Last week I wrote to you about our efforts over the past few years to make our lives on the farm more sustainable by better planning and resourcing the various fieldwork activities throughout the season. Doesn’t always work, of course- we still manage to work through plenty of holiday weekends like this one just past (heavy rain forecast again Sunday night? 14 acres of ripe winter squash ready to spoil in the waterlogged field?… 14 hour day, anyone? They do call it Labor Day!). But we have managed to make the schedule much more predictable for at least half the crew, and that’s a huge step forward.
There is another critical way that we’re attempting to make what we do more sustainable- personally, financially and environmentally- and that is by better managing our vegetable acres for greater productivity. For example, instead of harvesting x lbs of, say, winter squash, off of 21 acres (2013), this year we’re attempting to harvest 1.2 x off of 14 acres. Similar improvements are in the works for virtually every crop on the farm; we’ve reduced the planted vegetable acres from 162 (2013) to less than 130 this season.
The key to this big boost in productivity is much closer management of fertility, crop disease and harvest timing. And the key to this management is the Featherstone Horticulture Team; Shona Snater (3rd year at FF), Shawn Kiecker (2nd year), Abby Benson (1st season) and their manager Joel Kellum (1st year at FF, after 12 seasons growing organic vegetables in WI).
I can’t say enough about how these 4 have stepped up this season, to take a merely functional (though inefficient) horticultural system (2013 and before) and to transform it in a single season, into a highly professional, tightly managed operation. This involves everything from micro-nutrient testing in foliage (muskmelon leaves, say) to the precision application of liquid fertilizer (organic kelp, for example, or trace minerals) through carefully calibrated drip tape injectors. Complex stuff.
I have recently completed a thorough analysis of how the horticulture team’s work is paying dividends in the field, specifically in the form of reduced waste and boosted productivity. I will soon write up a narrative to explain the numbers; when I do, I will gladly provide a link on our blog for those of you interested enough to read up on such minutia.
But please take my word for it: things are going much smoother in the field this season- crops are by and large healthier, and your boxes now fuller than ever- thanks largely to the work of these 4 hort team people. I want to highlight their work and to thank them for their dedication; they are certainly among the “unsung heros” of Featherstone farm!