Ah, 2020... the year that felt like 10 years.
We went into this year thinking: "ok, we've finally got the farm exactly how we want it." After 10 years of farming trial and error we finally had it just right... but as we all know 2020 was not like any other year at all. In fact, it almost felt at times like it was our first year of farming again, everything that had been set in stone was now unsteady. But we got through it just fine, thanks to having a strong but adaptable system in place for how we run our farm and for the connections we have with people mostly centered around the Wolfville Farmers Market: farmers, vendors, staff and the people who actually buy our vegetables! Everyone who joined our CSA, ordered through WFM2go or came to the Market we just want to say THANK YOU!!! You have helped make this our most successful year of farming despite a pandemic... that is simply amazing. We simply and humbly grow veggies according to our values, that are obviously shared by a lot of people, which are to try and keep our little piece of nature as healthy as possible while growing food for people as naturally as possible. It is so fulfilling to have you all on this journey with us and we are so excited as even more people join in on this sustainable food movement. It feels good, it's good for you and it's good for nature. What could be better than that??
So what's gone on this year?! Well let me tell you! (there's a lot haha)
A new business was finally approved on the farm after about a year of back and forth with Health Canada, it something you grow but it won't be going into our CSA shares!! haha. The new business is: Annapolis Valley Craft Cannabis! This is a Micro-Cultivation License, that means we are able to produce small batches for the legal market, which in Nova Scotia means it would eventually be sold through NSLC (the only legal retailer in NS). This is a family business and we're growing the cannabis basically like we grow our vegetables, in the sun and soil and with natural and organic fertilizers, this is much different than most of the large-scale licensed producers who grow indoors hydroponically with no soil, synthetic fertilizers and under lights. We know that vegetables taste better grown naturally so we wanted to produce the same quality in our new business. We hope that people who support sustainable vegetable farming and also enjoy cannabis will enjoy our new venture :)
This month was mostly planning the year ahead, investigating new varieties of vegetables to grow, ordering seeds, and taking a bit of a breather from the more hectic seasons... that's one great thing about winter in Nova Scotia is is forces you to slow down.
As you know this month is when the pandemic reached our province. As things started to get closed down and travel became more restricted, the interest in WFM2go shot way up! We were selling more veggies at this time of year than ever before, and though late winter/early spring is not our most abundant time, other farmers with larger storage space had a huge increase in sales as well. WFM2go had mostly been delivered with one vehicle up to this point but now they were above capacity so we began to help with deliveries using a second vehicle (from my dad's company Annapolis Valley Air Management) for the next couple months as the lockdown was happening and interest in safe, local food delivery was at an all time high. I would like to say a special thanks to the wonderful staff at the market for their adaptability and foreward thinking during this pandemic as they were under huge pressure to scale up and organize for this huge increase in demand (all while working under tighter restrictions), without them our farm would not have weathered this year as well as it has. THANK YOU!!!!
Also this month we were able to start tomato, pepper, eggplant and a few other crops thanks to a new warm indoor growing area! Usually we start them in our unheated greenhouse which can get quite cold in the spring, and though they normally do ok it is a slow start for them. Also our greenhouse plastic had been ripped off by a strong wind storm over the winter so that was not an option at the time. We think starting these plants nice and early, plus having such a hot summer allowed us such an abundant harvest this year. We sometimes wondered if the CSA members were getting sick of all the tomatoes, but I mean come on-they're tomatoes!!!
We were finally able to get some new plastic for the greenhouse so got that all set up and began seeding trays in there like crazy... lots and lots of seeds. We continued helping with WFM2go deliveries. The soil in our sandy fields was ready to be worked, we we began to get those prepared and we were able to get our seed potatoes in the ground nice and early. Also dug lots of sunchokes that had overwintered in the soil.
My brother and sister had both had their jobs close down because of Covid so decided to come help on the farm a few days a week. This was a huge help and really helped us get the season started well. The farmers market was still closed due to restrictions, so that also gave us more time to prepare fields and start lots and lots of seeds both in the greenhouse and in the fields. We got our first transplants in the fields, our first field crops were germinating and the perennial fruit, herbs and vegetables were all waking up.
When this month hit it was instantly hot and dry like the middle of summer, usually May and June we get a decent soaking of rain and mild temperatures but not this year. Instant summer! During this month there were news articles going around that talked about how the larger farms were having difficulty finding local workers to replace the immigrant workers that were held up by Covid restrictions. Meanwhile we were fielding lots of calls and emails from people inspired by our farm and wanting to work here. We unfortunately don't make a lot of extra money doing this, beyond keeping ourselves and the business going, so that is not something we could afford. I wrote a blog post highlighting the discrepancy between what kind of farm people are excited to work on (small-scale and sustainable) while large industrial farms were having trouble attracting workers. This led to a reporter who wrote one of these articles contacting us and writing another one including our experience. That led to lots of people talking about how they agreed with my sentiments, including Tracey Horsman who was starting a new pilot program with the Valley Community Learning Association pairing farms with workers, where most of the wages for the workers would be recompensated by the government and the VCLA. We would be getting some workers this year after all! We'll talk more about this experience in a different blog post but I just wanted to point out the sequence of events - sharing your experience can bring help in the most unexpected and impossible-seeming ways.
The crops were growing quite well despite the lack of rain. There was lots of hand watering done this month (and for the most part of the summer for that matter). We don't usually need to irrigate, nor do we have alot of infrastructure for irrigation, so this was quite a big change. One thing we've learned over the years that we think helped our crops resiliency this year was planting stuff closer together! We used to go by the standard spacing that is often written on the seed packets, however over the years we've seen that during drier weather plants are better able to shade the soil and therefore retain moisture better. This is especially true of squash, we've found you can plant them quite close and they just vine around each other and are quite happy growing that way!
Our CSA started this month and right from the get-go we had a huge abundance to go in every share, and this continued for the entire season. The CSA is delivered through WFM2go and we are so grateful to have this service because it would have fallen on us to figure out how to safely deliver everything during Covid with many businesses being closed. There was still a huge uptake of our individual items and single "veggie boxes" through WFM2go which continued the whole year.
Oh! And a porpoise swam up the river to visit the farm!
Very hot and dry this month too. Farmers will tell you the summers are getting hotter and drier and the weathers getting more unpredictable. It is obvious. This makes our food system more unstable, because a late frost can kill a field of squash while the plants are still tiny, a sudden downpour of rain on dry soil can wash away freshly planted seeds, and hot and dry weather can stress certain plants to be more susceptible to pests. This is definitely the main crisis of our age, and we need to vote for policies that protect nature, and if no politician has the guts to bring them forward then we have to make it happen and shout it from the rooftops!! There is no economy without people! And beyond that, we need to feel reverence for the earth that gave us life. We are inseparable from it.
With that said, we grow many different crops and that allows us to be adaptable in the face of the climate crisis. On cooler, wet years our arugula will do very well but our peppers will struggle. On hot, dry years the tomatoes will do great but the potatoes may have a harder time. This year we did indeed have problems with our regular potatoes, carrots (at the beginning) arugula and other greens, but the sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash and basil did phenomenal. This is why polyculture is more sustainable than monoculture, it is more adaptable to different weather.
This month the two employees from the VCLA's pilot program started and they were hugely helpful in getting stuff done around the farm, including things have been on our to-do wish list for a long time. We find with farming there is alot of prioritizing with certain jobs and some that are not urgent can go years before theyre done. For example, one of the barn doors had been blown off its track by a strong wind a year or two ago, and we finally had the time to fix it! It seems like a small thing but those to-do projects start to build up and having some extra help this year really helped.
The Saturday Market started this month, outdoors and with many safety precautions in place. We attended a few markets this month but found there was still reluctance of customers to come out in big numbers, so we decided to wait until September to come back weekly since we were having good sales online through WFM2go.
We got our fall crops seeded and transplanted nice and early this month, stuff like broccoli, cabbage, raddichio, bok choy, turnips and napa cabbage. We normally plant them in August but have had cold autumns the past few years and sometimes these crops didn't get to be all they could be. This turned out to be a great decision even though this autumn didn't turn out overly cold.
August was hot and dry... noticing a trend? haha. We had very little rain until a couple decent showers at the end of the month that we jumped up and down and celebrated for. The grass was getting quite brown and crispy, and honestly it did not feel like we were in Nova Scotia, more like Tennessee or something.
Despite all this we were having amazing production of veggies. I think this was due to the fact that we had so much time at the beginning to prepare the fields well, and lots of help with weeding and watering, and the fact that we decided to plant extra crops this year just because we knew there would be people that would be struggling due to lack of work and we wanted to be able to share with them. We started bringing veggies to the Canning Foodbank because they now take fresh food and it was great to be able to do that.
One interesting point is that they said they were actually having less people come to the foodbank because people were on CERB. It's supposed to be the minimum people need to get by, but yet it's more then what people are making at their jobs??? This should be obvious that people are not making a living wage working minimum wage, and it points to the fact that minimum wage is not actually "the minimum needed to survive." I urge you to look into Universal Basic Income and think about what that could do to make our society stable for everyone.
August was non-stop work in the blazing heat but every delicious cucumber, bean and zucchini grown was so worth it!!!
The heat got a bit milder and the rain a little more plentiful, and the moisture doesn't leave the soil as fast when the suns not beating down. The fall crops were growing great now that they had access to more moisture. The crops were full on, september is great because you have the summer veggies like tomatoes but are also starting on winter veggies like squash. We harvested our first carrots this month, they really struggle from a lack of rain so were finally ready now. Also harvested a generous crop of squash which loved the hot weather and even though that field got quite neglected at the end (lots of amaranth) it still did really well.
I (Adam) was quite busy with the cannabis harvest at Annapolis Valley Craft Cannabis at this point so Courtney had to take on quite a bit managing the vegetable harvest and the two employees, she's quite the amazing farmer and business operator and I am constantly amazed by all she is able to keep track of and keep organized. Sometimes at the farmers market people will assume that I am the farmer and she's the "farmer's wife" but she is so much more than that. Our farm would not be what it is without her!!!! She is one tough cookie! (and can lift heavy bins of carrots just as well as me!) GO WOMEN FARMERS GO!!!!!!!
This month brought the abundance of fall crops and a flurry of harvesting. The weather was colder but not too bad, so lots of crops continued to grow and produce. We had our best broccoli production ever this month, and well as our sweet potato harvest was "off the chain", we brought in hundreds of pounds and were able to successfully cure them in our greenhouse because there was still enough sun and heat.
This month both of our employees quit within a week of each other and left Courtney to handle the veggies compltely for a few weeks while I finished the cannabis harvest. This was difficult to be stretched so thin, but Courtney is able to handle most things life throws at her. And after that I was able to jump back in and we got a great amount of carrots, beets, mustard root, sunchokes, winter radish and turnips in the cooler.
Speaking of mustard root, this is a great new vegetable! (new to North America anyways)! We are always experimenting, trying out new crops that aren't commonly grown because we know just because no one's growing them doesn't mean they're not awesome, and this vegetable definitely fits with that. It looks like a turnip but is green instead of purple, grows quite large and fast, and has a sweet and tender flavour that's great fresh or cooked! Jack pot! Another great new one we grew this year is Upland Cress, which is spicy like watercress when raw and tastes like spinach when cooked. This green is very cold hardy and is producing well into the cold weather, and is such a nice dark green colour. We love growing new vegetables and sharing them, its exciting to try new things because it shows you just how little of the world's bounty we use in our daily life. Don't believe me? Go look at Richters Seeds (www.richters.com) under "Basil" and see how many types there are! Or go to www.strictlymedicinalseeds.com and look under "Rhubarb".
Its been pretty mild considering this time of year, lots of rain, just a touch of snow... and crops are hanging on longer in the field then we thought they would -we still have bok choy, fennel and mizuna growing somehow?? This month brings finally a slower pace and some time to catch a deep breath. The days are shorter and what light we get is usually covered by thick grey clouds. This gave us time to think of the year behind us and how we never could have guessed what our 10th year of farming would hold for us. It's really been quite the time to say the least!! We still have the last carrots, turnips and mustard root to harvest which will go into our fuller-than-ever cooler. And there's a lot of rain in the forecast... all we missed in the summer I suppose.
Hasn't happened yet! Hope it's good!
Looking ahead, I know our farm is on the right path. We are trying to be as self-sustainable as possible with limited inputs from off the farm, which allow us to not be as dependent on government and industry instability. We will always plant diverse crops that will allow us to adapt to variable weather conditions. We don't use pesticides or chemical fertilizers and that allows our soil and surrounding nature to stay healthy and resilient. We take small solid steps forward, don't overextend ourselves (too much), reuse and make use of everything we have already (veggie totes missing handles), and staying true to our principles while constantly re-evaluating them. Here's the next decade of farming!
Olde Furrow Farmers!!