Signs of Late-Winter
Plastic has its share of haters these days. From metal straws to wooden toothbrushes, consumers everywhere are eager to reduce their reliance on plastic. Though Dan and I don’t think of ourselves as haters, it is a fact that we only offer recycled boxes at the farm stand, we eschew plastic mulch in the fields, and we use potting mix bags as garbage liners at home. Isn’t it ironic, then, that come late-winter we are intensely focused on covering the fields with 22,000 square feet of plastic. Ironic or not, we are the proud owners of an extensive supply of plastic tarps, all serving multiple functions. First off, tarps warm the soil, which is pretty critical in the spring. Second, they trap moisture as well as heat, which encourages weed seeds to germinate. Without light, these baby weeds die, thereby providing growers with beds that are relatively weed-free. Finally, and most importantly for us, tarps aid the breakdown of cover crop and plant residue on the soil surface. This, in turn, reduces how much a grower must till the soil in preparation for planting. Insofar as tillage degrades soil structure by literally oxidizing it, tarps play an important role in soil preservation. Plus, there is the added benefit of not running the tractor as frequently. In terms of carbon footprint, swapping diesel fuel for petroleum-based plastic may be an even trade, but when you consider that our tarps should last anywhere from 5-20 years, it’s possible that tarps also contribute to an net carbon reduction.
Another late-winter task is preparing to fire up our two Amityville greenhouses. From early-March to early-September, the greenhouses function as the plant nurseries that they are, but for the remaining months of the year, they suck in anything and everything you can
imagine. Firewood, bikes, power tools, salvaged furniture, beach toys, sports equipment—
anything that can be found in a suburban garage can be found in our winter greenhouses. Since I’m fundamentally averse to clutter, I really appreciate the annual purge. This is also when we beat back the weeds that have crept in during the previous season. Normally we use cardboard and woodchips for greenhouse weed suppression, but this year we’re trying newspapers, since we already have a huge supply (call me old fashioned, but I love our home delivery of the NY Times and Newsday). Theoretically, the job of laying down the papers should only take an hour or two, but it ends up taking twice that, because I can’t resist the reading material!
And here’s a note from Dan, who has the time to write because—you guessed it—it’s late-winter.
A few years ago, Caroline and I started following the activity of Small Farm Central, a company providing software and marketing resources to CSA farmers. At the time, SFC had just launched “CSA Day,” an annual day meant to revive flagging interest in the CSA movement. The idea was that through the collective efforts of participating farmers, CSA Day would put CSAs back on the food radar and hopefully lead to a flurry of sign-ups (this year’s CSA Day is February 28). Fast-forward a year or two, and Caroline shared another farmer’s snarky observation that CSA Day was “nothing but a nothing burger,” which made us both belly laugh. Ahh, marketing—there’s nothing fun about it. I’m sure all small businesses go through the continual work of trying to invigorate and excite their customers, but I never thought I would go on this wild ride of starting a business and needing to market it. But here I am. What makes marketing so hard for me is deciding which aspect of our farm to focus on. So I’m putting the question to you, our readers and customers. What do you value most about Restoration Farm? Is it the quality of the food? The community that we foster? Our commitment to the land? Or is it something else? Please let us know, however and whenever you can, so we can focus our message, sell our shares, and get back to the fun part—farming!