Saturday, May 23, 2009

Commencement Speech Sussex Community College

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but what does it take to create the village or community? In this era of social networking, sustainability and environmental issues, never has it been more imperative that we build stronger more cohesively integrated villages. As each of you leaves this campus and goes forward you will begin building your own personal communities and what may not be readily apparent yet is the strength of the community you have already begun building. It takes tremendous energy, resources, dedication, tirelessness and selflessness. It means putting yourself out there and taking risks when others choose not to. At the core of every being is the heart and it is the heart that will mold and shape you. It wasn’t until I received the MacArthur fellowship that so much of this became transparent to me. A full 20 years after graduating college my Spanish professor Dr McCarthy told me how back then she remembered I was so concerned with creating a sound, healthy, work environment, about my concerns for the farmers and farm laborers. Other folks with whom I’ve reconnected with have also brought to my awareness my deep concern in my teenage years for the general welfare of all those connected with my family farm and the greater community around me. A great deal of this can be contributed to the environment I grew up in, being raised on a family farm in an extended family of farmers, with very strong ideals and opinions. My grandmother drove tractor trailers in the 1940’s and 50’s – she was physically 5 foot tall – but her presence was that of someone much larger and grander, from her I learned the value of time and the meaning of what I refer to as old fashioned hospitality. Even when the repair man was coming to fix the oven, somehow there was a slice of cake and a cup of coffee waiting for him to rest for a bit. From this I learned the value of taking time to stop and listen to those around me who seemingly had no meaning or value in my personal community but from whom I learned so much, now in many ways we have traded facebook for the kitchen table. So now our kitchen tables have a global reach and sharing and if we’re not careful even though allowing for a connection that has no geographical boundaries we can become just notes on a wall, virtual graffiti as it were.

I remember taking the old pickup truck out for a ride down in back and I couldn’t it get back up the hill - my first attempt at driving a stick shift I was 12 years old at the time. My Mom told me “you got it down here now you get it out of here. From this I learned the value of perseverance and that taking a chance or risk might mean some struggling, frustration and maybe even some embarrassment but ultimately the greater reward of satisfaction and learning to trust and believe in yourself and your abilities and learning the boundaries of those abilities and how to expand those boundaries and push beyond the limits of your experience.

From my father I am beginning to understand the lessons of management, only 30 years after he was trying to teach them to me, knowing that there is a difference between being a leader and a manager and every healthy community needs both and one needs to know the difference. When to be the leader charging to the forefront and when to be the manager and like a patient or not so patient parent, coach and guide your team to the finish line and not always in first place. Dad also taught me the importance of observation – always being aware of what was happening around you. While you were having a conversation with him he would always be scanning the area looking for things that were out of place or quickly reacting to a potentially dangerous situation. Through our blogs we have become the observant community, always watching, listening and through our posts letting others know of important happenings in our villages and communities. We also have the ability to make a blog disappear as though it never happened except in some virtual attic or memory. But what we always need to remember is that while the physical existence may be erased the memory and sharing of the word is not. As newspapers gradually fade as the commonly used source of information and twitter becomes the telegraph of our times we have instant communication about our lives and a sharing of information that again knows no boundaries. We have the ability to shape our worlds literally at our fingertips. Our communities are now infused with the global knowledge we bring to them and evolve at blinding speeds that the technology now allows. While we enjoy greater access to information we must never forget the immediate community within which we live, it is so easy to forget about our hearts when we focus on the external. For it is the local community that makes us stronger, it is the foundation upon which we are built, centering ourselves physically, spiritually and emotionally – it us the ability to forge ahead and cement the lines of communication that are so necessary to build and grow sustainably. It is from the strength of small villages that great cities are built. My village, my community knows no boundaries; it is only limited by the boundaries I place upon it. My strength and commitment to my fellow villagers comes from within and from them. Your villages will know no boundaries if you allow them, the cities and future forged from your villages will be greater than you can ever dream of as you sit here now.

My wish for each of you is that you are challenged greatly, that you persevere, that you never forget your heart and that you will always know you have a place at my kitchen table sharing a cup of coffee having a slice of cake waiting for the oven to be repaired.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How's the weather been treating you

I've been getting asked alot lately how the weather's been affecting us. The damp wet rainy days have been perfect for transplanting so the thousands of lettuce plants going out into the fields are very happy right now. What this wet weather hasn't been good for is the direct seeding so any seeds we would plant directly into the soil have been put on hold for now. We're keeping an eye on the moon watching for clues from nature as to when the frost danger is over so we can begin planting out the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Last night I was riding through the fields checking on the progress of the crops and was covered in dust from the dry soil on the surface. Amazing how it was sooo wet just last week we couldn't really do much tractor work and now the dust is flying. The irony of all this is that in just a couple of weeks it will be too dry to direct seed. When I was a kid growing up Dad would never plant lettuce in June or July as they would "burn up" as he called it. The seed will germinate and as it breaks the grounds surface it will die from the heat. We're working on extra transplants so as to avoid this problem but we will still need irrigation to help the tender young seedlings settle in. But for now we'll enjoy the cool, damp days of spring and watch the peas and fava beans grow.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Women in Agriculture Workshop

What a great turnout we had for this event. It was a rather cold day, as it should be being March after all, everyone took turns feeding wood to the potbelly stove and warming up with hot apple cider and nibblers prepared by Chef Patti, her lavender shortbread cookies were a big hit. We began with a session on organizing offered by Lisa Montanaro then broke out into groups Jerry Sommer taught the session on electric and Pat Brown handled the plumbing. A wonderful lunch was served by our chef Heather and then on to welding taught by Nancy Colgan and small engine trouble shooting taught by Audrey Wright. The day ended with a talk by Amy Jolin of the Ringwood Farmers Market on of course marketing! The opportunities for networking and learning were fantastic and we have requests for many more such workshops not just at our farm but at other farms as well. We were also blessed with the presence of Cherie Fortis and her husband of Cherie Fortis Productions, Inc, who filmed the day as part of a documentary on Women in Agriculture that she has been working on. A special thank you goes to the Orange County Dairy Court who graced us with their presence. I think one of the participants JJ Murphy summed up the day quite nicely when she wrote:

"Each presenter used their 45-minute time slot to share basic vocabulary, identify tools and supplies, and demonstrate a simple task. I now have an idea of how splice electric wire, solder copper wire without making a mess, and replace an air filter on a lawnmower. Am I an expert? No, but I know how to begin and ways I can practice safely until I learn."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What is it about this region

What is it about this region that I love so much? The black dirt just seems to reach out and like the fine wispy dust that filters off the soil it infiltrates your very being. We had received about 8 inches of snow the light feathery kind you can clean away with a broom and are feeling like we're right in the midst of a typical north-eastern winter. I personally was most grateful for this weather even though I will most happily welcome spring when it arrives. This return to deep winter conditions has given us a respite before we begin the work in earnest for the '09 growing season. I had gone to my Mother's house to shovel and clear snow and visited with my Mom and Sister for a bit. After I left their home I went for a ride to take pictures. The sky had shades of steely blues and greys, the blues were almost like the bluing on a gun. In the distance Mt Adam and Eve sleep like gentle giants, they too await the warm breath of spring. As I traveled around the valley you could see the windswept fields, some almost stripped bare of their white fur coat which just hours before laid so thickly over the entire region. Various sections of road lay covered with drifts that no matter how freqently the plow trucks come through remain as a challenge to the inattentive driver. It seems to me that this is how the desert must appear when the wind blows and the tmbleweeds fly. No matter when I look across the vistas of this region I always feel a sense of place and peace. It is who I am, it defines me.

Friday, October 26, 2007

End of the season or is it

Finally the end of October is near the pumpkins are almost all gone but we still have plenty of squashes, gourds and indian corn around. Some of our markets finish this weekend but most will continue on until Thanksgiving. The frantic pace will change to a slow frenzy as we get ready for winter and much needed rest. The field crew has begun to get more downtime and with the arrival of autumn rains the entire tempo of the farm changes. The autumn leaves have put on their fiery show of color and are the perfect backdrop for the stunning colors of the autumn squashes, pumpkins and mums. It is a time when most think that all the work comes to a halt on the farm and in a certain sense it does. Now we are preparing the fields for winters rest and springtime planting, the hitunnels are being planted for late winter early spring harvest, crop plans being prepared, assessments of the prior years work being done and the planning begins for the spring work. We start choosing what conferences to attend and perhaps a quick fun trip tucked in somewhere.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What about that word "Organic"

For those of you who live around my farm there was a great article about the black dirt region in the Sunday Times Herald Record, our local daily paper . The article included the statement that my farm is the only certified organic farm in the area. At this point in time my farm is not certified organic. We are Certified Naturally Grown and are applying for organic certification for our farm. We have signed the farmers pledge. We held open house on our farm on June 16th for the members of the public to inspect our farm as to our growing practices.

So what separates us from an organic farmer? Why do we not yet have organic certification on our farm?

We do everything an organic farmer does and more. Thanks to our farming practices our farm has come into a balance that is amazing. Natural predators like lady bugs thrive on our farm and we didn't introduce any to the environment. For our sweet corn we use a predator wasp called trychograma to eat the bugs that none of us like to see in our corn. Our colorado potato beetles and larva are removed by hand - here are pictures of the volunteers who came out to help with this project.

We have struggled with the question of certifying organic for many years now. Customers have begged us not to certify if the cost of the produce will go up. Personally I question how can I certify my farm when I have no clue what is in the water that so frequently floods my land? There is no provision for this as far as I am aware in any of the organic guidelines. Anyone who certifies their farm organic in a region that is composed of wetlands must seriously ponder the ethics in this regard. Anyone who certifies organic, has no buffer zones and farms next to conventional farmer neighbors who arial spray must also seriously ponder the ethics in this issue. Anyone who uses materials from nonorganic sources as a basis for their compost should consider what the consequences of their actions are.

I have given this long consideration and have come to realize that I cannot control the flood waters any more than I can control the acid rain. I can however control what I do and do not do on my farm. Being the only farmer in an area 75% surrounded by land that is either not farmed or owned by farmers who believe in the same philosphies I do makes it easier to carry on the land stewardship practices my family has become known for and is proud to carry on.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Why I farm

I had the distinct honor and pleasure of speaking at Stone Barns over in Westchester today. I was part of a panel of 4 farmers, all of us women, our topic was "Why we Farm". In preparing for this I thought about it quite a bit. I grew up on my farm, my parents, their parents, their parents and their parents were farmers so I guess you could say I was born to do this. I am totally in love with my farm, to me she possesses a magical beauty that in many ways can't be explained. When I make my daily rounds of the fields I am always amazed at the living spirit that thrives here. The landscape is always changing as only a living creature can, early in the morning on these hot summer days there is a misty fog in the air that is so primeval. I can almost see the mastodons munching away on the vegetation that sustained them here when the region was a glacial lake. And even when we are experiencing horrific flood conditions as we did this past April her fierce beauty shines through, keeping alive the promise of a thriving growing season.