Brookford Farm CSA Newsletter (2/20/17)
Hello again Brookford Farm CSA subscribers! In case we’re not yet acquainted, my name is Matt Murphy, and I was the farm’s Harvest Manager for the 2015 season and the beginning of the 2016 season. I had then initiated and did my best to regularly keep up with a CSA newsletter from the Vegetable crew to pass on our current and upcoming events, choice photos, and occasional recipes suggestions for challenging and less familiar crops. My wife and I bought a house here in Canterbury in late 2015, and as my to-do list quickly filled up with home maintenance projects (apparently everything breaks right after you move in?), our ambitious homesteading goals, and the beginning of a business venture of my own, it quickly became apparent that I was going to need more flexibility in my schedule than would befit my role at the farm. So I reluctantly left the farm, returning to my older, less preferred, but much more flexible trades of carpentry and painting. I had a great first year as a homeowner and homesteader, but even our large garden couldn’t keep me from missing the farm. Brookford’s tremendous diversity of crops, critters, and products make for an exceptionally engaging work environment, and attract incredibly hard-working and passionate people from a myriad of backgrounds; there was a lot to miss. Happily, some of you fine folks expressed to the farm that my newsletter was also missed, and as a result Luke and Catarina reached out to me about starting it up again, this time focusing on not just the Veggie Department but the whole farm. I gleefully accepted, and here we are.
Now on to the news! I had a lot to catch up on, so this will likely be longer than the typical newsletter moving forward...
I first caught up with Nick, the newest member of the animal crew, who was all smiles and already looked comfy operating the array of equipment necessary to work the silo. In the background you might have noticed a greenhouse due for a recovering, a spring task that will be a first for some of the Veggie crew’s newer members--a great, challenging experience. Let’s all hope the weather treats them to at least one wind-free day, unlike the covering of the greenhouse we put up shortly after I first started on the farm--yikes.
Next I dropped into the packhouse/shop, to find it cleaner, more organized, and more functional than I’d ever seen it before. With an incredible variety of work taking place in this space, requiring a huge array of equipment and machines, it’s tough to convey just how much of an achievement it is to keep the place in tidy order--huge kudos to the Veggie and Maintenance crews!
Before ascending several tons of sweet potatoes to snap this photo, Jen and Greg were catching me up on some of the successes and failures of this extremely dry and challenging 2016 season, as well as what they were looking forward to in the coming season. They were happily anticipating a reduction in the overall production acreage, a welcome adjustment of the balance of quality and quantity. Their tales of the overwhelming weed pressure in the potatoes and elsewhere gave me a quick pang of something akin to a PTSD flashback. Additionally, they were excited to begin the planning stages of their response to your customer survey feedback--eager to determine how much they would be able to expand the farm’s fruit and herb production in particular, and possibly even cut flowers in addition! Greg and his dad will be setting up bee hives on the farm this season, so the more nectar and pollen the better.
On my way to catch up with the Livestock crew I briefly stopped for a chat with Magic, who must be one of the prettiest nurse cows in all the land. What a face!
While the Livestock crew wrapped up a meeting, I dropped into the creamery to happily find Marie right where I left her, and her accent thinner than ever--she must be getting lots of linguistic practice training the new hands I found with her. Jana was in her first week in the creamery, and Nolan (who happens to be a neighbor I hadn’t yet met) was feeling like he was now really getting the hang of things after two and a half months aboard. He admitted to being a smoked cheese fiend, so it’s a good thing Brookford’s smoked cheddar, our mutual favorite cheese style, is easily the best we’ve had anywhere. Nolan didn’t sound like he missed his previous career as a professional driver one iota.
When the Livestock crew meeting ended I was able to catch up with Nicole about the herd. With two calves born so far this year, and a relatively light load of 43 cows milking, the dairy crew is preparing for things to get much more busy soon.
Additionally, they are pushing to get the herd certified organic this year, a lengthy process that first requires the certification of the pasture, and then requires all of the cattle to have been born on the farm. Since Brookford moved to Canterbury with a large productive herd in tow, this process has taken several years so as to avoid necessitating a very large cull of the original herd. It also seems that last year and this year brought an atypically large influx of new cattle in anticipation of the certification process, which provided an opportunity to retool the breed makeup of the herd as well. The Jerseys are now taking a back seat to the Normande breed, which, as Nicole explained to me, offers superior feed efficiency, as well as being a meatier, more balanced dual-purpose breed.
The Livestock crew’s meeting was focused on beginning to reimagine their chicken setup for this coming season, to reduce the stress on both the birds and their caretakers. While their ranging chicken trailers are relatively idyllic as far as poultry living conditions go, they are not without some pitfalls. Difficult fencing, regular visits from loud scary tractors, as well as predator pressure (there is a beautiful pair of bald eagles nesting about a mile downriver from the farm) were some of the areas of concern shared with me. I’m looking forward to hearing what they come up with and passing it along to you.
On my way to bend Luke and Catarina’s ears for a few minutes I bumped into Tim Meeh of North Family Farm, the remarkable operation behind the syrup share that Brookford offers. He shared that their operation is by no means exempt from the wild ride that this winter has made for. It warmed up enough for them to get all of their trees tapped, but then promptly snapped cold enough to freeze their lines solid. This past weekend they will have enjoyed weather warm enough to thaw the lines so that they can find and patch any leaks, and fully begin their sugaring season. In addition to their syrup being certified organic, and produced with the most sustainable methods I can imagine, it is the finest tasting maple syrup I’ve yet encountered. If you like syrup and aren’t already subscribed, I strongly suggest you acquire a bottle to try. And if you don’t think you consume enough syrup to justify a subscription, I suggest you take a look at the maple syrup health benefits detailed on the North Family Farm website and consider substituting maple syrup for your regular sweeteners.
When I reached Luke and Catarina, they confirmed that their eldest son, Oliver, had been regularly on the schedule for some of the dairy work including milking and letting the cows out at night. As far as I’m concerned, this marks the beginning of Brookford’s status as a multi-generation family farm, which I find to be an exciting semantic distinction! Luke explained that the farm has been enjoying the Somerville Winter Farmers Market on Saturdays, and that it has also enabled CSA distribution to the Boston Area. If you know folks in the Boston area that might be interested, the farm would greatly appreciate you spreading the good word. Looking forward to this coming season, Luke and Catarina also reminded me that the asparagus we planted towards the beginning of my time on the farm was going to be in its third year now, the first year viable for harvest. The large asparagus crop is a wonderful example of the kind of long term investment that your subscriptions allow the farm to undertake, as they provide far more predictable and less seasonally volatile revenue, which makes for more accurate accounting and thus much less risky reinvestment.
Finally, a quick note on some upcoming staff changes. Two very familiar faces on the farm will be leaving their positions soon. Brady, who was the Vegetable Field Manager during my time on the farm and subsequently shifted his focus to Livestock and Farmers Markets, has accepted a job at a relatively small vegetable farm in the Hudson River Valley. Hillary, who has been primarily responsible for the farm store’s improved layout and stocking procedures, as well as maintaining the farm’s wholesale accounts and delivery routes and attending farmers markets, is also moving on --though she will remain with the farm on a part-time basis for events and promotional activities. Both will be missed, and if you have the opportunity to see them at the farm, your local pickup location, or farmers market, feel free to give a hug goodbye and a fare thee well, they’re both sweeties!
I look forward to continuing this newsletter on a weekly basis, it’s such a treat being back on the farm to soak up and share notable happenings. Looking forward I plan to include more recipe suggestions and share some insight into my household’s successes and challenges as avid cooks and locavores. Please feel free to reach out if there are any particular subjects you would like to see me focus on.
On behalf of the whole farm, thank you so much for your business, and the values that brought it to us.
Peas and lub,