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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Our full season apprentices work and live on the farm between April and November. The apprenticeship is created for individuals interested in gaining hands-on experience in sustainable vegetable production and the marketing of produce through a Community Supported Agriculture project and local farmers’ markets. We have had three full season with us for about a month now, and everyone has settled in nicely. The following three posts (including this one) are written by the apprentices themselves, and will introduce you to each of them. We’re excited to welcome them into our community; keep your eye out for them at our farmers markets and other events. Todays message is from Emily:

Emily checks out a small worm on her thumb, while simultaneously giving her approval with a thumbs up!

Emily checks out a small worm on her thumb, while simultaneously giving her approval with a thumbs up!

Hi y’all, I’m Emily. I am a Maryland native and happy to be back in my home state as an apprentice at Colchester. A lot of people (like my mom) might wonder why a young, educated person such as myself would want to do physical labor for little pay instead of working toward a corner office and a salary. Two previous experiences have led me to pursue a farm apprenticeship.

First, I attended Warren Wilson College, where I heard the word “sustainability” used at least once a day. Sustainability – or the ability to continue for a long time – is a quality that can be used to question the currently accepted methods for food systems, governing systems, social systems. As a student, I was challenged to in some way blaze an unconventional path toward a more sustainable future. After graduating, I went forth with that challenge in mind and had my second experience: I served in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). For ten months, I was a member of a team that completed projects in communities across the southwestern states. The projects introduced me to farming and park work and made me realize that I like working with my hands.

I have no plans to save the world, but I hope that I will come away from this apprenticeship with skills I can use to contribute to endeavors that are both environmentally responsible and concerned with the well-being of all people. I realize that is very vague, but hey I’m a milennial and I’m taking things one step at a time…

While I’m here at Colchester, I hope to learn more about canning and other preservation methods, beekeeping, composting, seasonal eating and farmer’s tans.

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At Colchester Farm CSA we have had a lot of opportunities recently to think about food. This might sound silly, considering our daily labor out in the fields to produce the makings of good food, but we have been involved with many events this spring, most notably the wonderful talks given at Washington College as part of the Recipes for Change lecture series put on by anthropology professor Bill Schindler. This series ran through a vast diversity of idea about the culture of food, from the hunter/gatherer diets of our distant ancestors to food marketing and school lunch programs. The series just ended last week with a talk by the inspiring urban farmer, Will Allen. Going to these talks and discussing issues of food afterwards has prompted us to better examine our local food system; where does our food come from, what are we eating and is it nurturing us?

The first question we have to ask ourselves though is why we should bother to think about food so much. The answer goes far beyond the concerns of health and safety in the production and consumption of food (which are great); we must remember that when we are talking about food and it’s preparation we are talking about a vital part of our daily lives, something we must engage in every day. It should come as no surprise that such an essential part of life could be found rooted deeply within culture, science and art. The art of cuisine is a very serious tradition that all cultures uphold, because food is one of the primary ways that a people can distinguish themselves. A cultures food can tell you about their customs, beliefs, geography and aesthetic. Throughout human history food has been an effective way to bond people together; it is a powerfully symbolic act to share food (nourishment) with someone. The sharing of recipes can be an intimate way to pass on personal and cultural knowledge from one generation to the next.

We can see the importance of food framed eloquently when we read from the work of L.R. Kass, who once wrote, “We human beings delight in beauty and order… sociability and friendship… song and worship. And, as self-conscious beings, we especially crave self-understanding and knowledge of our place in the larger whole… The meal taken at table is the cultural form that enables us to respond simultaneously to all the dominant features of our world… and the mysterious source of it all… Meals eaten before the television set turn eating into feeding. Wolfing down food dishonors both the human effort to prepare it, and the lives of those plants and animals sacrificed on our behalf… Especially because modern times hold us hostage to the artificial and the unreal, we do well to remember that the hearth still makes the home, prepared and shared meals still make for genuine family life, and entertaining guests at dinner still nurtures the growth of friendship. A blessing offered over the meal still fosters a fitting attitude toward the world, whose gracious bounty is available to us, and not because we merit it… The materialistic view of life, though it may help put bread on the table, cannot help us understand what it means to eat…”

Because of the great importance of food in culture and health, a great deal of time has been invested, through science and technology, into the study, production and sale of food. The “food industry” encapsulates every part of the production, transport, and sale of food all around the world. Such a vast system includes the efforts of such diverse fields as agriculture, bioengineering, chemical manufacturing, mechanical engineering, economics, marketing, transportation logistics, nutritionists and other medical professionals, educators, politicians and lobbyists…the list goes on and on.

So we can see now that food is a very important topic, one that affects all people in many different ways, and is therefore worth our attention. The next question is what is there to talk about? What do we understand about the food we eat and is there anything that needs to be changed? You can learn a lot about someone by learning about what they eat regularly. Many times the fastest way to learn about a person from their diet is to look at what they don’t eat. Do they have reasons of personal taste and cultural appetite? Is it a medical reason like an allergy? Or is it a moralistic or social statement like the refusal to eat meat to protest the treatment of animals? We say a lot about ourselves with what we choose to eat, and in this modern, technologic age of global economics and genetic engineering we seem to have more and more opportunities to make crucial statements through our food choices.

Practices like genetically modified organisms (GMOs), globalization of markets and monoculture production, combined with poor political action and the placement of profit over health, have created a worldwide food system that has not succeeded in meeting the food and nutritional needs of so many around the world, while simultaneously degrading the rest of the environment. Though it may seem small, uneventful, and passive, the fight against these dangerous practices is being fought every day by you and I. We have the power to choose if we want these damaging practices to persist, because we are the ones who buy the food products. There are many more things we can do to actively create and support a safe, local, transparent culture of food in our area, but the ultimate fight will be won with every small victory of deciding to buy products based not on your wants and desires, but on taking a few steps back to see the needs of your local economy/community/ecosystem and potentially going out of your way to support a product and/or solution that you see having lasting, beneficial effects on your health and the health of those around you.

Let me introduce to you the latest addition of livestock to our farm:
Red Wriggler worms

EARTHWORMS!!!

What would we keep worms for?  It’s not their meat… it’s their poop, which people who practice vermiculture (the cultivation of worms) have given the less crass name of “worm castings”.  Ok so you know that we keep the worms for their “castings”, but why on Earth would we do that?

Though their slow movement and simple appearance might cause people to easily overlook or even avoid them, earthworms (like red wigglers) play a crucial part in our lives; they are one of the primary species that create and sustain the living soils that we are dependent on.  Like all organisms, worms manipulate and change their environment; they burrow through the ground, making tunnels that can form complex systems running throughout the soil in all directions.  These tunnels are important in that they allow for water and chemicals in the air like oxygen to be accessed by plants and other organisms that live in the soil.  Also, as earthworms travel through the ground they eat soil particles and organic matter (decaying plant and animal matter) as well as tiny soil particles like grains of sand.  As all of these materials travel through the worms digestive system, they are broken down into smaller, simpler, compounds and nutrients and deposited in the form of a “cast”.  These casting are small bits of soil that have high concentrations of nutrients that in turn fertilize plants and feed other organisms.  By constantly eating and moving through tunnels, worms are circulating soil and nutrients throughout the Earth non-stop, 24/7.

Having worms in your garden soil is an easy and wonderful indication of healthy soils; where worms can be sustained there will be moist, nutrient rich soils which sustain all other plants and animals.  The more earthworms you have the more worm castings they are producing that will better fertilize your soil and sustain a healthy soil ecosystem.  Worm castings are a boon to farmers looking to sustain plant crops on the same soil year after year, and it’s no surprise that people have started trying to take greater advantage of this phenomenal organism.  Vermiculture, or vermicompost, is the process of composting material specifically using different types of worms to create a highly homogenous, nutrient rich organic fertilizer.  Composting, the process of utilizing decomposition to break down organic matter into rich soil material known as humus, has been practiced here at Colchester Farm CSA for years.  But vermiculture gives us the opportunity to use worms to make decomposed soil humus faster, and have it contain higher concentrations of nutrients.

We have worms in our compost piles but, the pile being just a pile, the worms can come and go as they please.  What we have done is create a contained space in which to hold the worms, commonly referred to as a worm bin.  There are as many variations on vermicomposting as there are any other type of agriculture, so here we only will discuss the practices and procedures we know and use at Colchester.  Having said that, vermiculture is new for us here and we are treating it as a research project until we can learn more from experience and better care for and use the worms.

Laying down the wire netting floor that will hold in our worms.

Laying down the wire netting floor that will hold in our worms and keep out mice.

We built a worm bin out of cinder blocks to house our new workers.  We wanted an open bottom exposed to the soil so that proper flow of air, nutrients and water could occur, but we didn’t want the worms we put in the bin to be able to escape the bin.  We need to keep the worms contained in order to harvest their castings, so we laid down a small mesh wire netting as the floor of our bin.  A removable screen insert allows us to create two different piles to work with without preventing the worms from traveling between the two piles.  This will help us to determine when one pile is totally decomposed and ready for use (as the worms will run out of food and migrate out of this pile into the other).  We will begin with ~5 lbs. of earthworms in our bin, which were bought from a supplier.  In trying to create a home for the worms that contains ready made soil and new food sources, we will be creating a mixture of soil, compost, and food/veggie scraps to welcome the worms to their new home.  Once they acclimate we will feed the pile with regular plant waste to ensure the worms have a regular source of food to digest and process.

 

 

Keifer, a seasonal intern, puts the finishing touches on the bin.

Keifer, a seasonal apprentice, puts the finishing touches on the bin.

This is an exciting new project to start with the seasonal apprentices, who moved in just a few weeks ago.  A big part of their experience on the farm is to learn about and experiment with different ideas and strategies that could someday help them in future farms or other agricultural operations they will be involved with.  They can help plan and maintain this home for earthworms we have constructed, and because it’s new for us too, we can all learn it together.  Right now, we see vermiculture as a unique, low-maintenance way to improve and diversify our farming operation.  We look forward to learning much more about it and reaping the benefits of worm poop!