Happy Easter with thoughts on Spring, farming and open space

Happy Easter!  What a difference two weeks makes.  The last Farming Matters blog was March 21st when there was over a foot of snow on the ground.  Now it’s Spring, 80 degrees and flowers are starting to bloom everywhere – just in time for Easter!

It is a lovely time of year; early Spring bulbs like crocuses and daffodils refresh one’s entire being – as well as providing winter lazy bodies incentive to get out there and begin tending the flower, vegetable and herb beds.

Prepping the vegetable fields is late this Spring due to the snow and rain accumulating in the fields and surrounding meadows.  Check out this picture of the flooding we experienced when a blockage on the nearby ponds was removed, causing a rush of water to roar into Brick Yard Brook and our meadows.  Amazing what a big effect the actions of another can have on someone else’s water and land.  A good reason for cooperation among citizens and neighbors to safeguard natural resources.

Protecting the natural resources of our farm is one the reason Yellow Stonehouse Farm’s organic CSA was established – it was a way to continue as a working farm and maintain the open space for agricultural use.  Did you know that our farm and just a few others are all that are left of Westfield many farms?  Farming was a huge part of Westfield’s history – in fact, our section of town is called East Farm’s because it was basically all farms at one time.

Sustaining farms and open space are important for our community.  These few remaining swaths of farm land not only protect the flora and fauna but maintains the recharge area for the aquifers which supply us with clean water – lately a big issue in Westfield.  Farm’s and open space need protection to safeguard natural resources such as our air and water so they are there for future generations.

Membership in Yellow Stonehouse Farm’s organic CSA is a way to support open space and farming in Westfield – while enjoying delicious certified organic vegetables and field fruits. We also offer community members free activities such as the guided bird walk coming up on May 7th for those who want to explore the property and see the array of birds and other wildlife resident on the farm. Other activities available to members include hiking, pick-your-own vegetable and flower picking, and member gatherings like potlucks.

There are still a few organic CSA shares available – though some pick-up days are filling up fast.  Call us at 413-562-2164 or email us at the farm at yellowstonehousefarmcsa@gmail.com for more information or come visit during our Open Farm day this Saturday, April 15th between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm.  Hope to see you then and Happy Easter!

Thanksgiving Thoughts & Thanks

Farming Matters Blog                                                               November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving thoughts & thanks from the farm

John and I just finished distributing this year’s Thanksgiving Feast.  It’s such fun to hand out tons of produce and watch a member’s face light up she sees her favorite squash or root vegetable in the bins.  This year we were very fortunate to be able to provide 18 different items – everything from acorn squash, apples, yellow & boiling onions (gotta love those creamed onions), HUGE butternut squash, Brussel’s sprouts, carrots, cranberries, garlic, horseradish, parsnips, shallots, sweet potatoes and turnips!

We also sold Thanksgiving feast baskets to a few new farm friends – who seemed very happy with their basket’s variety & amount of vegetables as well as the special touches like YSF’s special Thanksgiving book of twelve recipes, YSF’s custom poultry seasoning, and the heirloom Howe’s cranberries.

Here’s a picture of the basket we gave out.

`single-thanksgiving-feast-basket-2016

We have a lot to be thankful for at the Yellow Stonehouse farm: 

  • We are thankful to farm beautiful, fertile land blessed with abundant water. We are thankful we could successfully sow & reap an abundance of vegetables this summer despite the drought.
  • We are thankful that John’s family were such great stewards of the farm. They made sure the farm continued as an agricultural enterprise and not developed, a practice we are privileged to continue today.
  • We are thankful for the children who come to the farm – it is a delight to positively impact the next generation. We love the adorable antics of babies & children, which is surely helping to keep us young.
  • We are thankful to have settled full-time on the farm – where we are engaged & productive; continuously learning new things while giving back to our community – all things that give meaning to our lives.
  • We are thankful to have so many wonderful members of the farm, who share their pleasure in the farm with us and make our work so rewarding. Your membership is what makes this all work.

Happy Thanksgiving to all from your organic farm & CSA – Yellow Stonehouse Farm and your farmers – John & Connie

Dressing up as a farmer

Dressing up as a farmer for Halloween

Today is Halloween – amazing what a big event it’s become. thanksgiving-costume-picture

It’s a great excuse to dress up as your favorite character – whether it’s a super hero or future vocation. I expect we’ll see a few of each tonight – superman, wonder woman, fireman, ballerina, various celebrities and sports figures. And it’s not just the kids who get into dressing up – as I can attest to after attending a costume party last weekend and dressing up as a 1920’s flapper – great fun!

What I don’t expect to see is a child dressed up as a farmer – much to my sorrow. I don’t know many kids today who want to be a farmer when they grow up – or parents who chose farming as a career for their children. This is a problem for us all – especially in New England where we are losing our family farms at an alarming rate. If the farms disappear and there aren’t any new, young farmers who want to get into the business – who is going to grow our food in the future?

One of the major barriers to entering farming, is the cost of acquiring the farm. Very low commodity prices also make it hard to earn a decent living to support a family on farms less than 1000 acres. Not to mention the physical hard work farming requires – not attractive to many nowadays – though our physical health might benefit. A more recent problem is the industrialization of farming dependent on expensive chemicals and GMO seed that lock farmers into methods of farming susceptible to plant diseases and invasive insects. Changing weather patterns make our lovely temperate New England climate dryer and hotter – increasing the risk and cost of farming even more, and pushing more farmers out of business.

A positive farming trend is the growth of CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) which connects community members and local farms. Community members buy shares in their local farm for a set price and then enjoy the bounty of the farm for a season: The Summer Share from June to October and/or the Winter Share from November to February. CSA’s work by providing the farmer with a reasonable & reliable income source and the ability to plan how much to grow based on the number of members, and in turn provides shareholders with reasonably priced, delicious, abundant, fresh, and in our case, certified organic produce. Yellow Stonehouse Farm is Hamden County’s only USDA Certified organic CSA and has a growing membership in Westfield and the surrounding area in the Pioneer Valley.

An organic CSA is our way to keep Yellow Stonehouse Farm an agricultural property so we don’t have to cash it in for commercial development. We also are more resistant to drought, pests, and diseases and importantly, we aren’t afraid of poisoning ourselves, the local flora and fauna, or our shareholders with pesticides and harmful chemicals. Kids picking cherry tomatoes can sample them off the vine in the field without worry!

There are other less tangible benefits of CSAs. First, many of our shareholders have children and we are exposing those children to the farm, our joy in sustainable farming, and the glories of nature. Maybe we can inspire a child or two to consider farming as a future career. Second, we are working hard to establish the farm as a self-sustaining business. Capable of earning enough income to support a farm family – so that someday, we can sell the farm to a new farm family and make sure the farm stays a farm.

In the meantime, maybe one of our trick-or-treaters will come dressed up as a farmer.

If you’d like to get your own Winter CSA Share so you can enjoy our certified organic produce, we have a few remaining winter shares available. Check out our website at www.yellowstonehousefarmcsa.com/ Call us at 413-562-2164 or email us at yellowstonehousefarmcsa@yahoo.com

Farm history and cycles

Untitled

Our farm has a rich history as part of the East Farms section of Westfield, originally settled by the Root Family, (thus the name of our street – Root Road). We can’t wait to research the farm’s history, which dates back to the 1840’s, during our winter break. Did you know that Westfield started out as a purely Agricultural community? Amazing how few farms are left in Westfield considering that it was first settled because of its rich agricultural soils. For its’ next 150 years almost the entire town was devoted to farming! Agriculture is an essential part of Westfield’s heritage that shouldn’t be lost, and we consider keeping that history alive part of the farm’s mission. Some projects we are thinking about are to get the farm and barns historically registered and another is to get East Farms recognized as a unique and special agricultural part of Westfield.

Historical research is hard to pursue during the growing season. There’s just so much to do when the vegetables are producing – in addition to the picking, we have to weed, cultivate, plant, man the CSA market, and this year due to the drought, we had to irrigate. Our days last from dawn to dusk and it’s fortunate fresh vegetables are easy to cook (thank you tomato mozzarella salad) or we’d be too tired to make dinner some days.

Farming is relentless – you can’t decide to not pick the tomatoes or postpone the weeding, skip watering or neglect planting. It’s even harder if you have livestock – that’s a year-round, day-in day-out commitment to feed, water, and in the case of dairy, milk the cows every day!

It’s one reason why we chose to grow vegetables – there’s an annual cycle which includes a much needed break during winter. Though the advent of high tunnels has enabled us to extend the growing season enough to offer a Winter CSA share November through February, we still get a break before the cycle begins again in Spring.

If you’d like to get your own Winter CSA Share so you can enjoy our certified organic produce, we have a few remaining winter shares available. Check out our website or come see us in person – the farm market is open to the public Wednesday to Fridays from 3 – 6:30 pm & Saturday’s from 9 am – 2 pm until October 22nd.

Living alongside the wildlife of the farm

WP_20140824_15_39_46_Pro

One of the first things we learned about our farm, was its’ designations as a National Heritage Landscape, which means it’s specially acknowledged as a historically productive farm.   Additionally, it is also a recognized habitat for the protected eastern painted turtle, along with many native species of birds, insects, amphibians and animals.  Also thrilling was learning there was a special turtle nesting area.  Several years later, the farm was awarded a grant to rehabilitate the turtle nesting site.  To protect the turtles, we raise mower blades to avoid turtles in the fields, and always keep watch for turtles and relocate them if necessary.

This is one example of living alongside the wildlife on the farm.  Usually, (don’t mention the deer and bear eating our corn this year) we manage to live in harmony with the creatures we share the land with.

For instance, there are large brown bats in our barn and correspondingly few mosquitoes in the areas around the barn. This year we noticed that as the bat population declined slightly (they suffered from white nose syndrome like most Massachusetts bats) the mosquito population has increased.  Luckily, a state naturalist told us the bat population should rebound stronger than ever with bats more resistant to the disease.  Good news for us, bad news for the mosquitoes.

One of the most beautiful residents of our farm are the butterflies.  They are useful pollinators and there are many species present: swallowtails – both yellow and black, Melissa blues, coppers, sulphurs, and of course Monarchs.  Monarchs, sadly, have declined in recent years.  Five years ago there were hundreds of Monarch butterflies in the fields, but last year, the summer of 2015, we were lucky to see a half dozen.  This year it’s thrilling to see many dozens of Monarchs all over the farm.  We think our diligence in preserving their host plant milkweed, planting lots of flowers – plus the lack of any pesticide use – help keep many creatures thriving in addition to the Monarchs such as bees, dragon flies, frogs, toads, praying mantises, and many species of birds.

If you’d like to join our farm community, experience our beautiful landscape and enjoy our certified organic produce, we have harvest and winter shares available.  Check out our website or come see us in person – the farm market is open to the public Wednesday to Fridays from 3 – 6:30 pm & Saturday’s from 9 am – 2 pm.