Saturday Oct 15th, we had the Boston YMCA return thanks to Ladawn Strickland and The Move which is now part of the Urban Farm Institute. It was an very busy but rewarding 3 hours. Twenty eight high school aged students and 9 staff came out to learn about sustainable farming, help with some projects and have a great meal directly from the farm. We split into 5 groups, each was assigned a leader and a task to work on. They built a raised garden bed which will be used next spring and a hugelkultur swale on the cow paddock to help retain water and nutrients and build soil there. They also helped feed the cows and pigs and learned about their role in the fertility of the farm. I am greatly indebted to the folks who donated their time to make this a success, Anne Brown, Janet Fuchs and Yun Gao and of course the folks at the Y. Lunch consisted of a salad which was harvested, cleaned and prepared by the young people, a vegan three sisters stew and of course grass-fed hamburgers. All the food was donated for the event by Breakneck Hill Farm.
The flowering plants (angiosperms), also known as Angiospermae or Magnoliophyta, are the most diverse group of land plants, with 416 families, approx. 13,164 known genera and a total of ca 295,383 known species (Wikipedia). The angiosperms diverged from the gymnosperms in the Triassic period when dinosaurs were first evolving about 240 million years ago. Most of our food plants are angiosperms and many require the help of pollinators to produce fruit such as pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, corn, beans and just about all the fruits and nuts. We tend to take them for granted but without them we would be virtually unable to produce these. Here at Breakneck Hill Farm, the farmer before me, Ray Davis, because of his orchards and honey bees recognized the value of providing habitat and food for these insects and planted Linden (American Basswood) and Spanish Chestnut trees. They are now fully grown and from mid-June to mid July the trees are literally buzzing with thousands of bees when you walk beneath them.
I have also planted small gardens with late season flowers that will help to feed not only the pollinators but also the beneficial insects like parasitic wasps which will keep pests in check.
My kale got hit pretty hard by the aphids this late season. Unfortunately here the lady beetle has gotten on the job a little on the late side. By identifying the problem early I might have been able to suppress the population with something like Neem oil enough to allow some of the kale to survive. They certainly seemed to prefer the Red Russian kale over the curly.
This monster is a Tomato Hornworm, unfortunate for him/her they are covered in the cocoons of a braconid parasitic wasp. They will eat this destructive caterpillar from the inside out and then mature and go find another. This is how we use nature to do our dirty work.
About 70 students from the Davis Leadership Academy in Dorchester came to visit and lend a hand. While we worked on a couple projects and learned about sustainable farming the kids had a ball with the animals. I’m not sure if the cows or the pigs were the biggest hit but they sure liked spending time with them. At the end we came together to discuss the relationship we have with food and how to make healthier choices. It was a joy to host this wonderful group of young people and I hope they can return again.
I decided to try two new plants this year, sweet potatoes and collard greens. I always thought of them as southern crops but they apparently do very well here in Massachusetts. Before planting the sweet potatoes, I dug a trench on the south facing slope of the garden and replaced the high clay soil with a loam/sand/compost mix. This is the preferred soil for sweet potatoes so we’ll see how they do. Sweet potatoes are a better alternative to regular potatoes which they are not really closely related.
Collards are a member of the brassica family like kale, cabbage and broccoli and like them full of health benefits. Apparently, conventional production results in pesticide contamination and while not in the worse category levels are high enough to be of concern. We use no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Our leafy vegetable might have some insect damage but its because the benefits of allowing for an ecological web far outweigh the disadvantages of becoming a slave to the toxic chemical paradigm.
Most of this Kale (red Russian) was self seeded last year when I was trying to see if I could get a second year out of the kale plants that survived the previous winter.
Here is a family of turkeys in late August that decided to past through the farm. The link below shows them in the small patch of corn. Its interesting to watch as they strip the weed seeds off the plants. Like chickens, they are able to eat seeds directly because they have a crop at the base of their necks where the food is held until it passed to the gizzard where they keep small pebbles to grind up the material they eat. Humans and most mammals can’t eat seeds directly. That is why we grind them in a mill.
As part of our continuing evolution, I harvested and delivered kale, Lettuce, tomatoes and squash to the folks of the Urban Farm Institute at the Mattapan square Farmers Market. The farmers market brings fresh organically grown produce much of it grown right up Blue Hill Ave at the space provided by the Sportsman Club, to a population which would not have access. The produce is priced well below market rates to make it affordable to the residents who are primarily low income. After setting up the table we took a tour of the sites where UFI is currently growing food in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan, including the site of their future headquarters, the recently acquired Clark-Fowler-Epstein house.
I can say enough about the resourcefulness and dedication UFI shows in overcoming immense challenges. Even when space becomes available, it needs to be covered with 18 inches of soil to mitigate the potential hazards of toxins in the native soil. Each property requires grant writing and fund raising to even begin work. Thanks to Nataka, Bobby, Apolo, Joe and Ronald for hosting me.
The Urban Farm Institute trains people in the inner city to grow organic food, Pease consider making a donation:
Our partnership with the Urban Farm Institute took the next step. Ladawn Strickland and Apolo Catala came out to harvest some of our abundant produce. The produce which I donate will be sold at very affordable prices at
two three farmers markets in Boston. I will be supplying produce every week through the summer and into the fall. Our partners are training young people to produce food at their urban farms in Boston and sell their healthy food to restaurants and farmers markets with the goal of creating businesses around the local production of food. Producing food in the city can be very challenging as property values are so high and many city soils are heavily contaminated with lead. The goal of this experiment besides providing healthy food to people who may not be able to access it, is to maximize food production on my 2.5 acres. This will not happen overnight as we are not so much challenged with toxic soil as the lack of soil. And soil building will be the number one focus for the next 5 years.
The Urban Farm Institute is a non-profit formed to train young people to grow fresh, healthy food. The Move is a partner organization which organizes youth volunteers to connect with farms and healthy habits. Please consider donating to these organizations.
We’ve had some great weather for growing so far …… but only if you have water. Very dry through May and June. Permaculture systems temper the need for water but the garden beds definitely still need it for crops to thrive.
Lots of stuff happening in the gardens, here are beets almost ready.
There are a couple small zucchini starting, we’re expecting a big crop soon.
Here’s more Zuccini with cucumber plants in front and sweet peppers behind.
I thought I’d try sweet potatoes this summer, I planted 25 slips.
Some lettuce just getting started.
Bush beans here.
Asparagus doing really well.
“..yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts ran into me, that words and writings were all nothing, and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing,”
Gerrard Winstanley 1649
Gerrard Winstanley was an activist in the wake of the English Civil War where King Charles I of England (the guy Charlestown is named after) lost his head (literally). Winstanley took a group of the poorest people to the common land on St Georges Hill where they built a small community and farmed the common land.
While many people talk and write about their beliefs, it means nothing if we don’t act. I have always believed that I must own my stay here on Earth and I must leave the parts I have control over better than when I found them. I must reduce my impact to this finite planet. And I must share with my community.
My original vision was for a larger farm but there are many examples of people raising significant amounts of food on just a few acres. That is my dream and goal. And it will include everyone who wants to be a part of it. I will reach out to communities where food security and quality are not taken for granted. As the Cow Fund finishes the process of dissolving, we will continue to disperse the funds generated from the sale of the last cows to hopefully help to inspire young farmers to look at how they can change the food system.
To this end, three organizations we are supporting that are making a difference in both Boston and Worcester. Over the course of the year you may see members at Breakneck Hill Farm helping with the management of the animals and the production and harvest of food.
Please consider making a donation to them.
Urban Farm Institute, Boston, https://urbanfarminginstitute.org
The Move, Boston, https://farmvolunteer.org/themoveteam/
YouthGROW, Worcester, http://www.recworcester.org/#!youth-grow/c1thu
Here are some pictures of the YouthGROW farm in Worcester.
Thanks to everyone who has helped and supported this adventure.
The Breakneck Hill Cow Fund made our first two donations as we close down operations. The two non-profit organizations receiving the $2000 donations were both hosted by the Cow Fund at Breakneck Hill Farm in 2015. The Urban Farm Institute who came out to Southborough twice last year, trains young people in urban sustainable farm methods. They run a number of small scale (less than an acre) farms in Boston. They will put the money to work on farm supplies. The Cow Fund also donated a cow to them. The beef will be distributed to underserved residents of the Roxbury community. The second organization, The Move also trains young people by taking large groups from inner city Boston to farms to help out with various projects. They came out in October with a group of about 40 and with the help of Cow Fund volunteers we ran a number of different projects. Their major expense is a bus to transport such a large number. We plan to continue and expand the relationship with both organization at Breakneck Hill Farm. While activities on the conservation land will be limited to the orchard, production at Breakneck Hill Farm will be intensified and all the extra food produced will be donated to the Urban Farm Institute.
Two members of the Urban Farm Institute picking up the beef of the donated Cow Fund cow.