This is the fifteenth in a series of posts on Happyday Farms, the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) located up here on Bell Springs Road, run by Casey, Amber, Lito and Courtney.
Fresh Tomatoes or Store-Bought?
I’m not convinced that folks have a clear idea of what constitutes an organic farm. What’s the difference between a “traditional” farm and a small, family owned and operated organic farm, besides the obvious, their difference in size?
For starters, traditional farming is more likely to focus on one or at least only a couple of different crops, and grow twenty acres of them, say tomatoes, or corn, or whatever. The fields are prepared in the early spring, the crop sewn into the ground, and the machines come along and harvest it when the time is right. The fields then lie fallow over the winter.
An organic farm is only going to be a fraction of the size of a contemporary corporate farm. At most, Happyday Farms encompasses between two and three acres of actual growing space. Use a football field for comparison. An acre is approximately three-fourths the size of a conventional football field, so there is a huge difference in terms of volume of produce that can be grown.
Aside from size, what distinguishes the one from the other, besides the practices employed by the farmer, is the variety of different kinds of crops that can and will be grown at any given period of time. I am not talking fifteen or twenty different crops, I am talking sixty, eighty, a hundred different types of marketable products, all being prepped, planted, nurtured, harvested and sent on to market, or into CSA shares.
These crops include vegetables, herbs, spices, flowers and medicines, and it requires a fair amount of juggling to keep everything flowing smoothly, especially when it comes to deciding what specific items will go into the weekly shares, harvested Monday morning and taken to market that same day.
The orchestration of this process is what I would like to address today. The casual observer of life might opine that a hundred different kinds of vegetative life, all flourishing simultaneously, might challenge the staff at a little mom and pop establishment like HappyDay Farms.
This would be the number one reason why Master Casey no longer chooses to do construction in the good-weather months; he wants to farm full-time. With Amber, Lito, Courtney, and farm-hands Torrey and sometimes Conner, Casey charts a course each day which addresses the most pertinent issues, and sets the day’s plans into action.
For instance, on Monday of this week, I took photographs of the plot of garlic in the orchard, that was on the verge of being harvested. There were four, sixty-foot long furrows, with three rows of garlic in each. That makes (12 X 60ft) 720 feet of garlic, or the same as one row of garlic the length of two football fields.
For a small community, with Casey selling between thirty and fifty shares a week, that garlic is going to go a long way. After being dried, it will be stored in the cinder-block root-cellar, which keeps the temperature inside the same as the earth, no matter how scorching hot it is outside, or how far below freezing it is.
What happens next, once these four furrows are harvested, which took place on Tuesday? The following day, Lito, Courtney, and Torrey were in that space, with one using the giant fork to overturn the ground, one industriously removing the rocks that have surfaced from the fork, and the third one measuring out and applying the necessary amendments to prepare the soil for the next crop.
This pitch fork I am describing, is about thirty inches wide, with tines that are a least eighteen inches deep. It is meant to be used on soil that has been previously tilled; otherwise it would be prohibitively difficult to even use it, unless, of course, you are a savage like Lito.
So the crew moves in, refurbishes the soil including a liberal amount of the rich dark compost, removes any and all rocks it can, and replants the area with the designated replacement crop. In this case, it was a whole passel of Heinz tomato plants, with which we are going to make vast, unlimited amounts of ketchup, for inclusion in the CSA shares, particularly in the dead of next winter, when it is toughest to compile enticing shares for all of its customers.
And that’s how we do. Most every day, there is a harvest and subsequent beds to be spruced up. Happyday Farms plants all year-round, focusing on that which is seasonally appropriate, and that is another of those defining characteristics of the organic farm.
Unless Casey is orchestrating the set-up on a newly-formed terrace, in which case the rototiller is needed, the process does not require motorized equipment, and is as efficient as a clock. As is the farm.
Casey may work from early morning until well after dark, through the use of a headlamp, and not think twice about it. It is the nature of a farmer. But when he is done, and munching down his dinner of home-grown, healthy, Happyday Farms goodness, I can only assure you he feels the whole thing is worth the effort, and then some.
There is no similarity between the huge corporate farms and the organic farm, except that of the soil. Beyond that, the two farming experiences are as different as a McDonald’s “restaurant” is from Ardella’s, in Willits.
Or as different as store-bought, pesticide-ridden tomatoes from the ones you bring in from your garden. If you understand that distinction, then you’re good on the rest.