Grower's Row: Snow, Seeds, and Sale (Plant Sale, that is)

Whoa, March. We might be tempted to "pretend it didn't happen," due to the cancellations, unexpected snow removal needs, and general inconvenience precipitating from the big winter storm, but I think it's helpful to be reminded that we're never in complete control. Arriving at PFP the day after the major snowfall, I fell down at least 5 times during a walk that normally takes 2 minutes; it was surprising and hard, and was accompanied by lots of audible (if only to me) laughter. The great news from the farm following this return of winter is that everything has held up wonderfully, and we are still lucky to have some greens in the tunnels, as well as thousands of healthy seedlings growing for CSA, plant sale, and meditation garden.

That's right! It's the busy and exciting season around here when the greenhouse is buzzing with seeding and re-potting activity and becoming utterly packed with plants. Our greenhouse manager, Merle, is beginning her third season at PFP, and continues to develop and implement systems that maximize available space and plant health, which means healthier transplants and even more plant sale awesomeness in May.

Some of the improvements you're likely not aware of include:

  • Potting mix that is now supplied from Vermont Compost (very high quality potting mix ensures good water retention and plenty of available nutrients for seedlings)
  • A reconstructed end wall of our greenhouse that helps retain heat (a new, wider door also makes seeding considerably more efficient)
  • Germination chambers that we constructed last April/May (a substantial increase in germination space, and a more ideal environment, compared to the old fridges we used in previous years)

With these tools available, the farm crew has been sowing seeds and giving careful attention to seedlings, especially the flowers and herbs for the plant sale that are challenging to start from seed, compared to field crops. We plan to offer some new herbs at this year's plant sale, including lemon mint, summer savory, and lovage, which is one of Merle's personal favorites: a perennial, it has an aromatic smell and taste that is quite reminiscent of celery. The leaves, seeds, and root are all useable and have medicinal qualities.

Tomatoes are another focus in the greenhouse this time of year, and we are excited to expand our selection of heirloom tomatoes, both for the plant sale and grown in our high tunnels for CSA. Here are some of the varieties we're anxious to see and try:

  • Bull's Heart: a productive Russian heirloom producing sweet, flavorful pink fruits
  • Green Berkeley Tie-Dye: featuring green/red/amber stripes, a tangy, tasty, small- to medium-size tomato
  • Dr. Wyche's Yellow: large fruits, and supposedly some of the tastiest gold tomatoes available
  • Black Cherry: beautiful red-to-black coloration and a rich flavor
  • Copia: I grew this heirloom in my garden last season, and loved the sweet, juicy fruits that are streaked with red and gold inside and out

To hear and see a bit more about our spring adventures at the farm, check us out on Facebook and Instagram, where we’ll continue to share photos, videos, and updates from the greenhouse and beyond. And, of course, join us on May 6 and 13 for the 2017 Plant Sale and Open Farm Day! It’s a wonderful chance to see each other again and to celebrate the beginning of the growing season.

Would you be willing to eat dirt?

Would you be willing to eat dirt?
By Sevine Clarey, Education Intern

Believe it or not, there is a French restaurant in Tokyo, Ne Quittez Pas, where people come and pay large amounts of money to be able to try an entire course featuring this very thing: dirt. The restaurant buys the ingredients from Protoleaf, a company that makes organic compost using coconut husks imported from Sri Lanka and India.(1) According to those bold individuals who have tried this dish, it is actually quite delicious.

Surprisingly, eating dirt, known as geophagia, has been around for centuries, and some experts say that it may actually boost your immune system. This may be linked to why babies spend the first year of their life putting things in their mouths.(5) Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said in an interview that the immune system at birth “is like an unprogrammed computer. It needs instruction.” (2) Soil is naturally teeming with trillions of microorganisms that research is discovering may successfully treat things like allergies, bacterial infections, asthma and other autoimmune diseases. Findings show that soil-based organisms can nourish cells in the colon and liver, create new compounds, antioxidants and enzymes, destroy harmful pathogens and kill off bad bacteria.

At Poughkeepsie Farm Project, it is clear that so much attention is paid to the soil. A fertile and healthy soil is the basis for healthy plants, and whether it be through cover cropping, crop rotation, compost, organic fertilizer, or reduced tillage, our farmers cherish and cultivate the huge diversity of life in the ground. See Patrick’s awesome article on the subject for further emphasis on the topic. Though we wouldn’t necessarily recommend chewing on handfuls of dirt from your backyard(3) we certainly encourage eating food straight from the ground at PFP.

Learning of a restaurant serving “pure dirt” on a menu raises some very interesting questions though.

What do we consider food?
What is edible and inedible?
What about trash?

At a United Nations meeting in the fall of 2015, world leaders dined on what some would call trash.  Professional, world-renown chefs cooked up a meal with plates called “landfill salad” which consisted of vegetable scraps and chickpea water and others which had ingredients like repurposed bread and cow corn. They created a lunch that was made entirely of food that would have ended up in garbage bins. Things like bruised beets, off-grade vegetables and rejected apples would have gone completely to waste had they not been salvaged. This was done with the goal to highlight the incredible waste in modern diets and society and the detrimental effects it has on our environment. (4)

Movements like the “ugly food movement” are also aligning with our health and our planet’s health and changing the mentalities on what we should consider food. So much food is wasted whether it is in the process of growing, harvesting, transporting, buying, cooking or eating. Using foods that may not necessarily look “pretty” and salvaging parts of the food that are still healthy are two simple things ugly-fooders promote that can help reduce waste. 

Whether it is eating dirt, “trash” or ugly food, it is important to take a moment to realize how we look at food and how we may be categorizing based on appearance. Like humans, food comes in all shapes and sizes, and, by broadening our horizons, we can start to make changes that can help us and our environment become healthier.

Sources:

1. http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/01/30/japanese-restaurant-serves-meal-of-dirt-for-110/
2. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/health/27brod.html
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1279487/
4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/28/why-world-leaders-dined-on-trash-at-the-u-n/?utm_term=.a1b181425314
5. https://draxe.com/eating-dirt/

Dan Gets into the Swing of Things

By Dan Salisbury, Education Intern

Getting back into the swing of things here as an Education Intern has been completely refreshing. As the new semester begins, I think I speak for all of the interns when I say we’re extremely excited to test brand-new recipes, come up with new lesson plans, and, of course, see the lovely kids again. While it was great to see our families and loved ones back home, it’s invigorating to see our PFP family once again.

We have been perusing various seed catalogues, carefully selecting vegetable crops for use in the Discovery  Gardens. Fun and whimsical produce is going to come into play; the students love working with all kinds of funky fruits and vegetables. We are setting aside a plot of land for a DIY plant Tie-Dye garden, another for the ever-popular Obstacle Course, and we’re always thinking of ways to further engage the throngs of happy and excited students as they make their way around the farm.

As a culinary student at the Culinary Institute of America just down the road, I always feel at home in a kitchen. A lot of recipe-testing has been going on inside the farm kitchen, and brand-new recipes are going to be making their way into classrooms and homes in and around Poughkeepsie. On a personal note, getting the chance to work with some amazingly fresh and delicious produce is something that I absolutely cherish about my time here at Poughkeepsie Farm Project; when the ingredients you’re using are of this caliber, it doesn’t take much to elevate them – all I’m doing is making sure things don’t burn!

I’m extremely excited to be involved with the return of Farm Fresh Home Chefs. These workshops are a chance for us to work directly with the students in the local schools of Poughkeepsie - best of all, the parents are there right beside their kids the entire time. Passing on some basic cooking tips and making kids smile with the occasional deft flick of a knife or a sauté pan is something that I’ve come to deeply enjoy; it doesn’t hurt that the parents leave with some cool ideas for easy, nutritious, and delicious meals.  

I’m also looking to get the CIA more engaged with the local communities of Poughkeepsie and Hyde Park. One of the projects the senior Applied Food Studies students are planning involves establishing an education garden in one of the local schools in Hyde Park. We’ll be looking to follow some of the successful models established by PFP, and I’m excited to lend the experiences I’ve gained here to the other students and faculty at my school. I’m also working on getting The Brewery at the CIA (yeah, we have our own brewery…the scotch ale is absolutely delicious!) to donate their spent grains to PFP for use in compost. Spent grains are a by-product of the brewing process, and it only makes sense to utilize this by-product that otherwise would be thrown out. In a way, everything comes full circle: CIA students learn how to brew beer, a small percentage of spent grains are used in baking and other cooking applications (think a sort of nutty/malty flavor profile) and the rest will be donated to PFP’s compost pile, where school-aged students will learn all about the process of decomposition. This kind of small-scale community impact becomes a sort of cyclical endeavor that I strive each and every day to reach in all aspects of my work at PFP. Now, it’s time to get cookin’!

The Power of Purple

The Power of Purple
Ellie Limpert

Interesting things are happening in the winter garden!

Ever wonder why some normally green plants turn purple in the winter? We did too! That’s why we decided to do a little research to see why many of our crops this winter including kale, salad greens, cabbage, and many asian greens develop a vibrant purple color in cold weather.

All plants produce pigments that determine the color that we see in the fields and on our plates.  You can find all the colors of the rainbow in plant foods alone which make some pretty delicious  meals!  These pigments do much more for the plant (and for us!) than just visual appeal, however. Chlorophyll is the substance that is responsible for photosynthesis which converts sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugars and starches which the plant uses for food.  In the summertime, there is an abundance of sunlight with longer days and shorter nights. Because of this, there is also an abundance of chlorophyll which turns the grass, leaves and trees a bright green during the summer months.  In the fall, the days begin to get shorter and colder, and the chlorophyll becomes less prominent in most plants. Therefore other pigments that we could not see before, start to show their colors- giving way to the reds and yellows of deciduous trees and the purples in winter greens!

The purple comes from the pigments called anthocyanins which we see as bright red- orange, and blue-violet in many fruits and vegetables including berries, black currants, red grapes, cherries, plums, blood oranges, eggplants and red cabbage.  They are a part of a subclass of phytochemicals (or plant substances) called flavonoids which have many beneficial properties for both the plants and the animals that eat them!  Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anticarcinogenic are some of these properties.  Many anthocyanin- rich foods are often considered “superfoods” because of their incredible health benefits which help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer and improve overall neurological and visual health.

So why do anthocyanins make an appearance in the colder weather?

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Anthocyanins in particular have shown to protect the plant from rotting due to intense ultraviolet light, drought and cold weather.  They also help protect the leaves by using extra sunlight that would normally be absorbed by chlorophyll which is less available in the winter.  Although winter greens grow more slowly in the cold, the protective properties of the anthocyanins allow the plant to continue to thrive.

While many functions of anthocyanins are still unknown, it is clear that they play an important role in the health of the plant and in humans that eat them as well.  So, as the winter months go by, get those colorful vegetables into your garden beds and then you will be able to enjoy the flavor, visual appeal AND the health benefits of eating out of your garden through the colder months. Just because it is cold, does not mean we cannot still enjoy all the colors of the rainbow!

References:
http://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/these-cold-hardy-vegetables-may-stick-it-out-through-winter
https://beekman1802.com/the-color-puple-a-frosty-garden/
http://www.iss.it/publ/anna/2007/4/434369.pdf
http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/030314p20.shtml
FLAVONOIDS - FOOD SOURCES AND HEALTH BENEFITS. Aleksandra Kozłowska , Dorota Szostak-Węgierek

 

Grower’s Row: Successions, Seasonality, and Winter Produce Patterns

Grower’s Row: Successions, Seasonality, and Winter Produce Patterns
Patrick Lang

The second harvest of one of our spinach beds

The second harvest of one of our spinach beds

The farm crew is still happily harvesting, maintaining, and planting (again!) in the now iconic high tunnels that have allowed us to enjoy the growing season all winter long. We saw plenty of kale and mustard greens in December, and salad mix and spinach in January, followed by chard and Asian greens in February. The proportion of storage crops (roots, winter squash) to greens has also varied throughout the winter.

Considering this, have you wondered how and why various items make it to distribution at given times? It is in fact a little less obvious in the winter than during the regular growing season.

First of all, since this is the first time anything has been grown in the new structures at PFP, some of the details amounted to an experiment this winter. Part of the plan for a well-rounded supply of winter greens is multiple successions so that tender mustard and salad greens (for example) can be harvested all winter. This is done by planting multiple beds at different times; thus the plants mature at different times. This fall, very warm and sunny weather caused most of the mustard greens to mature around the same time, however, gently indicating that in the future the successions should be planted with even greater delays (this fast growth is why such a large amount of mustards was distributed early this winter!). Multiple successions of salad mix were also planted, but due again to the effect of a very warm fall, the distribution of baby lettuces hasn't been completely consistent.

Along with the concept of multiple successions,  seasonality is essential in determining what can be harvested at what point in the winter. During the growing season, seasonality determines whether we get arugula (spring/fall), tomatoes (late summer), carrots (early summer/fall), or zucchini (summer), to name a few examples. When growing in winter high tunnels, the effect of seasonality is more about how fast the various greens will grow, and this is all about sunlight. For instance, we expect greens (like arugula) planted in November to hardly grow during the first few months, because the sunlight intensity is so low. By February, though, the sun appears ever higher in the sky, and we don't need to be in a greenhouse to feel its increased strength; at this point, plants resume growing fairly vigorously. The difference between December and February growth rates is enormous.

Baby lettuces begin regrowing almost immediately in February

Baby lettuces begin regrowing almost immediately in February

Flowering stalk of tatsoi

Flowering stalk of tatsoi

Certain crops are responding strongly to this change: baby lettuces harvested much earlier in the winter have recently begun rapidly regrowing. Additionally, some of the mustards and Asian greens have begun to send flowering stalks high above the surrounding leaf canopy: we've harvested these flowering brassica stalks as raab. Thus, winter shareholders and thrilled farmers enjoyed tender tatsoi leaves in December, and more recently, tatsoi raab - a very different point in the life cycle of this plant.

During the past week, we've been caring for another new sight as spring approaches: new seedlings! Early spring successions of baby greens have been planted, as we start also thinking about ramping up seedling production for the new growing season as well as for the plant sale and open farm day. Spring, it seems, is here!

Harvesting komatsuna raab

Harvesting komatsuna raab

Baby kale planted in early February

Baby kale planted in early February

Love is Blossoming at the Farm!

By: Samantha Guercio, Education Intern

Once again we find ourselves in the middle of February and we all know what that means... That’s right, love is in the air! I’m not talking about chocolates, flowers, and romance. I’m talking about the love that is all around us! Love you can be a part of all year around without any help from Cupid!

 

Love of Mother Earth

On the farm, you can find love in every field, hoop house, and garden as you watch the tiny seeds grow into flourishing plants that provide fruits and vegetables that feed our community. These beautiful vegetables are planted and cared for by many hands here at Poughkeepsie Farm Project, and each worker, whether staff, intern, or volunteer, tends them with a full heart. An afternoon in the dirt will leave you with a profound sense of respect for the earth and all of the wonderful bounty it gives us. I’ve been working with the education department for a few short weeks and I can already see and feel the love that goes into the farm, the plants, and the classes that are rooted in gardening and healthy eating education.

 

Unbreakable Bonds

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Love runs deep on the farm especially in the lifelong relationships of all kinds that are born here. Everyone arrives to the farm with a smile ready to tackle the day. Employees and interns alike are always eager to meet new people throughout the community in programs such as farm visits, classroom visits, community cooking workshops, and volunteer opportunities on the farm.  We also form strong ties with our CSA members who love to pick up fresh vegetables during our growing seasons!

 

Love Can Come in Small Packages

Relationships come in all shapes and sizes- some you can’t even see! These microscopic relationships occur within the soil and keep our plants healthy and our food abundant. Compost is widely used to bring nutrients back into the soil. However, without the insects, bacteria, and fungi that break it down, compost would never turn into the rich, highly nutritious soil that plants need to thrive.  This is slightly reminiscent of the “I can’t live without you” love that we often celebrate on Valentine’s Day.  Another example of tiny relationships are the insects that help pollinate the crops.  While some may not call this kind of relationship “love” it is indeed a relationship where both the plant and the insect mutually benefit- kind of like they were meant to be together!

 

Self Love

Connecting with the earth brings about a love within ourselves that cultivates a deep sense of self, mindfulness, and peace. There is something about being outside with the sun on your face, the smell of fresh air and plants, and the strenuous yet satisfying work of growing food that brings a person back to a place of inner peace. Not only is gardening great exercise, but it also provides you with vitamin D from the sun, fresh oxygen that revitalizes your cells, and fresh produce at the end of the day! Most importantly, we cannot forget the wonderful effects gardening has on the mind.  I know when my garden gets going in the spring, I let my mind drift and relax for hours on end as I tend to the plants.  It is therapeutic in a way that nourishes every aspect of the soul, and brings out the best in ourselves.  When we feel good physically and mentally, we want others to feel good too, and that love is spread from person to person.

There are many forms of love and relationships in this world besides the romantic kind we often associate with Valentine’s Day.  Most of this love is often right under your nose! You just have to be open to it and embrace it in all aspects of your life. No matter if you are married, in a relationship or still looking for that special valentine, there is still plenty of love to go around!

7 Contributions of Black Farmers to Agriculture

7 Contributions of Black Farmers to Agriculture

As technology and research have advanced in the past 200 years, the way we approach farming has changed significantly.  Countless inventions, ideas, and practices from important figures in history have increased productivity and efficiency on the farm.  In celebration of Black History month, we are highlighting seven major agricultural contributions from African American farmers, horticulturists, and inventors. Their contributions have revolutionized the way our food system functions today.  

1. Early Seed Planters
Henry Blair- Born a free man in 1807, Henry Blair was the second African American to be issued a United States patent.  Despite being illiterate and uneducated, he was a successful farmer who patented two inventions: a corn planter and a cotton planter  The corn planter had a compartment which held and dropped the seeds to the ground and rakes which followed to cover them with soil.  The cotton planter was horse drawn and had two shovel- like attachments that divided the soil. Behind it, he put a cylinder shaped wheel that dropped the seeds into the newly turned soil. Both of his inventions greatly increased efficiency on the farm by limiting labor and time.

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver

2. Biological Regeneration of the Soil Through the Nitrogen Cycle and Crop Rotation
George Washington Carver, an agricultural scientist, inventor and educator at Tuskegee University sought to revitalize southern soil that had been stripped by cotton, a nitrogen depleting crop.  He developed a crop rotation method that alternated the cotton with legumes like peanuts that fix nitrogen and other edible crops such as corn.  This method increased the soil’s productive capacity and also gave southern farmers another crop to produce and sell besides cotton, thus diversifying the market.

3. Compost
In addition to crop rotation, Dr. Carver promoted the practice of using compost to reintroduce nutrients and add organic matter to the soil.  He showed that using compost for soil revitalization increased its productivity by a hundredfold compared with previous common methods. Using compost to build soil is a critical practice in organic farming and gardening today.

4. Sustainable Farming Practices
Booker T. Whatley, an Alabama horticulturist, author, and Tuskegee University professor, examined efficient farming practices which allowed the small farmer to make the most of his/her farm while making a decent living.  His book, How To Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres (1987), explores his ten commandments of farming that assist the farmer in minimizing unnecessary costs, limiting wastes, and maximizing income and farm space with smart crop selection.  He also continued the use of soil regeneration techniques supported by George Washington Carver, a faculty member of the previous generation. His work continues to be a guide for small farmers towards success and sustainability.

5. Community Supported Agriculture
One of Booker T. Whatley’s  ten commandments was the importance of what he called a Clientele Membership Club.  Members of this club paid an initial membership fee which contributed to the success of the farm. In return, they received fresh produce that they would pick themselves.  This ensured a constant cash flow into the farm, while saving on time and labor.  Dr. Whatley identified this as an essential aspect of a successful farm in the 1960’s and 70’s.  Today, this idea is commonly referred to as community supported agriculture (CSA) and is becoming more popular as the demand for local food continues to grow.

Fred Jones: USDA

Fred Jones: USDA

6. Transportation Refrigeration System
Frederick McKinley Jones is the inventor of one of the most important inventions to modern agriculture: the refrigerated truck.  From an early age, he  took a strong interest in mechanics and electricity.  He patented his refrigeration system in 1940 and became the co-owner of the company Thermo King through which he sold his invention.  The system allowed perishable foods to be shipped to further distances and even overseas.  It was installed in trucks, boats, planes, and boxcars and improved the worldwide food trade. Because of his invention, fresh seasonal produce could be enjoyed throughout the entire year.  Other concepts such as frozen foods, supermarkets, and container shipping were all derived from the work of Frederick Jones.

7. Farming Cooperatives
Since the abolition of slavery in 1865, numerous farming cooperatives were established to increase opportunities, land ownership, agricultural education, and living conditions for black farmers despite the setbacks from systemic discrimination.  Historical figures such as Booker T. Washington worked to offer agricultural education to Blacks under the Second Morrill Act of 1890.  He also promoted self-sufficiency practices so black farmers did not have to rely on white landowners or the cotton market for income.  Others such as Robert Lloyd Smith who began the  Black farming cooperative called the Farmers Improvement Society of Texas (FIST) worked to benefit black farmers in all aspects of life.  During the Civil Rights movement, many others including activist Fannie Lou Hamer, religious figures and political leaders continued to seek better livelihoods for Blacks in agriculture. The work of these individuals has helped improve conditions for Black farmers in the U.S .

African-American farm and home demonstration agents pose for a group photograph under the Booker T. Washington monument at Tuskegee Institute, July 15, 1925: Wikipedia

African-American farm and home demonstration agents pose for a group photograph under the Booker T. Washington monument at Tuskegee Institute, July 15, 1925: Wikipedia

Growers' Row: Mid-Winter Update

As surprising as it may seem, we’ve made a good deal of progress through this winter season! For those in our community who opted for a winter CSA share, how is it going? (There are only 3 distributions left, by the way!) The farm crew hopes that the experience has been great; from our perspective, this winter is already successful in terms of production, learning, and implementation of lots of new systems. It is a joy to provide such good food and to witness positive reactions from our winter shareholders.

In order to be productive and timely in distributing great produce, we've worked out plenty of systems this initial winter that keep greens and soil warm [enough] and to maintain proper humidity inside the greenhouses. We are also concerned with challenges as simple as an extremely muddy (or potentially snowy) driveway. Compared to the summer season, weather-related complications are more likely during the winter, and we've already learned a lot about preparing for them and about responding to problems. With the exception of vehicles stuck in the mud, frozen pants, and an underground irrigation leak, these two cold months have been smooth and productive on the farm.

These months have not been all cold and potential problems, of course. There are many friends! In the strong tradition of PFP, we are joined when we need the support by folks from the summer and from past seasons, helping us to complete big harvests of fresh greens (even on frigid days). This support has also allowed everybody to take vacations without holding up harvest, distribution, or maintenance. THANK YOU for your labor and for bringing extra warmth to the greenhouses!

The farm, covered in a light blanket of icy snow, is quite a peaceful place this time of year. The farm crew continues to tend the greenhouse beds and focus on the winter CSA, while also transitioning into planning mode for the summer growing season. The new greenhouses will bring plenty of change to the summer season, too, so look out for updates soon! We'll have plenty to share. 

Staff Highlight: Jamie Levato

Staff Highlight: Jamie Levato, Education Director (interviewed by Lee Anne Albritton)

Provide us with a brief description of your position at PFP.
I run PFP’s Education Department, and I work with Ellie Limpert, our Education Manager, to set the tone and agenda for our programs which are mainly focused on promoting healthy eating, gardening, and sustainable agriculture.

My role involves building relationships with all of our community partners, school personnel, PTAs, and other nonprofits. I coordinate our schedule and plan much of our professional development workshops.

What types of activities do you schedule?
On site field trips for school classes and other groups, school garden visits where PFP educators teach kids in their own gardens, cooking in the classroom workshops, family cooking workshops, and educational sessions at after school programs.

We also provide professional development for teachers and community educators at our three-day Summer Institute Using Gardens to Teach training for educators. We’ve expanded our offerings and now provide several other trainings throughout the year on-site and at regional conferences. In addition, we offer workshops on gardening, herbs, cooking, seed saving, and self-sufficiency for community members at the farm and at other sites in the community.

What's your background?
I grew up in Central Islip, Long Island. We had a garden in our back yard, with a nice strawberry patch, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, and green beans and we had 16 chickens. We also had ducks and rabbits, which were more like pets, and a Mulberry tree that we would climb to harvest big colanders full of bright purple berries that my mom would make into Italian ices. I guess I fell in love with fresh hyper-local food as a child because it was so tasty.

What brought you to PFP?
My background is as a teacher. I went to SUNY New Paltz and got an MS in Literacy Education. While in college, I started gardening at the Gardens for Nutrition and fell in love w/ community gardening because of the interaction and sharing with my garden neighbors. Right after college, I worked for the Mid-Hudson Migrant Education Program working with children of migrant farm workers. Then I started working for Poughkeepsie City School District as a home-bound instructor teaching kids who were suspended or on medical leave. Those positons connected me to the Poughkeepsie community. When I saw a position that connected my educational background and my interests, I was thrilled at the possibility of teaching children through gardening and cooking.

What do you love most about your job?
I can’t choose one thing. I love the variety that I get to do, one day I’m teaching a group of kids, the next day I’m writing a grant, other days I’m training interns, leading a workshop for educators, developing curriculum. I really love the fact that we have a wide community impact because we’re working with youth, families, educators, and other community organizations. PFP’s community-based approach is exciting and powerful to me. Recently, I have been doing a lot of presentations around the region. I actually really enjoy speaking in front of groups. Many people fear public speaking more than death, but I fear death more than public speaking!

What do you love most about PFP?
I love our really strong team and the way we work in many different facets under the umbrella of food justice, providing nutritious local food to families through our CSA, and others with limited access.  I love working with our many community partners and other local and regional organizations to make food systems more equitable.

There are so many program and outreach activities that the Education Department presently offers, what has changed from when you started as a part-timer in 2010?
I was first hired as a part-time seasonal employee for 15 hours/week. Now, I work year-round and full time.  

When I started, we were primarily responding to requests – five field trips for the school year, and working with a few local summer camps, Green Teen, and Hudson River Housing’s River Haven youth shelter.

I was asked to build a partnership with Poughkeepsie schools, instead of just responding to requests, so that kids in Poughkeepsie could visit on a regular basis. That meant building relationships with principals, teachers, school secretaries, other staff, and administrators. We weren’t doing as much in the schools then, and there were very few school gardens. Now we’re in the schools beginning in February and continuing through December. When I started, we hosted two interns from Vassar during semester. In 2016, we hosted 24 interns from Vassar, the CIA, Russell Sage, SUNY New Paltz, Poughkeepsie Day School, and Poughkeepsie High School. We’ve also expanded the Seeds of Food System teen program, which used to just be a summer program, but now we’ve expanded it to a weekly six-month program. Visiting PFP is now part of growing up in Poughkeepsie!

I know you're very involved with social justice activism outside of PFP, what are some of those projects? 
Primarily, I’m working with several organizations on racial justice issues on the local and state level. What’s very exciting is that many of our local and regional farming organizations are committing to work towards racial justice in the food system.

Why do you consider racial justice so important?
Because we are all better off when there’s justice for everyone. Our entire society loses out on the human potential of our neighbors, when institutional racism limits opportunities for people of color. For many white people in our country, institutional racism can be virtually invisible, you can be oblivious if you don’t pay really close attention.

What do you do for leisure when you're not at PFP or saving the world?
I enjoy reading, baking, preserving food, gardening, hiking, going to movies, and traveling.

Anything we might not necessarily expect to know about you?
I recently started indoor rock climbing. I’m just a beginner and definitely not ready for outdoor climbing, yet.

Growers’ Row: An Update from the Farm Crew

By Patrick Lang

It has become awfully quiet at PFP in recent weeks! The regular CSA season ended quite nicely: mild November weather, lots of help from our field work students from Vassar, and one final burst of harvesting by volunteers, field work students, and Workshare members. Over 2 days, we harvested, washed, and packed 3,380 pounds of carrots alone! It was hard work, but was extremely satisfying.

merle and brian.JPG

We now turn entirely toward our first season of winter growing, and we are getting excited about the first winter CSA distribution. This is an especially exciting time considering the work that has gone into gearing up for providing food in the winter. Here are some of the necessary improvements we’ve been working on this fall to make winter growing a reality:

Leon in the new winter wash station

Leon in the new winter wash station

  • We purchased an additional shipping container and converted it to a cooler. This allows us to store the thousands of pounds of storage vegetables (cabbage, carrots, radishes, rutabaga, potatoes, onions, and others) that were recently harvested, and it is now completely full.
  • Conversion of our main cooler to a heated winter wash station. I certainly wouldn’t want to be dunking baby greens in ice-cold water in January. 
  • We also acknowledge the possibility of lots of snow, and are purchasing a plow and snow blower for our tractor. It’s a big expense, but we’d be quite stuck without it. Literally.

There has also been much preparation of the soil in the greenhouses, as you can imagine. Peat moss was incorporated to provide fluffy texture and organic matter, and bed preparation and seed sowing was done this fall with much patience and care by Leon and Merle. This has resulted in a glorious setting for our winter work, as well as a consistent supply of amazing greens. This includes veggies that aren’t normally distributed during the regular season, including the red mustard greens shown below. That is my version of instant lunch when I am working at PFP – absolutely delicious.

Whether you are joining us for the winter CSA or just finishing up winter squash from this fall and excited for next season, we hope you keep tabs on us through the winter. I can at least promise far more photos of greens than one needs, all winter on Facebook and Instagram.