January 18, 2011

Winter Greetings from Woodbridge Farm

We got this email from Woodbridge Farm and wanted to make sure we passed it along:
Dear CSA Members,

We hope you all enjoyed a happy holiday season.

We are writing to you this winter full of appreciation for your loyalty and support during the past season, filled with immense challenges and sparse yields.

As you can imagine, we are in the middle of an exciting planning season, inspired, as always, by experience and new books. Given the experience of last summer, we have been working out major adjustments for the upcoming season, starting already late last summer. We are confident that we have developed solid solutions to prevent major issues such as the water shortage from happening again. We are going to go into more detail below on how we are going to grow our vegetables this coming season, and what decisions we have made to secure the quality and quantity of delicious, farm fresh, organic produce.

In this newsletter, we are going to give you a general update of what is happening at Woodbridge Farm, then recap the challenges we found ourselves confronted with in the 2010 growing season. And finally, we will go into the details of the upcoming season: how we are going to grow our vegetables and which crops you can expect in 2011.

What is new at Woodbridge Farm?

As we are entering our 6th year here at Woodbridge Farm, there are a lot of exciting changes happening. I am expecting to give birth to our family’s 2nd child in early March. We are excited to have brought on board Heather DeWolf as our new field manager.

After helping to get this farm on its feet for the past five years, David now left his job as one of Woodbridge Farm’s managers to further his career in the banking world and to provide more financial security to our growing family.

In our annual meeting with the owners and directors of Woodbridge Farm - Anne Bingham and her family - we decided that it will make most sense for the next few years to focus our efforts on our two most financially and farm-systemically relevant operations: the vegetable production and the dairy and cheese production. This will mean that we won’t raise any chickens or pigs in 2011. We apologize to the pork and egg lovers, but it makes a lot of sense financially as well as labor-wise, especially this year with a newborn and the need to restructure all the work that David used to do.

Review of the 2010 Growing Season

While agriculture is always hard work and always a confrontation with unexpected challenges, such as floods or droughts, pests and broken equipment, the past year brought us an extraordinary accumulation of such. Because Southeastern Connecticut experienced an unusually dry year with minimal rainfall, there was hardly sufficient water to keep the grass on our pastures alive, and our irrigation pond at the Gadbois Field dried up. At the same time, we had problems with our overhead irrigation system (a traveling sprinkler system design to roll itself up – but failed to do so) in our Bailey Field location and had thus moved most summer crops to the Gadbois location. Now we had two fields with minimal water supply. In addition to this we encountered a severe crab grass infestation at Gadbois Field, which was swallowing our crops alive until we finally got financing for the appropriate piece of equipment to take care of it. Growing intensive crops in two different locations added logistical problems and transportation challenges.

Adding to all of this, we were lacking a strong work force. We found ourselves with a group of apprentices with very questionable motives to farm and even less motivation to learn how to perform tasks efficiently. One aspect of large scale vegetable production is that timing is absolutely crucial –in other words if you don’t get a bed of carrots hoed today, next week it will take you at least twice as long, and meanwhile the carrots will not be able to grow.

Everybody who was a member of our farm last year knows all too well what the consequences of all this were: very low yields, small, often misshaped vegetables, as well as off-flavors in some crops.

The 2011 Vegetable CSA

So, we are off into a new season, and I can say that we are truly optimistic, excited and confident.

We have learned a lot of lessons from the past season, and have been able to make clear decisions that will help us prevent similar scenarios in the future and continuously improve both yield and quality.

As the whole farm centralizes our production, we are also embracing a more focused vegetable growing operation. We have come to believe that a more consolidated field plan will allow us to focus intently on plant care and maintenance, producing higher quality, more abundant vegetables, rather than spreading our operation out where it is harder to provide needed attention. So first of all, we are moving all of our vegetable production back to the Bailey Fields. This will allow us to utilize a deep and secure well, which is deep enough to be unaffected by seasonal climate changes. This decision will also alleviate the need to travel back and forth to a far away field.

We are going to focus on the staple crops and slightly reduce the variety we offer . The crops that we are discontinuing either yield unsubstantial amounts (hot peppers, shallots, edible flowers), or are extremely costly and labor-intensive to grow (celery) or to harvest (beans). We hope that eliminating these crops will allow us to grow more delicious favorite staples in greater abundance. Please see below for a complete list of crops offered in 2011.

We are going to use an integrated system of drip irrigation and plastic mulch with grass strips in between the beds. This system will allow us to:
  • supply adequate water at all times, without wasting water lost through evaporation, common in overhead irrigation systems
  • mulch instead of continuously hoeing or tractor cultivating the soil. This will leave the soil life undisturbed and highly functional
  • use grass strips in between the beds to allow for a permanent vegetative cover, which builds soil rather than allowing for erosion
  • reduce the use of tractors and thus the use of diesel fuel
  • use different colors of mulching material. Black plastic  adds heat to the soil and thus benefits heat loving crops, while white plastic can be used in summer lettuce production to keep the soil cool.

And last but not least, we are implementing the Nutrient Density approach to growing organic produce, in addition to our organic and biodynamic certification. There is a wonderful website featuring great short educational videos highlighting some key aspects of this scientifically thorough, inspiring, and supportive approach to farming (www.realfoodcampaign.org). Visit the website to see for yourselves how excited we are by this philosophy to produce the best produce for both taste and nutrition, support the natural life cycle of plants to give farmers less disease and pest problems, and conserve the earth’s precious resources of vital and alive soil.

The goal of the Nutrient Density approach is to ensure the highest quality of organically produced crops that are loaded with nutrients, and to provide the consumer with tools to verify the presence of those nutrients themselves.

At the same time, by addressing underlying nutrient deficiencies, particularly of micro nutrients such as zinc, copper or manganese, the health of the plant will improve and allow resistance to diseases and pests, producing more fruit for a longer period of time.

Thus we will be able to ensure adequate quantity of vegetables to our CSA members while simultaneously and continuously improving the quality, taste and appearance of the produce. In particular, we are hoping to successfully resolve the issues that we have encountered in the past by producing:
  • properly shaped cucumbers
  • larger broccoli heads
  • larger peppers and eggplants
  • higher yields of all fruiting crops
  • better tasting radishes, turnips and summer salad greens.

This is an exciting season for us, loaded with new inspiration and supported by excellent consultation from Dan Kittredge and the Real Food Campaign.

Finally, we are striving this season to develop and sustain closer connections to you, our CSA members. In order to foster a more intimate understanding of the farm that feeds you, we will be writing weekly updates throughout the season. We hope to share events and news from the farm, as well as information about that week’s harvest. During more relaxed times in the season, we hope to share more detailed stories and discussions, while the super busy summer months might just provide a quick hello! Look for this update on our Facebook page: facebook.com/woodbridgefarm. Feel free to send us questions and comments!

Crops, we are growing in 2011:

Basil, beets, boc choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots,  chinese cabbage (napa), cucumbers, dill, eggplant, garlic, kale, leeks, lettuce heads, onions, parsley, parsnips,  peas, peppers (sweet/bell), potatoes, radishes, salad greens, scallions, swiss chard, tomatoes, turnips, winter squash, zucchini.

Have a wonderful, cozy winter!

Julia and Heather
Your farmers at Woodbridge Farm

"Know Your Food!"
Julia and David Smagorinsky
Woodbridge Farm LLC
30 Woodbridge Road
Salem, CT 06420
phone: (860) 531-8090
e-mail: woodbridgefarm@sbcglobal.net
www.woodbridgefarmonline.com