By Kim K
Hello everyone! It’s Summer again (okay, not technically, but soon) and you know what that means…Middlebury College Organic Farm Interns are getting dirty in the garden. We’re gearing up for a season of planting, weeding, shoveling, picking, eating, cooking, and learning. This blog is a way to share our experiences with all of you as well as a way for us to remember such a rich and fulfilling summer. Maybe next year’s interns will be able to find helpful, meaningful, or completely random tidbits in our posts and build off of them. The really amazing thing about gardens is that they span time. You build up your garden looking both to the past and to the future for guidance. It takes long-term planning, commitment, and trial-and-error to build up the right kinds of soils and crop rotations that will work best. They are true “connectors,” connecting people, plants, insects, animals, weather, life, and death. Take a moment to muse over this point the next time you’re in the garden wiggling your toes in the dirt while munching on a [insert veggie of your choice here] –we certainly have been, and it has been so nice to slow down and really appreciate what we are doing. And, you know, the special thing about our garden/farm (whichever you prefer) in Middlebury is that it’s inherited. Everyone who has ever worked in it is connected to everyone who will ever work in it. It’s a wondrous thing to be given something into which so many people before you have put countless hours of love and it is a great feeling to know you building on that foundation for others. I think this blog will serve as another element of the garden’s ability to connect us all.
How ‘bout some introductions? I’m Kim and I’m a senior here at Midd (scary thought). I guess I should not be surprised of how much of a foodie I have become; as a 5th grader, some of my favorite shows were Iron Chef and Good Eats—not your typical elementary school fare. During high school I was known as the go-to baker and I dabbled in the kitchen for some of our dinners. When I came to VT, though, my interest in food became multidimensional as I started to look more closely at our food system. I was (and still am) drawn to local food systems and healthy food—healthy to eat, healthy for the land it is grown in, healthy for the economy, and healthy for society. So what could be more appropriate than to explore these ideas by taking care of a garden, growing food for myself and others? Just about as local as you can get. I love knowing exactly what goes into the food I’m eating and it will be great to get a better understanding of the production side of food. I think a lot of our country has lost touch with our food system (Oh the horror stories about kids thinking that spaghetti grows in the ground in its supermarket form) and I hope to change that in some way even if it is just to be one more informed person.
Anyways, I am super excited to be here for the Summer with such a great crop of interns and advisors. If you’re around, be sure to stop by the farm or by Weybridge house because I’m sure we’ll be cooking up something good (literally and figuratively).
PS: hope you like puns ; )
Hello! Tonight I am making these delicious muffins! Check out the recipe here: http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/08/perfect-blueberry-muffins/
I swapped out the sugar for local honey/maple syrup so these muffins are totally local. Except for the lemon zest, that is! If you're feeling exotic maybe add some vanilla, I dunno. Smitten Kitch claims they are "perfect" but that is a really stressful standard to live up to so I'm calling them "almost perfect." Which, incidentally, was the name of my high school crush's garage band. Except he spelled it "Allmost." This was back when my main flirting game was correcting boys' grammar so I was like, "Heyyy, you know that you spelled that wrong, right?"
He looked at my with those eyes that were partially obscured by floppy 17-year-old boy hair and said, deadpan: "It's intentional." Ugh he was such a d-lord!
I do not apologize for my digression.
Welcome back from break.
May I suggest this video that will make you chuckle and also distract you from the gloom of impending finals?
HELLO Weybridge lovers! Have you ever ever come to Weybridge on a particularly scrumpsh night and totes wanted to dump a whole pan of lasagna in your backpack and take it with you but there are like, 30 people glowering in line behind you and also you do not want to look like a piglet without social skills? (I have.) Or maybe you just really liked something we made for dinner and you want to replicate it in your dorm kitchen in Forest (wah wah wah)?
In order to share the local love, from now on I'll be posting recipes each week that we've shared with you!
Many of you have asked us where we get the recipes for the delicious food we make, and our answer is: anywhere and everywhere! Many come from Le Internet, some from a few cookbooks that live in our kitchen, and some from the minds/memories of our most fantastic housemates. We have basic local ingredients (flour, oats, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, fruits & veggies) in stock from week to week so we tend to look for simple recipes that can be doubled, tripled, and QUADRUPLED for house dinners!
In order to share the local love, from now on I'll be posting recipes each week that we've shared with you!
Finally, if you like something we've made, let us know! We'll pass along your compliments to whoever cooked that night (or introduce you so you can tell them yourselves). You have no idea how nice it is to hear that you liked what we made, it plumb tickles us pink.
Stay tuned for:
-a list our favorite cooking websites and blogs
-Kaylen's magical cranberry scone recipe (maybe??)
by cucumber beetles.
Our poor cucurbits (cucurbitaceae-the gourd family which includes our cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins and melons) are swarmed by yellow-and-black-striped bad news.
We tried to protect the plants and give them a head start by sheltering them with floating row covers (Reemay and Agribon) which allow sunlight and water through but keep insects out. However, these also keep out pollinators, so when plants start to flower, we have to remove the covers. Another factor which forced us to remove the covers was weed pressure.
We planted our zucchini maybe a few days or a week before we planted the cucumber, but it has definitely made a difference. Our zucchini are hardy and producing lots of yummy fruit, but the cucumbers did not grow as quickly, and have not yet flowered, and are suffering much more damage.
We were worried about losing the entire crop, and considered our options. We don't like to use sprays, but there are a few natural, certified organic pesticides which can be used in certain circumstances. We didn't want to take any chances with insecticides near open flowers where our honey bees could be affected, but because our cucumbers were so decimated and still haven't budded, Jay sprayed pyrethrum early one morning, and since we have much fewer beetles on our cukes. Pyrethrum is derived from chrysanthemums, and is sprayed on the leaves, which then poisons the bugs which ingests it. There were other interventions we considered, such as a dust-on powder which is actually sharp enough to lacerate insects, and a clay coat which would protect the leaves, but also slow photosynthesis. We also thought about trying to purchase the natural predators of cucumber beetles.
On our other plants, we have noticed that some are definitely hit harder than others, which supports the theory that insects attack weaker plants, which can tell us more about which varieties are hardier and which soils are more developed. Jay also found a site which claimed that a plant can suffer up to 50% leaf loss and still produce a full crop.
So, the infestation freaked us out and had us squishing lots of bugs . . . but bugs are part of garden environment, and the best way to keep our plants safe is to give them good soil and keep the bugs off them as long as possible. And given our large beetle population, hopefully the natural predators will show up on their own!
and on an even more positive note, the japanese beetles are harmlessly distracted by our asparagus jungle, largely leaving our raspberries alone :)
I guess the moral of the story is that in gardening, like in health care, prevention is the best medicine. But proper nutrients, such as compost, will grow stronger plants, rather than pesticides eventually creating stronger bugs!
Apologies for the radio silence, we will try to post more regularly!
Many thanks to Max for sharing the news - we have been very connected to the knoll, and somewhat disconnected from the rest of the world.
It is so rewarding to know a space so well- when we led tours for alumni attending reunion, we realized we know what is growing in every square foot!
Giving the tours and answering questions also gave us the opportunity to pass along some of what we have learned, ranging from explaining insectaries to telling the history of the garden (well, farm). [Insectaries are the beds of flowers we plant to attract pollinators and bugs who will prey upon pests, and I'll come back to the history of the garden.]
We have also come to realize that like our plants, the knoll as a space and the farm as an organization must continue growing and changing.
Regarding the knoll, we have discussed several different ideas. We have the opportunity to expand into the land between the knoll and Route 125, which would significantly increase our growing capacity, though the soil is more challenging. Max has been working on plans to build a barn for more storage and a wash station for our vegetables. Caleb Elder, one of the founders of the garden, told Jay about a new solar panel which would have a much higher output (we currently use the panel to power our well pump).
These are all exciting possibilities, but this summer we have chosen to focus on promoting the knoll to the community to encourage people to visit and respect the space. Most of our focus is on education- we want everyone to know what the garden has to offer, and how they can help sustain it.
There are three main issues we have discussed- dogs, picking, and use of the fire pit.
All of us love dogs, but they can do a lot of damage off leash in the garden. It is great that people walk past the garden on the TAM (Trail Around Middlebury), but in some cases the dogs are off leash and run through the garden away from their people. Dogs can trample and kill young transplants, dig up seeds, and generally wreak havoc. A dog ran over the photodegradable black sheet we use for our tomato bed in order to suppress weeds and prevent spores from splashing onto the plants, and punctured holes in it. We plan to make more visible signs asking people to keep their dogs on leashes or out of the garden, and include the explanation of why dogs running loose harm the garden. We are trying to talk to dog owners when we get the chance, and we hope word will spread.
Picking produce is another issue because the garden relies on its income, and in some cases has already promised the crop to a specific buyer. The prevalent perception is that "picking just one" won't make a difference, but it does add up. For anyone who would like to taste our produce, we are working on setting up a weekly farmstand on campus and are discussing the possibility of selling produce straight from the knoll this summer. Also, in the fall we will resume our CSA, so people who volunteer four hours a week will receive a weekly basket of fresh produce in return.
The fire pit is a wonderful place to spend an evening with friends, but it poses a few problems. We want people to enjoy the space, and use it responsibly. Issues arise when people do not get fire permits, burn pallets, and leave trash and glass. So, we decided that the best strategy would be to promote the garden and the fire pit, and tell everyone some important information and rules. In order to do this, we drafted an email to send to all of the incoming language school students, and we hope that the directors will include the organic farm in their orientations (We plan to do something similar at the beginning of fall term). We also are creating a separate website for the garden- this site is wonderful for bringing organizations together to discuss food, but the farm needs a site to share information regarding the fire pit, volunteer hours, events, plans, and history (as previously alluded to). This site will have several go/ links to help curious students learn more about the farm and become more involved.
We set down a few rules we think are essential, and also have some ideas to make the fire pit more visitor and user friendly. We plan to renovate the fire pit to replace some of the shattered tiles and build a stone wall that can serve as seating, storage, and a windbreak. We are also thinking of providing a woodshed and trash receptacles.
We have had a few more random flashes of brilliance to make it easier for visitors to connect with the farm. We want to make our guest book more accessible and visible by constructing a stand with a glass cover, like the kind at trailheads. This sparked Jay's idea to have a map of the garden showing what is growing where and lay out a self-guided tour, and we could post informational signs around the garden.
We are also full of grand ideas for the future of MCOF as an organization, but I'll save that for another post!
If you have any ideas or would like to give feedback, please leave a comment!
Found this in the drafts, decided these photos were too good not to share!
Photoessay by Kiya Vega-Hutchens and Veronica
by Max Odland
Feeling out of the loop on recent occurrences in food and agriculture? I was too, so here's a brief recap of news from the farm over the past week and a half. Please feel free to add any Ag news you've come across. Enjoy!
For those who find themselves in Vermont this summer, NOFA VT has released its summer workshop series schedule:
NYTimes article about agricultural runoff in the Mississippi River:
Another E. coli outbreak, this time in Germany, has left 20 dead and 600 sickened. There has been some controversy and conflict over the source of the outbreak, and four weeks after the outbreak began, we can’t point to a culprit:
A new strain of MRSA in Britain is the first believed to have originated in antibiotic-treated cattle. The new strain is not detectable by some of the tests commonly used to identify MRSA because it uses a new variation of the signature mecA gene that typically confers resistance in S. aureus. It’s not proven, but there is evidence that the strain ha been transferred from cows to humans:
The actual scientific article: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099%2811%2970126-8/abstract
The USDA has released a new ‘food pyramid’ (actually this one is a plate), and this time it makes sense! The icon is simple and intuitive, and maybe lacks much in the way of actual information, but the website that accompanies it certainly fills in the gaps. Overall, this new eating guide is a big step in the right direction for setting a healthier table in America:
Still, there are some large discrepancies between what we say we should eat and what federal subsidies make it easy to eat:
Housing drama aside, we had a wonderful week in the organic garden! It's hard to keep track of what we have done . . . so pardon the stream of conscious style haha
We learned how to till and scythe, and visited Will and Judy Stevens's Golden Russet farm to pick up our tomato plants (and admire their flowers and play with Hank and McKenzie, their dogs), we have planted over a hundred tomatoes, some in the hoop house, some in Reemay wraps, some in photo-degradable black plastic film- we'll see what does best, and we'll have plenty of tomatoes to harvest for the dining halls to make their sauces!
We moved Chris Howell's metal 12ish foot tall chair to a more prominent place by the lilac bushes and we plan to use it as a trellis for runner beans and morning glories, and we seeded wild flowers around the base.
The weather dried up enough for us to till and prepare several beds, so we sowed more mesclun and buried some potatoes, and we transplanted the blackberry bushes to let the encroaching raspberry suckers take over that bed. We learned that kelp prevents transplant shock and helps roots grow, and it was funny to smell the ocean in landlocked Vermont . . .
We planted beautiful flowers in the insectaries and alyssum smells like honey and we'll have yellow watermelons!
We picked 6 pounds of volunteer spinach (it wintered over) and sold 3 pounds to Otter Creek Bakery (which means we still have three pounds in our . We met Charlie Sargent, the buyer for the college, and toured the giant's kitchen in Proctor (the scale is incredible!)
We've discussed seed production, the challenges of organic farming, possible futures for the garden . . .
I'll try to get some photos up next week!
with dirty hands and smiles,
the luckiest girls in the world