Farm style espionage

An important aspect of the internship at Chelsea Gardens over the summer was spying on visiting other organic and biodynamic farms in the region. No matter what your domain, any opportunity to see how other people approach their work is a hugely important aspect of the learning experience, and organic farming is no different. The monthly farm tours gave us not only an opportunity to take a break, and socialise a little during the mandatory pot luck at the conclusion of each farm tour, but a chance to discuss major issues of the season (this year drought and insect populations) as well as more specific problems such as the incidence of cercospora leaf spot in chenopods (fungus on beets and chard). Farmers and interns alike were able to geek out about agriculture checking out  tractors and implements on site, looking at the irrigation system set up, visiting livestock, investigating the cold cellar, making notes on washing station organization, and pest management strategies. Conversations concerning markets, profitability in relation to overall farm finances and specific crops, the worth of value added products, the future of organic farming and progress of the season in general were common topics discussed at length around the dinner table.

Each and every farm is physically different with unique soil profiles, topography, water sources, vegetable and variety selection, livestock, equipment, acreage. As an intern I found it invaluable to physically experience this and learn about some of the problems faced by other farmers and the creative and practical ways they utilise the available resources to overcome them. A great example was at Rainbow Heritage Farm, which is off the grid, where keeping produce cool without draining the solar system batteries is achieved by making ice in the winter and letting it slowly melt over the summer in the cold storage cellar; a purpose built room that is half sunk into a hill so it has plenty of thermal mass.

I was lucky enough to participate in all the farm tours over the summer, meeting a diverse and interesting group of people along the way. Although each farmer’s background and years of experience as well as farm size, mechanization, livestock, fruit and vegetable varieties varied significantly from farm to farm everyone was bound by a willingness to share and support one another despite often being in competition for market share. The common belief, that growing organic food is an essential component of today’s society, that must continue as part of our responsibility to ourselves and the earth we live on, and a commitment to the hard work necessitated to achieve that goal serve to form a sense of camaraderie amongst the group. Despite each farm tackling issues such as pests and disease, crop rotation, soil health, staff management and marketing with their own approach there was a strong sense of mutual respect between farmers and it was a pleasure to feel like a part of the community, if only for one short season.

To go on a mini farm tour of your own, visit any of the farm web sites by clicking on the logos below.

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