Last week, I wrote about the high tunnel vegetable season extension at Shadow Brook Farm, but the hoop houses are not the only place this enterprising family grows organic food. Several acres are devoted to growing outside too. Spinach, broccoli, and various cabbages were still in place, the remnants of peppers and tomatoes, and a small dormant field of asparagus all laid out in a patchwork across the land.
Let’s see: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower… all cabbage family. Spinach is in with beets and chard. Tomatoes and peppers are both Solanacaea, along with eggplants, potatoes, and tobacco. I asked Charuth about crop rotation and diversity, given the small number of families that dominate her production cycles.
Her crop rotation includes cover crops and fallow time, such that at any given time about a 1/3 of the vegetable fields are under cover crop. Like Common Good Farm, she uses a combination of organic matter builders and nitrogen fixers in her cover crop mix: rye and vetch, clover and oats. The fallow time allows both soil nutrient replenishment, and time for anything problematic to die off before its favorite prey crop is rotated back onto that plot.
In addition to the cover crops, Shadow Brook practices extensive composting. In the distance to the south were large piles, each monitored for temperature regularly. Charuth is a talented cheese maker, using milk from her herd of goats, but the addition of fresh goat manure to the compost means they have to follow the strict organic standards for manure on leaf crops. This requires heat generating compost that reaches a minimum of 140° F. As popular as vermiculture (worm composting) is, it’s not an option for operations like Shadow Brook, except perhaps as a secondary treatment.
The goats themselves milled about in the distance to the north. Using the frame base from an old (truck?), a building very similar to a chicken-tractor had been built, only the doors were vastly bigger and the water-trough sized more for (you guessed it!) goats. Laughingly referred to as goatels, these serve their ‘clientele’ very much like the chicken tractors: somewhere dry, with a bit of wind protection, and some food and water that is miraculously always nearby.
We passed them and went into the packing shed, which was an old milking shed as this had been a dairy farm before Charuth and Kevin got a hold of it. Stainless steel sinks and counters had been added, and the former walk-in refrigerators converted to cool and cold storage (for squashes and potatoes, and for leafy crops repectively). Around the corner, the entrance to the goat milking and cheese-making areas stood dark- the farm separates the two chore cycles strictly, with changes of boots and different focuses on different days.
Washing and packing their vegetables adds value for a range of audiences: there is their very long CSA season, the on-farm market, a number of grocery stores in the area, and several restaurants and farmers markets in two nearby cities. I’m learning as I go and have finally gotten smart enough to repay the farmers whose time I take up with a little free labor. I washed and sanitized the sinks and counters, and then got out of Charuth’s hair so she could go make that day’s deliveries.
When I was young, there was a place in Virginia that operated as a farmer’s market (complete with closing for the deepest portion of the winter), only it was a drop-off site, and a separate staff served as clerks for the customers. I think it had been the on-farm market for a farm that had since disappeared in the advancing waves of suburbanization, the market now taking in from other farmers further out. The antiques market has adopted a similar practice now, with antiques malls made up of many booths, each owner of which takes a turn playing clerk for a portion of a day each week.
If such stores existed again, would they allow farmers such as Charuth and Kevin to spend more time on the farm and less time making appearances? Could they team up with other farmers and make collective deliveries? The local food movement is about more than just growing the food, it’s about the infrastructure that gets the food cleaned and prepared, milled and made, and to the customer. As the movement grows, these infrastructure pieces that used to exist are in need of being rebuilt.