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My wife Margaret and I started Groundworks Farm 7 years ago.  She was 21 and I was 22 years old when we started this business and I never expected to come as far as we have come.  We struggled for many years to make ends meet on leased property at first, and more recently on land we own.  Now, at 27 and 28, we’ve never felt so successful or supported by our members and community.  Our vision of a successful Whole Diet CSA has come true before our eyes, and I feel compelled to express my eternal gratitude to everyone who has ever helped us–and Groundworks Farm–reach this point.

When we started our own farm we already had about 4 years combined experience as farm hands for other farmers, which was a great asset.  But, we had no business experience, no equipment, no money, and really no idea what we were up against.  Starting a farm, as it turns out, is not for the faint of heart.  It is a rocky road full of the highest highs and lowest lows, as many of you know.

I’ll sum up the history of Groundworks Farm quickly like this:

Our first season we did one farmers market in Concord NH, and somehow we were able to round up 10 or so CSA members to pick up on the farm (then called Huckins’ Farm) in Hebron, NH.  We grew produce and Pasture-raised Chicken.  That first boot-strapped year we learned a lot.  After that first year we had an opportunity to lease a larger farm in Vermont.  We started from scratch again the very next year–moving our greenhouse and all our supplies over the winter.  That next year we switched to CSA-only and started to take steps towards our dream of a Whole Diet CSA.  We added hogs and laying hens to our produce and pastured poultry operation that year.  We learned a lot and continued pinching pennies to get the farm started.  We were there one more year and added our Meat Share option.  We then had the exciting opportunity to purchase our farm in Maryland, where we started from scratch yet again.  We hit the ground running–building all our infrastructure from the ground up while spreading the word and farming all at the same time!  The first year in Maryland we supplied 200 families–an astonishingly high number for our first season in the area.  A good sign!  The second year in Maryland we supplied 250 families.  This year we supply 300 families and are starting to experience recognition and success we never dreamed of 7 years ago.

What we lacked in experience that first year we made up for in energy, open minds, a desire to succeed at all costs, an eternally optimistic attitude….and, A LOT of support from friends and family.   Looking back now, if we had been lacking in any of these categories–especially friends and family–we would have failed.  We are happy to have endured the tests of these past 7 years, and are truly grateful for the blessed lives we have lived thus far!

We’ve come to find friends in our CSA members, neighbors, and partners who have come on this journey with us–and we are forever in your debt for all you have done for us.  Truly we consider you all friends-and we are truly rich in friends.

We have never been so committed to the goal and dream of a Whole Diet CSA as we are today, and we believe in it profoundly.  Our greatest desire is to provide the best food and CSA experience possible in the most environmentally responsible manner.  We hope to continue to farm for many years to come, and will keep you all informed of our continued progress.

Thank you.
Kevin

Margaret and Kevin

This week’s Farm Note was written by Molly Rich.  We have been so lucky to have Molly as part of our team since she started. Here is a reflection from Molly on her first year of farming full time.

The close of the month of January marked my first year of farming full-time. I remember last February, at the end of a long day of harvesting spinach in the high tunnel, Margaret came in to check on my progress. Before leaving, she left me with words of comfort, “Things will pick up again soon.” I didn’t completely understand what that meant at the time. For one thing, I was perfectly content spending the day in its entirety harvesting spinach in the warm high tunnel. I can’t say that about everything, but spinach, yes. Secondly, I hadn’t experienced the Farm in its most lively state by that point. I had just missed the summer craze, joining the team that September, and I had only been working part time then.

As the work changed with the season and the farm team grew, I started to understand what Margaret had said. Still not to its fullest meaning. In the spring, once the high tunnels were depleted of their greens, the air warmed, and the ground softened enough to welcome the new plants, we were harvesting outside again. There were more hands in the field, more tracks in the dirt, and more green in the rows. The springtime held an invigorating balance of the release of a heavy winter and the anticipation of the heat of summer. Of course, that balance was abruptly thrown as summer crashed in full-force, as it does.

Looking back at those 7 short months ago, it’s already a blur. Summer craze is an understatement. I was lost in a whirlwind of tomatoes, and squash. I felt whiplash from the drastic changes in weather. My wardrobe of dry dusty dirt, when the heat was at its strongest, was replaced by a coating of mud after a dose of summer storms. The days were long, but were never long enough for the work to be done. But that is summer. It’s extreme, and dramatic, and pushes everything to its limits. And then, one day, it’s a little bit cooler in the evening when the sun isn’t there to warm the sky. The tomatoes and squash became less threatening, and a balance was achieved again. Different than that of spring, but no less crucial.

As the leaves transformed into new creatures of burgundy and orange, and the sun became friend instead of foe again, fall emerged.  Once again, the work changed. The fields were quieter, the vegetables were heavier, and the days lost patience for our work habits. The sun goes down whether we’re ready or not, naturally slowing us down. It’s appreciated on some level. Then, in the midst of bulk harvesting and winter preparation, the holidays appeared. By the forces of nature, winter arrived.

Now, here we are in February, harvesting spinach in the greenhouse again. Everything has come full circle, because that is how this works. Winter leads to spring, spring to summer, and summer to fall. Every time. This may sound arbitrary, but this piece of fundamental knowledge has never held so much meaning to me.

To understand this cycle is vital in farming, and to accept it is to accept everything that comes with it. Seasons change, people come and go, plants and animals grow and die. As farmers, we are facilitating this natural ebb and flow, and providing all we can to help it flourish at its peak, and maintain what’s left at its low. Now, with that experience, I find comfort in Margaret’s words once more knowing, “Things will pick up again soon.”

Your Farmer,
Molly

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For the past couple weeks my cousin Hannah has been at the farm helping out. She had come to stay and work for a couple weeks in the summer as well and I asked her to give you all a change in perspective from mine for this week’s farm news. A big Thank You to Hannah for all her help this month!

Hi! My name is Hannah and I’m living and working here at Groundworks Farm for three weeks this January. My college gives students the month of January to pick an independent project to work on throughout the month, and I decided to come back to Groundworks after being here for a few weeks this past summer.

Margaret and I are cousins, and I jumped at the prospect this past summer of working outside on her and Kevin’s farm. My motivation to come work at Groundworks in the summer stemmed from a curiosity as to what organic farming entailed. I had heard a lot about its benefits, such as how organic farming is more environmentally sustainable than big, pesticide-using farms, and that organic food is healthier to eat because it is not covered in chemicals. However I had no idea what went in to growing these organic vegetables.

During the summer, I loved working outside and getting acquainted with “farm life,” and I did not want to leave after just two weeks. When I had the opportunity to come back in January, I was excited because Groundworks gives me the chance to, so to speak, practice what I (and others) preach. Working here allows me to be in the midst of the local food and sustainable farming movements, both of which I think are extremely important movements but I do not always have the chance to participate in them. Although the work here in the summer is very different than in the winter, I had the opportunity both times to experience the hard work and dedication it takes to raise and grow organic food and manage a farm business.

Summer at Groundworks Farm is extremely physically demanding and eventful. There are onions, squash, and tons of other vegetables to be harvested, CSA shares to be sorted, fields to be weeded, rows of crops to be hoed, and eggs to be collected. There is an abundance of sun, sweat, and activity. When I came back to Groundworks this January for a few weeks, I was not quite sure what to expect because I had no idea what farmers did when it was cold outside. One thing is for sure: they definitely keep busy. Snow, wind, and other January weather do not prevent some varieties of crops from growing, while other vegetables are grown in warm, humid greenhouses. Work here in the winter still requires hours of harvesting and packaging vegetable shares, just as it did in the summer. However, instead of rows upon rows of onions and zucchini, there are fields of purple kale and broccoli greens. The chickens, of course, still lay eggs, so there are buckets of eggs to be collected from the coops and washed each week.

This January, apart from the outside vegetable and animal related labor, I got a snapshot of the office paperwork that comes along with managing a farm business. There were a few days during a lull between CSA pickups when it was too freezing and snowy to do anything outside, so we spent the days in the office. There were letters to be written, addressed, and stamped, orders to be made, receipts to be organized, and accounts to be looked over and arranged. I had no idea how much “behind-the-scenes” office work had to be done to keep the business side of the Farm running.

Even though my time here at Groundworks Farm this January differed from July in the lack of heat, the amount of work that had to be done stayed the same.

However tiring the work or cold the weather is outside, the work ethic here remains strong. Kevin and Margaret’s commitment to Groundworks is inspirational and my time working here in both summer and winter has shown me the intense but rewarding labor it takes to grow, raise, and deliver organic food.

Your Farmer this month,
Hannah

 

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Molly, Kevin and Hannah Harvest Greens for a January pick up

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Hannah and Teresa warm up by the fire at the Alexandria pick up

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harvesting and bagging greens for a January pick up

Sunday night brought our first hard frost. We had won the race and gotten all of our winter squash and sweet potatoes harvested and safely into their winter storage cooler. By the time the frost came we had moved on from squash harvest to preparing for this week’s meat deliveries, which meant cutting up a few lambs, a couple pigs and two cows. That is right, as a collective group, combining everyone who has a meat share with the farm; about that much meat is eaten each month. The numbers are tiny in the grand scheme of things but for our little farm here they are plenty big.

This is perhaps my favorite time of the year. There is little to stress about with the crops at this point. While we still have much to harvest for the winter, we can see at this point that everything is doing well. Carrots are growing big (as evidenced by the ones in the share this week). Beets are coming along as well as other root crops. We have a ton of greens all growing in the fields which means that we will have plenty of greens coming up in the December and January deliveries. We have planted one of our high tunnels to spinach and will be prepping the other one soon. The heated greenhouse is pretty much shut down for the season, though we are entertained by the rouge eggplants and squash that continue to bloom inside.

And I have to say I don’t mind working outside with the colorful leaves to look at and the chilly air. It makes harvesting storage crops quite pleasant work.

 

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Sweet Potatoes and Butternuts safely in storage

 

Sunday night we had our first light frost.  It did not reach much of the fields but it left a chill in the air and a reminder to us that harsher frost are soon to come.  We are harvesting peppers and eggplants still, as long as they keep producing for us.   You will be getting the first of the fall/winter broccoli this week in the share.  You will also see more sweet potatoes.  Now many of our sweet potatoes grew to be very big, so big in fact that some of them were sliced up a little by our potato digger when they were harvested.  They have dried up and are perfectly good sweet potatoes, even the ones that look like they have been sliced apart.  Another thing that you will see in the share this week is turnip greens (look for a recipe below).  Last year when we were distributing our turnips many people asked me about turnip greens.  Now often when the turnips are large enough to harvest the greens are not as tender.  So we are giving out the turnip greens now.  You will see that they will have small turnips on the end of them (some more mature than others) and you can use these as well or toss them in the compost.  They should be pretty tender since they are so young and small.

We are hoping to be giving out Brussels sprouts as well in the share this week.  Our early Brussels sprouts planting (which are these) have seen a few challenges on their way to becoming Brussels sprouts, the most unruly being harlequin bugs.  So while we will refrain from giving you the most damaged plants you may see a few damaged sprouts here and there.

 

Yesterday I brought the bulk of the winter seeding to a close with an acre of various crops. I planted some watermelon radishes, turnips, and beets as well as more greens. I made the first attempt of the fall at spinach, which does not germinate in hot weather, and got in some baby kale and chard as well.

As the summer season starts to fade behind us and we move into fall we move into my favorite time of year for both farming and cooking. We still have some of the summer crops which provide staples to salads and sauces. But we are also starting to see more fall crops as well. So any given day you can sort of choose which season you want to be eating in. You can have a tomato salad for lunch and a butternut squash and potato dish for dinner. And we start to see a return of some of those precious things which tend not to thrive in the heat of the summer. Last Thursday we transplanted lettuce from the greenhouse, finally hoping that the cooler weather will allow it to grow successfully. And the fresh radishes and greens that I planted a few weeks ago are finally taking shape. A few of them did not germinate due to some hot dry weather we had right after I planted them, but others are coming up in vigor. And some more that I planted just this past Friday after we finished harvesting are already up above the ground!

It is also a wonderful time of year to be farming because the stress of early spring is also far behind us. Now we can just farm. The weeds are slowing down, the crops are enjoying the cooler weather and we have all had plenty of tomatoes so we don’t worry too much as they begin to see some disease and produce a bit less. We also don’t worry about this because we know there are many other treats to come. We planted our eggplant late this year, which I was worried about at first, but now it seems a blessing. The bugs are less vigorous and it is just starting to get ready as some of the other summer crops like squash, fade away. It will still be a few weeks before those later greens are really ready to harvest but in the meantime we have some kale, collards and sweet potato greens to fill the void. And thus you get a little glimpse into how I go about each week determining what will be in the share and planning to try to make sure the variety is one of abundance each week. Walking around the fields and looking at what is doing well, I am looking forward to a fall of squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, greens and more!

Happy Cooking!

You always here the old jokes about complaining about the weather or talking about the weather because you don’t have anything else to say. But what about when your life, your well being and everything you have is tied to the weather. I don’t like to complain about the weather. I find it annoying because you can’t change it, it is what it is. But I do obsess over it in a different way than most people I know. For the majority of people I imagine looking at the weather is a tool. It helps you determine how to dress and if you need a jacket/umbrella etc that day. It helps you decide if it is a good weekend to go hiking or if it is better spent working on inside projects. There are two things that dictate my every move during the summer. Those are weather and the CSA delivery schedule. Those two things are how I determine what I will do each day. I want to plant seeds in the ground right before it rains, but not right before it rains for days on end, as the seeds could rot. Tuesday may look like a good day but we are harvesting so it will have to be Thursday. These are the kind of things we are constantly trying to work out in order to make sure everything that needs to happen each week actually happens.

Every day, long before the sun comes up and our crew arrives we sit down and make a list of what needs to happen that day. Every day we cross things off the list, but most days as we cross things off, we think of new things to add. And thus we push forward each day in that way. It is this time of year that our bodies start to try to tell us to stop, and yet there are a few more things that we still want to push forward before we can pause for a day. This week some of the latest fall harvest crops will be seeded, Lettuce and a couple other things will be transplanted and more will be planted in the greenhouse. Once these few days of rain pass we will see if we can make those things happen or if the wet fields will demand that we wait a week. Soon seeds will arrive in the mail for some crops we plan to overwinter, plant late so they just get a start, let them die back, but then they make a comeback in the spring and are stronger and earlier than ever!

It all hinges on the weather. Nobody is complaining today as we harvest in some rain, preferable to the brutal heat of last week. Look out in the shares as you may see a little more dirt this week, the hard rains jump up and splash mud on everything.

 

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