Feeding From Our Fields

The Trials Field at High Mowing sits atop a hill in Wolcott, Vermont and overlooks rolling mountains to the west.  On the Trials Crew, we spend our spring days meticulously laying out sets of varieties a few feet at a time—6 varieties of mini Romaine lettuces, 12 varieties of leeks, 8 varieties of peppers.  We handle each trial with a mantra, “triple check, triple check!”  With close to 900 varieties trialed this past summer labeling, checking, double checking, and triple checking is of the utmost importance.  Mixing up a couple of cabbage seedlings could make or break a trial.  Thus, the focus on this farm is gathering information, not marketing produce.

The Role of Produce on Our Farm

Because data collection is our true focus—although it feels unnatural for those of us accustomed to working on a commercial farm operation—harvestable produce is simply a by-product.  Every trial that we conduct has a different set of data that we evaluate:  tomatoes might be evaluated for yield, disease resistance, taste, and earliness.  Radishes might be evaluated for bolt-tolerance, crack resistance, and uniformity.  This means that we spend our time in the field trying to create a consistent environment for each variety that we compare.  We make sure that we are weeding properly and often, thinning to consistent spacing.  If we need yield data on our tomato trials of 80 varieties, we ensure that we harvest them all on the same day.  Everything is about consistency and accurate data collection.

High Mowing Staff CSA

Harvest from the Trials FieldSo, what to do with all this produce?  As with any farm, we have produce coming out our ears by mid-summer, but we don’t have an interest in competing with our neighbor farms, so we do something a bit different.  First and foremost we supply a steady and abundant stream of produce to our staff.  We harvest twice weekly and supply our staff with all their vegetable needs, and even fresh hoophouse-grown greens throughout the winter.  This fall we converted an old seed cooler into a produce cooler to provide staff with cabbage, carrots, beets, potatoes, etc. into the winter.  This abundance is amazing, but we can only eat so much!  Even after convincing our co-workers to take as much as possible to their families and friends, with 800 tomato plants producing at once, we just can’t seem to give 1,500 pounds of tomatoes away each week!  This brings us to one of our important relationships here at High Mowing: the Vermont Foodbank.

Gleaning and the Vermont Foodbank

Gleaning food from the Trials FieldThe Vermont Foodbank’s Northern Regional Distribution Center is conveniently located directly across the driveway from us.  This past summer their Field Representative, Katie, coordinated groups of volunteers to glean from area farms several times a week.  She came twice a week to our field—sometimes alone, sometimes with volunteer groups—to harvest crops that we had already collected data on.  Sometimes she would pick the summer squash and cucumbers that we had already evaluated, at other times she would bring a group of students to make a quick job of picking the snap beans that we just didn’t have the time to keep up with, and as summer progressed she would crate away hundreds of pounds of tomatoes that we’d picked and weighed for yield data.

A few weeks ago we received our final produce donation report for the year.  Significantly up from last year, we were able to donate 15,473 pounds of food between July and October of 2012!

  • This 15,473 pounds equates to over 20% of all Vermont-grown produce distributed from this regional distribution site this year.
  • This produce was distributed to 35 network partners, which reported that they serve an average of 8,412 people per month.

Not bad use of a farm by-product, wouldn’t you say?


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13 Responses to Feeding From Our Fields

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  7. Susan says:

    Fabulous! Thank you so much for your article, and I hope it encourages more of us to do the same. There are so many people in need – even in more affluent communities – that every little bit helps. Last year, I discovered that there was a homeless shelter within walking distance. So, after I had fed friends and family, it became my Sunday morning routine to stuff a grocery bag or two with an assortment of ripened veggies and bring it over to them. I’m still a novice gardener, so some things go bust…but other things go BOOM…and feels wonderful to be able to take the excess where it will be so welcomed.

  8. Suzanne Spence says:

    What a wonderful gift to less fortunate. Great congrats to you all .

  9. Joyce Majors says:

    Not only are you feeding people through the Food Banks, but your produce left in the fields on Kate Brook Road in Hardwick has been feeding the deer and turkeys! Way to go.

  10. gwendolyn says:

    How wonderful! Many still don’t realize that it is the gift of giving that receives the blessings! Way to go…i pray this encourages others to do the same in their communities.

  11. Kristin McNamara Freeman says:

    It warms my heart to read of your process of contributing to the feeding of those in our nation; Vermont in particular is blessed with your thoughtful gift of food to the Foodbank Network. Thank you for passing on to your readers across the country a story that might well spin some folks into finding ways to add more food from farms and homes to their local foodbank system. Here in Missoula, Montana, our foodbank is supplied with gleanings from many farms and home gardens and those needing to use the system are getting some amazing healthy, local produce throughout the growing season. Feeding everyone is truly an important project for us all.

  12. jess says:

    so cool!! yah high mowing seeds, and the awesome trials team! what a great contribution while creating an awesome resource for growers!!

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