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.

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.

Delivery Week 1: At Last!

Clement weather of late has given our vegetables the boost they needed to really do some serious growing. It gives us great pleasure therefore to inform you that we will be delivering the first basket of the season as planned, i.e. starting Wednesday June 17 for our Montreal West and Town of Mount Royal drop-off locations and Thursday June 18 for our Westmount drop-off location as well as at the Farm. Farm members registered for our 18-week “farmstand” basket programme at Atwater and Jean-Talon markets please take note: pick-ups for your baskets will begin the first weekend we open at both markets, i.e. July 3rd through the 5th, depending on the pick-up day you selected.
COVID oblige, we have modified a few aspects of our basket pick-up modus operandi, most notably with the introduction of a rule to the effect that only farm staff will be authorized to handle the baskets. This key measure will ensure proper social distancing in response to concerns some of you may have re excessive promiscuity within a restricted area. Please consult the sketches for each of our neighbourhood delivery locations and come prepared to respect the requisite 2-meter social distancing rule. Please note that we have extended pick-up hours to start at 4 pm and end at 7 pm. To stagger your visits, in the absence of something more scientific, we simply propose the following – namely, that members whose last name starts with letters between A and H aim to arrive between 4 and 5 pm; those with last names between I and P, between 5 and 6 pm; and those with last names between Q and Z, from 6 pm until the end. Obviously, these are suggestions only, your respective schedules permitting; otherwise, come when you can.
Farm regulars already know that the contents of our first two or three baskets of the season are always pretty leafy, and this year will be no exception as we will be offering up kale or Swiss chard, spinach, arugula, lettuce, small turnips, garlic scapes (yes, already!), pak choy, herbs, kohlrabi (provided they continue to swell over the next few days) and baby potatoes (2019) from our usual organic potato supplier, Ferme Réal Samson et fils, a neighbour who just happens to be one of Quebec’s best organic potato producers.
DO NOT FORGET: to bring you own bags and to collect your organic sourdough loaves if you have signed up for Capitaine Levain’s weekly bread basket.
We look forward to seeing you all again soon.

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.

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.

Bountiful harvests

Our garlic was harvested in late July and is slowly drying in our red barn, while our Italian tomatoes are quickly turning red in the fields. In other words, now is the time to place your orders for garlic and/or tomatoes, all of you who like to stock up for the long winter months ahead. This year, we invite you to once again place your orders via our website by clicking here – they will be delivered to you, while quantities last, at our CSA drop-off locations and/or our market stands at Atwater and Jean-Talon markets in coming weeks as soon as they are ready. We will advise you of the expected delivery date ahead of time, payment will be primarily cash on delivery although at our market stand you will also be able to pay via interac (using your debit card).

Garlic: easy to keep until late Spring or even longer, provided you follow a few key rules to ensure optimal storage conditions – namely, keep the garlic in its original wrapping (a paper bag), store it in a kitchen cupboard – in the dark and avoiding fluctuations in temperature. A cool cupboard is recommended over either your fridge or a dank garage.

Italian tomatoes: we produce two varieties of Italian paste tomatoes, the San Marzano and the Roma. Both are ideal for canning or sauce-making, i.e. fleshy and not excessively juicy. As we harvest them at or near maturity, it is important that you plan to process them in the two to three days following delivery.

 

To market, to market

The pressure has just gone up a few notches at the farm – as if we needed that – but for a great reason: namely, the impending opening of our two farm stands at Atwater and Jean Talon markets, next Friday, as the florists and nursery owners who inaugurate the outdoor market season give way to the produce growers like us who close it out when the wind turns in October…And so it is that we’ve been busy sawing, sanding, staining, painting and hammering away… nothing to do with anything agricultural per se, but all in the hopes that our stands will catch the eye of Sunday shoppers and loyal customers alike. The market season launch is both similar to, but different from, our basket season launch – it’s essentially the same produce served up to ‘regulars’ and new customers, albeit in a different setting from that of our CSA basket deliveries.


Lest we forget to remind you: we are already planning the resumption of our annual méchoui, a tradition we had let lapse with the opening of our Atwater farm stand three years ago, but which we are pleased to be reinstating this year – specifically on September 2nd, Labour Day Monday. It’s a byob potluck affair: we provide the roast meats, you bring your favourite side dishes to share and we take you all on a tour of the farm. Details to follow.

Week One

Just as we were beginning to despair, the sun finally appeared, and some heat, too. As we toured the fields today, Sunday, we felt Mother Nature bursting at the seams, impatient to make up for lost time. Like us, she is all too aware that summer is short in our northern climes and that a successful season means taking advantage of every minute of every hour of sunshine that the weather will allow. We’ve already had a few unwelcome visitors – potato beetles in our eggplants, cucumber beetles in our winter squash. Isn’t it early, you may ask – indeed it is, but climate change oblige, past is no longer prologue. They have arrived, and we’ll have to make do. Beetles notwithstanding, the season is finally launched, and we’re glad.

Cool weather

Yo-yoing weather forecasts, mad transplanting dashes between scattered rain showers and an all-around schizophrenic spring – that about sums up the world we’ve been living in for the past several weeks. Things are progressing nonetheless, and as I write these lines, having taken advantage of the rare sunny moments and selected the least humid of our vegetable beds, we’ve managed to stay abreast of our planting schedule so far – with everything needing to be planted actually planted. That includes our first brassicas, a whole lot of leafy greens, our early solanaceas as well as our early cucurbits (i.e. cukes and zukes). The days are still cool, the nights coooler still – our veggies are feeling the chill and their growth is sluggish. There is still a long list of veggies waiting to be (trans)planted to the fields, but we’ll need some help from Mother Nature before we can say mission accomplished. All the while, we’ve been having flashbacks to 2017, a season that started out just as wet, albeit a bit warmer, if memory serves me.

Stormy Weather

Things had been pretty zen until this week at Arlington Gardens – the weather having conspired against us, the rain and the cold having kept us chomping at our bit. Zen doesn’t mean not busy, it just means not insanely busy, with seeding in the greenouse continuing apace, and transplanting too – herbs, root celery, tomatoes, eggplant, even. These are the moments I prefer, of quiet solitude and intense concentration. Transplanting means giving the seedling more space to grow, then watching it spread its wings, so to speak, and fly. While the exercise seems fraught, to worry is to understimate plants – they are far more resilient than they seem. Yanking it from its cocoon, moving it from the known to the unknown – ie creating a bit of stress – triggers the plant’s instinct of survival and then some. In just a few days, they are thriving again…

Our registrations have been ticking along – we’re at approximately two thirds of our target for the 2019 season. Only 5 weeks to go before deliveries begin, so hurry up and register if you haven’t already. 21 organic produce baskets starting June 12 and ending November 3rd, along with the organic sourdough breads of Capitaine Levain, flexibility to accommodate your vacation schedules and most of all, good cheer at all our drop-off locations! See you soon.