Grower's Row: Welcoming New Helping Hands

The demands of the farm skyrocket in June.

With the arrival of longer, hotter days and warmer nighttime temperatures, the plants take off, sizing up quickly each day. We leave the plants on Friday, and come back Monday to noticeably larger, leafier, greener plants and fruits that seem to have nearly doubled in size.

This same boom in growth isn’t limited to the crop plants. It’s even more true of the weeds. Unlike our crop plants, which are bred to be succulent and delicious, these rough-and-tumble weeds have to survive out in the wild, where they self-select for their ability to gather nutrients more quickly than their neighbors, and to grow leafier, taller, and faster. They’re tough, and they’re survivors. Once established, they’re tough to kill -- and can take twice the staff-hours just to manage them.

Getting weeds at the right stage, when they’re very young, requires vigilance -- but more importantly, it requires getting lucky with the right (hot, dry) weather, and juggling multiple high-priority tasks that all need attention RIGHT NOW.

Because of course, weeding isn’t the only thing we’re trying to get to on time. We’re planting, every week, to make sure we have new successions of plants to provide our CSA members with a continuous supply of fresh produce all season long. We’re seeding in the greenhouse, to have plants to plant. We’re pruning and trellising, to keep up with plant needs. And finally we are harvesting (and washing and packing and distributing) hundreds, and soon thousands, of pounds of produce every week.

All of this is way more than our core farm team of 6 can do alone. We need HELP! And here at PFP, those helping hands come in many different shapes and sizes.

In the winter, we had help from volunteers, which included CSA members who came out to work just for fun; CIA students and college students home for winter break; and a shy, smiling au pair from China who showed up unexpectedly one day, determined to work. Then in the spring, we received help from four dedicated (and very enthusiastic) Vassar students Alie, Kristina, Mad and Zoe, through the Community Engaged Learning program. They helped us sort through our winter storage crops, wash and pack produce for winter share, and manage weeds in our high tunnels.

Editor's Note: Heck ye Demier and Lucas, look at those tomatoes now! (Please refer to the  Green Jobs Post )

Editor's Note: Heck ye Demier and Lucas, look at those tomatoes now! (Please refer to the Green Jobs Post)

In March we welcomed Lucas, Demier and Isiah. These curious, energetic men with big hearts and bright smiles are the first members of our brand new Green Jobs program, intended to provide young people with an outdoor farm classroom to learn to grow food for their community. The team has since expanded to include Kitana and Savannah, whose positive energy and hard-working hands have already brought so much to the farm, including planting all the PYO tomatoes! Do yourself a favor and take a moment to read our feature post on the Green Jobs program, and to see more photos and amazing moments from their first few months here.

As of last week, our core team of 6 has expanded to include two new Interns, Kira and Laura, who will be with us every day from June through August. In addition to helping us plant, seed, subdue weeds, harvest all the things and trellis tomatoes forever, they’ll be gaining knowledge and building skills in greenhouse management, irrigation, crop rotation, soil structure and soil biology basics.

CSA members co-carry heavy bins of lettuce during a morning harvest

CSA members co-carry heavy bins of lettuce during a morning harvest

Last but not least, our main season work is made manageable by the many helping hands of our CSA work share members! From helping with morning harvest and afternoon fieldwork projects, to delivering donated produce to our Food Share partners, and helping soup kitchens wash and chop raw produce as part of the Green Machines, our work share members allow us to do and accomplish so much more than we ever could without them. Any garlic or scapes you receive this year will have been grown from a clove that was split and sorted by one of your fellow CSA members last fall, and any strawberries and raspberries you pick will be sweet and delicious because CSA members helped weed them and give them access to all the soil nutrients and sunlight they need.

Like the crops we grow, the farm work itself is seasonal, swelling in the summer and dwindling in the winter. One of my favorite things about PFP is the diversity of different hands we have all pitching in to keep this farm running. Everyone has something different to contribute, whether it’s hard-working hands, a sense of enthusiasm, big smiles to brighten the overcast days, curiosity that helps us all see things differently, or a sense of gratitude for the ability to get out of the office and into the dirt. All the different hands and hearts that find their way here make for a stimulating learning experience, a rewarding work environment, and a rich on-farm community.

We are growing so much more than vegetables. Thank you for being a part of it.

Now: back to the weeds!