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Solstice Wild

June 19, 2024

A lot has happened since the May newsletter. I posted it one day before school board elections because I knew my life might be very different on the flip side. As it happened, I won my seat, and life has been predictably busy since. But let’s start with what’s busy at the farm. After all, this is June.

CSA pickups resumed three weeks ago, and everyone is still adapting to the new routine. To recap, last winter we decided to consolidate the 2024 schedule from Tues/Thurs/Sat to just Tues/Sat because we felt that with careful planning, we could continue to serve 90% of our customers in 2 days instead of 3. So we downsized the CSA by 10% and prepared ourselves for a season of adaptation. Now the results are starting to come in. As anticipated, having a bigger mid-week chunk for fieldwork has allowed us to use our time much more efficiently. We’ve cultivated the onions, winter squash, and sweet potatoes early and often; that alone will save us hours of handweeding in July. We trellised and pruned a double planting of early cukes; this will speed up the harvests and possibly add revenue. I've indulged my personal obsession with planting sunflowers—1,140 feet and counting!—which sets the stage for continuous blooms through the summer and fall. Of course, the consolidated schedule is testing the limits of our walk-in cooler and—sorry!—parking lot, but at this early juncture, the trade-offs appear to be worth it. It’s important to note that this change was made possible mainly by the commitment of our CSA members. In guaranteeing both a market and a schedule, they give us a big measure of control in very unpredictable industry. Without a doubt, the security of the CSA model is the reason we keep chugging along, season after season.

Speaking of unpredictable, our Tuff Bilt cultivating tractor was sidelined for two weeks, and that wasn’t fun. We rely on this tractor to prepare beds and cultivate weeds. Dan was cultivating the sunflowers when the keyway in the motor shaft wore out, leaving the tractor stalled in the field. So he called John Shenk, the Pennsylvania sales rep who sold the tractor to us in 2012. The Tuff Bilt company recently shuttered, but true gearheads never quit, so John troubleshot as much as he could before referring Dan to Alan, a mechanic in North Carolina. When Alan hit a roadblock, he referred Dan to Roland, the designer in Alabama. Between the three men, the problem was ultimately diagnosed and the required parts identified—a victory in itself. But when it came to sourcing unsourceable parts, Dan circled back to Long Island and to his brother-in-law, an engineer at the D’Addario guitar string factory in Farmingdale. Bryan Kelly is the ultimate gearhead, and he was able to manufacture the part Dan needed and get the tractor back into the weeds. The whole odyssey cost us less than $350. The value of shared knowledge and local industry? Priceless.

The recent chicken move was totally uneventful—exactly how we like it. The four mobile coops had been parked at one end of Upper Crooked Field, where they’d eaten the cover crop down to the bare soil. Two weeks ago, Dan, Judy, and I shifted them to the other end, where they will continue to eat cover crop and scratch the soil in preparation for fall brassicas, which are just starting to germinate in the greenhouse. The hens’ next stop? The strawberry field.

That's right, strawberry season is just about over. It was great while it lasted! Every year I appreciate strawberries more and more. The first CSA pickup is always leafy and light, but with sweet, colorful berries to anchor the share, I never hear any complaints. For many members, the trek to the fields for strawberries is their first time venturing back since the previous season—it’s an annual ritual, and a reunion. Helping members find their way (strawberries move from year to year), sharing picking tips (always start in the northern beds), and sharing in the excitement of fields that are still neat and orderly is a sweet reward at an intense time of year. And if the chickens get to scavenge whatever the humans leave behind, all the better.

Our summer crew is almost back together. Mia returned from her first year of grad school last week, and Adam will be returning from his semester in New Zealand next week. With a ton of mulching on the horizon, and garlic harvest right around the corner, Jackie, Nancy, Mike, and I are excited for the infusion of extra muscle. Last week we spent all of Wednesday and Thursday morning mulching the tomatoes. To give our backs a break, we spent the afternoon standing upright as we hoed in New Pond Field. Previously a cow pasture and part of the 1855 Thomas Powell homestead, New Pond is on the left as you pass through the deer fence. We added it last year as part of the deer fence project, and we spent the spring cutting up its thick layer of sod. Now we’ve got potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and sunflowers coming along nicely. But the soil is light in color, chunky in texture, and totally unfamiliar to all of us. Working it feels like being on a first date. Yet as our crew moved up and down the rows, turning up pieces of concrete, bone, and the biggest horseshoe I've ever seen, we observed that this field has a story like any other. If we’re patient, we will learn its quirks and nuances, and become a part of its next chapter.

With the summer solstice bearing down like a freight train, the farm is doing its usual peak season thing—trying to go wild as we farmers try to maintain order. Meanwhile, I’m mentally preparing for my new role as Amityville school board trustee. I was elected on May 21, along with my running mates, Megan Messmann and Wendy Canestro, but I don’t get sworn in until July 1. The interval between election and induction is an awkward time. A big job awaits me, but there is little for me to do now, aside from remain in the loop as best I can. So I’ve been channeling my nervous energy into the farm, trying to build a reserve of tasks accomplished on time or ahead of schedule so that I can pull back when the time comes. When I decided to run back in April, I knew this would be the hardest stretch, but I also knew it would be exactly that—a stretch. Summer will wax and then wane, and we will power through, as we always do. What I don’t know is what kind of school district my kids will return to in the fall. With 70+ teachers and staff excessed, it’s going to be a very different environment, But now that I’ve committed myself to being a part of the solution, I’m going to give it my all. Wish me luck, and I can tell you all about it on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Thanks for reading, and see you at the farm.


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