Monday, November 25, 2013

The Close of the Summer Season

Recently I came across a passage by the writer Wendell Berry in which he poses the question of why anyone would want to farm and his answer is:

"Love. They must do it for love." Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”

Day in and day out farming will drive you crazy; it will break your heart and repair it again over and over.  You can spend a week planting tomatoes that don’t end up producing a good crop, or go out and weed a section of carrots only to discover that a groundhog came and ate it all in the night. Then there are times when you go to check a bed of carrots to find large fat and long roots below the surface, when a few rows of sweet potato digging leads to a few thousand pounds.  Some days you just glide through your work, and most of the time you can look back and see what you accomplished. 

I don’t know how many of you know the timeline of this season but I am going to share a bit of it with you.  This winter after a few years of leasing land we purchased our farm here in Pittsville.  We still had a CSA in Vermont which ran through April (we begin seeding things in our greenhouse in February). So as soon as possible Kevin and I took down our greenhouse, loaded it on a trailer and Kevin headed to Maryland leaving me to keep up with the winter CSA and wait for the ground to thaw so I could clean up the fields while he got to work taking a house and farm that had been sitting doing nothing and turning it into something again, bringing it back to life.  And in the first week of April I made the final CSA delivery and then with an incredible amount of help from friends and family we moved the rest of the farm in a weekend. 

We started right up and by mid April there were pigs, chickens and vegetables in the fields and with much anxiety we had some produce ready by the first of June.  We have spent this season learning and growing a lot.  The new and warmer climate of Maryland has offered up challenges and advantages.  Mid-summer pest pressure was higher than we have ever seen, we also had a melon crop like never before (there is only one variety of watermelon that will ripen in the short New England summer).  And now the long fall has led to all kinds of greens and lettuces’ continuing to grow and really thrive as the air has turned chillier and the bugs have slowed down.  In many ways I feel as if I have been here forever and yet it has been less than 10 months.

It has been a whirlwind season and as we come to the end of the summer season we are excited to take lessons we have learned and look towards making the farm better and better with each year.  This coming season the buildings will be built and the equipment is already here before we need to use it.  We could not have gotten to the point we are without all of our amazing members, those from the past three years up north as well as all of you who have joined us in our first season of growing.  We hope to continue to be your farmers for years to come. We feel so lucky to be able to do what we love and grow your food for you.


Last Friday, with the knowledge that our sweet potato supply was dwindling, we went out and dug up 5 more rows.  The first step in this is to pull the actual vines out of the ground that grow above.  We use black plastic mulch to heat up the soil as sweet potatoes like the heat and we lay a line of drip irrigation in each row as well in order to water them when they need it throughout the season.  So after pulling the plants you go through and pull the plastic out of the ground and the irrigation lines.  Then we come through with a potato digger.  I think I have described this before, but it is pulled behind the tractor and has a shovel and a metal conveyor belt kind of thing which is slatted so that the potatoes stay on it and the dirt falls down.  Then when the sweet potatoes fall off the back of it they land on top of the soil.  Then we come through with boxes and pick them up off the ground and fill the boxes up.  Once all the boxes have been properly filled we drive a big trailer along side of them and pick them all up and stack them on the trailer, then drive them to the walk in coolers and put them into storage.  Well as we began to dig these beds we felt they were giving us a pretty good yield.  Large sweet potatoes (you will see this week at the pick up, some of them are monstrous) made for a heavy yield and pulling them out of the field was not an easy task.  Each box when filled weighed about 55 lbs. We filled about 130 boxes (at least, Kevin lost count at some point in the unloading process).  But at that rate alone we harvested at least 7,150 pounds of sweet potatoes, not to mention there is a whole field of them left to get still. 

We also had our first two frosts this week.  We went around preparing for the frosts, especially winterizing things we built this summer that had never needed any protection, like our irrigation well, which now has an insulated building around it. We harvested the last of the peppers which had ground back a little since we last harvested them and you will see a few peppers in your share this week. Tomato plants, which had stopped producing finally, went black and several of the cut flowers did as well (though some live on past several frosts).  Frost is not just about killing summer plants though.  The frost also sweetens many things.  When the plants get cold they start to store up more sugar in order to survive.  This means that kale looses some of its bitterness and becomes sweeter and carrots also begin to store up sugar as well.  So there are advantages to the cold weather that we will see in the flavor of some of the crops. So happy eating this week!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Farm Manager Employment Opportunity

Farm Manager Employment Opportunity

Qualifications Sought:
Groundworks Farm is seeking an experienced, motivated, and highly skilled manager to join our farm team.  The successful applicant will meet the following criteria:

  -Have a minimum of 2 seasons paid experience growing diversified organic vegetables on a   production scale, 
  -have a positive attitude,
  -have demonstrated leadership ability and people management skills with references,
  -have excellent customer service skills,
  -be comfortable driving tractors, trucks, and trailers,
  -be interested in butchering,
  -have a passion for good food and local agriculture, and
  -be able to lift 60lbs.

Description of Work:
We are looking for a positive and creative person with ideas and experience to help manage and develop our growing CSA Farm.   This is a fast-growing business and there is lots of room for professional growth for the right person. 

Day to day responsibilities will be dictated partly by the applicant’s skill set and interest, but will definitely include: developing vegetable harvest plans, leading field and greenhouse crews of 1-12 people, driving a pickup truck with trailer, operating a 100 hp tractor, operating a cultivating tractor, participating in a rotation of animal chores, and helping with chicken processing and animal cut-ups in our butcher shop.

-Competitive salary based on experience
-Generous health insurance stipend
-1 month paid vacation
-1 Whole Farm Share per employee

To Apply:  Send cover letter, resume, and three references to

Groundworks Farm
8284 Gumboro Rd
Pittsville MD 21850

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fall Again

We are just beginning to dive into the fall harvest season.  Walking around the farm we can see roots in the ground beginning to fill out.  We have begun with the sweet potatoes, going down row by row and pulling up their vines before going through with the digger to get them out of the ground.  The digger, which runs on the back of the tractor, has a large shovel that goes down into the ground and then a conveyer belt that is open so dirt can fall through it.  The sweet potatoes go up the belt, the dirt falls away and then the potato lands on top of the soil.  Then we come through with boxes and fill them up with everything that came to the surface.  These go in a greenhouse to cure and then into their storage room for the winter.  One of my favorite things to do on the farm is to harvest root vegetables in the fall.  Kevin and I have spent many a cool fall day on our knees, armed with produce boxes and scissors, making our way row by row through beets or carrots or turnips (and others).  You grab the crop by its tops, snip it cleaning and let it drop in the box.  Ideally, you get to do this in the fall, when you are just a little cold and you can look around at the leaves changing colors and just be super happy to have a job where you can work outside like this.  Sometimes, you do this when the plants you are harvesting are still slightly frosted and you try to figure out if you can hold a beet with your down gloves and other times you do it in the brutal heat.  Either way I love the fall harvest.  It is not like harvesting in the summer when we simply go out and get what is needed that week.  In the fall you take on a whole field of carrots and get them harvested, put in storage and you look at what you have done and you see a winter full of food for the whole CSA.  Over the next month we will be hauling in harvests by the ton.  Each day or week, depending on the abundance, we take on an entire crop till the field is bare.  We are looking at a large beet and carrot harvest.  There are also a lot of turnips.  I tried out some more varieties of radishes that also store well and this week you will be seeing watermelon radishes in the share.  These are heirloom radishes related to a daikon.  They have a bright pink inside which is where they get their name from.  They are milder than other radishes and can be used in salad, cooked in stir fry or roasted.  They are also very good pickled and can be mashed with potatoes like a turnip.  There is a recipe below for just putting them in a salad with avocado and lettuce.  I hope you enjoy the beginnings of the fall harvest as much as we like harvesting it for you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

5% discount deadline for Winter CSA Shares TODAY!

Sign up for a winter share TODAY to get 5% OFF your Winter CSA!

If you have questions about the CSA please email or call Margaret! Here is some information you may be wondering about the winter CSA:

The winter CSA Share is bi-weekly and starts the first week in December and goes every other week for 12 pick ups until May.  Because the pick ups are every other week the size of the produce share is bigger and it is designed to provide you with most of (if not all) your produce depending on how much produce your family uses.  The share is designed to feed a family or two avid cooks.  Many people wonder and ask if there is really that much you can grow and give out in the wintertime and they are usually shocked by the list I give them of what is in our winter shares.  Not only do we grow a wide variety of storage crops such as winter squash, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, radishes, turnips and more we also have a 200 foot greenhouse in which we grow winter greens and we are building a second one this fall for later greens. So we can enjoy fresh spinach and other treats all winter and once we get into early spring the greenery will increase even more.  In addition to the storage and fresh crops we put some frozen and canned items in the winter shares as well.  Pickled green beans, beets, tomatillo salsa, tomato hot sauce and more can be found in the share as well as frozen tomatoes, pesto and frozen melon. 

Egg shares are still 1 dozen/week so you pick up 2 dozen each week.  

Pasture-raised chicken shares are sold out.  Email me to get on the waiting list.

The grass fed and pasture-raised meat share includes a free choice of beef, pork and lamb. Lamb, Beef, and Pork are all available at each pickup.  Each item is labelled with a number 1 through 7, and you have a total of 17 points to take home every month. We are really excited to have opened up our own on farm butcher shop this month.  We look forward to making the quality and value of the share even better through the use of the butcher shop.

The local Cheese Share is at least two varieties of cheese--totaling approximately one pound--per month. Our choice.  Most of the cheeses are made from raw cow or raw goats milk, which means they retain all of their enzymes, nutrients, and flavor.
Supplemental Farm Share: Don’t have much time to cook, but want to eat healthy gourmet farm-raised food?  This supplemental, biweekly Share is for you.     Part 1: TWO extraordinary precooked and frozen PERSONAL meals made with Groundworks Farm products.  Reheat in the oven.  Examples: grilled lemongrass chicken breast with garlic-savory mashed potatoes and Roasted beets, pork fried rice with seasonal teryaki vegetables, Shepherds pie with ginger kohlrabi and carrots, Lamb Stew with root vegetables, Chili with roasted fennel and rice.  Hearty meals with lots of great vegetables.  Part 2:  Three easy-to-prepare vegetables. 1 Share is designed for 1 adult, 2 Shares for 2 adults etc.  You can sign up for this Share along with any of our other Shares. 

If you sign up for a Whole Farm Share online you will be signing up for Produce, Meat, Eggs and Cheese, not Chicken.  If you would like to be added to the chicken share waiting list email me!

2013-14 Winter Farm Share Registration Page:

Monday, September 30, 2013

My Absense From the Blog-A brief appology and update

So looking at the blog has made me feel pretty bad lately seeing as nothing has been posted all season.  As this has been a start up year things have been pretty crazy and I am just now catching up with communicating with the outside world.  I will be posting some past newsletters and such to update what has been going on on the farm.  In the meantime here are a few pictures from the season!
It takes a lot of trucks and trailers to move a farm
Snapping turtle in the driveway-early spring
Springtime greenhouse full of transplants
Lettuce transplants loaded up and ready to go
High Tunnel Construction
Tomato plants in the greenhouse
Sunny afternoon cultivating aka killing weeds!
Planting tomatoes with the help from our friends at La Prima Catering and Vin 909

Driving our new tractor home from the dealership-it only took an hour to get back :)

Spring Fields
Watering the Greenhouse

Peggy and John- Viscous guard dogs
Green butterhead Lettuce

Sunset behind the greenhouse

Working Together

About a week ago Kevin and I moved the laying hens across the farm.  We moved them to the area where our winter squash was recently harvested out of.  At times we use the chickens like this to eat up bugs and grass and clean up and re-fertilize an area where we have had vegetables growing.  We find that the chickens are very beneficial to our vegetable operation.  We can move them around; graze them on cover crops and more.  In the late season we have struggled with stink bugs decimating all of our plants in the cucurbit family.  This includes cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash and winter squash.  We harvested our winter squash just in time before the stink bugs really had a field day eating the fruits.  They also enjoy eating the bottom of the stem of a very healthy looking cucumber plant so that it dies just in time before producing any fruit.  You might gather that I am not a huge fan of these guys.  Anyway, we moved the chickens over to the area where the squash was planted hoping to move them through the field and have them eat grass and bugs.  Today, after giving them some fresh water, Kevin and I were standing watching the chickens as they went after all the stink bugs which are all over the place in this field. We don’t know if the chickens will make a big difference at all but it is always interesting to see them go to work and to see, in small ways, the benefits of being a diversified farm.  We will keep you updated if the chickens eat all the stink bugs.  That would be a miracle.  As we were leaving the field I picked up a stunted watermelon that will never be able to ripen that was outside of the fence.  It, being just one fruit was covered in probably 50-75 stink bugs.  I picked it up gently and threw it in with the chickens.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Groundworks Farm Kickstarter is in Action!

 Last week we launched a kickstarter campaign to help with some of the expenses of moving and starting our farm over again.  If you have not heard of kickstarter before it is a fundraising platform for all kinds of projects and small businesses. The way it works is an all or nothing model where we set a fundraising goal and an amount of time we can raise the funds in and seek out folks to make pledges towards our campaign.  If we have met our goal by the end of the project everyone who made a pledge is charged for the amount they pledged and we distribute your rewards that you can pick out on the page for making a pledge.  We are a week in and about 30% of the way towards reaching our goal of $10,000.  We only have till the end of March to reach the goal.  So we are turning to all the fans of the farm to make a pledge, it can be as little as $1. Each pledge brings us closer to our goal.

If you are interested in recieving more than one reward, just make a pledge that matches the value of all the rewards you would like, choose one of them and then send us a message letting us know what other rewards you would like to receive.

You can click here to go to our kickstarter page and make a pledge.

Here is our kickstarter video. Watch it, Share it, tell your friends.

Margaret and Kevin

Monday, February 18, 2013

Putting Down Roots

Starting and growing a farm is a huge undertaking.  It takes a certain level of insanity and perseverance in order to take a piece of land and turn it into a living thing.  Once Kevin and I got going here at Groundworks Farm it seemed to me that there was no turning back.  The land demands to be cared for, the plants need watering, the soil needs to be replenished with compost once it has used the energy it has to produce fruits and vegetables full of nutrients.  We are a small farm and do a lot of things by hand meaning that we really get to know pretty much every inch of the farm. We walk the farm on our knees pulling weeds and transplanting seedlings.  We lie down in the dirt inspecting the health of the crops. 

This kind of commitment to a place takes a lot of energy. Without long term security on a piece of land there is a lot that you cannot do with the farm and it can be limiting to the success of the farm.  Currently we lease the land that we operate on and over the past couple years we have been looking for land to buy. We have looked at farms all over the east coast, our needs being very specific.  The most important factors were a price within our reach, a farm with good high quality land suited for growing vegetables and proximity to people to be members of the CSA (there is a lot of cheap land in places with no people).  We literally looked at land for sale from Virginia to Maine. This winter all of the pieces came together for us. We found a property with 40 beautiful acres of flat, sandy rich soil; ideal of growing vegetables.  In addition to the tillable acres the farm has 14 acres of woods, a house and several small Outbuildings.  It was cheaper than anything else comparable we had looked at. We found out about this farm over a year ago but wanted to keep looking around.  In that year we did not find anything that met our needs like this property.  And so last week Kevin and I took a major step for ourselves and for the future of Groundworks Farm and purchased our very own farm.

The catch is that we will not be able to bring all of you, our wonderful members with us.  The farm we have purchased is on the Eastern Shore in Maryland.  

While we are thrilled to take this step, it is bittersweet for us.  We are sad to leave behind the connections we have made here and the support that we have felt from our friends and neighbors here in Pittsford.  All of you who have made the farm possible with your support.  At the same time we are excited about the new possibilities that this step will bring.  

It has been a privilege growing food for all of you over the past few years.  It is our sincere hope that the experience you have had with Groundworks Farm will motivate you to continue buying farm fresh food from other farmers.  More and more people are doing this good work.

Again, thank you.

Your Farmers,
Margaret and Kevin