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Do the Berry Hustle!

It’s strawberry season, and CSA members know it. They zip into the Tin House, grab their quart containers, and head to the fields with purpose. “The Hustle” plays in my head as I watch them go. These members know the brevity of the season—that strawberries wait for no one. Layabouts will be disappointed, but hustlers will be rewarded.

This year the strawberries are in Chapel Field, the far-flung field with a beautiful view of the Manetto Hill Church. Dan and I had misgivings about planting berries so far from the Tin House, thinking that members would resent the longer walk, but so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. In previous years, members could skirt most of the farm on their way to Pond Field, where the berries had always been planted, but now they stroll past peas, lettuce, carrots, and more. No doubt they are making dozens of discoveries along the way. Far from a punishment, the longer walk seems to be a pleasure.

Even as CSA members rejoice in their return to the fields, we farmers barely have time for a polite “Welcome Back,” consumed as we are by keeping ahead of the weeds. The rain has been abundant, the summer solstice is just days away, and everything wants to grow! Steve and I are feeling somewhat behind schedule, for a variety of reasons, and mulching has been much on our minds. For years, we’ve mulched the kale, chard, and nightshades with leaves delivered by local landscapers. It’s no secret that conventional farms rely on herbicides for weed control, but it’s lesser known that many organic farms rely on disposable plastic mulch, which ends up in landfills at the end of the season. While we understand why some growers choose plastic, we’re committed to local leaves, and to the annual challenge of applying them to the beds. It’s a labor-intensive job that starts mid-June and doesn’t wrap up until late-July. The tractor helps by delivering loads to the ends of the beds, but most of the work is accomplished by humans pushing wheelbarrows down the aisles. For the past several years, we’ve kept on schedule thanks to Peter Notarnicola, who embraced after-hours mulching as part of his extreme fitness training program. Sadly for us but lucky for him, Peter decided to expand his horizons and spend this season mulching at Featherbed Lane Farm in Ballston Spa, NY. So last week, to keep our heads above water, I sent out an S.O.S. for volunteers, hoping for a big Saturday turnout. The crew prepared on Friday, handweeding, hoeing, and mulching the first few beds so that when the volunteers arrived, there would be a clear “before” and “after” visual.” Sure enough, the job spoke for itself, and thanks to the efforts of our crew, half a dozen volunteers, and a few unsuspecting berry pickers, 2,100 feet of potatoes were weeded and mulched in a matter of hours. I completed the final step this morning, seeding oats down the aisles so that in a matter of weeks, no soil surface will be left bare.

Mark Kimball of Essex Farm once likened farming to painting a picture. I felt that distinctly this weekend. Yesterday’s volunteers laid on bold strips of brown. This morning I seeded what will ultimately become bold strips of green. Berry pickers sought out hidden dots of red. Everywhere you go at the farm, you see a work—a painting—in progress. But the work is never finished, and the painting never done.

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