Main season CSA pickups ended three weeks ago, and since then things have alternated between eerily quiet and super busy, depending on the week. That’s the post-season, in a nutshell.
The first week without CSA pickups was quiet, so Dan took the crew and got going on a job that’s been on his mind all season—clearing the New Pond Field fence line. When we launched Restoration Farm in 2007, this field was part of a pasture whose split rails kept the neighboring cows contained. In the ensuing years, however, the rails became overgrown with invasive vines and saplings, turning the fence into a full-grown hedge. When we traded Old Pond Field in exchange for New Pond last winter, we cleared two small openings, but throughout the growing season the field remained out of sight and largely cut off from the rest of the farm. By late-October, however, with long sleeves to protect us from thorns and poison ivy, we were ready to tackle the beast. In a matter of days, the hedge was mostly gone, and piles of vines, branches, and brush lay scattered about the field, waiting to be mulched or cut into firewood. To those accustomed to the hedge, the newly-opened field might look jarring, but it won't be long before it feels like a natural part of the landscape.
After a quiet week of fence clearing, we had a not-so-quiet week of garlic planting, winter share harvests, and frost preparation—including one mad-dash day that involved all three. Garlic planting is a big job that calls for a big crew, so once we set a date (Wednesday, Nov. 1, in this case), we pray the weather cooperates. Two days before showtime, however, the forecast called for rain followed by the season’s first frost. So on Tuesday afternoon, while the field was still dry, Dan prepped the beds with the tractor. Then early Wednesday morning, with a light rain falling, Nancy and I harvested truckloads of lettuce and kale for the weekend—our last chance before the frost. By 9am, harvest was complete and volunteers arrived at the Tin House to break up seed garlic, though I wasn’t sure we’d be able to plant in the muddy fields. But the rain stopped at 10am, and the fields, though wet, were still workable, so by noon everyone migrated outdoors and started planting. Then the sun came out. Then it hailed. By 3pm, we’d completed two-thirds of the job—over 6,000 cloves planted—and called it quits on garlic for the day. Once the volunteers left, we shifted back to frost preparation. While I set up row cover on the bok choy, escarole, and radicchio, Mike harvested a truckload of leeks so the crew would have something to work on the following morning. By 5:30pm, the day was done. The next morning, while the fields were thawing out, our crew spent 3 hours washing and bunching leeks. We sped things up by relying on the Steve Cecchini method of using a miter saw to cut the tops—not recommended for small jobs, but totally worth it for 30 bunches or more (we had 130!). After leeks, we returned to the garlic field and finished planting. On Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, we opened our doors for the first time in a long time and hosted a full house of winter CSA members and farm stand customers. And so it will go for the next few months—periods of quiet, behind-the scenes work followed by periods of people and hustle.
My favorite post-season behind-the-scenes task? Cover cropping! Mid-October used to be my cut-off date for oats and winter peas, but with daytime temperatures continuing to climb into the fifties, sixties, and even seventies, I keep pushing the envelope. November is the new October, or so I tell myself, and I planted right up to November 10, when success was far from guaranteed. The only way to know your limits is to test them.
My least favorite post-season behind-the-scenes task? Office work. But there’s no avoiding it, so every Monday I plop down at the kitchen table to process CSA renewals and start fleshing out next year's budget and staffing options. I’m also making a final push on the deer fence fundraiser, a project that has dominated much of my brain for the past 16 months. For those sketchy on the details, here’s a brief chronology:
Occasional deer passing through farm = negligible damage
Resident population regularly feeding on crops = major damage
Obtained permission from Nassau County to install fence around main fields
Fence proves 100% effective. Deer regularly spotted outside fence, but never inside.
The total project cost $50,000, and by June we had raised slightly more than $35,000. We expected to qualify for grants—everyone did!—and we enlisted multiple people to help with applications. We did come within a hair’s breadth of a $15,000 grant from the Nassau County Soil & Water Conservation District, but sadly, none of our efforts bore fruit. In the end, support came from the more than 200 individuals who made private donations ranging from $25—$1,000. To all of these donors (full list available here), we continue to be thankful! The 2023 season would not have been the success that it was without you.
And now, as we bring the year to a close, we’re putting out one last call for donations. Maybe you’re a new CSA member or farm stand customer who was unaware of the project but who savored all the lettuce made possible by the fence. Or maybe you meant to donate and simply forgot. Or maybe you already donated and wonder if we’d welcome more. As we seek to close a $15,000 gap, the answer is yes yes, and yes! We don’t own the land or the fence, and nothing would make us prouder than to say it was paid for by supporters of the farm. Building community on a public farm is essence of who we are, and when the public supports us in our time of need, the relationship comes full circle. To donate and for more info, please click here.
Out of the office and back to hustle, the next one is all about Thanksgiving. CSA members who renew by early November qualify for a bonus pickup, which generates a lot of excitement and spans several days. As I anticipate which members might renew and which might not, I find it interesting to consider the evolution of a CSA member. Our farm has undergone many pivots through the years, and so have our veteran members. After much trial and error, they’ve learned which greens they like best, how to distinguish between a ripe and underripe blackberry, and how much eggplant is too much for them. A newcomer standing elbow-to-elbow with a vet might feel envious from the sense that they themselves are not getting the full value of their membership. To that I would simply say: be patient with yourself. Becoming a local, seasonal eater takes time—it doesn’t just happen because you clicked “Pay Now.” Of course, CSA membership is not for everyone, which is why the farm stand will always be open to the public. But for the new members debating whether or not to renew, who perhaps feel like they missed out on something, even if they can’t articulate what that something is, I can assure you that you probably did, and that the only way to get more from your membership is to stick with it.
On that note, I’ll offer a reflection by Laura Policano, CSA member since 2008 who has seen her share of ups and downs over the years.
Thanks for reading, happy almost-Thanksgiving, and hope to see you at the farm this weekend!
When I first read about a new farm opening on the grounds of the Old Bethpage Restoration Village, I had never heard of the CSA model of farming. I joined immediately. It changed what we eat and the way we think about food. There were vegetables I never heard of. Garlic scapes? News to me. Kohlrabi? Heard of it but I don’t think I ever saw it in the supermarket. But we were willing to try everything. My daughter, eleven years old at the time, decided kale was her favorite food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A lot of bok choy (and there was A LOT in the beginning), no problem; bok choy and tofu in oyster sauce. Extra Asian eggplant? Throw that in too. Tomato season and we are eating pasta with a fresh heirloom tomato, garlic, and basil sauce, that cooks in just minutes. Make pumpkin pie from a freshly roasted pumpkin and you will never buy a can of pumpkin again. The farm makes you realize the possibilities are vast if you are willing to give it a try. Picking three greens out of a choice of six becomes a dilemma. They are all wonderful and delicious.
But besides the benefits of eating organic, freshly harvested food are the benefits you get from being at the farm. Pick a bouquet. It will make you smile all week. Gather some herbs for cooking inspiration during the week. Walk out to the fields for berries. You will come back refreshed and with a basket of sweet deliciousness. Glean the fields when the opportunity arises. You will feel good and have enough basil for pesto all winter.
Caroline and Dan have created a community that fills our bellies and feeds our souls.