Weed Control at PFP

By Lauren McDonald

Weed management is one of the biggest challenges for organic growers, and a large percentage of our labor hours are dedicated to this never-ending pursuit! Our goal is to get the weeds out when they’re small, and we have various tractor implements and hand tools to help make this possible. We never want weeds to go to seed- one of our common weeds, amaranth or pigweed, can produce over 100,000 seeds per plant! Weeding is especially important in trying to promote plant health because when plants are stressed because they are competing for light, water, and nutrients, they are more susceptible to diseases and attacks from insects. Weeding also promotes airflow around the plants, consequently reducing fungal diseases, and helps make harvesting more efficient and pleasant.

Before we plant, we go through a process called stale seed bedding. This means that we prepare the soil a few weeks before we’re going to plant so that weed seeds can germinate and then we can knock them back either with a shallow rototill pass or another implement. As soon as our transplants have established or after direct seeded crops have sprouted, we follow with various cultivating implements on our electric Allis Chalmer G tractor as well as rear-mounted ones on the smaller of our Kubota tractors. We use a basket weeder (above left) when the plants and weeds are very small. The baskets roll as you drive forward and disturb just the top layer of soil to dislodge sprouting weeds. Once the plants are bigger, we use a spring-loaded tine weeder (below right). The tines bounce off deeply rooted veggie plants and disturb the top few inches of soil in order to lift up and dry out weeds. We have additional implements that just target weeds in the furrows between beds.

Last year we also purchased a new Precision Cultivator/Hoeing Machine from the Dutch company HAK (below left) that will take our weed management to the next level. As we attempt to optimize our weeding strategies, we want to work on cultivating as close to plants as possible without damaging them and figuring out better ways to weed in between the plants in each row. Our current implements are very effective between rows, but as many of you know because you’ve done it during work hours, we end up hand weeding right around plants. The precision cultivator has many different attachments, all of which can be adjusted to our specific bed dimensions and crops. We’re looking forward to trying the rubber finger-weeders that rotate and interlock in a way that should knock out in-row weeds right up to the base of plants, reducing hand weeding by 40-60%. Remember all the hours you may have spent with us last year weeding carrots, onions, and kale? Imagine cutting that in half! 

In addition to mechanical cultivating we use different types of ground covering to block weeds, help protect soil structure, and hold moisture. We lay Biotelo biodegradable black plastic or reusable landscape fabric for the crops that are in the ground for the longest amount of time through the season. This includes all of our tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, melons, onions, leeks, and celeriac. We have to hand weed in the holes around the plants, but that is an incredibly quick process if we do it early, compared to how many tractor passes (which eventually would be impossible once plants are too tall) or rounds of hand weeding or hoeing we’d need to fight the weeds without plastic. In the blueberries and raspberries we similarly use wood chip mulch to prevent weeds.

Inevitably there will be sections that despite all of these forms of attack will still have big weeds, so we pull those by hand or use scuffle hoes. Perhaps that’s a comfort to some of you, who like me, find weeding to be satisfying and meditative work. Sometimes our team likes to play word and guessing games while hand weeding, so please do join in whenever you are weeding with us!

Reflections on "Using Gardens to Teach"

PFP's 2016 Summer Institute for Educators focused on helping educators of youth in the primary grades integrate gardens into their teaching.

"Using Gardens to Teach" participants being plant parts

"Using Gardens to Teach" participants being plant parts

On day one, educators took part in garden math stations on using a coordinate grid, measuring using your handspan, finding the perimeter of garden beds, and graphing flowers by their attributes. They toured PFP's Meditation Garden and Discovery Gardens, and learned how to garden with children.   

The second day of the training started with a session on Literacy in the Garden led by local storyteller and reading specialist, Muriel Horowitz. Next the group took a field trip to two school gardens in Poughkeepsie, one at Clinton Elementary School and the other at Warring Elementary School. The day ended with a session on the hows and whys of saving garden seeds.

On the final day of the Summer Institute, participants learned how to teach nutrition concepts through cooking workshops, toured Poughkeepsie Farm Project, learned to process tomato and pepper seeds, explored children's literature and curricular resources, and developed social studies lessons based on fictional and non-fiction children's books.

Jes (left), Juliana (middle), and Sam prepare to tell a story to the group.

Jes (left), Juliana (middle), and Sam prepare to tell a story to the group.

The Summer Institute for educators is super exciting! We exchanged tons of resources and strategies to work with gardens as great outdoor classrooms. 

-Juliana Quaresma, Onondaga Earth Corps

The Summer Institute was a very rewarding, educational, and inspiring experience. ... I left really pumped to initiate the garden-based education skills and ideas that we discussed.

-Sam Adels, garden educator, Hudson Valley Seed

Suzi (left) and Mary make squash ribbons to add to the kale salad.

Suzi (left) and Mary make squash ribbons to add to the kale salad.

"The knowledge of the PFP staff, their love of their work, and their willingness to share is amazing." 

-Suzi Sullivan, 3rd grade teacher, Clinton Elementary School

"I had a great time at “Using Gardens to Teach.” The hands-on activities at the farm were very engaging. I have lots of ideas to bring back to school."

-Mary Ficht, 4th grade teacher, Warring Elementary School

From Farm to Freezer: Learning How to Preserve the Bounty for Our Poughkeepsie Neighbors

By Katherine Chiu

One in 4 households in the City of Poughkeepsie are food insecure by USDA standards. That’s higher than the national average of 1 in 6. Through our Food Share program, Poughkeepsie Farm Project partners with local organizations to connect more of our neighbors with good food. Last year, PFP donated over 21,000 pounds of fresh farm produce to pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community organizations. 

Our Food Share program partners love making use of the fresh produce that they receive from PFP, but with their skeleton kitchen crews and limited cooler space, we sometimes test their capacity with the amount of produce we send their way.  So we decided to test out a new recipe:

Take one chef at a PFP Food Share partner organization, with a kitchen equipped to turn out hundreds of meals each day;

Add several PFP workshare members, with work hours to fulfill;

Throw in hundreds of pounds of collard greens, kale, and chard, harvested by PFP’s farm crew and workshare members and donated to our Food Share partners!

Several of PFP’s workshare members became new experts in greens preservation after participating in special workshare shifts in the kitchens of Hudson River Housing and The Lunch Box.  Over the course of just a couple afternoons, we helped to blanch and freeze about 450 pounds of fresh greens donated by PFP, to be used in tasty and nutritious meals for our Poughkeepsie neighbors.  Our Food Share program partners were thrilled to have the extra hands to help process and all the donated fresh produce, and our workshare members had a great time learning new kitchen skills while lending their time and energy out to the extended PFP community.  

Need a quick lesson on how you can preserve the upcoming bounty of fall greens?  Let  PFP CSA shareholders show you how.  

(After the success of these events, we will be offering a limited number of work shifts this fall at Hudson River Housing and The Lunch Box for those of our workshare members whose physical limitations prevent them from working in the field.  We also encourage all our members to volunteer with these wonderful organizations on your own schedules!  Please find more information on volunteering at the end of this story.)

Farm to Freezer: Step by Step

Step 1: Grow and harvest the greens.  Easy--or at least, PFP crew members Lauren and German make it look that way! Our hard-working farm crew is at the heart of the farm’s operations.  Last year, PFP donated 21,000 pounds of our harvest to our Food Share program partners.  

Step 2: Get the greens from the farm to the kitchen.  Shout-out to PFP CSA member Pete for delivering these particular greens to Hudson River Housing!

PFP’s working CSA shareholders are the engine behind our Food Share produce deliveries.  Every week, our workshare members make deliveries of fresh donated produce to several local organizations who help us to connect more of our Poughkeepsie neighbors with good food.

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Step 3: Greens are in the kitchen, here we go!  Set up your workspace: get a big pot of water (or two) boiling on the stove, clear counter space for a chopping board and a sharp knife, and set up a colander in the sink.

Hudson River Housing’s head chef Ritu Bedi gives us an orientation of his kitchen, where he and his staff cook and serve up to 300 meals a day, 365 days a year for Hudson River Housing’s residents--Poughkeepsie folks in need of emergency and transitional housing.

Step 4: If you want to de-stem your greens, you can.  This step is recommended for kale and collards, and less crucial for the tender stems of Swiss chard.  

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Step 5: Chop, chop, chop.  To speed up this task, try stacking the leaves, rolling them up, and slicing thin strips cross-wise across the roll before then doing a few rough chops lengthwise.  The size of your cut pieces is up to you.  We cut the rolls of greens into about 1-inch wide strips.


Step 6: Wash and drain your chopped greens, and then drop them into your pot of boiling water.  This step is called “blanching”: scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time.  This process stops enzyme activity in the greens, which would otherwise cause loss of flavor, color, texture, and nutrients in the greens even while they’re in the freezer. For thick greens like collards, the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends 3 minutes of blanching time.  For all other greens, 2 minutes is recommended.

Step 7: Remove greens from boiling water and rinse under cold running water to halt the cooking process.  

PFP member Kate got so good at blanching greens quickly, she started working the stove two-handed.




Step 8: Squeeze as much moisture out of the greens as you can.  Then, pack into a sealable freezer bag and compress as much of the air out as you can before sealing.  Leave about a ½-inch of “headspace” at the top to allow for the water content in the greens to expand a bit as they freeze.



Step 9: Remember to date and label the contents.  How long it will last depends on how consistently cold your freezer stays.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using your blanched and frozen greens within 12 months.

Mom and daughter duo: Polly came to work in Hudson River Housing’s kitchen for her PFP work hours, and daughter Hilary was there too--as HRH’s volunteer coordinator!

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Step 10: Step back and admire your work.  Then, pop those greens into the freezer!  

We started out with enough collards, kale and chard to fill that stack of orange bins.  Afterward, the bagged processed greens fit neatly into 3 small crates like the one that Kate is holding inside the walk-in freezer--freeing up space in Hudson River Housing’s cooler to store more produce from PFP!

Defrost your greens overnight in the fridge when you’re ready to use them.  Enjoy your local produce this winter in soups, casseroles, quiches...and if you want to help prepare and serve the same produce in warm, hearty meals to your Poughkeepsie neighbors, consider volunteering with PFP’s Food Share partner organizations!

To learn more about volunteering with The Lunch Box, call Dutchess Outreach at: 845.454.3792

To learn more about volunteering at Hudson River Housing, visit: http://www.hudsonriverhousing.org/volunteer.html

PFP workshare members also helped to process greens at The Lunch Box, where 500 meals are served daily, Monday through Friday, to anyone in Poughkeepsie who needs it.  

Happy Harvest Habits

By Lauren McDonald, Crew Manager

Harvesting is the favorite task of many people on the farm- members, volunteers, and staff alike. It’s somewhat thrilling to experience that last step of the vegetable moving from the ground to the kitchen and getting to share the tremendous, delicious bounty of the fields. Right now, the cucumbers and zucchini are going strong along with lots of greens, and within the next few weeks we’re looking forward to harvesting eggplant, tomatoes, and watermelon. Many of you who have done work share hours on Tuesday or Friday mornings during the summer have experienced parts of the harvest process. Here’s an overview of how we determine what to harvest and how we make sure veggies stay fresh, clean, and cool on their way to distribution.

To get ready for each week, we do a field walk on Friday mornings and make a list of everything that’s ready to pick, checking that we have at least 10 items (not a problem once we get into August and September when we easily have 15-20). On harvest mornings, we decide how many bins to pick of each item, drop them at the bed where they’ll be used, and sharpen clippers and knives so that once work share members show up we can go straight out to the field.

Member help is an essential part of our harvest process. Many hands make light work, and we want to finish harvesting most crops, especially the sensitive greens, before the sun gets too strong. Also on Tuesdays, we have to wash and get everything set up at distribution by 3pm. Our appreciation for work share help is based on more than our timing needs- the opportunity to swap recipes and life stories while working together is a fundamental part of what makes a CSA truly “community supported agriculture”.

So, each Tuesday and Friday morning after we circle up for a quick ice-breaker question and some stretches, we divide and conquer, and clip, bunch, pull, or pick each veggie and bring full bins back to the shaded wash tent. If you’ve been down to the Coop building during the season, you’ve probably seen our wash station. We use two old bathtubs as dunk tanks for all the greens, then for arugula, spinach and lettuce mix we spin them in a washing machine (that’s not hooked up to water) to dry them out. For kohlrabi and bunches of radishes or scallions, we spread them out and spray them slatted tables. We run roots, cucumbers, and zucchini through a root washer system with rollers and brushes and a sorting table where we can remove anything questionable.

Sometimes people ask why we wash vegetables even if they’re not particularly dirty and we haven’t sprayed anything on them. For all crops, but especially for greens, it’s essential for us to immerse them in water as soon as possible after harvest in order to remove field heat from the vegetables. If we were to put warm bins straight into the cooler, most of the produce in each bin would stay at its pre-cooled temperature, causing the produce to deteriorate very quickly.

In our cooler (a shipping container with a Cool Bot converted air conditioner unit), we pay close attention to moisture levels. The vegetables are still respiring, so we cover all of the produce bins with cloth tarps that we spray down each afternoon to keep the moisture in the veggies. As we harvest, wash, and set up for distribution, we also constantly pay attention to the quality of produce, picking out anything that looks damaged or rotten so that we can supply all our members with the most consistent, delicious produce possible. Hope you’re enjoying the veggies, and thanks for all the harvest help!


A Day in the Life of an Education Intern

By Elizabeth Brooks

One of the most exciting things about being an education intern is the constantly changing schedule.  I was an education intern at PFP for five weeks this spring, and we did something different every day.  So much is always going on at PFP; there’s always something new to do and learn.  Even though there is a lot of variation in our daily schedule, here’s what a typical day might look like.

June 3, 2016

6:30 – Normally, I arrive at the farm at around 7:30-8:30, but today is a Friday, so we want to make sure to catch the weekly field walk led by our farm director, Leon, which starts at 6:30.  I’ve learned a lot about plants and farming as an intern, but there’s always more to learn so this morning walk is really helpful –and a great way to ease into the day.

On our walk around the farm, Leon shows the farm apprentices and interns what needs to be harvested for distribution and what other tasks are most urgent.  He also tells us some interesting facts about the plants on the farm, like how it’s important for broccoli to be dome-shaped so water doesn’t pool on it and how asparagus plants store energy in their roots before winter so they can grow again in the spring.

7:30 – It looks a little overcast, but we water the Discovery Gardens anyway.  We also weed a little and do a few other small tasks to keep it well-maintained.  Since the garden is new this spring, we have spent a lot of time working on building and maintaining it, and it’s really starting to come together.

8:30 – A 5th grade class from Warring Elementary School is arriving at 9:30 for a farm visit, so we get ready to lead them on a tour of the farm and make a kale salad together.

9:30 – The class arrives, and we take them around the farm to talk about some of the different plants and strategies the farmers use to grow organically.  We also harvest some strawberries, kale, and radishes to use in our salad, but have to cut our tour a little short because it starts pouring.  To escape the downpour, we take all of the students under the tent and start making our kale salad.  Before interning at the PFP, I never thought kids could ever get excited about eating vegetables, but my time here has definitely proved me wrong!  When it’s time to eat the salad, many of the students say they love the salad, and others offer ideas about how to change it to make it even better.  We end the farm visit in the meditation garden so the students can try lemon sorrel and other culinary herbs.

11:30 – After the class leaves, we wash the dishes and discuss how the visit went during our lunch break.

12:30 – We spend some time picking strawberries in the fields to save for education programs in the winter.  Even though there won’t be anything growing, the education program continues to lead workshops and other activities throughout the winter.  We freeze the strawberries so that they last until winter.

1:30 – We spend the last hour of the day weeding some of the asparagus on the farm.  Once in awhile, we do some work on the farm, which is always a nice change from being in the education garden.

2:30 – Since we came in at 6:30, we leave at 2:30.  I go home covered in dirt and pretty tired, but excited to come back in on Monday.

Learning to Throw Bowls for a Great Cause

By Taylor Aufiero

On the first day of the Art Centro subsidized pottery classes for Poughkeepsie Farm Project’s Soup-A-Bowl fundraiser, I walked in incredibly optimistic and excited to throw! As I met our wonderful instructor, Dan Pressler, he immediately asked “Have you thrown before?” In my head I thought, “Yeah sure I’ve thrown bowls before--against the wall maybe.” But I replied in a sing-song voice, “No but I am SO excited to do it!” Well, Dan looked at me with a smile, amused by my naivety, and he laughed; that’s when I learned that throwing pots is NOT easy.

After my first visit to Poughkeepsie Farm Project in May of 2016, I fell absolutely in love. That very day I signed up to take part in the pottery class at Art Centro- an opportunity to make bowls that other people will pay money for AND the money goes to a great cause-- how could I resist! Never the artistic type, I was encouraged when I convinced my mom, PFP native Tina Vaitkus, to sign up with me. The classes were subsidised by Art Centro through their admirable and continued commitment to PFP and its mission to cultivate a just and sustainable food system in the Mid-Hudson Valley.

I am proud to say that after just six weeks-- despite claims that only after I’d thrown my first thousand would I get the hang of it--I was able to create several marvelous bowls! It was, of course, a major group effort and I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to spend six Thursday evenings with my fellow PFP members. I have tremendous gratitude and appreciation for the volunteers and staff at Art Centro who made this class possible and put up with my semi-laborious learning process.

Soup-A-Bowl will take place on October 16th, 2016. For more information on Soup-A-Bowl check out our event page. I hope to see you there, and if you’re lucky, you’ll get one of my bowls.


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Minimizing Household Waste to Maximize our Potential

Join us on Monday, July 11th from 6 to 8 pm at the Environmental Cooperative at Vassar Barns for an evening of community and education. Come enjoy light, farm-fresh fare, and learn from our panel of local experts about how we can make our waste stream more efficient. 

Maureen Costura, from The Culinary Institute of America, will explain why an overhaul of our current process of waste disposal is essential. 

Sarah A. Salem, from Zero to Go, will discuss how Zero To Go has transformed the waste stream in Beacon and how their principles can be applied toother communities. 

Cathy Lane, from Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County, will discuss steps we can take every day to recycle and compost. 

Stiles Najac, from Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County, will discuss minimizing food waste.

Poughkeepsie Farm Project’s very own education intern Rachel Pittelman will bring dialogue full circle, answering questions about how properly recycled items are used. Pittelman will also touch upon New York state recycling and waste laws.

Although this is a free workshop, we are encouraging everyone to register so we have a sense of the number of people coming and can plan the space and the refreshments! We hope to see you on July 11th for an evening of engaging discussion.

Meet Our Summer Interns!

Sam Carletta is from Rochester, NY and is currently pursuing an Economics major and Environmental Science minor from Hamilton College. He is interested in studying agriculture as a vehicle for sustainable development and growth in third world countries. He enjoys playing ultimate frisbee, as well as the guitar. This year, he has lived in New York City and in Tanzania, and is excited to spend his summer in Poughkeepsie! 

German Gutierrez was born in Veracruz Mexico, but was raised in Fairfax County, Virginia. He is the third of five sons, and has no sisters. Whenever he has free time he likes to bury his nose in a corny science fiction paperback. He found himself in the Hudson Valley after he followed his older brother here looking for a fresh start and opportunities to learn about agriculture. He is deeply interested in food justice and that is how he came to volunteer with Poughkeepsie Farm Project. He is also fascinated by the current trend in urban farming, which he believes has great potential to revitalize not only our diets but our cities as well, and to provide communities access to fresh farm produce.

Sophie Kosmacher is a rising senior and philosophy major at Vassar College. She's diving into gardening full time for the first time this summer since beginning in the Meditation Garden during the spring semester (come volunteer with us on Wednesdays from 4-6!) She looks forward to building fellowship with the community gardeners and among the gardeners, the Farm Project, and the Poughkeepsie community this summer. In her free time, Sophie enjoys running, hiking, dancing, reading, and cooking (especially eggplants and sweet potatoes!) and exploring local restaurants and coffee shops. She hopes to see you in the garden soon!

Margaret Patkus is a Poughkeepsie native who graduated from Spackenkill High School last year. She just completed her first year at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, where she plans to pursue a major in Environmental Studies and a minor in Race and Ethnic Studies. She plays the viola, and is passionate about being active (Pilates and hiking are favorites) and preparing beautiful, local eats! She is excited to be a part of this community and to work on improving community food and environmental justice.

Rachel Pittelman is about to graduate from The Culinary Institute of America with her Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Food Studies. She is an Education Intern at Poughkeepsie Farm Project. For many years she has been bothered by the unhealthy diets of many American children. She hopes to connect her passions for cooking and nutrition with an understanding of how food waste is managed to create a career path of her own.

Samuel Schwartz is a senior at SUNY New Paltz studying philosophy, linguistics, and interpersonal/ intercultural communication. His choice to pursue an internship with Poughkeepsie Farm Project was motivated by his philosophical interest in ethical engagement between individuals, communities, and the environment. He believes that communication within and between local subcultures centered on agriculture can unify diverse populations and the natural world.

Anthony Walker is a rising senior at Vassar College from Madison, Wisconsin.  Previously he has worked at a small vegetable farm, worked at a summer camp, and taught kids swim lessons at his local pool.  If he’s not at the farm, he’s probably in the pool because he is on Vassar College's swim team.  He is a Geography major interested in grassroots community movements and sustainable development. He loves to grow and pick fresh fruits and vegetables and he is so excited to be working with all the cool people at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project.

Now you can sign up for a fruit share!

Water, Water Everywhere – Or Perhaps Not

German is connecting a drip line to the header, which supplies water.

German is connecting a drip line to the header, which supplies water.

The farm is a beautiful, peaceful place where plants grow vigorously using ample supplies of rainwater… sometimes. Most of the time, we rely on our irrigation network and a thoughtful approach to scheduling waterings. Much water is needed, obviously, to maintain thriving crops, but supplying water at the wrong time or in the wrong place can have harmful consequences.

At PFP, irrigation is really important because we’ve got awesome soil. Really. It allows us to get outside and do fieldwork before neighboring farmers can, and it can be tilled most of the time, because it drains so well. Additionally, soil is constantly losing moisture through evaporation, and plants lose a large amount of water through their leaves via evapotranspiration (the loss of water to the atmosphere due to the plant’s respiratory processes).

Whenever we activate irrigation at PFP, the timing is strongly dictated by the weather, as you might expect. As a general rule, mature plants lose water through evapotranspiration at a rate of 1 inch per week; therefore, this amount of water should be supplied by the weather or by the farmers. Healthy plants and soils should experience wet periods and dry ones, and so this inch or so of water has to be applied at appropriate intervals. It is also important to avoid overwatering, as it encourages weed growth. Remember this, as it is true in your garden too!

Patrick is irrigating tilled cover crop to allow it to break down.

Patrick is irrigating tilled cover crop to allow it to break down.

When you think of irrigation on the farm, I hope you think of the grand jets produced by the overhead sprinklers. I won’t lie: I love turning those on because of how cool they look. They are used for most leafy greens and many root vegetables. These sprinklers have a diminutive cousin, aptly named microsprinklers, that are used especially with freshly transplanted crops. They produce a mist that is much gentler than the droplets produced by larger sprinklers, and are good for young and fragile plants. Overhead sprinklers are easy to set up and are portable, but they allow for evaporation to occur, since the water is sprayed into the air and rests on the surface.

Another large component of our irrigation system helps avoid some of the problems described above: drip irrigation. Drip lines are installed in beds of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, melons, strawberries, blueberries, eggplant, squash, and others, because these crops are especially susceptible to bacterial and/or fungal diseases. In these beds, irrigation water is supplied underground. Disease spreading is minimized, as leaves do not get wet and soil does not splash onto plants, except when rain falls. Because the ground isn’t covered in water in this situation, drip irrigation helps to minimize weed growth, as well.

Drip irrigation is so effective that we put up with the labor required to install it each season (though the task is made more efficient by a tractor implement that buries drip tape and lays down biodegradable plastic mulch!). Some crops would be nearly impossible to grow if we could not irrigate underground because of disease pressure, including tomatoes, winter squash, onions, and strawberries. When enjoying fine produce this season, be sure to appreciate the irrigation system (and your farmers!). Don’t hesitate to look around at the network while picking; the farmers are also eager to tell you more if you are curious!