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
So, 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
The 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?