Friday, August 6, 2010

Ithaca's Crop Mob Descends on Sweetland Farm

A guest post from Rachel Firak, moderator of Ithaca's Crop Mob, a group of volunteers that helps out at local farms:

July's oppressive heat and humidity came to a cool, breezy end last Saturday morning. The 70-degree temperatures, along with mostly sunny skies and a cool breeze, welcomed 15 crop mobbers to Sweet Land Farm in Trumansburg at 9 a.m. for some midsummer crop maintenance fun!

Paul, one of Sweet Land's farmers, began by giving us a tour of their CSA distribution site and a quick description of their farm. Paul Martin and Evangeline Sarat and their two children take care of 34 acres on Route 96, just outside of downtown Trumansburg. Their CSA-only farm currently has 400 members for its summer CSA; Sweet Land also has a winter CSA during the colder months. A third of their tillable acreage is devoted to growing a great diversity of annual vegetables, and they also have strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and flowers, which, along with some vegetables, are available as U-Pick options for their members. Sweet Land adheres to the NOFA-NY Farmers Pledge, a document that advocates principles of moral integrity and environmental and social sustainability.

For our first task, we headed out to the strawberry beds, and in passing met Sweet Land's chickens, which were clucking and pecking around in their large pen (Sweetland also distributes egg shares). Strawberry season was in June, but strawberries are perennials, and will continue to grow and produce for a couple of years before being pulled up to allow newer plants to take their place. Splitting up two to a bed, we got through about seven beds before "Good enough!" was called and we moved on to weed leeks. 

Leeks, a mild member of the allium family, require hilling (moving soil up around the plants) to produce a longer white spear. These leeks had been hilled, their long stems underground and their leaves poking out from their neat mounds. Evangeline explained that they had already been dust mulched, a process where light cultivation around crops prevents the top layer of soil from caking. This disturbs capillary action to the surface, conserving water in the deeper layers of soil and preventing germination of weed seeds. The weeds that remained were few and far between. "This is the true power of the crop mob!" Paul laughed as 17 pairs of hands made quick work of the leek beds, each of us pulling 6 or 7 tall amaranth plants or grasses before the task was done.

Next we headed to the back fields, the site of this summer's garlic harvest. The garlic had all been harvested by now, but what remained were a few tall seed-bearing weeds. Our goal: get these plants out before they went to seed, thus minimizing weeding the next time around. Carrying big buckets made out of cut-open 50-gallon barrels with handles at either end, we picked up 3- and 4-feet tall lambsquarters and ladysthumb smartweed (both edible) and deposited them at the end of the dirt roadside for later collection. Some of us also found long-lost heads of garlic! From there, we quickly visited the celeriac beds, which were mulched with biodegradable corn-based black plastic, and pulled the occasional weed that had made its way up through the mulch, then we tackled another bed of leeks. Our final task was thinning golden beets (with the occasional elusive white beet thrown in). Beets are direct-seeded, which often leaves the rows too crowded for proper growth. Thinning- reducing their numbers and giving them space to grow- would give Sweet Land a bigger, healthier beet crop. Some of us took home beet greens and baby beets.

After all was weeded, we sat down to an amazing buffet of Sweetland vegetables, prepared by Katie Church of the Full Plate Farm Collective (Ithaca Crop Mob's farmer organizer)! The menu: vegetable rolls, marinated kale salad, taboulleh, cucumber-yogurt salad, beets with truffle oil, and brownies. Sweet Land also provided an omnivore's salad with local beef from High Point Farms. Thanks to Katie, Paul and Evangeline for this delicious lunch!

Saturday's lovely success wouldn't have been possible without all of the volunteers! Many many thanks to our Crop Mob for the energy, enthusiasm and great conversation. We also want to thank Paul and Evangeline of Sweet Land for being wonderful hosts and great educators.

Our previously planned August Crop Mob at On Warren Pond Farm was cancelled, as Jill Swenson is selling her farm. However, we are looking into other options, and should be able to have another August Crop Mob at a different farm. Details soon to come!

Thanks again, and hope to see you next time!

Moderator, Ithaca Crop Mob

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