The potato field is looking pretty spectacular right now. The plants have had plenty of water, plenty of mulch, and the oat cover crop seeded in the wheeltracks germinated beautifully. This is a huge change from last year, when we made a spring-time decision to skip irrigation in the hope that rain and mulch would provide enough moisture. It didn’t, thanks to the first summer drought in years, and last year’s yields were down by 50%. I didn’t even bother with cover cropping the wheeltracks last year, figuring nothing would germinate in bone-dry soil. This year, by comparison, the cover crop almost overtook the cash crop, and Dan had to weedwack the pathways before the potatoes got swamped. It probably didn’t help that I added buckwheat, a fast-growing cover, to the oats, but I had this grand vision that the buckwheat would flower as the potatoes started dying down in late-July, providing the ultimate visual contrast. Too bad it didn’t work out that way. The buckwheat may still flower, but it won’t be the big show I had in mind. At least the potatoes are still on top. When we start harvesting in August, we’ll know if the yields are as good as the looks.
Garlic harvest is halfway complete. Half was planted in Old Pond Field (aka Pond Field, aka the Berry Field) last November. The rest was planted in Upper Crooked. We harvested everything from Old Pond last week, and it was a bittersweet relief. This field has been part of our operation since the farm's founding in 2007, but it wasn’t included in the deer fence, and it will go back to Nassau County after the blackberries—the final crop—are harvested. Caught between two stewards, the field is showing its confusion. We're attending to the areas we are permitted to, but no more, and the grass is growing high where we have pulled up stakes. A clean break probably would have been better for everyone, but garlic and blackberries have a non-negotiable schedule, so we’re just seeing things through to the bitter end. On the positive side, our new blackberry patch in Upper Crooked Field is coming along nicely.
The Saturday farm stand has been bustling, but weekday sales have been slow. So slow, in fact, that I decided to launch a mid-season CSA membership drive. We have the food, after all. Shifting our eggs from the farm stand basket to the CSA basket entails quite a bit of legwork. There are payments to process, schedules to confirm, and policies to communicate. Compared to simplicity of a farm stand transaction, you can understand why some growers would reject the CSA model. But farm stand sales are never guaranteed. Rain, heat, smog, or any number of factors often take a toll. Profit margins being what they are —very, very low—the guaranteed market of CSA makes a lot of sense (pun intended).
Last Saturday I got to observe the results of the membership drive in full swing. In the early morning, Jackie and I hustled to get the Tin House ready. Saturdays are already quite busy, with entire families often coming for pickup, and now they're even more jam-packed. When it comes to Tin House prep, our best approach is to load the tables as much as possible before opening, so we can spend more time hosting and less time restocking. Once pickup was underway, I boogied to the fields with 14-year-old Ada, who’s eager to earn some summer cash. We stationed ourselves in the new strawberry patch, where we could tackle the weeds while chitchatting with members as they headed to and from the blueberries, sunflowers, and pick-your-own herbs. Their excitement was palpable. Many described a mob scene up at the parking lot, but out in the fields, everyone was having a good time, farmers included. When you get to see so many people enjoying the fruits and flowers of your labor, it makes the long days in the field—and the late-night paperwork—worth it.
Here's where I pass the baton to not one, but two guest contributors. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoy, and see you at the farm.
Story of a Kid Cashier
by Kobi Fanning Holmes
I have been the farm cashier every Saturday for the last two years, but my story didn’t start there. The first time I started working at the farm, I was given a pity job as the sign-in boy (I’m going to be honest, at first I thought it was an actual job). But after a month, my mom decided to give me a different job as the cashier. My first job as the cashier was the hardest. I had no idea what I was doing and needed help from my mom with every customer I had.
After a few months of being the cashier, I kind of got the hang of it, but I also found the hard things about it. I was not happy starting my Saturdays waking up at 7am to go to the farm. But there are some upsides to being a cashier. For example, if you're not with a customer that just wants to be in and out, they can be really nice and brighten your mood. Also, it's an opportunity to catch up with people you know, and to meet interesting people.
In the pandemic I created something that not a lot of people still remember, but some people still do —“the Kobi Special.” In the pandemic, people didn’t feel safe touching the iPad because of the virus, so I decided to sign for them, thus creating the “Kobi Special.”
There haven’t been any big changes to the way I work as the cashier, but every day I try to get a little better, try to put a smile on someone’s face. So every fall on Saturdays, I’ll be there, cashiering the best I can.
Kobi Fanning Holmes cashiers at the farm stand most Saturdays during winter, spring, and fall.
The Pecking Order
by Mike Simpson
Something has gotten into Edward G. since Judy stopped holding him at sundown.
He has always been a grump, but now he is downright vicious.
Judy says the same.
She has known the rooster since he was abandoned as a chick by the front gate of the farm around four years ago.
Almost immediately, Judy dubbed him Edward G. Robinson, because his fighting spirit reminded her of a short and stocky film star known for playing gangsters and tough guys during Hollywood’s Golden Age.
“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” Eddie G. crows if a farm hand gets close to his coop. He cranes his red head upwards and flaps his white wings, over and over, as if to say, get out.
“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” he repeats as a farm hand walks back to their truck, as if to say, and stay out.
Facing away from Eddie G. is the perfect invitation for him to run over and wham, peck at an unsuspecting Achilles heel.
The best way to get away is to back up, slowly, all the way back to the electric fence that separates the coops from the vegetable fields.
Judy didn’t know Eddie G. was a rooster at first. It’s hard to tell a male from a female in the early stages of a chicken’s life. And many first-time chicken owners abandon roosters once they hear the first crow that blows the young bird’s cover.
In fact, Eddie G.’s abandonment wasn’t the first time chickens were left at the farm. After the last worker left for the night a few years ago, a car pulled up to the chain link fence. With no witnesses to be seen, the driver deposited a bunch of birds on the other side of the gate. Sometimes novice chicken owners don’t think of how much work it takes to take care of a hen. And once reality hits, some jump ship.
Edward G. and another chicken of the same breed were abandoned together. Judy took them home and quarantined them for around two weeks in her suburban backyard before introducing them to the rest of the flock. The new chickens slept in a converted dog house. But before long, they started to crow.
Judy kept them anyway, despite the fact that she’s in the egg business.
“Let’s try it,” she said. Besides, she already had roosters at the farm.
Males are almost useless to her operation, since hens would lay eggs whether males were there or not. Edward G. and the other roosters aren’t fixed, so most of the eggs Judy sells are fertilized, which would be useful if she was in the chick-selling business. But the fertile eggs go straight to the fridge, then the customers' frying pan, denying the hens their natural instinct to go broody.
And Judy doesn’t slaughter birds for their meat. Some of her flock of roughly 104 females are menopausal and live out their lives because Judy is a self-described animal lover. She rode horses as a kid, and traces her chicken farming to childhood vacations “mingling with the cows” and “mingling with the chickens” at a family member’s dairy farm in upstate New York. She was a part-time volunteer for 14 years at a cat shelter and a pet store, cleaning cages and feeding the animals, after she retired from teaching elementary school for 31 years. Her kindergarten, 1st grade and 2nd grade classrooms usually had a gerbil, a guinea pig or tadpoles in them.
“Anything with animals,” she said.
Judy started volunteering with the chickens roughly a year after joining the CSA in 2010.
What may have changed Eddie G. was the RUN-CHICKEN Door T50, an automatic shutter for each of the four chicken coops. Once the sun goes down, the cherry red aluminum plate slides down.
By instinct, most fowl go in at sunset before they are locked outside with the foxes and the hawks, unless they’re sick or too young to understand.
Recently, an older hen sat under the coop through the night.
“I knew there was something wrong with her,” Judy said.
The chicken died within a day.
Before the electric doors were installed, Judy closed the coops by herself. But the long days wore on her, so she automated. But the warmth of touch was lost by the cold convenience of machines. She used to hold Edward G., comforting him for minutes at a time before sunset, running her fingers through his fur-like feathers before closing the wooden doors.
That seemed to take the aggression off of him, she said.
Another thing that kept him at bay was an alpha cock named Rudy. In one of their first encounters, Rudy drew blood from Edward G.
“There’s a pecking order,” Judy said, which means there is a hierarchy of power, and a line of succession among the chickens. Eddie G. has always and might always be a lower rank.
Rudy kept Eddie G. somewhat docile until the older rooster died about a year ago. Now Edward G. Robinson tries to run the place. He got pushier, but Roadrunner, a big rooster, took Rudy’s top rank of alpha male.
Sometimes Roadrunner will block Eddie G. from rush-attacking a farmer.
But Judy argues that Eddie G.’s feisty temperament is a desirable quality in a cock. A rooster’s nature is to protect a flock from predators. A now-deceased rooster named The Colonel pecked at farmers, too. And it’s only natural that a looming human would cause Eddie G. to attack.
“He does his job protecting the girls,” Judy said. “He is a great rooster.”
But get too close to him, and he’ll flutter forward into the air, shin height and talons outstretched, out for blood.
“He’s deranged,” Judy said. “ It used to be if you pointed at him and said no, he’d be fine.”
But Judy refuses to kill Edward G., though she jokes she has wanted to, especially after he pecks at her out of nowhere. She gets so mad at him because he can’t understand she is his caregiver.
“He doesn’t see that I’m giving him food,” she said.
When kids visit the chicken coops, she traps him under a white plastic laundry basket from the dollar store, weighing it down, until they leave. When farmers have to open the secondary doors on the coops, some take a rake to swing in his direction when the chicken gets close.
But Eddie G. attacks the rake.
Others scream in fear, which sometimes scares him off, but less so, lately.
Eddie G. seems clever, and attacks in a random pattern.
“He’s very sneaky,” Judy said.
There are other males in the flock, too, but Eddie G. is by far the most aggressive, even though the Silkie breed that he is a part-of is generally calm and friendly. None of the current roosters are so fierce, even Galahad the other Silkie that was abandoned with Eddie G.
In fact, Galahad has a reputation for being a gentleman. For a while, he especially took to six particular hens. He used to escort them to their coop at nightfall so they could roost, returning to his place when they were home, safe and sound. Then, finally after weeks of courtship, he switched coops, joining the ladies in theirs after dark. He sleeps in their red wooden house until this day.
Galahad and Eddie G. are the shortest roosters of all four. But while Galahad seems to not care about his stature, some farmers think that simple fact drives Edward G. Robinson’s aggression.
He definitely has a, “Napoleon complex,” they say.
Mike Simpson joined the crew as field assistant in April 2023.