Wright-Locke’s “Night-time Farmers”

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Written by Amy Rindskopf, Event Manager

The month of May means many things in the Farm’s calendar – seedlings start to leave the greenhouse for the fields, after-school education programs return, and the farm stand moves from once-a-week eggs-only towards a full week with veggies, eggs, and delicious snacks. For the Farm event team, it means something even more: parties return to the 1827 Barn!

Regular visitors to the farm know that we do many public events throughout the warmer months: Family Farm Nights in June & July are our most popular event but we also do Spring Fling in May (this weekend!), Summer Solstice and Fall Equinox parties, Farm-to-table Suppers in the late summer, and our annual Harvest Dinner in September.

The most attentive visitors know that we also host private events, everything from children’s birthdays to graduations to family milestones to weddings. People who come to the farm to celebrate the important moments in their lives aren’t just looking for a place to have a party – they are connecting themselves and their guests with history and nature in a way rarely seen in event spaces.  It’s why so many people come back to our events year after year. And why more than one party guest has become a volunteer in our fields.

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Our event team definitely has the most unusual job description at Wright-Locke Farm: they must love helping organize beautiful events, but they also enjoy working outside in all weather, moving heavy wooden barn chairs, climbing ladders, having dirty hands, and chasing runaway paper lanterns (and the occasional lost sheep). These night-time farmers of Wright-Locke Farm are some of the best problem solvers I know – they can hang anything from the Norway maple on the hill used as our wedding ceremony site. Need to hang a poster in the barn without using any nails? But of course! Sudden hailstorm changing your outside summer fete to a cozy fall barn party? Not a problem!

Here’s looking forward to a season full of starry nights, happy families, vibrant music, and delicious food!

From Field to Vase

~April 2017~

Written by Ruth Trimarchi, Manager of Flower Operations

We Start Anew

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As a nor’easter bears down on our small greenhouse, it is hard to imagine that these dozens of trays of inch-high flowers will soon fill those snow-covered fields outside. But this is how flower season at Wright-Locke Farm starts. In February the first seeds of eucalyptus, straw flowers, delphinium, celosia and others are carefully started in our tiny incubator, nurtured through dozens of labor-intensive ‘bottom-watering’ cycles so that light-sensitive seeds are not disturbed, graduated to our gently-heated greenhouse, and then finally transferred outside for a week of hardening off before being planted into solid earth starting in May.

Poor Man’s Fertilizer

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Meanwhile in the fields outside, these late spring snows truly are a “poor man’s fertilizer” as my grandparents farming in Vermont were fond of saying. Only recently did I learn that not only does snow serve as a source of water and insulation, but it also captures nitrogen when snowflakes crystallize in the atmosphere, and brings this important nutrient back down into the soil. Exploring this passion for growing flowers is made so much easier today than farming was for them, in no small part due to the ability to investigate information like nitrogen-capturing snowflakes online. My grandparents would have been astounded at how much you can learn about farming with the click of a button!

 

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Fortunately for all of us, I have real-people resources in addition to the internet. Adrienne Altstatt, our Farm Manager gave us “A Glimpse of the Life of a Farmer” in her terrific blog last month. Though I’ve been gardening for decades, last year was my first season growing flowers at Wright-Locke Farm, and Adrienne’s matter-of-fact “It’ll all be fine” was a welcome response to my frequent “oops”! Flowers have their own rhythm and are more fragile than many veggies, but they are subject to fewer pests – and like veggies, growing flowers also takes faith and a great deal of patience. Planting thousands of near-microscopic dark colored seeds into black potting soil requires focus, deep breathing and frequently, tweezers. It never fails to amaze me that these teeny packets of DNA and requisite foodstuffs respond to our gentle nurturing, some air, some water and a little organic fertilizer, and transform themselves into colorful plants as tall as ten feet within a few months.

Gosh this is hard work!

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It is a challenge bringing an interesting selection of fresh flowers to market each week, and requires successional plantings of many of our dozens of flower species. Trying to keep a changing array of colors, textures and blossom sizes that work well together in bouquets, all blooming throughout each week of the season, requires pouring over multiple spreadsheets during the winter months. Strategizing how to rotate beds so that recurring pests like cut worms and powdery mildew are minimized leaves me cross-eyed. As does clustering species with similar netting needs, maximizing sun placement within our small field and creating shade and moisture microenvironments that hopefully provide ideal conditions for each species. Balancing these factors with the field life of each species, vase life, irrigation options, harvesting time, and cost often leaves me feeling like a pretzel!

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Thank Goodness for Volunteers!

Fortunately I don’t do all of this alone. In addition to our Farm Manager, the flower operations are blessed with an amazing team of volunteers. Last year dozens of volunteers, from pre-teens to folks with decades of life experience, showed up to seed, weed, water, plant, harvest and generally help out in myriad ways. The Farm is especially lucky to have a loyal team of highly talented floral designers who help us bring those beautiful flowers directly from our fields to vases for you.

Why do local flowers matter?

I grow flowers because I love flowers. And because it is very satisfying to grow flowers for this beloved community Farm. Locally grown flowers offer community residents the opportunity to:

  • buy local
  • support sustainable agriculture
  • add variety to their flower species
  • purchase flowers that have longer shelf-life
  • purchase flowers that have a reduced carbon footprint
  • purchase flowers that are grown without herbicide or pesticide exposure for farm workers growing the flowers
  • provide biodiversity for bees, birds and other animals
  • provide beauty without endangering the environment

I never envisioned myself following in my grandparents’ footsteps, but I am so grateful for this amazing journey and opportunity to bring beauty to our community. Stop by and visit our ever-changing beautiful flower fields throughout the season!

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A Glimpse of the Life of a Farmer

~March 2017~

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Written by: Adrienne Altstatt, Farm Manager

As the first employee of the Wright-Locke Farm Conservancy, I came to the farm in April of 2011 thinking I would be here for just a year. But now, six years later and about to start my seventh growing season, one might say I’ve settled in. I grew up in Minnesota and, before Wright-Locke, I managed a farm in Maryland for six years, so acclimatizing to the culture of New England and becoming familiar with the local farm community has taken some time. Nonetheless, it has slowly grown on me.

Here’s a little insight as to what it’s like being the farmer at Wright-Locke Farm.

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My work begins in March when I start seeding in the greenhouse, hiring staff and organizing our sales outlets (CSA and farmers markets). March is when I spend the most time at my desk. After that, I’m rarely here and my desk is more a repository for my papers and the occasional perch for the farm cat. As the weather changes and becomes more inviting to young plants, my crew and I begin the long process of transplanting and seeding the fields. We also prep our barn work space for efficiency and ease during the season and set the animals (goats, sheep and chickens) up in their warm season quarters. Especially in the early part of the season, farming is often a “watch-the-weather” game and patience is one of the most important virtues for a farmer to have.

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The end of May is when the season truly kicks into high gear for us.  On top of planting seeds and transplants, we begin harvesting three days a week for our markets and CSA and, now that the weeds have started to grow like…well…weeds, we also have to add weeding to our ever-growing “To-Do” list. With so much needing to get done, balancing the daily demands of the farm is key and knowing when to let something go from your list sometimes takes courage.

For the next five months (June—October), our days are fairly similar in terms of tasks, but as most farmers will tell you, there is always a monkey wrench in there. Tractors break, droughts or deluges happen, someone accidentally weeds the wrong plants out, animals or insects decimate a crop, someone finds a bug in their salad, four-foot-tall weeds take over, you twist your ankle playing soccer, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Farming is a test of flexibility and adaptability, and sometimes that can be trying. However, in the quiet evening hours when I have the farm to myself and the dog and I are wandering the fields, I can’t help but delight in the beauty and magnitude of this small farm.

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All of that peak-season “go-go-go” can be exhausting, but sooner than you can say zucchini with an Italian accent, the season is wrapping up. However, just because the temperature drops and we stop harvesting veggies doesn’t mean the season is over—it is time to plan for next year. A great deal of a farm’s success comes from the pre-planning for the following year—cleaning, tallying, mapping, organizing—all so that you’re ready to hit the ground running when the next season starts. It can take years to understand trends and realize that nobody wants to buy your okra in New England (at least not enough people to make it worthwhile), or that your soil grows potatoes poorly, or that people are over kale.  So, it’s important to take that accumulated knowledge and apply it to your plan for next season; because you can always make it better next season. But most excitingly, when seed catalogs come out in December, it’s time to dream again!

The take away? Farming is about patience, balance, letting go, a little bit of planning, and a lot of faith. I would say that farming is inherently about faith: faith that if you put a seed in the ground, it will grow; faith that people will buy your product; faith that the weather will be favorable; faith that you can continue to do this work and it will be appreciated and successful. Much like life one might say.

Be well and happy growing!

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Wright-Locke During Winter: Behind the Scenes

~February 2017~

Written by: Kim Kneeland – Community Engagement and Farm Stand Manager

Many of us relish the sights and sounds of the farm during summer and autumn – children giggling and playing with the chickens, families picnicking on the hillside, farmers zipping around the farm harvesting veggies, and the excitement of bringing an armload of fresh produce back home for dinner that same night. But have you ever wondered what happens in the wintertime? While activity certainly slows down at Wright-Locke, by no means is the farm “asleep” for winter. So much of the farm’s success is based on what happens during the winter months, so we wanted to give you a glimpse of what goes on here when it is (or should be…) cold and white.

Farmstead in Winter

November: We’re wrapping up programming with a couple last Farmer’s Markets, the Thanksgiving Market, and a charity trail run! In the beginning of the month we plant garlic to over-winter for next year (that’s right, it just sits tight in the ground until spring!) Now is the time that all of our irrigation and tools get tucked away for winter. Now, some farms continue to grow food in high-tunnels (long, tall greenhouses) year-round, but we only have one small greenhouse and not a lot of extra land to build on, so we stick to the traditional growing season. Our events and education programs also wind down for winter because our historic buildings cannot be heated (don’t worry, though, we’ve got some ideas for the future).

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By the end of the November, we have already come up with a volunteer schedule for goat and chicken chores. That’s right, our critters stay outside all winter-long, but don’t worry, the goats and chickens have a lot of fluff to keep them warm.  Our volunteers and staff make sure (twice a day, everyday!) that they have food and water and that their shelters are accessible…you should have seen how much shoveling we needed to do two years back.

December: Our farmer goes into planning mode and lays out where every single crop is going to be planted next season. She calculates how long each row will be, how many seeds are needed for each variety of each crop, and then takes a full day or two to order seeds. Hopefully, all of the seeds will arrive in the mail by March…when we start back up in the greenhouse! In December, we also produce our annual printed newsletter and send it out to the entire community – it’s a great way to look back on the exciting happenings from the past year. It also requires a dedicated effort from the entire Wright-Locke team – all of us ended up with sore fingers and dry tongues from all the paper folding and envelope stuffing we did.

January: We all jumped right back in after the holidays with staff and committee meetings – planning for another busy and successful year. Rebekah, our Education Director, works tirelessly to set up all of our education programs and book instructors for our adult workshops, not to mention making sure that online registration is ready to go from a technological standpoint. And Amy, our events manager, has already booked much of the calendar for the upcoming year! Coordination and communication is key at Wright-Locke because we all share the same spaces for all of our programming – keeping everything straight between us all really becomes a well-choreographed dance.

WLF_WinterJanuary is both a month of planning as well as a month of connection. Because we are always trying to figure out ways we can be more involved with the community, Kim, our Community Engagement Manager (and Farm Stand Manager) has been talking with groups and individuals interested by the opportunities offered  by our unique farm. She is excited to bring more new faces, ideas, and good energy to Wright-Locke Farm.

February: In the dead of winter, it can be hard to believe it will ever be spring again, but one thing that reminds us of the season to come is our baby chicks. We add to our chicken flock every year, and we partner with interested families to raise baby chicks in their homes. This keeps them safe while they grow, and then we add them to the flock at the end of spring. It’s pretty heart-warming to see the children who raised these chickens come visit them at the farm to see them grow big and start laying eggs. But back to February! All of us at the farm make sure to front-load as much planning as we can in the winter months because, come May, it is “GO GO GO!” up until November. We take these months to plan any building projects, figure out event logistics, hire seasonal staff, and make sure we are all communicating efficiently. Of course, we all know that on a farm, we need to expect the unexpected and I am always amazed and thankful for how well the Wright-Locke community acts as a team to overcome the unexpected.

Greenhouse_seedingMarch: At this point in the season, we have turned on our greenhouse and have started most of our onions, shallots, kale, spinach, and beets – they will be the first plants to get transplanted in the fields due to their temperature hardiness. Kim has been hard at work in the farm stand, talking with local vendors, creating training materials, ordering product, and reorganizing the stand. In May the farm stand will be open for regular hours, however, our eggs are available every Wednesday throughout the winter via an honor box system (Thanks once again to our chicken chore families!) In March, we also host the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Bulk Order Pick-Up. This means that we receive, sort, and help distribute a huge amount (about 20 pallets worth!) of farming materials that farmers in the region have ordered. All these farmers save money by ordering together and hosting the pick-up is a great way to serve the local farming community.

April: By April, most of our staff is back on site and new staff members are being trained. We are gearing up for things to take off. As we wait to start tilling the fields, the greenhouse starts getting really crowded with all of the eager seedlings. And speaking of seedlings… the farm fills up again with our youngest members as our April Vacation Youth Programs get under way. April is also when our adult workshops start up. This April, we are looking forward to our Flower Arranging and Mushroom Growing workshops.

By now, it thoroughly feels like spring and the farm is buzzing with energy and new growth, a truly invigorating feeling, and one that is very rewarding after the long, cold winter.

You can reach Kim at kkneeland@wlfarm.org

 

Cultivating our Future

Locke Farm from Ridge Street~January 2017~

Written by: Rebekah Carter, Education Director at Wright-Locke Farm

I can’t begin to imagine what the past Wright and Locke families would think if they knew we now use their farmstead to not only grow food, but to also educate the public about food and agriculture. When these two families started their operations in Winchester hundreds of years ago, everyday life in America was markedly different from the world we know today. Ordinary people didn’t get to enjoy the incredible conveniences, whether in the form of products, services, or infrastructure, we often thoughtlessly consume in the twenty-first century. For many, everyday life was still a struggle to ensure one’s family had access to the most basic necessities: healthy food, clean water, and adequate shelter. And despite advances in science and technology, and a continuing movement towards more industrial jobs, an overwhelming portion of the population still relied on agriculture for their livelihoods at the turn of the twentieth century; farmers and farm workers, many of whom were family members of the farmers, made up just under 40% of the entire American workforce at that time. Even those not directly involved in local agriculture typically had some direct connection to it- they lived amongst farms once common in both rural and suburban neighborhoods, got fresh milk deliveries to their front door, purchased meats from their local butcher, raised a small flock of chickens for eggs, or grew their own fruits and vegetables to cook, preserve, and eat throughout the year.

Farmers handpick summer produce from the fieldsToday, less than 2% of our country’s workforce manage over 900 million acres of farmland on which we rely upon to grow and raise a significant portion of the world’s food supply and the raw materials needed for plant and animal-derived non-food products. Most hired farm workers (i.e. those not managing a farm operation or an unpaid family member) were born abroad and are concentrated in the more labor-intensive fruit, vegetable, and horticultural operations throughout the nation. It’s believed that most of these foreign-born workers are unauthorized, which results in a slew of issues that greatly affect both the workers themselves as well as the industry at large, since illegal workers are more often willing to accept lower wages for the physically-demanding and typically seasonal positions available. As farming in America continues to become less of a family affair and more of a global industry, there is a growing emphasis on the bottom line, which too often leads to increased production of foods that do not necessarily promote human or environmental health, but rather encourage increases in revenue above all else.

June vegetable harvest at Wright-Locke FarmWhile it’s understandable for farmers to seek out ways to strengthen their business models in order to survive in an industry laden with rising costs and a high risk for failure, there are a number of unsavory results born out of these changes in American agriculture. Many of these negative consequences trickle down from the farms to the consumers, who ultimately buy their products, and the landscapes from which we derive these items. Modern agriculture too often encourages crops and practices that are literally making our people, animals, land, and water sick. These trends can be disheartening to say the least, but our worries and fears will not change our reality: modern existence on planet Earth depends on agriculture. The necessary discoveries and change needed to make the industry more ecologically sustainable and increase the promotion of healthy foods will require the combined efforts of consumers, producers, and external forces such as government regulation and financial supports. But if consumers do not understand even the most fundamental aspects of agriculture, how can they begin to make the best choices for themselves and the planet?

Kids do chicken chores during summer programEnter: farm education. It’s certainly not a cure-all potion to instantly alleviate the many symptoms of a chronically-ill food system. But farm-based education is a means by which producers of food and other plant and animal-derived materials can teach people about the realities of agriculture when they otherwise might not get to experience such a direct connection to or understanding of food production. Thanks to the incredible support from the local community, Wright-Locke Farm is able to provide a diverse array of educational programs and volunteer opportunities for children and adults that connect participants to local agriculture through observational and hands-on activities at the farm or in the kitchen at Saint Eulalia’s Parish. Whether it’s learning how plants absorb nutrients from soil, why goats and sheep can eat plants like grass and poison ivy without issue, how to safely preserve homemade foods you make from your garden’s harvest, or why a hen doesn’t need a rooster to lay her eggs, our farm education programs teach both kids and adults about subjects directly connected to our unique farm landscape and the seasons while incorporating practical knowledge and skills that can be used for a lifetime.

Plasmabots gear up for opening a hiveAs more and more residents and students in the area discover Wright-Locke and all it has to offer, they often want to utilize the farm as a learning resource. In addition to our normal youth programs and adult workshops, we try to take on as many requests for small group subject-specific learning “in the field” as we can accommodate. A wonderful example of such learning is the story of the Plasmabots, a group of five middle school students from Lexington, MA competing in a local First Lego League “Animal Allies” Challenge. The FLL Challenge invites students in grades 4 – 8 across the United States to “research a real-world problem… and develop a solution” using technology they design themselves. After some initial consideration about which animal population they wanted to help, the students decided to focus on honey bees and set out to design a hive that would help reduce common issues affecting them. Their research included a trip to Wright-Locke this past fall to learn about the importance of bees and other native pollinators on our certified-organic farm, as well as issues we’ve experienced in our own honey beekeeping over the past five years. During their visit, team members also got a chance to gear up and “go in the hives” to get a closer look at the bees and harvest some raw honey to taste, straight from a frame. Based on their research, farm experience, and design feedback from executive director Archie McIntyre, the team was able to modify and improve their hive prototype before their first local competition. The group has since won first place in both their local and state competitions, got to meet state representative Katherine Clark to advocate for increased education and awareness about bee issues, and will be moving onto the world competition in St. Louis later this year!

Plasmabots win at the state competitionWe are extremely impressed by the Plasmabots’ success, and are very thankful they’ve taken the initiative to try to help honey bees through research-based engineering and technology. We hope to continue to support their work by using their modified prototype hive this year along with our typical Langstroth hives. And much like the Plasmabots, and the countless other volunteers, students, visitors, and friends we have at the farm, we invite you to become a part of Wright-Locke’s growing community. To find a way to directly connect yourself to local agriculture in a time when so few do, while taking in some of the same gorgeous views of the land that the Wright and Locke farmers once enjoyed, long ago.

You can reach Rebekah at rcarter@wlfarm.org.