2020 JOURNAL - FARMING IN TIMES OF A PANDEMIC

OURNAL - FARMING IN TIMES OF A PANDEMIC - MICHAEL'S MUSINGS
Posted 5/29/2020 11:08am by Esther.

JOURNAL #10

FARMING DURING A PANDEMIC

May 30, 2020

Michael Tabor

This winter "break", starting January 2020, didn't turn out well for any of us.  And, it seems like we're again ready to start the markets again- but at 77 years old, I wonder if I'm ready for another intense, even more intense season.  But, Esther has been taking part in all the safety networking to make sure the markets are ready for us to open this Tuesday (June 2) in Brookland and Saturday, (June 6) in Adams Morgan.  We're still working with the community market people in Anacostia to see if a market starting in July is workable.

Inspired by my arrest this winter at Jane Fonda's Firedrill Friday, we didn't want to take any trips by plane (excessive carbon exchange) so instead we visited with friends in Ohio and Kentucky, seeking connections with Jewish peddlers, the underground railroad and trying to volunteer with the Amy McGrath campaign (she has a chance!).  And then, local politics and now we're ready, except for the horrible weather for markets and of course, the pandemic.

On the positive side, Charmaine is managing things on the farm in her usual organized manner and Justin has been making the fields ready.  three wonderful farm staff, Emma, back again with her adorable dog, Utah, Xandra, before resuming her U Of MD degree, and Laura, from Brooklyn, are in great shape for the hard work of farming.

Expenses on the farm can be overwhelming.  Just found out we need a third irrigation pump for the early crop of tomatoes, broccoli, kale, squash, etc.  That's $450-500 or more.  Organic compost trailer load was $940.  Two truck inspections and repairs (we have 5) was over $500.  Costs for the "alternative" sprays are well over $1,000.  New equipment was over $3,000. 

Sometimes, inspired by staff, we (they) also spend their own money on items they feel will help with their work.  They watched a podcast from the world's leading chiropterologist, Merlin Tuttle on how each bat can eat up to 1,200 pests in one night!  So Justin and crew built a bat cave that can house up to 50 bats (eating 60,000 injurious insects each night!).  We've got plenty of the critters hanging around the farm already, so why not invite more!

 

I'm not complaining about expenses - it's what we have every year not counting salaries, taxes, insurance, food, etc.  What makes a difference is that Esther and I don't draw salary. 

We're pulling together a list of what we'll have for the first markets starting next week - we're still harvesting asparagus - although probably not enough for all the CSAs. Lettuce looks ready for market.  This warm weather might cause the broccoli plants to "head".  Kale, spinach, scallions and a few other greens look like they're ready along with mint, chives and a few other herbs (anyone want nettle?  good for tea). 

The strawberry crop was damaged but there's still plenty.  Plus, the last of the stored fall apples - Fuji's really hold up well.  And our neighbor, Donald Lake, has lots of exotic organic mushrooms.  Donald was part of the now out-of-business Tuscarora Organic Co-op.  And, we'll have plenty of Amish made jams and jellies - blackberry, strawberry, quince, mint, apple, and our own honey.

Our CSA subscriptions this season have tripled and is now closed for Session 1 (June/July).  And we are pleased to announce that our CSA Subsidy Program now has 23 families.  We still need over $12,000 to cover the rest of the season for the families.  If you want to donate, we have several methods and one tax-exempt way, so get in touch with us at esiegel2@igc.org.

Here is what one of the nurses is is in the CSA Subsidy Program wrote us:

“I spoke to Jimena (not her real name) on the phone, asking about her symptoms. Fever, body aches, headache for several days. There was no question in my mind… Covid-19.  I wished I could assess her breathing status and to do so, I asked her to talk to me while walking around her one bedroom apartment where she lives with her three children and husband. Listening to her speak in Spanish did not reveal gasps of breath between her words, relieved that for the time being she could stay home.  Social distancing, isolation, accessing the healthcare system---all barriers faced by Jimena. Born in Mexico, business owner, tax payer, uninsured,  undocumented and fearful of going to the hospital.  How will I pay for it? What if there’s no interpreter?  How can I isolate in my apartment when we all share the same room?  What will happen to me?”

The CSA Subsidy Program is our small way, with your generous support, to ensure that our first responders and essential service providers have access to fresh, chemical-free vegetables and fruit every week.

 
Posted 5/22/2020 11:45am by Esther.

Journal #9, May 22, 2020

Michael Tabor

According to the prognosticators of the weather, this was supposed to be a rainy week but through Thursday is wasn't.  At 5:45am Tuesday morning, I did see a brief flash of red where the sun usually rises.  By my calculations, that means rain tonight!  And that's OK, exceptin' for the sweet potato "slips" that need planting next week (it needs to be dry to till the soil).

Yesterday we got started on planting the Christmas trees to replace the ones that were sold last season or died in the field.  Growing the trees without herbricides (to kill the weeds that can choke their roots is a real challenge).  Industry standards use pesticides that indiscriminantly kill all insects.  Plus the trees are actually dyed in the field a dark "plastic green" to eliminate the natural hues and color variations.  As far as I know, we are the only farm in the area that don't use "industry" methods.  (A few of my neighbors grow evergreen Christmas trees naturally but don't sell them publicly).

Many customers seem to want uniform, perfectly shaped trees that look like the plastic ones that are factory grown and sold in lots. Our customers aren't concerned with that uniform look and like the "unique personality" of our trees.  One of our most popular tree is the "Charlie Brown" with their distinct character unlike any other.  One of our happier moments during the Christmas tree season, is the when one of our scraggly trees finds a loving home.

Pesticide-free trees take a lot of extra work and between 15-20 years to grow.

We get our seedlings from a family-owned company named "Musser's", located right below Punxsutawney, PA, the town made famous in the movie "Groundhog Day.  Retail manager Chris Ballas brings the seedlings to us every year for our "Annual Farm Open" House that we sadly will not have this year due to the pandemic.  We encourage parents to bring their children to plant trees and hopefully return the next year to see the growth and do some weeding and nurturing.  Chris donates those trees and offers help planting the trees. This service is not typical in our commercial world today.  Of course Musser's is where we do buy our trees.

The process of planting trees to replace ones sold or are dead is part of an earth-enhancing concept know as "carbon sequestration" - especially when you consider our trees are grown on ground that usually produces only weeds.

This season, Charmaine cut loose the amazing team of Emma (and Utah), Laura and Xandra,who burned the weeds, drilled the holes and pulled off a project that would have taken just me a week.  They did this in 1day.

Part of my farm year consists of working locally and politically to make the planet a better and healthier place.  So I joined the local neighbors in opposing CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) and trying to raise awareness of choices in local elections.

Sadly, we can't do much, especially in this pandemic world to campaign against the administration and his enablers in a community that voted 84% for him but we may be able to have an impact on local elections.

In Montgomery County, MD, Progressive Neighbors has released its choices.  Email to hardhatscott@gmail.com for that information.

In my morning breakfast oatmeal, the California strawberries, while pretty, had no taste, except for a little bitterness.  In two weeks when our markets and CSA starts, we're hoping our strawberries will be ready.  Not as pretty but with real taste. Our produce is picked the day before or the morning of our market and CSA.

Sadly, our CSA memberships are "sold out" for this first session (June-July).  We may have openings for session 2 (August-September).  Let us know if you are interested and we'll put you on our mailing list.

Our CSA Subsidy Program is now funded for session 1 and some for session 2.    We've raised close to $5,000 with a goal of $10,000.  We cannot take more families until we raise enough to fully fund the next session.

See you at our Brookland Market, Tuesday, June 2 (and CSA pick up) 4-7pm and in Takoma Park for CSA pick up 3-9:30pm. Then again on Saturday, June 6 at our Adams Morgan Farmers Market, 8am - 1pm and the Takoma Park CSA pick up from 3:30-9:30pm.

Posted 5/20/2020 2:06pm by Chris.
JOURNAL - FARMING IN TIMES OF A PANDEMIC - MICHAEL'S MUSINGS

LCBF JOURNAL #1

April 1, 2020 Michael Tabor  

NOTES FROM A FARMER IN TIMES OF A PANDEMIC  

Licking Creek Bend Farm (LCBF) starts each season with a tour of the farm in Needmore, PA (Fulton County), and pot luck for our customers, CSA members and friends in the WMV area.  This year, it’s become obvious that won’t happen.  Most of our regular farm markets and wholesale outlets are also in question.  We are committed to continuing and enlarging our CSA and the markets allowed.  

In light of all these circumstances, I decided to start this journal as a way to keep in touch with our customers and CSA members and let you know what is happening on the farm.   Part of the purpose of a CSA is to re-establish the connection that once existed between farmers and consumers.  When the CSA system first started, it wasn’t that unusual for families to come and help out on a farm and pick vegetables for themselves, feeling the dirt on their hands and knees in the soil, and being in touch with the cycle of growth in the region.  While we’re hopeful this moratorium is not the new normal, for now, folks will not be traveling to their local farms and participate in the planting and harvesting.  

The good news is that as of April 1, there are no known COVID-19 cases have been reported in our Fulton County, PA.  Nearby counties only have a handful.   Much has changed near my farm since I started farming in 1972. 

We are located in the “panhandle” where Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia meet.  There are hardly any more family small farms that raise dairy, pigs, corn, oats and barley.  The clothing factories like London Fog have closed or left the County, a loss in nearby Hancock, MD of over 400 union-scale waged jobs held largely by women and replaced by a few antique malls in the hopes of attracting tourism.  CAFOs (confined animal farm operations) have tried to move in to the county, one near us was successfully stopped by the community.  

So, as we have done for the last 48 years, on April 1, we start planting long rows of red, white and yellow onion sets – about 100lbs of small bulbs, planted with the root end down and covered by rich compost and straw.  They will grow quickly and be ready for a first markets (this year perhaps in mid-May).   Justin, our year-round indispensable, vastly experienced farm staff, has been working all winter readying thousands of seedlings for early planting, preparing our machinery and keeping the farm in beautiful shape for the coming of this season.  And, Charmaine, our beloved farm manager of 15 years moved back to the farm April 1.   We are gambling, that despite an unusually early spring, we won’t get a surprise dip in the temperature below freezing and destroy the young seedlings.  In the past, with “regular” weather predictions, we have had to wait until mid-May or even early June to plant.  

Farming is amazing exercise and keeps me in shape during the farm season , so during the winter, I am grateful for our local YMCA where I can stay in shape, taking all sorts of classes, so I can be when I return to work where my workday starts and 5:00am – 8 or 9:00pm. The classes that challenge me the most include core-conditioning classes, stationary cycling, Hatha Yoga class run, H.E.A.T. (High Energy Athletic Training), men’s strength training class and “tribal dancing” Zumba class and I get to be one of the few men shaking his hips and trying to keep up with all the women who tolerate my awkward rhythmic presence.  But, with social distancing, the Y is closed and I’m taking walks and riding our stationary bike to keep in shape.  

PREPARING THE FRUIT TREES   My work on the fruit trees doesn’t usually start until mid-April.  This year, I’ve started a month early. In early March, due to climate change, “budding” started happening 6 weeks early!  The trees looked like they were dormant and bare, but if you look carefully you’d see the buds and this year’s fruit starting to form. 

So, at age 77, with only a short winter’s farm break, it was time to get to work again.   

Since we don’t use chemical pesticides on the farm, the fruit trees were sprayed in early March with 98% organic mineral oil.  The spray smothers, winter insects and their hatching eggs.  We’re concerned with the Pear Psylla.  There are 4 generations of this onerous insect.  Anytime the temperature gets above 40 degrees in the early spring, each female produces 650 eggs!  So now, this week at “bud burst” the pear psylla are returning from nearby locations and I’m ready to do another spray mix of organic insecticide.  I’ll also use “Surround” a clay-based barrier film that repels and irritates insects.   Plus we add copper, an old-fashioned “general biocide” to kill fungal and bacterial cells, approved for organic farming.  This has to be done delicately to avoid damaging plant tissue.  The same method is used on the apple and peach trees.  This year we’re also trying something new against the Plum Curculio.  These bad boy beetles appear during the first warm period after petals fall when it gets to be 70º.  The beetles puncture each tiny apple where they deposit eggs that drop to the ground and grow.  The method we’ll use to try and stop this cycle is wrapping sticky tape around each tree to stop the new beetles from crawling up the trees and infect the apples.  While this method is more labor intensive, it is better than any chemical alternative.  We’ll see how it works.   Then there’s the danger of cool weather and late frost.  The cool weather will discourage pollination. A late frost will damage or kill the delicate apples, pears and peaches.  

CSA OUTREACH   In addition to reaching out to our regular email lists, we’d like to reach out to hospital personal and other first responders and folks whose jobs cannot be done at home and may be without paychecks during this pandemic, to offer a CSA weekly share at a substantially reduced rate, and through donations.  We already know of three Fire Department volunteers who have been diagnosed with the virus and we hope to work with their families to arrange for CSA participation in June.   If you are interested in helping identify folks or want to chip in what you can, please let us know.  We can be reached best through our email.   Stay tuned for the next periodic journal email! Stay safe, find things to enjoy, and be mindful of the blessings we do have.  

Michael Tabor Licking Creek Bend Farm      

FARM VISIT DAY, SUNDAY, MAY 31, 2020 11:00AM - 4:30PM (cancelled for this season)