Core Meeting with the Farmers

Several of the CSA Core members — those of us who help to organize the CSA — were able to meet with Farmer Julia earlier this month to go over our survey responses and to start making plans for 2011.

Farmers Heather and Julia from Woodbridge Farm.

Farmer Heather also joined us — she’s been working at Woodbridge Farm for two years and will be taking on a greater role next year growing the vegetables while Julia hopes to spend more time overseeing the general health of the farm and problem solving specific issues.

They’ll be working with a program this year called the Real Food Campaign which will provide scientific analysis of their soil and veggies to help the farmers produce high vitamin and mineral content food. The analysis will tell them what nutrients they need to add to the soil, with the goal of improving the quality of their crops.

Last year’s irrigation problem put on a strain on their entire crop. Julia and Dave rented a field from a nearby farmer, who told them that when he used to farm those fields, he used the pond on his land for irrigation. Unknown to all, the pond had filled in with sediment quite a lot since then, so they found themselves to be basically pumping mud at some point, and had already done quite a lot of damage to the crop by the time the problem was discovered. They tried to salvage what they could, but as we know, results were poor. The difficulty of managing this second farm impacted their ability to keep their own land maintained, and the overall crop suffered greatly.

The solution for 2011 is quite simple: they will not be renting the extra field this year. In addition to the water problem, it stretched their labor resources too far to have to go off site on a regular basis. Their own land has a very deep well with which they have had no problems, and they are adding a drip tape irrigation system to their fields. Overall, their hope is that refocusing on less land will bring a better yield overall and bigger and more nutritious vegetables.

The other major problem from 2010 that we were able to discuss was the many late deliveries. Julia acknowledged that some staffing issues on the farm made for their Tuesdays inefficient, and expressed confidence that this year’s hires would be better at simply getting the truck packed in time for Dave to make the long trip to New York. We made it clear that we are very reluctant to start distribution any later than 5:00 since there are several CSA members for whom even 5:00 is already too late.

We did agree to create a better system for informing all members when traffic unavoidably delays Dave’s arrival, including a way to get shares to members who are unable to come back to distribution. And Julia agreed that she could get someone at the farm to email us the share breakdown before Dave shows up so that the whiteboard and labels for the veg bins can be setup in advance, allowing distribution to start much faster once Dave does arrive.

Finally, we agreed that there needs to be a better effort all around to communicate farm issues to the CSA members. Julia’s emails are often very informative, but we get too few of them during the season. But also, when Julia sent the core an email last summer about their irrigation problem, the Core members did not do a good enough job getting that information out to our members. We’ll be using the website more, sending more emails to members, and the farm will get more information to us (possibly with their own Facebook page).

We’ll have an update from Julia in January about what crops they plan on growing in 2011 — they are already planting in the greenhouse.

Finally, a bit of cheese news: cheese will continue to be a similar (small) number of varieties, that’s just all they’re set up for right now. We’ll make sure to get better descriptions of those cheeses, though, so everyone knows exactly what they’re eating.

Woodbrige Pork Coming this Fall

Woodbridge Farm has let us know that their pork shares will soon be available again, a little earlier than the past two years.

Woodbridge Farm also raises heritage pigs. These animals are fed certified organic grain, supplemented by vegetables from our garden and whey from our cheese making process. They enjoy 2 acres of woods as their home and root and sleep as they are naturally meant to.

Their “Mini Pork Share” for $150 will be made up approximately of the following cuts and weights:

  • Pork Chops – 3 lbs
  • Country Style Ribs – 2 lbs
  • Sausage (hot, mild or breakfast) – 2 lbs
  • Shoulder Roast – 3.5 lb
  • Ham Steaks – 3 lbs
  • Bacon – 3 lbs

Please let Dave and Julia know directly if you want a share by emailing them at Payment can be made at the time the pork is delivered.

Distribution dates should be Oct. 5 and Oct. 26.

And remember, there are also Woodbridge Farm beef shares available. Sign up here.

Update from the Farm

David and Julia just sent us this update:

Dear CSA Members,

Thank you so much for your support and patience and your words of encouragement throughout the past weeks of slim harvests. It is time to give you an update on how things developed since our last e-mail in which we had shared with you our trouble with the irrigation.

We have good news in that we have been able to supply an abundance of water to our fall crops including: lettuce, pac choy, chinese cabbage, kale and swiss chard, tatsoi and broccoli, turnips, salad greens, radishes, carrots and beets.

We did have to abandon a good third of one of our fields on which we were growing all the cucurbits (squash, cucumbers, winter squash and pumpkins) in order to be able to supply enough water to the fall crops and the remaining summer crops with the small well we are now using – this decision was relatively easy since the plants had been heavily impacted by the lack of water over the summer. As a consequence of this drought, the winter squash yield this year is not very good. Equally impacted is the potato yield – which is probably going to come to an end soon.

The recent cold nights took a toll on the field tomatoes which have slowed down production to almost nothing. We have a beautiful second succession of beans that is yielding abundantly at the moment and should continue to do so for the next three weeks if the weather holds up and we don’t get any early night frosts.

So you should expect to see more cooking and salad greens as well as root crops going into fall – but keep in mind that the usual basics of potatoes and winter squash might be missing this fall.

Thank you again for your continued support!

“Know Your Food!”

Julia and David Smagorinsky
Woodbridge Farm LLC
30 Woodbridge Road
Salem, CT 06420
phone: (860) 531-8090

About the low yield at our CSA

Email to members 9/4/10:

The last few weeks have seen a decreasing yield in our CSA shares, culminating last week in what was probably our smallest take-home in three years. Farmer Julia provided us with a detailed explanation of their challenges this year with irrigation and water supply, problems highlighted by the general lack of rain this summer. You can read her full letter on our web site, but the gist of it is not good news — the pond that Woodbridge Farm has relied on for irrigation has practically dried up, and they expect sparse pick-ups for at least another few weeks.

Julia is hoping for better results for their fall crops, as they’ve been given permission to tap into a neighbor’s well. We’ve asked for an update on their progress, and will post that to the web site also as soon as we receive it.

It’s worth noting that CSAs were invented precisely to help growers withstand the natural unpredictability of a small farm, as well as to provide amazingly fresh produce with no chemicals to consumers. That is, we ask that you patiently take the bad with the good. Our CSA provides Julia and Dave with the kind of economic security family farmers have never had; CSAs in NYC and around the region have helped re-energize family farms across New England; in particular, the movement has encouraged more small farmers to grow organically, which leaves their crops more susceptible to the vagaries of weather and disease. In other words, we hope there’s more to your CSA membership than the desire for tasty tomatoes.

We try not to get too mission-preachy here at the Grand Street CSA, but when all you get to take home is a pile of purslane, maybe a big-picture pep-talk is in order.

(Speaking of purslane … we posted some information about what you can do with the stuff to our web site, and thought it was a good time to remind you of all the veggie tip sheets from Just Food. There’s even one for purslane.)

Please feel free, as always, to email us your comments and complaints, or to talk to the core member at distribution on Tuesday. And if you have time in your busy day for a quick rain dance, Julia and Dave and the salad greens will appreciate it.

CSA Yields

Important news from the farm:

We hope all of you are enjoying the vegetables we have been providing so far this year. For those of you who have been members from the beginning or if this is your second season with us you may have noticed a decline in yield of some of our crops like salad greens, lettuce heads and cooking greens as well as the size of our peppers and cucumbers. We have been been facing some different challenges this year especially with irrigation and water supply. We wanted to update you as to what we have been encountering and share our concern for potentially lower yields in the weeks to come.

This year we had implemented a new system on a new field we call,”Gadbois Field”. The system is drip irrigation which utilizes drip tape the runs the length of each bed that we grow in and as the word implies water drips out of the tape to irrigate our plants. The drip tape and bed is covered with plastic mulch to stop weed growth and the paths in between each bed is mowed to keep everything accessible for harvest and a healthy environment for growth. The water source is a pond adjacent the field that is pumped to the drip tape that runs up and down 60 beds (about 4 acres). We noticed about 2 months ago that our veggies were not growing as expected and started a comprehensive fertility program using fish emulsion and calcium, and irrigated more often. Still something was not right and as we were planting our fall crops last week we discovered the answer when the pond went dry during an irrigation attempt. It became apparent that we had been irrigating less water then needed by clogging up the pumps filtration lines with sludge from the “near” bottom of the pond. This is not good news as what has not received enough water during this period are a good amount of the vegetables we had planned for the next 4 weeks. So expect some sparse pick ups in the near future.
For the fall crops we have hope that a well the neighboring farmer agreed to let us use will pull us through the remainder of the season. It has only been 3 days since our discovery and that we have been using the well. It is not a deep enough well to irrigate all 60 beds at once so we have started with 3 at a time and will be adding a bed at a time until we find the wells “breaking point” and irrigate as often as we must to save as many crops as we can.

Rain…Rain…Rain!!! We need rain. We have had only a few rain falls since May which plays into our struggle greatly. Both the pond and the well is dependent on rain fall.

As all of you are part of our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program we do greatly appreciate your understanding and continued commitment through all the good and challenging times the farm has had in the past and the struggle we are encountering currently. Thank You!

“Know Your Food!”

Julia and David Smagorinsky
Woodbridge Farm LLC
30 Woodbridge Road
Salem, CT 06420
phone: (860) 531-8090

More Chances for Beef Shares this Year

If you missed our grass-fed beef sign-up this spring, you’ll have a few more chances to participate. Woodbridge Farm will be providing us with beef over the next three or four months, and you can sign up whenever you have the urge. The order form below has the details:

First Cheese Coming with Veggies Tuesday

From Farmer/Cheesemaker Dave:

The first cheese will be our “Udderly Delicious,” a washed rind cheese that is based on a French Tomme recipe. It’s the softer of the two you tried during our last visit. We will then alternate between it and the “Cosmic Cow” which is based on a Gruyer recipe.

We will mix in other cheeses as they become available. We plan to make a camembert and a chaurce which are both classified as bloomy rind soft cheeses. Feta possibly down the road and Yogurt if you think folks wouldn’t mind a non-cheese dairy item in the mix.

Update from the Farm

Julia from Woodbridge Farm writes:

The vegetables are looking beautiful, lush and green, and it appears that this spring a lot of leaf crops are exactly 10 days early. This means I am going to send a lot of lettuce and boc choys your way next week. There will also be some herbs and a mild salad greens mix with spinach, as well as kale and swiss chard.

On the dairy side of our operation, things are looking fabulous as well. The pastures are lush, cows and calves are happy and healthy, and we now finally have our official raw milk license.

See you all Tuesday!

Notes from Woodbridge Farm

Julia, from Woodbridge Farm, wrote in to give us some feedback on our feedback — her response to our end-of-year survey:

“I would say, for us this has been the best season so far. There were certain issues with specific crops (see below) but overall we always had a good amount and variety of food available. There is of course always room for improvement, but with respect to the rainy season and the tomato-blight problem, we were not effected by either. A lot of other things happened on the farm: we finished the construction of the creamery, started to milk our cows and to make cheese. This is the other major component of our farm to enable us to become long term financially sustainable.”

She was also able to respond, vegetable by vegetable, to the items we indicated we would like to see more of:

Sweet Potatoes
Although we planted them again this year, they unfortunately for the first time did not grow at all. I figure it was simply too cold. Also, we get a lot of damage through voles, who seem to love sweet potatoes, and through harvesting without adequate harvesting equipment. I can put that question out to the membership: do you care if the sweet potatoes are sometimes cut in half?

The other problem is that sweet potatoes want to be cured in 85F for 2 weeks, to enhance sweetness and storability. I have very limited capacities to do this.

Brussel Sprouts
Brussel sprouts are a late fall crop. They come in in late November and taste best after they experienced a first hard frost. This is really after the CSA has finished. The other problem is that the aphid pressure gets so strong in late fall, that I haven’t been able to grow brussel sprouts successfully thus far.

I am very aware that broccoli is a favorite and considered a staple vegetable. For our situation it is actually very expensive to grow broccoli. It takes a lot of care, space, timely management, fertilizer, etc etc. And it only yields one proper head once. It is also a seasonal crop that grows in spring or in fall and gives you a harvest season of about 2 to 4 weeks each time. I have been working hard on improving the quality and quantity of our broccoli crop, and was actually extremely pleased with the results this year. I am not sure if I can substantially increase the supply in the future — if we were to increase the quantity, it would increase the amount offered at those pickup weeks in which we already offer broccoli, but it would not increase the number of times when broccoli is offered (it simply does not produce anything for most part of the season). Please let me know if that is of any interest to you, and I can see what I can do.

This is a crop that is even trickier to grow than broccoli, and after trying it for a couple of seasons I stepped back from it.

Cucumbers (along with eggplants) were one of the crops severely impacted this year by the cool weather, as well as an abundance of pests of all kinds: beetles, voles, groundhogs etc etc – we are changing management practices next year, moving to a black plastic mulch system for all the heat loving crops (cucumbers, zucchinis, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, squash, this new system will also allow us to grow melons for the first time, which I am really excited about) – so hopefully this will solve most of the problems at once.

For some reason, spinach is having an unusually difficult time in our fields. There appears to be a soil-borne fungus which wilts the leave before they can grow to any harvestable size. I have been trying every year, trying different varieties, supplementing with seaweed, etc etc but so far there has not been any reliable success – sorry, we’ll keep trying, and hopefully we will find a solution

We will have scallions again next year. We did plant them, but 80% never took, never started to grow. The only explanation I have for this phenomena is a crop rotation issue.

(see cucumbers above) – they will really love the added heat they get from the black plastic

Peas are very seasonal and are usually grown in spring. We grow a lot of peas for the amount of people we have available to harvest them all. It takes four people more than six hours to get through them all, and we have to do this twice a week. Considering the little market value peas have, it is actually quite unreasonable for us to grow them, but we do it anyhow, because everybody loves them so much. (This is the same for beans, the amount of time it takes to handpick peas and beans makes us completely incompatible with larger and more specialized farms that have mechanized harvesting systems.)

Both onions and leeks I am hoping to improve the quantity that we will be able to harvest in the coming year. So far we had very little turnout (the percentage of harvestable sized crops compared to the amount we planted has been very low.) I ran some trials on the leeks late in the season and was able to observe a very great response to foliar feeding with a seaweed extract. I will include these sprays in our management practices from now on and hopefully have much better results.

(see above)

We had a very good harvest of tomatoes this year (especially compared to all the problems the farms north and west of us had, who ended up with no tomatoes at all) – if you are looking for an earlier crop, I won’t be able to supply that. Tomatoes grown in the field come in in mid August, Greenhouse tomatoes are 4 weeks earlier but we have very limited Greenhouse space. Unfortunately, the town doesn’t really seem to support farming too much, so the second Greenhouse we build, we were never able to take into productive use, since the town did not allow us to put the plastic cover on it.
Beets are a riddle to me. Some germinate, some don’t, some grow nice and large while the next one over stays really small. Why? I am not sure. I have a few hints to work with, namely application of lime at seeding, deeper seeding depth, earlier thinning (this is a real time constraint issue – maybe your CSA members can afford to come out to a volunteer beet thinning party?), possibly also seaweed extract application. Hopefully I will be able to solve this in the near future. I believe in addition to the normal riddle I experience growing beets, there was a problem of seed quality this year, the beets had extremely low germination rates.

Woodbridge Farm Wants YOU!

David and Julia are looking for volunteers to help mulch tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and peppers during the weekend of June 6. If you’d like to get your hands dirty, email them for more details: woodbridgefarm at