March Newsletter:The Arrival of Spring

As a native of city and suburb, growing up amid neighborhood blocks, anonymous cul-de-sacs and cookie-cutter strip malls, I always found the idea of rootedness, of belonging to and having a special relationship with and understanding of a particular piece of ground, to be especially attractive and compelling. The mythic family farm, with succeeding generations of farmers achieving ever greater harmony and intimacy with their acreage was a particularly appealing notion to my rootless young self, though I have come to regard such notions suspiciously in my early curmudgeonhood.

I have spent almost two decades farming this same ground at Hutchins, trying to observe and be aware of my surroundings, and mining Gordy’s brain (having spent the previous three decades before me doing the same thing.) I know which fields are reliably dry for early planting in the spring, where the morning and afternoon shadows begin to lengthen and prevent robust growth into the late summer and early fall, which fields showed the presence of the long-lasting soilborne disease clubroot, which fields seem to ponderously effervesce with fresh stones to replace the ones we remove, which are typically haunted by deer, where the bare earth emerges first after a snowbound winter, where the snow lingers longest even after a non-winter like the one that recently passed.

The ideal of a profound long term bond between the farmer and the farmed neglects the reality, persistence and unpredictability of change—and in our times, the increased velocity of change. In my relatively short time here (I’m not well-rooted yet), I have seen the emergence or arrival of half a dozen economically important insect pests (with several more imminently expected), and about as many damaging diseases previously unknown in the region. I’ve seen winters with weekly snowfalls of about a foot each, and winters with almost no snow. I watch as the dark shaggy pines retreat to northern hillsides with their pale birch attendants, and the silhouettes of ash trees slowly shrink and disappear against the sunset sky.

My understanding of the acreage which comprises Hutchins Farm is constantly evolving, and is nuanced by the length and extent of my tenancy, but is faulty and hardly comprehensive. I don’t have a lot to show for the long years looking at the dirt, and even with Bemis family’s added insight to offer, I still envy those third and fourth generation farmers who seem to have achieved greater knowledge of their ground and its possibilities by the time they are twenty than I have up until now, but I still prize the connection I have forged, and still work to strengthen it each day. So another spring will bring familiar changes alongside unpredictable phenomena. We roll with it as best we can, learning and unlearning lessons as conditions seem to dictate.

Last year’s drought coincided with the bumpy introduction of a new irrigation system—a few days without access to water led to spotty germination of parsnips, and inadequate survival of newly planted strawberry plants, with the result that we will have no spring parsnips, and our strawberry harvest will be brief in duration. On the positive side of the ledger, dry weather shut down the previous (very wet) year’s infestation of fire blight in our apples, and all signs so far point to a good apple year, though a lot can happen between now and late August when the earliest apples begin to ripen so please keep your fingers crossed!

As Spring unfolds at Hutchins we look forward to the new season. The uncovering of the garlic, the plowing of the first field, but the most promising portent for the upcoming year is the return of our strong roster of folks who have been with us for many seasons, whose own understandings of the farm and its systems have increased in depth and sophistication, and without whom an enterprise of this scale and nature would be a futile effort. Our sincerest gratitude to all our returning crew members and managers for sharing our obsession with growing delicious, well-formed, healthy crops on this uniquely beautiful, surprising, productive corner of the world.

We have begun selling bagged compost and potting soil on the porch, self-serve. Remember it’s check or exact change only please! Garden plants will appear soon, first the cold hardy crops like lettuce, spinach, onions and kale, then in a few weeks the more tender, heat-loving plants like tomatoes, peppers and basil. Please check our website for updates as usual – we try and keep the “What’s at the Stand” tab on our website as accurate as possible. For a full list of our expected pant sale offerings please see the PDF called “Hutchins Farm Plant Catalog 2023” which is located under the “Produce Information” tab on our website.

For those of you in the Concord Area, the Concord Ag Committee is hosting a talk: Turning the Soil: The Dirt on Tillage and No-till: A presentation by Sam Glaze-Corcoran from Umass about what tillage is and a discussion with local farmers about what that means for Concord Farmson Wednesday April 26th from 7pm to 8:30pm at the Harvey Wheeler Center in West Concord center. For more information, or to submit a question in advance for our speaker or farmers, please see the Concord Ag Day website. We hope to see you there!

Our earliest outdoor seeding (peas) are already planted, and our greenhouses are rapidly filling up—barring disaster, we should begin to see the earliest produce in May, and, not too long thereafter our doors will officially open. Shelves and displays will fill with the farm’s bounty, inviting all to share in communion with the soil that sustains, humbles and delights us all. Hope we see you soon!
Happy Spring!
-Brian Cramer (and Liza Bemis)
Returning crew members Huey, Abby, and Jon hard at work in the greenhouse (with Iko the pup supervising of course!)
Baby chard plants in the greenhouse.
March Newsletter:The Arrival of Spring
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