Our last farm update was published at the end of September and now, as we’re approaching Thanksgiving, all I can think is, “Wow, what a difference two months make!” Back in September the weather was warm and we spent our days harvesting greens, root crops, squash, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes. The arrival of November brought the season’s first frost and we experienced overnight temperatures in the teens just last week! So needless to say, we are no longer harvesting tomatoes. But there is so much more to share—Here’s what we’ve been up to on the farm for the past two months:
October began with the arrival of Varga Garland, who lives in Tucson but who volunteered at Stony Point Center for 18 months. Varga was instrumental in establishing gardens on SPC’s campus, and she wrote the grant that allowed Stony Point Center to hire me as a full-time farmer and educator. It was such a blessing to work with Varga throughout the entire month. She took a liking to the chickens immediately, marveled at the appetites of the groundhogs (apparently they like pumpkins), and took special notice of a variety of insects and birds that crossed our path as we toiled in the fields. One of the creatures Varga befriended was the wooly bear caterpillar. Many long-time New York farmers believe that the appearance of wooly bear caterpillars provide insight into the upcoming winter’s weather. According to local folklore, when wooly bear caterpillars seen in the fall have only a thin strip of brown across their bodies, the upcoming winter will be severe. Conversely, when several sections of the wooly bear’s body are brown instead of black, it is said the winter will be mild. Apparently Varga’s friend is telling us that our upcoming winter should be somewhere in between.
October was also the month in which Stony Point Center hosted its first ever Farm-to-Table fundraiser dinner. The evening was an overwhelming success. Many guests joined me for a tour of the farm where we showed off our season-extending hoop houses, lovely laying hens, and new composting area. Before dinner started, the farm crew welcomed guests at our table at the Campus Fair, where we were selling tomato sauce, pickled beets, jalapeno jelly, and salsa as part of the fundraiser and inviting folks to pose for photos inspired by American Gothic. The dinner itself was absolutely incredible. Our talented kitchen staff prepared dishes that included our lettuce, arugula, kale, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, peppers, potatoes, carrots, beets, winter squash, and herbs. The chicken served was raised at The Farm at Holmes, located on the land of our sister conference center across the Hudson River. As I was eating I realized I was tasting Stony Point Center Farm’s entire growing season in one delicious meal. The evening culminated as local farmer and food justice activist Jalal Sabur was honored as the first ever recipient of the Living Traditions Award. The Community of Living Traditions at Stony Point Center chose Jalal because of his prolonged dedication to farming, food justice education, and activism. Our community was particularly drawn to his work with the Victory Bus Project, a cooperative he co-founded that offers fresh vegetables and transportation to city residents who need a ride to rural prisons to visit their incarcerated loved ones. Stony Point Center is looking forward to deepening our relationship with Jalal and partnering with him in his future efforts for food justice.
The arrival of November is a signal to farmers in our region that the growing season is coming to an end. Late October and early November typically bring with them the first frost of the season, and this year was no exception. We hustled in the early weeks of November to put the finishing touches on our hoop houses to ensure that the greens we had planted there a few weeks before would be warm at night and well-ventilated during sunny days. In addition to the greenhouse we built last November, we now have an additional two 17’ x 48’ hoop houses that will supply lettuce, spinach, and kale to our kitchen for the next several weeks.
One of those hoop houses had been planted with tomatoes back in the spring, and amazingly, we were able to harvest ripe tomatoes from those plants in the early days of November. However, when overnight temperatures dipped into the mid-20s recently, there was nothing we could do for those tomatoes other than thank them for a long and productive growing season. This November has been a memorable one because of the dramatic shifts in temperatures. Our efforts to prepare for the season’s first threats of frost found the crew sweating in the fields wearing t-shirts as we worked in 70+ degree weather the day before the frost arrived. About two weeks later, we had overnight lows below 20 degrees, remarkably cold for this time of year. Last year, we didn’t see temperature that low until January. I anticipate that these dramatic late-season temperature swings will continue to be the norm in this era of climate change.
It is fitting that we are able to reflect on our second year of farming at Stony Point Center as Thanksgiving approaches. We’ve enjoyed another very productive year, and perhaps what I’m most thankful for are all the wonderful people with whom I’ve been able to share the wonders, work, and harvest of the last several months.
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!