Last weekend, my wife and I drove out to The Farm School CSA in North Orange, Massachusetts to help them plant swiss chard. We’ve split a share of their organically grown vegetables with another couple for the past 5 years, but had never been to the farm itself or the farm school that is run on the premises. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it’s a system where clients purchase a share of the produce grown before the season, thereby sharing in the bounty and realities of the season.
Fifty percent of farming is moving equipment from one place to another. Forty-five percent is fixing it, and five percent is complaining about the weather.
We toured one of the farms run by the Farm School, called Maggie’s Farm, which was donated to them by an elderly woman named Maggie. She’s in her 70′s now, had been raised on the farm and lived there all her life. She didn’t want to see the farm get sold off like so many others in Western Massachusetts, so she lets them farm the land in exchange for 5 cords of wood from their 100 acre wood lot each year. She still cultivates an acre of her own land across the street from the farm and still grows all of her own food. It’s a great story about a hardy New England woman.
Every year, The Farm School enrolls 10 students who live there for a year, take classes, and help work the farms and fields that the school manages. They cultivate all of their own food including chickens, sheep, beef cattle and bees; run several food programs that feed children daily lunches, and support about 250 families that buy shares of their vegetable, dairy, and meet produce. The food is brought into Cambridge and Watertown Massachusetts on a weekly basis and picked up by share owners.
There are still a few vegetable CSA shares available for 2012. Sign up now!
One vegetable share is the size of a weekly bushel box and enough to keep four adults in fresh organic vegetables for 21 weeks from June into October. Like I said, we split our share with another couple and find it a lot of fun, making up new recipes around the produce we get each week, which includes mesculin mix, baby arugula, heirloom tomatoes, culinary herbs, spinach, butternut squash, turnips, fingerling potatoes as well as delicious family staples such as cucumbers, broccoli, snap peas, onions, and kale.
How to Plant Swiss Chard
A trip out the The Farm School is a lot of fun, but they will put you to work if you give the slightest indication you’re willing to help!
One thing you should know about Swiss Chard is that it’s just a variety of beet plant that’s been cultivated to sprout big leaves. That explains why some of the baby plants that had been started in The Farm House greenhouse had yellow roots and some had red roots.
Once a field has been tilled and the seedlings sprouted in flats of soil, you create three rows of plants spaced about 1 foot. One person, the dropper, picks up a flat of seedlings and drops them on top of the furrow, coming back to the truck for another flat when they run out. The planter follows behind them, a lot slower and on hands and knees, digging a small hole and putting a seedling root ball into it so the top is just covered by soil. Being a dropper hurt my back, so I liked planting better.
While you do get a bit dirty planting Swiss Chard, it is a lot of fun to do as a group, and satisfying, knowing that you helped with the season’s crop. It will make the vegetables you eat later in the year that much sweeter.