Thanksgiving Thoughts & Thanks

Farming Matters Blog                                                               November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving thoughts & thanks from the farm

John and I just finished distributing this year’s Thanksgiving Feast.  It’s such fun to hand out tons of produce and watch a member’s face light up she sees her favorite squash or root vegetable in the bins.  This year we were very fortunate to be able to provide 18 different items – everything from acorn squash, apples, yellow & boiling onions (gotta love those creamed onions), HUGE butternut squash, Brussel’s sprouts, carrots, cranberries, garlic, horseradish, parsnips, shallots, sweet potatoes and turnips!

We also sold Thanksgiving feast baskets to a few new farm friends – who seemed very happy with their basket’s variety & amount of vegetables as well as the special touches like YSF’s special Thanksgiving book of twelve recipes, YSF’s custom poultry seasoning, and the heirloom Howe’s cranberries.

Here’s a picture of the basket we gave out.

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We have a lot to be thankful for at the Yellow Stonehouse farm: 

  • We are thankful to farm beautiful, fertile land blessed with abundant water. We are thankful we could successfully sow & reap an abundance of vegetables this summer despite the drought.
  • We are thankful that John’s family were such great stewards of the farm. They made sure the farm continued as an agricultural enterprise and not developed, a practice we are privileged to continue today.
  • We are thankful for the children who come to the farm – it is a delight to positively impact the next generation. We love the adorable antics of babies & children, which is surely helping to keep us young.
  • We are thankful to have settled full-time on the farm – where we are engaged & productive; continuously learning new things while giving back to our community – all things that give meaning to our lives.
  • We are thankful to have so many wonderful members of the farm, who share their pleasure in the farm with us and make our work so rewarding. Your membership is what makes this all work.

Happy Thanksgiving to all from your organic farm & CSA – Yellow Stonehouse Farm and your farmers – John & Connie

Dressing up as a farmer

Dressing up as a farmer for Halloween

Today is Halloween – amazing what a big event it’s become. thanksgiving-costume-picture

It’s a great excuse to dress up as your favorite character – whether it’s a super hero or future vocation. I expect we’ll see a few of each tonight – superman, wonder woman, fireman, ballerina, various celebrities and sports figures. And it’s not just the kids who get into dressing up – as I can attest to after attending a costume party last weekend and dressing up as a 1920’s flapper – great fun!

What I don’t expect to see is a child dressed up as a farmer – much to my sorrow. I don’t know many kids today who want to be a farmer when they grow up – or parents who chose farming as a career for their children. This is a problem for us all – especially in New England where we are losing our family farms at an alarming rate. If the farms disappear and there aren’t any new, young farmers who want to get into the business – who is going to grow our food in the future?

One of the major barriers to entering farming, is the cost of acquiring the farm. Very low commodity prices also make it hard to earn a decent living to support a family on farms less than 1000 acres. Not to mention the physical hard work farming requires – not attractive to many nowadays – though our physical health might benefit. A more recent problem is the industrialization of farming dependent on expensive chemicals and GMO seed that lock farmers into methods of farming susceptible to plant diseases and invasive insects. Changing weather patterns make our lovely temperate New England climate dryer and hotter – increasing the risk and cost of farming even more, and pushing more farmers out of business.

A positive farming trend is the growth of CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) which connects community members and local farms. Community members buy shares in their local farm for a set price and then enjoy the bounty of the farm for a season: The Summer Share from June to October and/or the Winter Share from November to February. CSA’s work by providing the farmer with a reasonable & reliable income source and the ability to plan how much to grow based on the number of members, and in turn provides shareholders with reasonably priced, delicious, abundant, fresh, and in our case, certified organic produce. Yellow Stonehouse Farm is Hamden County’s only USDA Certified organic CSA and has a growing membership in Westfield and the surrounding area in the Pioneer Valley.

An organic CSA is our way to keep Yellow Stonehouse Farm an agricultural property so we don’t have to cash it in for commercial development. We also are more resistant to drought, pests, and diseases and importantly, we aren’t afraid of poisoning ourselves, the local flora and fauna, or our shareholders with pesticides and harmful chemicals. Kids picking cherry tomatoes can sample them off the vine in the field without worry!

There are other less tangible benefits of CSAs. First, many of our shareholders have children and we are exposing those children to the farm, our joy in sustainable farming, and the glories of nature. Maybe we can inspire a child or two to consider farming as a future career. Second, we are working hard to establish the farm as a self-sustaining business. Capable of earning enough income to support a farm family – so that someday, we can sell the farm to a new farm family and make sure the farm stays a farm.

In the meantime, maybe one of our trick-or-treaters will come dressed up as a farmer.

If you’d like to get your own Winter CSA Share so you can enjoy our certified organic produce, we have a few remaining winter shares available. Check out our website at www.yellowstonehousefarmcsa.com/ Call us at 413-562-2164 or email us at yellowstonehousefarmcsa@yahoo.com

Farm history and cycles

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Our farm has a rich history as part of the East Farms section of Westfield, originally settled by the Root Family, (thus the name of our street – Root Road). We can’t wait to research the farm’s history, which dates back to the 1840’s, during our winter break. Did you know that Westfield started out as a purely Agricultural community? Amazing how few farms are left in Westfield considering that it was first settled because of its rich agricultural soils. For its’ next 150 years almost the entire town was devoted to farming! Agriculture is an essential part of Westfield’s heritage that shouldn’t be lost, and we consider keeping that history alive part of the farm’s mission. Some projects we are thinking about are to get the farm and barns historically registered and another is to get East Farms recognized as a unique and special agricultural part of Westfield.

Historical research is hard to pursue during the growing season. There’s just so much to do when the vegetables are producing – in addition to the picking, we have to weed, cultivate, plant, man the CSA market, and this year due to the drought, we had to irrigate. Our days last from dawn to dusk and it’s fortunate fresh vegetables are easy to cook (thank you tomato mozzarella salad) or we’d be too tired to make dinner some days.

Farming is relentless – you can’t decide to not pick the tomatoes or postpone the weeding, skip watering or neglect planting. It’s even harder if you have livestock – that’s a year-round, day-in day-out commitment to feed, water, and in the case of dairy, milk the cows every day!

It’s one reason why we chose to grow vegetables – there’s an annual cycle which includes a much needed break during winter. Though the advent of high tunnels has enabled us to extend the growing season enough to offer a Winter CSA share November through February, we still get a break before the cycle begins again in Spring.

If you’d like to get your own Winter CSA Share so you can enjoy our certified organic produce, we have a few remaining winter shares available. Check out our website or come see us in person – the farm market is open to the public Wednesday to Fridays from 3 – 6:30 pm & Saturday’s from 9 am – 2 pm until October 22nd.

Living alongside the wildlife of the farm

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One of the first things we learned about our farm, was its’ designations as a National Heritage Landscape, which means it’s specially acknowledged as a historically productive farm.   Additionally, it is also a recognized habitat for the protected eastern painted turtle, along with many native species of birds, insects, amphibians and animals.  Also thrilling was learning there was a special turtle nesting area.  Several years later, the farm was awarded a grant to rehabilitate the turtle nesting site.  To protect the turtles, we raise mower blades to avoid turtles in the fields, and always keep watch for turtles and relocate them if necessary.

This is one example of living alongside the wildlife on the farm.  Usually, (don’t mention the deer and bear eating our corn this year) we manage to live in harmony with the creatures we share the land with.

For instance, there are large brown bats in our barn and correspondingly few mosquitoes in the areas around the barn. This year we noticed that as the bat population declined slightly (they suffered from white nose syndrome like most Massachusetts bats) the mosquito population has increased.  Luckily, a state naturalist told us the bat population should rebound stronger than ever with bats more resistant to the disease.  Good news for us, bad news for the mosquitoes.

One of the most beautiful residents of our farm are the butterflies.  They are useful pollinators and there are many species present: swallowtails – both yellow and black, Melissa blues, coppers, sulphurs, and of course Monarchs.  Monarchs, sadly, have declined in recent years.  Five years ago there were hundreds of Monarch butterflies in the fields, but last year, the summer of 2015, we were lucky to see a half dozen.  This year it’s thrilling to see many dozens of Monarchs all over the farm.  We think our diligence in preserving their host plant milkweed, planting lots of flowers – plus the lack of any pesticide use – help keep many creatures thriving in addition to the Monarchs such as bees, dragon flies, frogs, toads, praying mantises, and many species of birds.

If you’d like to join our farm community, experience our beautiful landscape and enjoy our certified organic produce, we have harvest and winter shares available.  Check out our website or come see us in person – the farm market is open to the public Wednesday to Fridays from 3 – 6:30 pm & Saturday’s from 9 am – 2 pm.

The importance of Community to our farm

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This past weekend, Yellow Stonehouse Farm hosted a potluck dinner for members and friends of the farm.  We invited everyone to bring a dish to share plus a chair.  We provided the venue in the farm’s courtyard and set up the food in the barn along with the Western Mass band called Axis Mundi.  We hoped to schedule it so the evening would be a little cooler and the tomatoes would be at their peak.  We got one of the two right!

Despite the heat – and boy, was it hot and sticky – everyone had a great time! Members met other members, shared recipes (did I mention how yummy everything was) and traded stories.  It was an experience in community and fellowship that I feel is often missing in today’s fast paced world.

party venue

Fellowship and sharing is what Community Supported Agriculture is all about – individuals coming together to support their local farm and farmers, and share in and celebrate the bounty of the harvest.  John and I couldn’t run the farm without the support of our members!

Not to mention that our members are really fun and witty, so nice and very talented.  Did I mention the band, Axis Mundi, played throughout the party with only a brief stop for dinner?  They played everything from Pure Prairie League to the Grateful Dead – with much singing along and bobbing of heads – and a grand time was had by all.  A special thank you to our member Brett for helping with the arrangements including his guitar playing!

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A key aspect of CSA membership is that our farm is directly supported by the local community.  One of the key goals of sustainable agriculture is to support locally grown food.  Yellow Stonehouse farm’s food is fresher (often harvested the same day), healthier (organic growing practices contribute to soil health which translates to healthier vegetables), with a smaller carbon footprint (the food isn’t travelling far), and if you know the farmer – you know their cultivation practices, i.e. whether they are certified organic, using pesticides or GMO seeds, and respecting the land they grow their food on.

If you’d like to join our farm community, we have harvest and winter shares available.  Learn about us on our website or come see our beautiful certified organic vegetables and flowers in person – the farm market is open to the public Wednesday to Fridays from 3 – 6:30 pm and Saturday’s from 9 am – 2 pm.

Let it rain – the insecurity of farming during drought

Something most of us don’t think about is how dependent on weather we are.  Our inattention is likely caused by the protection of our heated and cooled homes.  Human built landscapes do cut us off from nature.

Perhaps one reason some people don’t believe in climate change is this buffer … it allows us to ignore the elements, forget there is a climate out there.  Until nature throws a punch or two, that is.  As I observe the worsening weather, it seems as if the earth is trying to get our attention, telling us we are hurting it and its environment. The more we ignore the stresses to the planet the more violently the planet signasls us.  Think of the recent floods in Texas, the extreme weather in the forms of tornadoes in the mid-west and the severe wild fires in the parched west – not to mention our local drought.

New England is temperate, normally green and well-watered.  While our farms may not be the size of mid-west factory farms, our land is exceptionally fertile and yields bountiful crops of fruit and vegetables. To grow vegetables to their full potential, the ideal is to receive one inch of rain per week.  Without rainfall, plants become stunted, the fruit may dry up, or sometimes plants don’t grow at all.

This year, nature has been a little off.  The winter was warm – without the freezing temperatures that reduce pest populations such as mice, chipmunks, voles and rabbits not to mention voracious plant eating insects.  The Spring was cold and overlong – delaying the planting and germination of seeds and crops – and the amount of rainfall has been non-existent.  Western Massachusetts is experiencing a significant drought – ranked from extreme to moderate with rain deficits in excess of 10 inches.

Yellow Stonehouse Farm is lucky.  We have water from wells originally dug to provide for 100 head of dairy cows.  We’ve been able to irrigate our fields since June to keep the crops going until it rained.  Which, Glory Alleluia – it did this past weekend.  The rain we received – just under an inch – was enough to make our crops pop!  Now that it’s rained, we have an abundance of produce.  Come see our beautiful certified organic vegetables and flowers – the farm market is open to the public Wednesday through Fridays from 3 – 6:30 pm and on Saturday’s from 9 am till 3 pm.

The Lovely Month of June

strawberries in spring

June is when I celebrate my birthday and also when Summer starts – so of course, June is a favorite month of mine!  You can’t blame me – there are the fabulous flowers of June: irises (my favorite!), peonies, roses and wisteria (which unfortunately didn’t bloom well this year due to that nasty freeze in March); Spring fruits: strawberries and rhubarb for sauces and pies (which can replace birthday cake anytime for me); and the first luscious vegetables: asparagus, tender lettuces, sweet peas and the mint the flourishes at just the right time, along with the spicy radishes that add a special crunch to salads.

For our CSA members in June, we also grow bok choi aka Chinese cabbage, dandelion greens, Spring turnips, kohlrabi (which didn’t make it due to a great wave of flea beetles, we think because of the warm winter), kale, mizuna and Spring raab (bitter greens that are so good for us), Swiss chard, and tatsoi – a type of oriental spinach.

What’s interesting to me, is most of these vegetables are packed with nutrients we all need to stay healthy.  Take rhubarb, for instance – did you know that it’s been used medicinally for thousands of years?  Folklore credits Benjamin Franklin for first importing rhubarb to America in the 1700’s, but it originated in Asia over 5000 years ago.  Its’ roots and rhizomes were used in Chinese medicine to treat everything from liver complaints to senility.  More recently, rhubarb’s beneficial qualities have been validated by modern science who’ve found a slew of compounds that may prevent and fight cancer & senility, anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories, vitamins such as C, K, and B-complex plus the minerals calcium, potassium and manganese.

ysf rhubarb in spring

This brings me to an idea that at first may not seem appetizing – food as medicine!  My herbalism teacher Jade Alicandro Mace, of Milk & Honey Herbs, recently introduced me to the concept that what we eat not only provides us our day to day sustenance, but can also actively support our good health.  I am so enthusiastic about this idea.  In future columns, I plan to start introducing some of the power house vegetables that we can all eat to protect and improve our health!

We still have a couple EOW shares available for a couple of pick-up days even though the season has started!  Please call us or stop by the farm Tuesday through Saturday.

The Summer Season is Starting!

picture of pickup area and John

Now the fun begins!  We start distributing vegetable shares this week to our many members – both new & old.  We are working hard to gather vegetables, make the distribution area sparkle, fine-tune just the right recipes, and generally get ready for our members to come to the farm.  We can’t wait to see everyone.

Every CSA is a little bit different….at Yellow Stonehouse Farm’s CSA, we are trying to accomplish several goals in addition to providing really fresh and delicious organic produce.  As I’ve written before, we are trying to keep the farm a farm in perpetuity.  There’s a lot of reasons for this – the primary one being that America is losing family farms at an alarming rate, and we think small farms are better for the planet than industrial farms.  Plus, we think our farm is a particularly beautiful and productive farm: we have great soil, plentiful water, a healthy and robust ecosystem, gorgeous fields and a consistent breeze, all isolated from other farms protecting us from diseases and pests.  Quite frankly, this farm is so perfect for farming it would be a crime to sacrifice it to any other use!

But it’s the members that make our CSA work.  CSA members are the lifeblood of the whole thing – helping us make the farm successful by joining our farm and sharing our farming enterprise.  Our members share our goals – they want to support local farming, to know where their food comes from – and who is growing it.

Our members encourage us!  It is so rewarding to grow for others and see the joy it provides: the small child tasting young peas for the first time or picking a juicy cherry tomato in the sunny fields; the oncology patient eating organic vegetables as part of their treatment; the member who just loves getting his hands in the dirt, weeding, as he picks beans; the member who shares her favorite recipe and brings in a sample for all to taste!  Members provide us feedback, give us new ideas, and let us know when we get it right (and wrong) so that we can improve.   So thank you YSF CSA members – see you soon!