November 2021 Newsletter: Thank you all for a great season!

October ended with a round of weather that has become familiar to us this season: multi-day, multiple inch rain events, swollen rivers threatening to flood, roads becoming rivers. It’s easier to accept now than it was in early July, but still–what a contrast from last year’s unending blue skies and dust!

As the season ends, as usual, we enter this liminal time with a confusing mixture of emotions—most palpable, this season especially, is relief, mixed with regret for the things we should have done, pride in the things we actually did, melancholy at the inevitable passing of time, joy at the promise of a new season springing from the death of the old.

Our relief is particularly poignant this year because of the many difficulties and challenges that arose during the unfolding of 2021. Big challenges like the continued spread of the coronavirus and the resulting confusion, and the seemingly endless procession of heavy downpours that kept rivers out of their banks and farmers out of their fields for long stretches during what should have been peak growing season, and the small difficulties (often spawned by the big) like staffing difficulties, unexpected disease outbreaks in some crops, machinery breakdowns, supply chain problems, material shortages, and a hundred others. Not to complain overmuch, but I’m ready to see the end of this year. It is certain that next year will bring its own set of problems and challenges, but, at least for a little while, I can imagine they will be easily overcome, and, at least until it starts, I’m confident that the 2022 growing season will be the best ever.

Many acres that were fully planted in 2020 remained waterlogged and impassible this year, but we are fortunate enough to have adequate high and dry fields to accommodate widespread changes in planned locations for plantings so that we weren’t left in the unfortunate position of watching armies of transplants slowly stretching and turning yellow in their plug trays awaiting a dry spot to spread their roots. Most of our scheduled plantings went in on time, or close to it, if not in the places that they had been designated in the early, planning stages of the season. Much of our planning, particularly regarding crop rotations and soil-improving cover cropping, encompasses multiple years, so going dramatically off script during an exceptional season has consequences in the short and the long term. We’re hoping the weather gods relent in the upcoming year, allowing our productive bottom land fields to come up for air and take the pressure off the poor, sandy, upland tracts that we end up overexploiting.

There were some notable successes in 2021—garlic and onions, which do much of their growing early enough to have avoided the worst of the weather, performed admirably, and though we sold out (as always), our supply actually lasted weeks longer than usual. Flowers were a bright spot, tended to by a tireless and resourceful Huey Harn-Chen, who in her first year overseeing our cut flower program, did (and continues to do) an exceptional job. Apples, which tend to be an odd-numbered year phenomenon here, came through unusually intense disease pressure under Dave Rice’s expert supervision to give us an admirable crop. Kale never fell out of fashion, and though our second and third plantings (out of five total) have long since succumbed to disease, our first planting, planted on April 8th at a tighter than usual spacing, inexplicably, mysteriously, still looks fabulous, with big, pristine leaves in tufts atop five-foot tall stalks (think Truffula trees). Also, though our tomatoes pooped out early, their cousins the peppers and eggplants (after a slow start) really came into their own starting in late August, continuing to grow and pump out fruit until frost shut them down earlier this week.

We bid farewell last week to Brian Daubenspeck, who, four years ago, started a successful stint as a manager here at Hutchins. He arrived with limited experience, but with a great deal of determination, interest, and intelligence, and quickly made himself indispensable in the farm operation. His practicality, attention to detail, sense of humor, and strong curiosity about how things work and why things happen made him a key member of our team and a joy to work with—his absence will be keenly felt, especially by his ‘replacement’, Ted Thompson, with whom he worked closely over much of his time here. Daubs will be missed, but we are relieved to have such an outstanding new manager right at hand.

This year also marked the return of an old crew member (a 2016 alum) in a new role—harvest manager. Jon Bergan did an outstanding job of training and overseeing the crew, keeping them on track, maintaining a positive, enjoyable work environment while making sure everything was getting done. Our thanks to Jon, and we’re thrilled that he’ll be returning next year.

This year’s crew, both field and farmstand, deserve especial thanks for their resilience, reliability and good humor in dealing with endless days of rain and mud, multiple heat waves in June and July, cranky managers, a confusing COVID situation, and any number of other confounding issues—hats off to all, and our gratitude for their considerable efforts.

And, of course, our customers, who energize us, motivate us, inspire us, and sustain us. We are so grateful that we are able to grow all that we grow and sell the majority of it right here, directly to the folks that will, presently, be peeling, slicing, dicing, cooking and otherwise preparing it as part of their daily meals. We consider it a rare privilege to be able to rely on such a simple, straightforward and satisfying marketing strategy—thank you for continuing to patronize Hutchins Farm, and playing such a fundamental role in the life of this enterprise.

We will be attending the Cambridge Central Square Farmers Market and the Somerville Union Square Farmers Market until Thanksgiving, and the honor system self-serve set up on the front porch of the Farmstand in Concord starts today – please remember that self-serve is check or exact change only! We will keep an updated list of what you might find on the porch on our website under the “what’s at the stand” tab – please check there before heading over to see if there were any weather delays or other issues preventing us from putting the produce out.

Thank you all again for a wonderful season, we will see you in the spring!
-Brian Cramer, Liza Bemis, and the rest of the Hutchins Farm crew

Some (But certainly not all!) of our fall crew
Pumpkins lit on Halloween overlooking the farm

October 2021 Newsletter: Closing Day will be October 31st!

The sun is setting on another growing season in Eastern Massachusetts, though summer seems reluctant to make a graceful departure. Cool, fog obscured mornings that seem to speak quietly of autumn think better of it by mid-morning—a little taste of fall each morning retreats and the brilliant blue days revert to endless summer. Unlike the mild days of spring, however, this warm spell is an empty promise, portending nothing. Trees, weeds and farmers, following the ancient dictates of the seasons, respond to the shortening days by jettisoning foliage (after a brief and brilliant show), ripening their seeds, and suspending the furious round of tillage and planting that characterizes most of the season from March through September. The afternoon assures us it’s August, but the dark mornings and early evenings are the sure augurs of the dead season to come.

In contrast to the droughty season of 2020, much of our acreage was waterlogged and unusable for most of this season, with the result that we were unable to get as much planted as we intended to, and were forced to plant areas that we hadn’t intended to and which weren’t adequately prepared.  Many crops that we managed to plant suffered either from saturated soil, lack of fertility because heavy rains washed away nutrients, unusually intense disease pressure, and abnormally high weed pressure because weeds are nearly impossible to efficiently destroy when fields lay wet.

What this has meant for our customers is that we have had some shortfalls and gaps in availability of some vegetables, some of them ongoing, and that many of our storage crops that we like to offer in bulk during the closing days of the season are in such short supply that we won’t be able to offer big volume discounts. Our usual sign-ups for 25 lb bags of carrots and 50 lb bags of potatoes won’t be happening—the best we may be able to do, assuming we have adequate supplies, is offer certain items at a volume discount during the last week. No promises though, so please check our website for any volume deals we are able to offer that final week.

We still have good quantities of some varieties of winter squash, sweet potatoes, and potatoes. We still have plantings of Chinese cabbage and storage cabbage yet to harvest. We have yet to harvest the last two plantings of carrots, but they seem unlikely to yield enough to justify 25 lb bag sign-ups. Warm weather means that we should continue to have good supplies of lettuce, kale, sweet and hot peppers, and certain other greens and herbs, but many of our latest crops are planted in excessively well-drained soils (since that was all we could get ready to plant when it was time) that readily leach nutrients during heavy rain events, to the point where some crops are showing nutrient deficiencies and may not be marketable. Chard, beets and parsley are all in short supply. Diseases associated with wet weather have ruined much of our early fall broccoli and cauliflower, but our latest plantings seem to be enjoying this extended summer weather.

To cut short and temper this prolonged lament, let me admit that there were many successes, many beautiful crops, many assumptions of disaster that were incorrect (our pumpkin crop is amazing!), and many reprieves from situations we thought were ruinous. For resilient farmers and resilient farms there is always another day, another chance, another planting, another season. On brighter notes, our popcorn and ornamental corn are perhaps the most beautiful we have ever had, and Huey’s dried flower arrangements and wreaths are just hitting the stand and are a welcome addition to the fall vegetable display. Apples, while not perfect, have been plentiful and tasty, and we should continue to have them through the end of the month. So, while it hasn’t been the banner year we all hoped it would be, the stand is still full!

We hope all our customers, new and old, will have an opportunity to visit the farm before we close. The last day the farmstand will be open will be Sunday, October 31st, when we will be closing an hour earlier than usual, at 5pm instead of 6. We will still have quite the roster of seasonal veggies available, but we’re unlikely to have very much available in bulk as we usually do. As always we try and keep the “what’s at the stand” tab on our website as accurate as we can – so please check there to see all our current variety. Whatever is still available after the stand closes we will have on the front porch for self-serve on the honor system as usual. Two of our farmers markets – Monday’s Central Square and Saturday’s Union Square will continue until Thanksgiving – as long as we still have produce we will be there!

We hope to see you soon to take in all that New England fall has to offer – whether we see you at the markets or in the stand, we are so grateful for your continued support this year, and for your good cheer and continuous flexibility as you weather these wild years with us.

Much gratitude,
-Brian Cramer, Liza Bemis, and the rest of the Hutchins Farm Team.
One of Huey’s dried flower wreaths
Apples on October 13th

Next Weekend: Concord Ag Day

Maybe we have finally turned the corner and left the intense summer heat behind us? It feels like September is truly in the air, and this time of year reflects the best that New England has to offer: our crop variety and abundance are on the increase and the gamut of summer and fall produce is on display in all its glory. While high summer crops like tomatoes and melons are fading, the late summer/early fall veggies like winter squash, potatoes, carrots, and apples are beginning to make appearances. And yes, we will have some apples this year – while they may be “aesthetically challenged,” compared to conventionally grown ones, they are just as tasty as their chemically immaculate counterparts.

In celebration of the New England bounty, this upcoming Saturday we are attending the 16th annual Ag Day farmers’ market on Main Street in Concord center. This unique market showcases the bounty of Concord’s many farm businesses at the height of the growing season. There will be a few activities for the kids, lots of information about great local organizations that support agriculture, and of course, your Concord Farmers selling their bounty! Ag Day will run Saturday September 11th from 10 AM to 2 PM on Main St., which will be closed from the roundabout to Walden Street. Because of the Ag Day market we will not be attending our usual Saturday market at Union Square, Somerville. Our apologies to our Somerville customers!  

Another event of note is this week, on Tuesday September 7th at 6:30pm, the Concord Museum will be hosting a panel of Concord farmers as part of their “Celebrate Concord” week – Brian will be speaking as one of the panelists and the topic is: Concord Farms: Resilience, Revolutionaries, and Renegades! Registration is required (but free) and it is a masked event: please check out the Concord Museum for more information.   We hope to see you soon either at Ag Day, or at the Concord Museum! -Liza Bemis, Brian Cramer, and the Hutchins Farm crew

Morning in the fields: September 3rd, 2021

Tomato Time: August 2021 Newsletter

Something in the air changes this time of year, maybe it’s the sunlight, or maybe it’s the panic as our school bound employees begin to leave us for bookbags and far-flung destinations? August marks the midway point for Hutchins’ sales season, and as usual, a changing of the crews – we bid farewell to our college and high school staff, and welcome in new faces for the next leg of this journey. We are thankful for their work as they head out, and thankful for our season-long crew members still with us who are looking forward to some hopefully less hot and humid days ahead.

Having survived the disease and drought of 2020 mostly sane and intact, we were sure that 2021 would mark a return to something like the humdrum normal that we missed and craved. Unsure now that there ever was such a thing as “normal”, we’re fairly certain that 2021 (at least thus far) ain’t it. Twin heatwaves in June isn’t a common occurrence, and eleven inches of rain in July isn’t remotely normal (average is more like 3 ½). I’ve been loafing around here for about 16 years now, not nearly long enough to get a grasp of what might be “normal”, but this is the first time I’ve seen the river spill over its banks into the fields in July, and the ruts, gullies and washouts that accompanied the record rains were likewise not something I’d experienced: “normally”, the only time that much water is running down the hills, the soil is still frozen enough to resist running off. I imagine I’d be even more flummoxed if we had suffered the extreme temperatures they had in the Pacific Northwest, but I feel as though I’ve seen plenty of anomalous and deleterious weather so far, thank you very much.

And don’t even get me started on the Delta variant.

So we’ve given up hope on “normal” for the present, shooting for something more like “bearable”, “able to be survived”, or “not totally devastating and catastrophic”, as these seem like more realistic aspirations. The good news is that the fruits and vegetables that we cultivate are, at least in their totality, more resilient and adaptable perhaps than we are.

Which is not to say that they don’t suffer from adverse circumstances. Even heat lovers like eggplant and peppers tend to drop their flowers (meaning no fruit) when temps soar into the 90s, while the crops that prefer cooler temperatures (hello lettuce) can experience premature bolting, unusual pest pressure, even sudden death. Hot, humid weather with frequent rainfall also promotes a wide range of plant diseases, and saturated soils make it all but impossible to control weeds, which seem to thrive under a wide range of conditions.

Along with our weather-related challenges, vertebrate pests have become more and more problematic over the years, with large gangs of turkeys and geese squaring off like feuding gangs in our production fields, stout, alert woodchucks keeping our crops neatly mowed in the areas close to their hidey-holes, and handsome, statuesque deer in their dozens, running amok where they will, eating what they like (kale and cilantro are recent cervine culinary trends, lettuce and beets are old favorites), trampling underhoof what they don’t (basically just onions and their relatives).

The distress of watching carefully tended crops succumb to conditions outside our control can be acute and demoralizing. But ultimately, our production systems are designed with an expectation of some losses and failures.  Those peppers and eggplants that dropped their flowers in June are loaded with new blossoms and the promise of bumper crops in September. The lettuce seedlings that fried in a greenhouse power outage during a heat wave were just a part of one planting out of almost two dozen—even if the weeds overcome a different one, and the deer graze another, we still have lots of lettuce to come. Our experience of setbacks and challenges has refined our approach to crop planning, with an emphasis on redundancy and resiliency. Even a mythical “normal” year will have its disappointments and failures, while an extraordinarily difficult year like this one will, nonetheless, have its share of successes and triumphs.

And so we continue, cultivating our garden in what is perhaps not the best of all possible worlds, but the one through which we are passing and the only one we know.

As to particular crops, our sweet corn has had a good run thus far, but we may experience some shortages and quality issues as we move into plantings that were young and impressionable during the deluges of July—about half of our corn plantings have yet to mature, and with luck, most of them will pull through, providing us with corn at least periodically through late September.

Tomatoes have proven surprisingly resilient, but we fear that the prolonged wet periods and the accompanying early onset of foliar diseases will result in a shorter than usual season—let’s enjoy them while we can — those who like to make sauce to put up for winter please don’t delay this year.

Many of our greens have had good runs – the celery loved the wet weather of July. Kale and chard have been abundant, and subsequent plantings look like that trend will continue. Hot peppers are starting to make more frequent appearances in the stand, and melons will hopefully continue to be left alone by the coyotes.

We have high hopes for storage crops like carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes (which we didn’t have at all last year, long story), but we fear that extended wet weather may have been particularly hard on winter squash and pumpkins—we plan to begin harvesting as soon as next week, so stay tuned.

Another crop we had virtually none of last year, or really any even-numbered year in recent memory, is apples. This year (being odd-numbered) has ushered in a bumper crop of apples, and though fungal diseases have disfigured or destroyed a good proportion of them, we have enough disease resistant varieties that we expect a pretty good harvest this season.

Judging from our full parking lot and crowded farmer’s market tent, none of the escalating enormities of the current crazy season has dampened our customers’ enthusiasm for fresh, local produce, picked with loving care, and presented with pride for your consideration and enjoyment. All of us are mindful of and grateful for your continued patronage, patience, and loyalty.

With gratitude, -Brian Cramer (and Liza Bemis) and the rest of the Hutchins Farm Team
Evening in the fields: August 17th, 2021
So many varieties of tomatoes: August 3rd, 2021

Farmstand Opening: May 2021 Newsletter

As the May weather wildly oscillates between Aprilesque and July-like, without the rain that usually accompanies such dramatic swings, we keep faithfully consigning our plants and seeds to the dusty fields, sprinkling them with a hopeful libation if they’re lucky, then trusting to the fickle rain gods and the tribe of gremlins who preside over the functionality of our irrigation equipment that they will survive, then thrive, then provide a bounteous harvest in good time. If there’s one important lesson I’ve learned in my short tenure mucking around in the stony soil of this part of Concord, it’s not to underestimate a plant’s determination to live and thrive (except maybe cucumbers?). Of course it helps that we’re putting in thousands of plants at a time, so we scarcely notice the loss of one or two (or half a dozen), which is different than the experience of a typical home gardener, to whom such a loss can be a crushing tragedy. But the tenacity and grit of all those tender, awkward, innocent plants never fails to amaze, how they suffer privations and indignities never imagined in crop production guides and agronomy textbooks (which are likewise rather dry) and yet go on to mature into respectable, productive members of our farm community, some of whom would look at home in the glossy pages of a seed catalog (with a little retouching). At least enough of the time to keep us planting, weeding, watering and hoping.

So we’re entering a new season. Really it’s already begun, but we officially open the farmstand on Tuesday, June 1th, so that feels like something new beginning, even if we’ve had garden plants for sale self-serve for well over a month now, and produce like asparagus, spinach and rhubarb have been familiar on our porch for weeks. I’m not sure what prognosticators, prophets and pundits are saying, but 2021 feels like it’s going to be a good season and a good year, as we slowly shed the learned habits of fear, suspicion and insecurity and get back to a good working relationship with the world. After a year (or more, depending what and when you’re counting from) of tumult, mayhem and uncertainty, the world seems in the process of righting itself, and here most of us remain, still aboard, gasping for breath, hoping for a stretch of calm long enough to make the storm that passed seem anomalous and distant.

Of course the storm still rages outside our protected corner of the world, and other storms threaten, but humans can’t survive in a constant state of crisis—we need the reassuring stability of repetitive, recognizable cycles, a trust and faith in the future based on understanding and experience of the past. Here’s to a calm, boring 2021, with plentiful gentle breezes, light rains, hot summer days, sudden lightning revealing thunderheads at midnight, frogs partying in their ephemeral vernal pools, frosty November nights, the comfort of things experienced many times, expected again and again, each time different and the same.

We’re particularly thankful for the calmness, stability and experience of many of our team this season, including Brian Daubenspeck, Ted Thompson, Huey-Harn Chen, Dave and Kathy Rice, Abby and Caleb Cramer, and Jon Bergan, returning as our new Harvest Manager after farming a number of years in Vermont. While many of you know Huey from our farmers markets, she is also an adept member of our field team and will be altering her role this year to include managing our greenhouses and taking over our cut flower operation. You may still catch her at the occasional market, but look for her flowers in the farmstand soon!

Speaking of the farmstand, this brings us to our current Covid-19 protocols… as many of you are well aware, the governor is lifting all business restrictions on May 29th. We are very happy that almost all of our staff has been able to receive their vaccines, and are thrilled to see Massachusetts vaccination rates rising, and covid cases decreasing. That said, for now, our staff will continue to wear masks in the farmstand building, and we kindly ask you follow suit, even if you are vaccinated. You do not need to wear them while outside browsing for plants, enjoying the picnic tables, or chatting in the parking lot.  Just please keep in mind good distances and be aware everyone has different comfort levels right now! We will still be offering hand sanitizer at the door, but no longer enforcing its use. We will still be limiting the number of customers in the stand for a bit, but not as limited as last year – while our stand building is extremely open air (we joke it barely has four sides!) we all know how crowded it can get, so we are going to slowly ease into bringing us to full capacity while monitoring the numbers. And of course, our food safety and sanitization procedures in the stand will continue on as usual! We expect to be able to relax covid related policies even further as the summer goes on – and we are thrilled to be heading back to a regular farmstand experience!

Since they were so popular last year, we will again be offering our “Farmers Choice Bag of Veggies” for touchless curbside pickup as we get later into June and have enough variety to make these work – be on the lookout for a social media and website announcement when the time comes for those. No need to sign up now (in fact you can’t!) they will be just available to sign up week by week as you see fit.

Thank you for all your cooperation and patience this past year as we navigate this new world together. We know it has been hard (it certainly it has been hard for us!) but as always you, our wonderful customers, have been a highlight – your continued support has sustained us and kept us going. We’ll be open our usual hours of Tuesday-Sunday 11am-6pm starting on Tuesday June 1st. We’re excited to kick off the 2021 season with a little bit lighter shoulders and more pep in our step – we’re excited to see you all again!

Best,
-Brian Cramer, Liza Bemis, and the rest of the Hutchins Farm Team
Potato Planting May 11th, 2021
Spinach about to be cut May 26th, 2021

Rumors of Spring: March 2021 Newsletter

Late winter evenings, with blustery winds blowing in rumors of spring, the moon like a Cheshire cat smile amid the chaos of starry sky, encourage us to look forward to things that surely must return: grass greening, buds swelling, birds trilling, all daring to awaken amid the continuing cold, blissfully unconcerned with the continuing coronavirus, confident in the arrival of a welcoming spring and the renewal of the world.

One always welcome sign of spring is the return of some of our veteran crew members – Ted, Huey, Jon, Abby and Caleb have been pruning blueberry bushes and seeding the earliest of spring crops in the greenhouse. Huey, after being our beloved Farmers Market Manager for many years, is shifting gears and managing our greenhouse operation. In addition to handling the flow of plants from our greenhouses to fields, Huey is also taking on managing this season’s cut flower operations. Melanie from Field Edge Flowers is (sadly for us) shifting gears and focusing on a career in nursing – something she has long dreamed of. We are sad to see her go, but excited to see what she does next! We are thrilled she is passing on her knowledge to Huey, and we are excited to see flowers in the farmstand continue.

Another sure sign of spring’s arrival is the sudden appearance on the Hutchins Farm porch (replacing the recent snow drifts) of ranked pallets of compost and potting soil, raw ingredients of many a glorious summer garden. All omens indicate that this annual miracle will occur in the afternoon on Monday the 22nd, welcome news for those who have been waiting impatiently to begin work on their gardens. Plants to populate those gardens will begin to appear soon after, but likely not until the wild temperature swings have settled into a warmer pattern, hopefully by early April. This season’s plant catalog for those of your who like to dream is available as a PDF on our website.

Also appearing soon will be the first harvest of a new season: overwintered parsnips, their rough appearance (hard to avoid, having spent the winter locked in the dirty, icy embrace of the soil) belying their frost-sweetened, tender disposition. We expect to dig what appears to be a good supply during the upcoming window of spring-like weather, before the deer rediscover their forgotten appreciation of these sweet treats.

Although these wonders are foretold with full confidence, it is always best to check the Hutchins Farm website to see what has actually come to pass—nothing is certain in this world, many things that are reasonably expected fail to occur. We will continue to act as though the expected arrival of spring, then summer, warm weather, gentle rain, is a sure thing. We will continue to busily plant our crops, till our fields, try to fill our little corner of Concord with a bounty of sights, smells and tastes, a surfeit of sensory experience to carry us through the next cold, grim cycle.

All offerings during this early period (until the Farm Stand opens sometime in late May or early June) will be self-serve, honor system on the porch—please bring cash (exact change) or a check (with your phone number) as we won’t be able to accept credit cards . The spring equinox has passed, days are longer than nights, and we look forward to seeing you all return to our little slice of New England.

Best,
-Brian Cramer, Liza Bemis, and the rest of the Hutchins team


Greenhouse filling up March 20th, 2021

Season Wrap Up: November 2020 Newsletter

Hutchins Farm bid (a bit of a relieved) farewell to the 2020 growing season on Sunday, November 1st at the farmstand – thank you all for coming out for one final time, despite the snow and cold temperatures! Predicted congenial weather means we will continue to keep our self-serve honor system front porch stocked with whatever produce we have available—so for those of us stress eating waiting for election vote results to come in, please check our website for details and updates – we’ll keep it up as long as the weather holds and we have produce.

A more confounding season we haven’t seen, but, as always, the continued visits of loyal customers kept us all motivated and sane even through some trying times. The 2020 growing season began just as the potential scale and impact of the pandemic was beginning to appear. Thankfully, all of our seed orders had been placed, all of our planting plans had been outlined—and thankfully also, the vast majority of our marketing is done directly to retail customers, so, unlike some other farms, we didn’t have to reinvent ourselves completely. But the confusion and bewilderment of those early days was palpable and disorienting, as we tried to figure out what changes we should make, what changes we actually could make, how we could make the business we know and love safe for customers and workers, and how we could inspire confidence in our faithful customers that we were taking all appropriate measures. Although our marketing would ultimately undergo some difficult changes, with customer limits, mask requirements, hand sanitizer stations, online ordering, and a whole raft of regulations associated with farmer’s markets, we were at least in the enviable position of being able to stay open and in business—‘essential’ was the dubious label we were given, but we were glad to have it. And as far as our production plans, with all the uncertainty in the air, we decided to just proceed as if it were any other season, thankful we mainly work outside – with the addition of masks, social distancing, sanitizer, and all the other new policies that seemed appropriate.

As in any other year, we began the season with self-serve plant sales, and apart from some signage encouraging everyone to keep their distance, we basically allowed folks to shop for plants, compost and soil mix as they always had: day or night. The alarming rapidity with which everything seemed to disappear was our first reassuring clue that customers would indeed return. Ultimately, plant and soil sales would amount to double or triple a ‘normal’ season, as homebound people discovered or rediscovered the joys (and some sorrows, I assume) of gardening and producing their own food.

Our real operational difficulties would begin with the first markets, and with the official opening of the farmstand. Farmer’s market rules remained in flux almost up until their opening (or after in some cases), and were in all cases stricter than those required by the state for grocery stores, for instance, despite being open air venues. The opening of the farmstand also presented a new set of organizational difficulties as we worked through the logistics of how to change customer patterns, and how to best keep both our staff and customers as safe as we could. Ultimately, we made our decisions and did our best to execute our new policies. Apparently, they were sufficient to allay most people’s fears, and we were gratified when masked customers gamely lined up six feet apart on the red dots we set around the perimeter of the parking lot. To say we are grateful for all your flexibility and patience is certainly the understatement of the year – hats off to our wonderful customers!

From the beginning, demand for produce was strong—not like the feeding frenzy that surrounded plants, compost and soil mix, but strong. Our day to day patterns remained very similar to other seasons, with a few deviations. For one, our crew was mostly composed of folks who had worked one or more seasons with us in the past, a rare luxury for a seasonal enterprise like ours. It was basically like an all-star team.  In most years the crew becomes very tight, eating lunch together and hanging out with one another—this year, lunch was primarily a tailgating affair, with folks spread out in the employee parking area, interacting at a distance. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to this flexible, cheerful, and hardworking bunch!

Sometime in May, it stopped raining. In hindsight, that would have been the time to really get on the ball with the irrigation set up, but complacency and inertia are powerful disincentives to potentially fruitless exertions, so we, at first, just got by. A few crops suffered for our procrastination, but ultimately we cobbled together our ‘system’, an ad hoc affair that, by necessity, changes from year to year as we rotate crops with different requirements from field to field. All told, we use three different pumps, a permanent buried network of 4” and 6” pipe, a temporary network of many thousands of feet of 3” and 4” aluminum pipe and fire hose, dozens of sprinklers of various types, half a dozen filter/pressure regulator assemblies to enable us to ‘drip’ irrigate, and a contraption called a ‘traveler’ that sports a large sprinkler head on a cart that slowly reels itself in as it waters, irrigating a strip about 180’ wide, and up to 800’ long if we pull it out to its full length. With such an arsenal at our disposal, the crops had every reason to be reassured, but chaos creeps in to even the most sophisticated and well-conceived system, and ours is most certainly neither.

So pumps, or components of pumps fail to operate correctly or at all, aluminum pipes get run over, gaskets fail or go missing, hoses burst, sprinkler nozzles get clogged, plastic drip irrigation fittings get crushed or chewed by rodents or coyotes, and (god forbid), ponds and rivers go dry. That last one never happened this year, but water levels did drop alarmingly, to the point where we had to relocate pumps closer to the retreating water sources. The rest happened, sometimes over and over.
But despite, and sometimes because, the lack of rain, a good season ensued. There were a few failures, some our ‘fault’ (i.e. we theoretically could have prevented them), some completely out of our control. But lots of success as well. Tomatoes started strong, only dwindling as the heat wave persisted, but flavor was fantastic throughout. Lack of water motivated the deer to seek out even our fenced crops, but despite that we had a pretty consistent supply of lettuce (with some hiccups caused by ravaging gangs of turkeys), and greens and herbs, untouched by disease in the arid weather, have been consistently abundant (again, some exceptions). Most of our serious problems were with field germination of small-seeded, slow emerging crops like carrots, cilantro and dill, and with crops that are favored by the increasingly desperate and thirsty populations of deer, coyotes and turkeys—especially watermelons (unsurprisingly), but also pumpkins and lettuce.

Dry weather, however many problems it may cause, can also be a blessing. Fields that are underutilized because they tend to lay wet, open themselves up to cultivation. Crops prone to moisture-dependent fungal and bacterial infections often thrive in drier weather. And I mentioned the flavor of the tomatoes—really, all produce is more highly flavored (and nutritious) when it is somewhat stressed during growth. Copious water leads, as one might expect, to bland flavor. So the diversity of our operation, with its patchwork of crops and fields, mitigates what might be an unalloyed disaster under other circumstances. Of special note this fall were the various members of the brassica clan—broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts—that performed far better than usual, not subject to the usual disease pressure that rain inevitably brings.

Our season nears an end but isn’t quite finished—we will still attend Central Square Market in Cambridge (Mondays, 12-6) and Union Square Market in Somerville (Saturdays, 9-1) until right before Thanksgiving, and will continue to stock our self-serve porch offerings until we run out or the weather becomes prohibitively cold. Please remember the porch offerings are check or exact change only.

Our profoundest and heartfelt thanks to all of our customers, new and old, who made a point of shopping with us through these difficult times. We consider ourselves truly fortunate to be able to produce food for such a supportive, loyal and in all respects exceptional group of people. Thank you all, have a safe and restful fall and winter, and we hope to see you again in the spring!

-Brian Cramer, Liza Bemis, and the rest of the Hutchins Team
A section of our fantastic crew in the rain on October 29, 202

Farmstand Closing Day: October 2020 Newsletter

The curtain begins to fall on a tumultuous 2020 season—still billowing with summery breezes, though frosty mornings have burned back sensitive crops several times now, and hopes of a late season rally of green beans or tomatoes seem now foreclosed. From a very precarious and uncertain start, our faithful customers and stalwart field crew have carried us through another successful season, adapting to new and difficult situations with patience, good humor and loyalty. Evidence of our crew’s good work can be found all over the farmstand, from piles of spinach, to mountains of brussels sprouts, to pounds of cauliflower. After such a difficult season it is gratifying to see such diversity and abundance of produce fill out the farmstand.

The usual challenges that confront the farmer—unfavorable weather, insect and disease pressure, destructive vertebrate pests—this year were, of course, compounded, even eclipsed in some ways by the constant nebulous presence and threat of the coronavirus. But the continued patronage of our customers and the efforts and enthusiasm of our workers roused us from our bewilderment and indecision, repeatedly setting us back on course. The effect of this season’s distinctive challenges on our situation has been considerable, and so, as we near the end of the season, we wanted to relay some information to curious customers.

We will close the farmstand on November 1st at 4:30pm (sunset – thanks daylight savings time). Unfortunately, some combination of increased sales and decreased supply have conspired against our having our usual bulk bags of potatoes and carrots. There will be no sign-ups this year, though there may be substantial bulk purchase discounts for items that we do have in abundance during the last week, possibly including storage cabbage, parsnips, leeks, squash, rutabagas, and turnips.

After the stand closes, we expect to offer produce on the farmstand porch with our honor system self-serve set up as usual. We will of course try to update our website with what’s out there as much as possible. If we still have adequate supplies around Thanksgiving, we may open up our internet sales page so people can order and pick up produce at the stand – but that will be pretty weather dependent! Please check our website for updates. The Cambridge Central Square Farmers Market and the Somerville Union Square Farmers Market continue until the Saturday and Monday before Thanksgiving, and we expect to attend until they close.

We hope to see you before we close – thank you all for your good cheer and patience this season!
-Brian Cramer, Liza Bemis, and the rest of the Hutchins Team
A brief rain on September 30th – we’ve barely seen rain clouds all season!

September 2020 Newsletter – Concord Ag Week

       Somehow it’s September already. August seemed to evaporate in the heat and the haze and just like that there’s a change of season here at Hutchins. And despite the extreme weirdness of this current moment, we hear echoes of the more “normal” rhythms of a typical season- some of our crew members returned to college (as they do), our high school crew members’ schedules change this week, and the urgency of bringing in the fall crops, like potatoes, winter squash and storage cabbage, becomes more acute as the days wane and sharpen. Just like every other year.

While the calendar says September, the weatherman still keeps sending us an occasional summer day, but the light slants differently, the air feels drier, and the margins of the day slowly close in, the expanding nights still a-riot with life. This time of year brings forth the best that New England has to offer: our crop variety and abundance are on the increase and the gamut of both summer and fall produce is on display in all its glory. Summer crops like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers are still coming on, with the late summer/early fall veggies like winter squash, potatoes, turnips, and winter radishes beginning to make appearances, accompanied by the season-long stalwarts like lettuce, kale, arugula and chard.

Because of Covid-19, the annual Ag Day market in downtown Concord will not be happening – instead, Concord’s Agriculture Committee will host the 15th annual Ag Day as Concord Ag Week this year! Fun agricultural events and specials will be going on at farms all around town. Please see www.concordagday.com for more information. The Ag Committee is also hosting a raffle associated with Ag Week: Post a fun photo of yourself at a Concord farm during the week of September 8 -12, 2020 on Instagram and tag  @farmsofconcord to enter to win a farm bounty basket! (You can also email your photo to melissa@barrettsmillfarm.com to enter without an Instagram account.)

During Ag Week here at Hutchins we will be awarding the 100th customer of each day with a prize of a giant storage Kossak kohlrabi – they’re wonderful conversation pieces, keep for ages (which gives you a lot of time to figure out what to do with them), and are guaranteed to sate even the most ravenous kohlrabi enthusiast.

And in lieu of a traditional tour, on Saturday September 12th Liza will be attempting to host an all day virtual tour of what goes on all day at Hutchins Farm on Instagram stories – please check out @hutchins_farm to follow along throughout the day depicting “A day in the life of Hutchins” – we hope to also be able to put the slideshow together in a video in the week afterwards so everyone without an Instagram account can view it – please check out our website for an eventual link!

We hope to see you soon (and get excited about those storage kohlrabi!)

  -Brian Cramer, Liza Bemis, and the Hutchins Farm Team  

Photo: Behold! The Kossak Kohlrabi!

Photo: Cold front coming through the end of August

August 2020 Newsletter

         Somehow, we have entered August: How long ago was it we were waiting on leafy greens, and now we’re rolling into August’s tomato bounty? It feels like both a year and a minute at the same time.  

      A cool, wet spring started running a fever in June, and we’re still in the grips of a fever dream of a summer. Although tropical heat and humidity seem to have settled in, we’ve seen precious few of the storms that usually accompany such conditions in the last several months. We’re lucky to have significant irrigation capacity, but our patchwork of fields and plantings don’t lend themselves well to efficient irrigation, except those crops that we water with drip irrigation. Unrelenting heat only compounds the effects of the drought, and combined with unreliable forecasts, misleading conditions, and equipment problems can lead very quickly to crop failures. In particular, our frenetic planting and seeding plans are prone to mayhem when weather or irrigation equipment is uncooperative.

     Many of our crops are able to be drip irrigated and so have escaped the worst effects of the dry – tomatoes and peppers have been abundant and high quality, squash, and cucumbers (until recently) have likewise weathered the conditions well and continue to produce. But crops that we direct seed (like carrots and beets) have experienced some spotty germination, and sweet corn, which we set out in relatively large plantings on a weekly basis, has been difficult to keep adequately hydrated, with resulting low yields and partial crop failures. We have a couple months’ worth of corn in the ground yet to ripen, and we have high hopes for it, but we will have chronic shortages over the next couple weeks.

      Another problem associated with extended dry periods is that our irrigated crops become much more attractive to wildlife – famished flocks of birds shred our ripening corn, dehydrated deer and coyotes move into our watermelon plantings well before they’re ripe, before it even occurred to us they might need protection. On the very small positive side of the ledger, dry weather does tend to produce intensely flavored fruits, so tomatoes are especially delicious this year and we have begun to offer the ‘Bounty Basket’ deal so you can enjoy even more of them! Unfortunately, it looks like our apple crop will be almost nonexistent this season, and our supplier of sweet potato slips informed us at the last moment that they wouldn’t be coming through this year, so we will have none to offer.

       Despite hiccups and frustrations, we will continue to have a big variety of fruits and vegetables available as we go into the fall. We’ve begun to dig potatoes, winter squash harvest will commence soon, celery should make an appearance along with the reappearance of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Lettuce continues to grow despite adverse conditions, and of course we’re waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the season’s first rutabaga!      We wanted to say thank you to you, our amazing and gracious customers. We know this year has been hard on everyone, and we so appreciate how patient, kind, and courteous you all have been while waiting in line, following crew instructions, diligently using hand sanitizer, wearing your masks, and being so conscientious of your fellow customers and of our crew. Thank you.

       In addition to new crops appearing all the time, we have also increased our “Farmers’ Choice Bag of Veggies” to two sizes – you will now found a small ($20) and a large ($30) sized bags on our online store, and if there is enough demand we can certainly add an even larger size (the Jumbo?) Thank you to everyone who has tried out this option! We have had to decrease our “a la carte” options on there, and we are very sorry, it’s just a lot to handle on top of everything else this season. We are thrilled to see how many of you are taking advantage of the “Farmers Choice Bags” though – it works well for us and we should be able to keep this up through October for contactless curbside pickup at the stand, and for pickup at the farmers markets.

      And a note of housekeeping – the governor has lifted the reusable bag ban! We are thrilled to have you all bring you bags back into the farmstand – we do ask that you bag your own items just to reduce our staff touching your bags, but we are very happy to be using fewer disposable bags.     

Thank you all for your patronage so far this season – adjusting is difficult, but together we’re muddling through – we really appreciate your positive attitudes, smiles, and thumbs up!

We hope to see you (from a six-foot distance) soon to enjoy New England’s bounty,
 -Brian Cramer, Liza Bemis, and the Hutchins Farm team  

         Top row left to right: watching a thunderstorm go around us to the east, tomatoes in buckets.  Bottom row left to right: Sweet yellow onions being pulled, planting corn.