars, etc
  8. silk-screening – using plants from the farm to create images for printing on bags and T-shirts, which could then be sold at our Farmer’s Market.  I assume we could use screenprinting presses in the high school for this…not sure.
  9. worm composing – building bins, signs and educational materials, and taking care of the worms, collecting compost tea, etc.
  10. creating value-added products that could then be sold at our Market (salves, oils, maybe even canned food products – sound like we have access to a licensed kitchen!)
  11. building a chicken coop – while BK Farmyards oversees another cooperatively-run chicken coop at different location, they’d like to get chickens here at the Farm as well.  Me too.  🙂
  12. growing mushrooms
  13. working on community outreach and events
  14. creating a poster board of insects and pathogens that are commonly found on the farm –  high school kids might be more inclined to go check out the poster board rather than consult a field book.
  15. build and maintain a kiosk / display case to inform the public about the farm, upcoming events, and how they can get involved.

As you can see, there is no shortage of great ideas!  I don’t know how I’m going to decide.  I think I can safely rule out social media, but there are a lot of things that really interest me:  building a chicken coop, making a dibbler, silk-screening, worm composting, value-added products for the market…I also have a little experience hosting fundraisers, but it might be nice to try something new.  By Wednesday I’ll have to have a plan!

Urban Farming

Nearly a month ago I posted about an urban farm in Brooklyn managed by BK Farmyards.  They have an Urban Agriculture Certificate Training Program, and I had sent in an application.

I am delighted (over the moon, actually) to say that I was offered a spot in the program, and I accepted!  I start this coming Monday, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!  I’ve been sitting on this news for a couple of weeks now, counting down the days until I start “Farm School.”

I love the group’s mission (taken from their website):


“We want to unite communities around the dinner table and hope to teach people about eating seasonally, growing food locally, storing & preparing food, species biodiversity & food democracy. We aim to build local food networks, enhancing the health of our culture, people & environment by connecting farmers & consumers as co-producers of the foodscape.  We transform underutilized land into farms, encouraging the communal celebration of food”

The “farm” where I’ll be training is an acre of land which is part of a high school – The High School for Public Service.  Students there get to take agriculture classes as part of their curriculum along with cooking and nutrition classes.  From what I hear, the kids set up cooking demos at the on-premises Farm Market stand to share new foods with people in the community and show them how to use them.

While it is a youth farm, I will be participating in the adult training program, and I’ll get a serious education!  The nine components of the program are:

  • Hands-on farm work
  • Informal workshops (taught by youth farm staff and guests)
  • Farm walks
  • Weekly farm meetings
  • Rotations (irrigation, propagation, vegetable and flower field work, market & CSA – community supported agriculture
  • Direct marketing
  • Working with youth
  • NYC Craft visits to other urban agriculture projects (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training)
  • Discussions on food justice

I’ll be on the farm 3 days/week for a total of 20 hours weekly, and the program runs all the way through November.  This schedule will allow me to work part-time on weekends and two weekdays, which will make it possible for me to pay for the training (and rent!)

Last October, when I lost my office job, I never dreamed I’d spend 2012 training on a farm.  It has been, in some ways, a really rough several months of being unemployed and lacking not only money, but direction.  I turned the big 4-0 two weeks ago, and needless to say the prospect of turning 40, being unemployed, not having health insurance, and still not knowing what I wanted to do when I grow up was pretty discouraging.

While I certainly haven’t answered all of the questions, I can say without doubt that I am doing what feels right to me now and going where my heart (and opportunity) seems to be leading.

C.L. Fornari really summed it up for me (without even knowing it) in this recent post on her spectacularly inspiring blog Whole Life Gardening:

“Whenever possible in life, it’s helpful to see change as an opportunity, even when we might not have chosen that particular circumstance as the ideal time to be adaptable.”

She was speaking in regard to having lost some plants and needing to decide whether to keep, move, or divide the remaining plants…of course her words always have a deeper meaning.  Six months ago I certainly did not want to lose my job or our health insurance.  It was not a job I was happy in, I was not doing something I really wanted to do or even supported, and it was really taking a toll.  Still, I never would have left of my own accord.  Had they not decided to replace me with someone who could speak Chinese (true story!), I might very well still be there, miserable, instead of about to embark on what I feel is going to be a wonderful experience.  Seeing change as an opportunity is a lesson I continue to have to learn.  Thank you, C.L., for the reminder!

As for the farm, I am eager to absorb and learn everything that I possibly can about growing food on a large scale, carpentry, and maybe even keeping bees and raising chickens if I’m lucky. It will be great to have conversations about food justice and policy issues as well.

I’m looking forward to posting weekly about the farm in addition to my own gardening projects, and eager to see where this knowledge and experience will take me!