Farmer Alex’s Winter Update

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We seem to be in the midst of a tug-of-war battle between winter and spring. Old man winter is putting up a decent fight here as of late, considering the poor showing over the past few months. Still, for the second straight year it didn’t feel like we experienced much of a winter at all. Hopefully I’m not speaking too soon. We heard spring peepers on February 28th! They’ve since quieted back down, realizing it was a false start. I definitely feel for the fruit tree farmers – from Georgia all the way up to the Northeast. These mild winters and false starts can wreak havoc on trees that bud too early, only to be nipped by a frost or freeze. Meanwhile, here at Sandbrook we’re sticking to our crop plan. The warm temperatures have not persuaded me to jump the gun to seed or plant any differently than previous years. After all, even with a very mild winter last year, we still were hit with a frost in the middle of May. The first seeds have been sown, and the greenhouse is purring away… circulation and exhaust fans on sunny days, and the heater on chilly nights.

We have our full crew locked in earlier than ever before. It’s going to be a good year. I’m so grateful for my farm team every season. Without them there is no Sandbrook Meadow Farm. They work a seasonal farm job, meaning no year-round income, and are seriously underpaid. The work is as physically demanding as any out there, yet they persist. Our seasonal crew comes to Sandbrook for more than the income. There is an education; vocational and life learning are all happening here. There is joy; we are all immensely proud to participate in the production of an amazing commodity in a way that not only enhances the local community, but also maintains and protects the integrity of the land. Still, this is not an easy vocation to commit to for the long-term.3930b135-171e-4a8d-9db4-3cc858488188

It’s hard to make a living farming. The lifestyle is unpredictable and it’s nearly impossible to get good financial returns on our investments of time and energy. Capital costs of infrastructure and equipment, as well as the price of land are also prohibitive factors in sustainable agriculture. Even as a successful farm and business, paying the kind of wages our employees deserve is just not feasible, because food should cost more than it does. It takes a lot of time and resources to produce something good, something really quality. Let’s appreciate that.

This is a systemic issue that applies to almost every commodity. As a society, we’ve found ways to cut down on time in an effort to make things “cheaper.” However, if something is “cheap” to buy, that cost will be paid elsewhere by either compromising the land, the people working it, or both. Nothing is cheap. In organic, small-scale agriculture, the earth is cared for, but the workers often make personal sacrifices. In industrial agriculture, both the environment and the people unwillingly sacrifice a whole heck of a lot. The more deeply I become involved in systems of production, the more I come to understand that nearly everything produced nowadays, including many foods, has negative consequences.

Being so dependent on the soil and its health for my livelihood, I feel a profound appreciation for the environment every day. Conserving resources and consuming responsibly are now a part of my value system. Educated decisions are the best way for me to minimize my negative impact on the earth and its inhabitants. Useful questions for me include: Where does this come from? How is it produced? What happens to this after I no longer need it? I believe that it is the accumulation of seemingly small decisions made by ordinary people that will shape our future – either for better or for worse.1af51669-e3b7-43aa-9d8f-99ff72216567

As we round the bend into spring – a new season of life, and a new cycle of production – I encourage everyone to find ways of investing more in our collective future. Buy less, but spend more for what is responsibly made. Seek out commodities that support people and the environment. At the end of the day, what else is there? We each need to take responsibility for our individual impact, by ridding ourselves of the myth of “cheapness”. Let’s recommit to prioritizing quality, sustainability, and fair labor practices. Thank you for being a part of our broader farm community – we are so grateful to have your support as we strive to be good stewards to the land, build a sustainable local business, and produce the highest quality organic produce. Here’s to an amazing 2017 growing season ahead!

Locally Yours,
Farmer Alex

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Farmer Alex’s End of Season Update

crew_zc_v5_123005000002285004With the sun setting before 5:00, frosty mornings, long reaching shadows, a kitchen full of butternuts, and my waistband tightening…it must be November. We recently closed the books on another successful season here at Sandbrook Meadow Farm. Although like every year, there were wins and losses, we maintained great variety and quality of produce from week to week.

The biggest challenges this year included the intense heat, lack of rain, and torrential downpours when it did precipitate. We are still begging for rain to make up for the deficit, and also to water the crops we still have in the fields. I don’t think I have ever had to irrigate in October before this year, much less November! Let’s all hope the water tables get replenished over the fall and winter. The long stretches of dry weather over the past few years have been concerning to say the least. We are hoping to add a new well to the farm next year which will hopefully alleviate some stress during future drought conditions. There were times this year where it took me a week to water all the crops, and then had to start the process over again immediately. Despite it being a significant financial investment, a new well with greater flow capacity seems necessary.

It is much quieter on the farm these days. We are still pulling veg from the fields to supply our fall CSA, markets, and wholesale accounts, with excess produce being delivered to the Flemington Food Pantry on a weekly basis. There is still a significant amount of produce to be distributed over the next couple months. It is fascinating how various cultural conditions affect crop flavor and aesthetics from year to year or successions within the same growing season. You may have noticed that the carrots for example, changed in shape, texture, and flavor throughout the year. We planted seven successions of carrots in 2016 and each one was different. Soil structure, nutrients, water or lack thereof, and temperature all played major roles in contributing to the end product. These factors affect every single crop we grow. Some of them we can control like amending the soil, and growing crops in their preferred season. Others conditions are more difficult to manage, such as excessive rainfall and uncharacteristically hot or cold weather. Examples of crops reacting to cultural conditions include bland strawberries after significant rain, bitter lettuce in July, and grainy tomatoes that lack flavor in September.

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One of the best hidden gems about this time of year is the changing flavors. Greens that can be a little bitter create sugars after a couple frosts. Root vegetables respond to freezing temperatures similarly as they convert their starch stores into sugars. This is a survival mechanism as plants prepare for the deep freeze of winter. With the sugar water coursing through their veins, these winter crops can withstand much colder weather as the sugars lower the freezing temperature of water, much like salt on icy roads. The byproduct of this natural process is unparalleled sweetness and flavor. If you missed out on getting into our fall share this year, I highly recommend you get involved next season. The carrots right now are my favorite crop that we’ve produced all year! The sweetness is unbelievable.

Speaking of sweetness…I married an incredibly sweet and beautiful human being in October. Many of you have met Jill at the farm or farmers’ market over the past couple years. You can thank her for making the herb area the best it’s ever been this season; introducing honey bees back to the farm with fellow beekeeper and assistant farm manager Megan; and keeping me in line. The last of those being the most arduous endeavor. Needless to say, I feel like the luckiest man on the planet to be able to spend my life with Jill.

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It being mid-November also means that the 2016 elections have come and gone. Opportunities to vote however are still available. It is the ordinary choices now that can make the biggest impact. Vote with your everyday decisions. Support the businesses and organizations that you believe in. Be conscious of how your dollars impact people and the earth. The voice of the ordinary can sometimes manifest itself in the most extraordinary ways. Be passionate and compassionate. Be gentle on the earth, and be gentle to each other. As always, thank you for your continued support and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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As most of you know, the majority of our farming costs occur during the months
prior to the actual start of the season. (In fact, next year’s garlic is now in the ground!)
Therefore, as an incentive for your early support, members who are paid in full by January 1st will receive a 5% credit bonus! Sign up today!

Week 21 Share, 2016

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Beets, Bok Choy -OR- Tat Soi, Cabbage, Carrots, Fennel, Ginger, Green Peppers, Hot Peppers, Japanese (Hakurai) Turnips, Kale, Lettuce, Rutabagas, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes, Swiss Chard and U-pick: Snow Peas & Herbs.

Week 18 Share, 2016

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Beets, Fennel, Ginger, Hot Peppers, Japanese Turnips, Kale, Lettuce, Peppers, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes, Swiss Chard, Winter Squash (Delicata) and U-pick: Snow Peas, Herbs & Flowers.

Week 17 Share, 2016

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Beets, Carrots, Garlic, Ginger, Hot Peppers, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Onions, Sweet Potatoes, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Winter Squash (Delicata) and U-pick: Snow Peas, Herbs & Flowers

Week 16 Share, 2016

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Arugula, Beets, Eggplant, Heirloom Tomatoes, Hot Peppers, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Potatoes (Banana Fingerlings and Yukon Gems), Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Winter Squash (Delicata) and U-pick: Cherry Tomatoes, Herbs & Flowers.

Week 15 Share, 2016

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Beets, Carrots, Eggplant, Heirloom Tomatoes, Hot Peppers, Kale, Leeks, Onions, Peppers, Potatoes (Kennenbec), Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Winter Squash (Spaghetti, Delicata, and Acorn) and U-pick: Cherry Tomatoes, Herbs & Flowers

Week 14 Share, 2016

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Beets, Eggplant, Garlic, Heirloom Tomatoes, Hot Peppers, Kale, Leeks, Onions, Peppers, Potatoes (Red, White, and Blue!), Spaghetti Squash, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes and U-pick: Cherry Tomatoes, Green Beans, Herbs & Flowers.

Week 13 Share, 2015

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Beets, Carrots, Eggplant, Garlic, Heirloom Tomatoes, Leeks, Onions, Hot Peppers, Peppers, Potatoes (Yukon Gems and All Blue Fingerlings), Spaghetti Squash, Tomatoes and U-pick: Cherry Tomatoes, Herbs & Flowers.

Week 12 Share, 2016

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Beets, Carrots, Eggplant, Garlic, Heirloom Tomatoes, Leeks, Onions, Peppers, Potatoes (Banana & Red Thumb Fingerlings), Summer Squash, Tomatoes and U-pick: Cherry Tomatoes, Green Beans (Tuesday only. – The beans will be too large by Fridays pick-up), Herbs & Flowers.