Corn Patch Pressure

Although there are still one to two weeks remaining before we begin delivering corn in your baskets, the tension is rising in our corn patch. Long-standing farm members know whereof I speak : the rank smell I sniff when I walk through my corn field, a tell-tale cob here and there, gnawed bare. The pressure is increasing because my arch-nemesis is camped out on the edge of the cornfield, waiting to invade and to lay me low, along with my cobs.

We are locked in our customary stand-off, watching each other’s every move, tracking each other’s steps, assessing each other’s latest techniques. We are indeed at war, and while it remains of an undeclared sort, the stakes are high. My traps have been laid, the electric fence has been installed and prayers have been recited. For this farmer, victory is the only outcome possible…as much for said farmer’s mental health as for the unmitigated pleasure of our farm members.

At last, a real summer basket! It was about time, and even though it has been hot, we cannot outpace Mother Nature, who decided this year to delay the ripening of our ‘Glacier’ tomatoes until now. They are our earliest field tomatoes, an heirloom saladette variety, flavourful and delicious. Next week our cherry tomato plants will also begin to yield their fruit, followed by our Russian varieties and then, by late August, by our main season field tomatoes — a mix of heirloom varieties, beefsteak tomatoes and Italian paste tomatoes.

The A-Team

Last week I breathed a sigh of relief when Librado stepped off the plane, the last of our six Mexican employees to arrive. All told, it has taken an extra two months to obtain the necessary governmental authorizations for each of our Mexican employees to reach the farm. We have witnessed the effects of the pandemic firsthand, particularly as we have wanted to ensure that we provide our employees who have come from afar with the right conditions for a safe sojourn with us. Unlike the large farms making Covid headlines, our farm is small, and its human scale has made it possible for us to place each of our foreign employees in individual quarantine in apartments belonging either to friends (thank you Catherine and Jean!) or to our own children completing their studies in Montreal.

The late arrival of so many employees whose work is essential to the smooth running of our farm has been the source of many headaches and logistical challenges in the fields. We give our heartfelt thanks to the motley crew of teens and young twenty-somethings who lent more than a helping hand in May to get the season going against all odds, planting everything they could, setting up netting and irrigation lines. Notwithstanding their efforts, I knew in my heart of hearts that without the experience and resilience of our Mexican crew, this farm would not make it through the season.

I could go on at length about the reasons for our dependence on foreign workers, but that will have to keep for another time – the purpose of this email being only to provide a glimpse of the serious labour issues that plague agriculture in general and market farming in particular. Today, in Quebec as well as elsewhere across Canada, it is nearly impossible to produce fruits and vegetables without the valuable support of a seasonal foreign workforce. I may revisit this topic at a later date.

The good news is that our team is now complete : Librado will soon be joining Jhenrri, Crescencio, Gerardo, Crispin and Gregorio, supported by Djamel, Imad, Tarek, Arnaud, Julien and Émile, in addition to our basket and seedling crew – Yamina, Maïka and Emmanuelle. Of course you’ll see us at our market farmstands and our drop-off locations too, assisted by the two Sophies, Natalia, Alexis and Laurent. We’re proud of our A-team, and ever so grateful for their ongoing support.

The contents of this week’s baskets are not unlike those of last week, as we await the arrival of our solanaceas, whose growth continues apace. A notable novelty is our fennel, which can be eaten in a variety of ways – raw in a salad, roasted on the grill, cooked in a fish soup, or however else tickles your fancy.

Weeding Frenzy

The week ended in a weeding frenzy. Not to say that we didn’t see it coming, but last week’s rain and sun combo made it inevitable, and your family farmer felt that familiar nagging concern that without swift action, a crop or two might be total write-offs.

I am sure you get the picture, starting with that of a weeding short list drawn up from a much longer – if not endless – list of farm chores all requiring immediate attention. Of so many vegetable beds to be cleaned, of green blades and metal blades, of bended knees. First the lettuce, then the onions, followed by the corn and the beets. Weeds are incredibly resistant and count at least as many lives as nine-lived cats. All this we know, and so it is that we take the long-term view of weeding as a marathon – pacing ourselves, clipping and pulling steadily, finding our stride and generally striving to adopt a zen attitude about it all until the first fall frost finally frees us from this fatality…

This week will be our busiest yet this season as we continue to deliver our neighbourhood baskets and open our public market stands at Atwater (#99-100, facing Première Moisson) and Jean-Talon(#198-199-200, on L’Allée verte) starting Friday, July 3rd. Farm stand hours are 9 to 6 on Fridays, 9 to 5 on Saturdays and Sundays. This note therefore also serves as a reminder to market members to pick up your baskets on your assigned days.

This week’s basket is a pleasing mix of leafy green and root vegetables, including one of my personal favourites, beets – which we will be serving up with their leaves.

An Ode to Irrigators

A quick search in the dictionary leads one to conclude that irrigators come in all shapes and sizes, and serve a very wide variety of purposes. Our irrigators, however, are of the human kind, and have been sweating blood and tears almost literally – given the successive heat waves we have been experiencing – to bring liquid sustenance to all the vegetables we have already planted. Indeed, it almost seems as though the current heat wave, the 2nd of the season, will never end. We have appointed two irrigators to carry out this fundamental farm chore – 2 young fellows, full of vim and vigor, who have criss-crossed the farm trudging up and down the paths between the beds, unrolling drip tape in the beds, planting automatic sprinklers across the beds and just when they think they’re done, dealing with temperamental pumps that send them scrambling again. Irrigation is a thankless chore even in the best of conditions, but at 30 degrees celsius, it’s a real procession to calvary. Nevertheless, the job must be done, and somehow it gets done, since letting vegetables dry out for lack of an effective irrigation plan is simply not an option. Mission impossible has morphed into mission accomplished, as our sons #1 and #3, Djamel and Imad, have stepped up and met the challenge full on. We all have reason to be grateful.
And now for a word re this week’s basket : it is similar to last week’s, with the notable addition of strawberries which come from our friends in Farnham, La ferme des 3 Samson. We stopped doing strawberries a few years ago, but considering how difficult it has become to source good quality organic strawberries, we’ll be growing our own again next year, particularly as we add an additional 4 hectares to the 6 already under cultivation.

Moving Out of May

What a month May has been! We’ve seen it all, weather-wise: from nights at -5 degrees Celsius to days over 30. It has meant countless hours installing floating row covers to protect vegetables – boldly (or foolhardily, it depends on one’s perspective) planted despite the frost warnings – then moving tens of meters of irrigation lines from one field to another so as not to lose the same vegetables to drought. A foretaste of the season to come, a couple of warning shots across the bow to remind us of Mother Nature’s whims…

Through it all, our young crew has been kept busy with a myriad of tasks, the most important of which has been the transplanting of thousands of plants from seedling greenhouse to field : onions and leeks, spinaches, lettuces and other greens, and all of our spring brassicas. This work will be ongoing until mid-June as we wait to be truly frost-free before planting our heat-loving solanaceae and cucurbits. The last few days of beautiful, first hot, then cooler, weather have been invigorating for everything that has already made it out to the fields — and that had previously been in a holding pattern given the unseasonably cold start to the month.

We are just hoping the plants will make up for lost time.

Family and Friends

As is no doubt true for many of you, COVID-19 is everything but business as usual here at the farm. That said, seeding and transplanting in the greenhouse are essentially untouched, these are activities we handle on our own, meticulously. Likewise, basic field prep is handled by our home team – sitting high on our tractors, we turn under last year’s crop residues and crush green manures and cover crops into the soil. The truly disruptive effect of the pandemic is manifest in the late arrival of our Mexican contingent, six employees whom I rely upon heavily during the season and whose work ethic and efficiency I value greatly. This year, we’ll be chafing at the bit while we wait for them to arrive by late May or early June. We’ve averted disaster with a Plan B, i.e. the drafting of our children’s friends, who stand ready to brave the elements, face the physical demands of working the soil and plant the tens of thousands of seedlings biding their time on our hardening tables. Our recruiting efforts have borne fruit : we currently have enough temporary fieldhands to start our fieldwork in earnest, pending the arrival of reinforcements.

Sign-ups continue apace. Within a couple of weeks, all our drop-off locations will be full. Fresh produce, eggs on a first come first serve basis and the sourdough breads of Capitaine Levain, should you opt to sign up for them too. Only seven weeks to D-day for our regular season baskets, and nine weeks until our farmstand season basket deliveries begin at Atwater and Jean-Talon.

A Greenhouse of My Own

Would that I could spend the entire season in my seedling greenhouse. It’s where I’ve been hiding since the Ides of March : a cozy refuge under a wooden frame, a zen space, a peaceful and warm oasis. These are precious moments which I cherish, but they are also mission critical to ensure the season is properly launched – onions and leeks to start, then peppers and eggplants, tomatoes very soon as well as successive waves of lettuces, broccoli and beets patiently biding their time. It’s a long and repetitive list, one meticulously planned. While we remain completely subject to the vagaries of Mother Nature as soon as we begin cultivating in our fields, our greenhouse seedling management leaves nothing to chance and owes everything to Excel…

What makes it all so satisfying are the moments of introspection and meditation the greenhouse procures, and repetitive gestures that transport one to another plane, as the 800th lettuce seed is nestled in its cell or the 2000th pepper plant seedling is transplanted and is suddenly unfettered to grow more. Indeed, would that I could stay here forever – but I cannot. The seasonal perfect storm is already brewing, and as the ranks of seedlings swell they are a daily reminder of the maelstrom yet to come, the field transplanting and planting that will keep us busy all summer. Anticipation is in the air…

Patience is a virtue

The confinement measures of the past weeks have allowed us to focus on urgent and not-so-urgent farm tasks like starting our greenhouse seedlings – obviously – as well as a slew of other projects, big and small, some of which had been back-burnered for a while. While yours truly has been quietly filling trays in his greenhouse bubble, yours truly’s offspring has been put to the task of taking down what remains of our main greenhouse, after it was destroyed by gale-force winds last spring. Phase two of the family chore will be its reconstruction this summer to allow us to plan for an extended growing season this year. Other projects include a reorganisation of our wash and pack shed, the construction of a warehouse space for our winter squash and the relocation of our current tool room. As long as their furlow keeps them on the farm, our young ‘uns will be put to good use, and we will be forever grateful for their efforts… Like you all, we are settling into confinement, buoyed by the hope of a better tomorrow and a greater appreciation of patience as a virtue.

Springtime Rituals

In this time of COVID-19, there’s nothing better than looking toward the future and life’s simple pleasures. In a mere week, we’ll be opening our greenhouses again and the dance of the seedlings will begin. We have received all our seeds, from eggplants to tomatoes and summer squash to sweet peppers, not to mention all our herbs and our sweet corn. We’re not in too much of a rush, but we still have to clean the greenhouse from top to bottom, straighten out our growing tables, which shift and heave under the effects of alternating frosts and thaws (yes, even in a greenhouse) and test our furnaces. It’s our springtime ritual, the beginning of an ongoing rite of passage for each and every seedling sown in the greenhouse between late March through late August.

2020 Season Launch

It is with equal parts pleasure and trepidation that we announce the launch of our 2020 CSA season, our 11th to be precise. We thought it best to wait until the first real winter storm of the year was behind us, but as we are only a few weeks from the opening of our seedling greenhouse, the time has come – to rev up our laptops, update a few links on the website and press ‘send’. Well-rested, in both body and soul, we are eager to project ourselves into the future, towards the farming season that awaits us – ready, once again, to expect the unexpected. We’ve come to face each season as a clean slate, filled with the resolve to do better than the year before and to share with you the best of what our gardens have to offer.

Our CSA programme remains essentially unchanged : a large and a small basket, the first for 3 to 4 adults, the second for one to two adults, or a small family with one or two little ones. Our ‘regular’ season deliveries are scheduled to begin Wednesday June 17 and to end Thursday November 5, for a total of 21 weeks…Our ‘farmstand’ season – for members signed up for our market baskets at Atwater and Jean-Talon markets – will run from Friday, July 3rd through Sunday November 1, for a total of 18 weeks. For the organic sourdough bread fans amongst you, we are pleased to confirm the return of Capitaine Levain’s seasonal bread basket. You know the ropes already : you can sign up directly with them through our website – they bake, we deliver.

A closing word on a few of this year’s projects: firstly, we will be rebuilding our large greenhouse which was damaged by high winds in March of 2019 and planning for the construction of two new greenhouses that will allow us to extend our season to late November, possibly early December. Secondly, we will be opening 4 hectares of new land to allow for better crop rotations and complete autonomy for plant-based fertilisation of our crops. Last but not least, we plan to continue to develop new green manure mixes to meet the nutritional needs of our vegetable crops.

The season will be intense. We invite you all to join us again to share in the farm’s bounty.