Chasing cows—and sustainability

Shizue RocheAdachi ‘15 gives us the lowdown on her summer in Colorado.

Cowboy Gene Surveying the Pasture

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The week before a deadline, I would spend my Saturday and Sunday at the kitchen table in my cabin, a cup of coffee inevitably gone tepid as a result of my neglect resting beside my elbow.  Eyes narrowed, I would stare at my laptop editing audio for hours on end.  The sounds of the sprinklers and bawling cattle were blocked out by my headphones and those days would pass as if in a vacuum; there was a sense of timelessness as day became night with little motion to suggest its passing.  I know it doesn’t sound appealing––I could’ve been swimming in the pond or working Billy, my horse, around in the corrals, or napping under the apricot trees––but that work at my kitchen table became just as important to me as my work out in the field.  

Slaughter in the Field

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Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.  I was working, you see, as a farm and ranch hand at the James Ranch in Durango, Colorado but I was also, simultaneously, producing a radio series for the Heritage Radio Network recording my experience in a sort-of radio journal.  Every other week I would listen through the hours of audio collected from the week and and thread together a story that might appeal to a greater audience. Suddenly my experience was no longer just mine own.  By contextualizing my summer work in a larger narrative, people across the country––friends, strangers, people in between––were sharing my mornings with me as I turned on the sprinklers or chased down a runaway calf.  Friends of mine who have never farmed listened to me pull weeds and call cattle and suddenly could understand why, perhaps, this world was so appealing to me, while farmer friends would call me up to say “hey, we’re having a drought too.  Glad to hear you caught that first monsoon out there––nothing like the sound of those first heavy drops.”

Branding

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It is hard for me to describe my experience on the ranch this summer.  I can try in so many broad strokes and generalizations to talk about what it means to flame weed a potato field for three hours straight or electrocute yourself on the electric fence or have your shirt torn off your back as you ride through the thick brush; but, something always gets lost in those characterizations.  The spaciousness and the warmth of those long days, their steadying rhythm, seem obscured by all those words.  So I’m not going to try to explain it to you.  Instead, close your eyes and just listen. 

If you’d like to hear more about Shizue's summer spent out on the ranch, you can listen to the archived episodes of her radio show, Chasing Cows and Sustainability, at http://www.heritageradionetwork.com/programs/103-Summer-of-Food.

Greetings, Tumblr readers! Jackson Blum checking in again.

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Tuesday was a day filled with garlic. We harvested it by first loosening the soil with pitchforks, so the bulbs could be removed from the ground with minimal bruising. 

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We bunched it up with rubber bands, to hang up later.

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Jeremy strung up all the bunches up at the pavilion. They are now in the curing stage, where they will remain for a few weeks.

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On Wednesday, the Farm crew took a trip to the Quiet Corner of northeastern Connecticut. It’s the most rural, least densely populated area of the state. Joining us for the trip up were a couple students from the School of Forestry and a dog named Apollo.

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Our first stop was at Cranberry Hill Farm in Ashford, CT. All the field work there is performed by this guy named Art. Here he is showing us his strawberry patches, where he is experimentally using pine shavings as a cover rather than strawberries.

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An interesting example of farmers taking advantage of nature in a mutually beneficial fashion. Art makes sure all the zip ties on his deer fence face inwards, where the crops are. Birds routinely perch on the plastic, then fly down to the fields and eat bugs that would otherwise damage the plants Art is trying to grow. Circle of life.

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Cranberry Hill makes syrup in the early part of the year, when things freeze at night and thaw during the day. The life of a syrup processor seems challenging. Art described spending 10 hours at a time in the sugarhouse, where the internal temperature hovers around 100 degrees when the wood burners that heat the tree sap are in full swing.

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We also visited the Down to Earth farm and CSA in Stafford. Unlike Cranberry Hill, Down to Earth depends on labor contributed by their shareholders, who come to the farm to work a couple hours every other week. The farm property sports a solar-powered water pumping system. It works well for crop irrigation, as during periods of low levels of sunlight, such as cloudy and rainy days, there is a decreased need to water the fields.

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We happened to visit the CSA on a pickup day, so employees were preparing boxes of produce for the shareholders.

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Down to Earth leases land from an organic beef farmer, so one must occasionally negotiate an electric fence when wandering around.

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Potato beetles can do a lot of damage to a farmer’s fields.The preferred organic method to dealing with them is known as “squishing”. Apparently children that visit the farm are especially gifted at this task.

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We rounded our trip off with an extended visit to Yale-Myers Forest, a 7,000-acre plot that is owned and actively managed by the Forestry School. One of the first things we checked out after arriving to the main compound was The Treehouse. Tim took the liberty of climbing it. Seems sturdy.

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During the summer, there are around twenty people, mostly Forestry students, living at Yale-Myers. They have their own vegetable garden; makes the place seem more like a home.

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Alex Barrett, who manages the Forest, showed us a plot of land covered in dense vegetation, and began a brainstorming session where we tried to figure out what it would take to begin using the area for agricultural purposes. Historically, a great deal of the Forest used to be farmland, until the construction of the Erie Canal transformed the American food market by lowering transportation costs . 

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The YSFP team brought a load of fresh produce to the Forest, where it became part of the family dinner that we all had together on the lawn. Vegetarian burritos were served.

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Building a tent really brings a group together. So does sharing the tent, for that matter.

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After sleeping under the stars, the Farm team had breakfast in the beautiful pavilion area before being led through the woods and given a primer on sustainable forestry.

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The Forest is made up of several divisions, each of which is further split into multiple stands. These stands have funny names bestowed upon them by the foresters who manage them, such as “Kurtz’s Horror” or “Dr. Space Pickle, PhD.”. Over the course of a couple days, a team of foresters can traverse over a 12-acre stand, inspecting every tree, determining what needs to be cut down, and marking the trees in question with blue paint. A logging crew comes in later to perform the cutting and removal. A lot of ecological factors affect how appropriate a given tree’s removal would be; Julius, one of the Forestry students leading our tour, shared the adage that a logger has more things going on in his mind at once than an air traffic controller. This is serious business.

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On Friday, the Farm staff were taken out to dinner by Peter and Marla Schnall. We went to Kitchen Zinc, where our food was made with produce that we had recently harvested. The main course was a pizza with potatoes and leek pesto.

Hey all, Tim Le again with this week’s blog post, in pictures.

A one-month progression of our tomatoes since our first week:

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Our lovely chickens:

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The comical chickens of Common Ground High School:

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The development of a new high tunnel:

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Soup of the week featuring leeks, snap peas, avocado, and mint. Served cold:

 

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And favorite snack of the week:

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Shelling peas!

‪Hello, folks!  Austin here, a summer intern from Park Ridge, Illinois.  This week was chock full of interesting experiences, whether it was building a fourth high tunnel over one of our fields or visiting Common Ground High School, a local environmentally-focused charter high school in New Haven.  Despite our focus on our less-than-an-acre farm and repeated discussions of the importance of local food, I can’t help but focus on some of the global aspects and influences present on the farm.‬

‪Focusing on the food, produce from the farm can end up in a variety of ethnic dishes.  Just the other day, a man visited and asked if he could harvest some of the leaves from our grapevine in broken English.  Mentioning that he was Turkish, I can only assume they were stuffed with meat to make dolma, a popular Balkan dish.  Similarly, purslane is a weed on the farm cultivated by members of the surrounding community to be eaten as a leaf vegetable — common both to European and Asian cuisines.  Our gorgeous Salanova lettuce and spicy mixture of mustard greens and arugula is delivered weekly to Miya’s, a loosely Japanese restaurant in New Haven heralded for pushing its patron’s preconceived notions of what sushi ought to be.  Not to mention, we’re growing ginger and horseradish for the restaurant that will be debuted in the fall.‬

‪While the dish that a food may end up in can be specific to a certain cuisine, let’s not forget that some start out as regionally specific.  The D’avignon radishes (also called “French Breakfast” radishes), Pimientos de Padrón (peppers native to Padrón, Mexico that each have a 1-in-10 chance of being extremely spicy), Hakeuri turnips (a Japanese variety of the root vegetable), and bok choy (often referred to as “Chinese cabbage”) all exemplify the diverse crops we’re growing and flavors we’re tasting.‬

‪Even before our weekly harvest, though, the organic practices and Yale Farm traditions being implemented are not wholly original or necessarily unique to the Northeast.  Our precision seeder is a product of Jang Automation Co., Ltd., a Korean agricultural supplies company.  The natural pesticides we use, crushed chrysanthemums and neem oil, are native to Europe and India, respectively.  ‬

‪Perhaps most deliciously, I can’t ignore how our pizza oven reminds me of the Italian-American immigrants that put New Haven on the map as a Mecca of “apizza” in the Neapolitan style.‬

‪While the movement to change the food system pits — among other dichotomies — local foods and long-distance or imported foods against each other, there’s no denying that the “local” food we grow and techniques used to grow it — even on just an acre — are internationally inspired.   ‬

Last week we officially kicked off the Lazarus Summer Internship in Sustainable Food and Agriculture on the Yale Farm. The whole week was a blur of introductions, learning how to prep beds, and delicious farm lunches. Our summer interns will be doing weekly posts to share and recap what we’ve been doing and learning. Tim Le ‘14 gets us started!

Aloha! I’m Timothy Le from Honolulu, HI, and I’m one of this summer’s farm interns. Here are bits and pieces from our first week, in photos:

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The farm team diligently listening to the humorous wisdom of farm manager, Jeremy Oldfield. Our first days on the farm are filled with observing, learning, and doing.

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Farm crew in Greeley Greenhouse on a mission to plant ginger roots in burlap sacks. 

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Our cheerful friends, the chickens. On the very first day, we learned chicken talk, which is “bap” repeated several times in several tones. Based on personal interactions, this dialect appears to be more effective than “quack” or “bawk.” Recording of the master of chickens, Jeremy, soon to come.

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Farm Pizza. Why is it so good? Brick oven, fresh herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary) & veggies (kale, beets) from the farm, and our secret recipe.

Zoe Reich-Avillez ‘15, on how a favorite farm task transforms the mundane:

I first worked on a farm (rather, I first stepped foot on a farm) during my freshman year of high school. The trip to Gaining Ground was posted on a school bulletin board under “Community Service.” Gaining Ground, the sign proclaimed, is a non-profit farm that donates all its food to local food banks and meal programs. Located just ten minutes from my high school, it was the perfect destination for a mid-afternoon volunteer shift. Never one to turn down an outdoor field trip in early spring, I immediately signed up. Looking back now, the memories of that short shift are beyond foggy. What I do remember though, is the feeling of being engaged in manual work. I couldn’t articulate it then, but something just felt so right about working my hands through the soil and crouching over a bed of newly planted seedlings.

A year later, I heard about Gaining Ground’s summer internship. I had barely given my workday a second thought, but remembering that still-so-poignant feeling, I decided to apply. Through the summer, I weeded, planted, harvested, weeded, prepped beds, and weeded some more. As any farmer will tell you—and as I discovered that summer—there will always be more weeding.

For some reason though, I relished that never-ending task. What is often the bane of the farmhand’s existence became my favorite job: hand weeding. Massaging the soil, grasping for weeds, pulling the unwanted plants from their roots, and finally looking back to see a bed of head lettuce surrounded by dark brown soil, was deeply satisfying. I found myself looking forward to the days when I would be sent out to the field, with or without a partner, to weed for hours on end. Even now, when I crave a task that is comforting, that will re-orient me with myself, I crouch down in a pathway, dig my hands into the soil, and start to weed.

When I try to understand my love of hand weeding, I often turn to the physicality of the work. Search and pull, search and pull. So easily, I can lose myself in the repetition, in the sheer simplicity of the action. At my best though, it is not just my body put to work; my mind too, is engaged in that repetition and simplicity. When I say that I lose myself in the task then, I mean that I am completely and totally present. I’m reminded what it is to find home in myself. This groundedness, I now realize, is the feeling of “rightness” that I knew but couldn’t name during my first shift at Gaining Ground. Now, I know its name and I know it’s what keeps me coming back to the farm time and time again. 

The Yale Farm, Hyperlinked

by Adam Goff ‘15

None of the tomato varieties grown at the Yale Farm are light blue. Our hoes, broadforks, seeders, and shovels aren’t blue either. The pizza oven is made of red bricks, the sinks shine a titanium silver. There are no blue eggplants, blue beets, blue compost piles, or blue weeds. Aside from a couple pairs of jeans, one or two blue harvest buckets, and the sky above us, the farm is blue-less.

Yet I often expect to see light blue hues on the farm to mark all of the hyperlinks. On Wikipedia, Facebook, and much of the web, light blue marks a hyperlinked word, which when clicked will whisk you to another article. I can hyperlink surf from a Wikipedia page on Cooking to an article on Caramelization and end up reading about Aminio Acids. Light blue text marks a portal from one idea to another.

On the farm I see these hyperlinks everywhere. Our Winter Mustard Greens link me to Season Extension which takes me to Canadian Hothouse Tomatoes and their Ecological Footprint. When I am Weeding my mind hops from Migrant Farm Labor to Unionization. I weigh fresh-picked Cabbages and wonder how to improve Yield Data Collection on Diversified Vegetable Farms.

I look at our one-acre urban farm and I see nested ideas and stories, one connected to the next connected to another, just waiting to be clicked on. So don’t be surprised if you dig up one of a Yale Farm potatoes and find it tinged light blue. Be curious, for that blue potato isn’t crawling with mold and disease. It is brimming with connections for you to explore. All you have to do is click.

emilyrfarr

emilyrfarr:

Yale Farm vs. Nemo

Some pictures from intern Emily Farr of the impact Nemo’s 34” snowfall had on the Yale Farm last weekend. We were thrilled to weather Irene and Sandy with minimal damage, but didn’t get quite so lucky this time, as one of our hoophouses’ metal frames collapsed under the weight of the snow. We’re in the process of digging out and moving on, and so glad to have two more hoophouses to grow winter greens in for the rest of the season!