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!

-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.

-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 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 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.

May 2020 Newsletter – Opening the Farmstand

           ‘Farm Life’ is a phrase evocative of a simple existence, uncomplicated by modern considerations and fashions, a timeless, idyllic lifestyle that is concerned with fundamental processes and systems, unmediated by and independent of social or cultural conventions. This is largely nonsense of course. Farms and their farmers exist within communities, social contexts and markets. They participate in and depend on the same social systems and networks as their non-agricultural neighbors, depending on supply chains, markets, and local infrastructure as much as any other business.

       But I do think there is something special about farms and farming-though agricultural pursuits are nowhere near as ancient as hunting, gathering and scavenging, they somehow seem to have become an inextricable part of our makeup in their relatively short history. Something about watching seeds germinate in neat rows, seeing a field of grain nodding in a gentle summer breeze, even watching the plow turning over the soil in neat furrows, or an irrigation gun describing its rotating arc of water, creating a rainstorm in the sunshine (complete with rainbow), is deeply, fundamentally appealing and satisfying to the senses.

       We are grateful to be involved in the agricultural enterprise we call Hutchins Farm, and are daily reminded of our good fortune to have found ourselves here, in the orchards and the fields, hawks screeching overhead, measuring the progress of the season in the changing quality of the light and the green of the landscape. We watch amazed as food springs from the earth-understanding all the work and planning that precedes that moment, we are still struck by the magic and beauty of it. Despite the fact that we are firmly ensconced in our local community, our families, our networks, our herd, we are daily able to step out of those roles and into the roles of steward, cultivator, producer, working in a space that, almost incidentally and only partly, is made beautiful through our efforts. Hutchins exists in its local context, but is also apart from it, a haven from the storms that swirl through our towns, states, and nations. We hope that you are able to find some relief or escape from the current insanity, and that maybe Hutchins provides some of that refuge for you as it does for us.

       May has been flying by for us as we learn how to navigate our new realities. The Union Square and Central Square farmers markets opened last week giving us a chance to test run many of our new sanitation and safety procedures, as well as our new online store (more on that in a bit), and in short – we’ve already learned a lot! A great many thanks to our market customers who came out and were our “guinea pigs” – your support and patience means so much to all the farmers at the markets.

       And as we have gotten a few markets under our belts, we’re gearing up to open the farmstand for the season on Tuesday June 2nd, and we will be back to our usual hours of 11am-6pm Tuesday – Sunday. We have what we think are good plans, but as we have found with the markets, sometimes it takes seeing a plan in action to realize what you need to modify. So, with that in mind, here are some new procedures you will find when you get here (subject to change as we figure out what works best!)  

  1. If you are feeling under the weather please stay home – we are asking all our staff to do the same thing – we want to see you, but only if you are feeling good!
  2. Please practice social distancing in the parking lot and in the stand! We will have markers to help when waiting in line to get into the farmstand.
  3. In the beginning of the season, only two to three customers will be allowed in the stand at one time – this will increase as we have more product and social distancing in the building becomes more doable. A crew member will be monitoring how many people are inside and let you know when it is safe to enter.
  4. There will be one entrance and a separate exit in and out of the stand – please pay attention to signage
  5. All customers need to use the provided hand sanitizer before entering the stand
  6. All staff will be wearing masks in the stand and in the parking lot – and all customers should wear masks too. Per the Governor’s order, we won’t be able to let you into the stand without one. Please help us keep our staff and other customers safe!
  7. Per a temporary state regulation, we are not allowed to touch your reusable bags, so kindly leave those in the car. For those of you that want to use them, you can take your shopping basket out to your car and bag there and then return your shopping basket to the crew member out front – we will be disinfecting shopping baskets between uses.
  8. Thank you so much for your cooperation, your patience, and your smiles behind those masks!

For those of you that don’t want to come inside the stand during these wild times, we understand, and some products will be available for pre-order on our website with contactless curbside pickup on Wednesdays and Saturdays – those pickups will start on June 6th. Unfortunately, given our harvest schedules, not everything we have at the stand will be available online, but we will try to get a good mix up there. Please see our website going forward for directions.

       For those of you interested in our “farmers choice bag of veggies” we expect those to start up end of June or early July when we have enough variety to feel like we can offer more than just salad. There will be more information about them on our website and social media when those are ready to be ordered. While they are similar to a traditional CSA in that they are a mix of what the crew harvested that morning, they are unlike a CSA in that you do not sign up for a full season ahead of time – they will be available to order weekly through our online store. As you feel you need another infusion of veggies place an order! They will be available for pickup at the stand (contactless curbside) or at the farmers markets. We expect that as the season progresses, we will have them in multiple sizes (small and large) so you can pick the size that best works for you, or adjust weekly as needed.

       The self-serve porch is open through the weekend with some produce and seedlings, and after June 2nd only seedling sales will continue to be self-serve when the stand is closed – so for those of you plant shopping at 9pm (and we know there are a few of you!) you can keep on doing that. Self-serve produce however, will be discontinued.

         We’re looking forward to seeing you all – adjusting is hard, but we’re muddling through – and we’re excited for another season! Mother nature is sometimes cruel, but she is forever moving forward and evolving – and so we move forward too, adapting to our new circumstance.

We hope to see you (from a six-foot distance) very soon,  
-Brian Cramer and the Hutchins Farm team  

Top row left to right: crew picking arugula, strawberries blooming, Central Square Farmers Market set up.
Bottom row left to right: Maeve and Huey at the Union Square Market, tomato seedlings for sale, peas growing taller.    

April 2020 Newsletter - Self-Serve Seedlings & Covid-19 Update

Spring arrived in March and with it some wild warmth – we got the peas planted and they started to emerge a full two weeks ahead of their usually scheduled planting date! But then cooler weather prevailed in the beginning of April, and in true New England fashion, we’re alternating between winter coats and t-shirts.

What, of course, has been even more wild, is our collective new reality. Or reality at least for now? We’re getting use to standing 6 feet away from each other in meetings, wearing masks, and learning to wildly gesture now that no one can see our facial expressions. While Covid-19 has upended many of our usual protocols and social norms here on the farm, it hasn’t slowed down Mother Nature – spring is persisting along, and we must follow. We hope this newsletter finds you well, and we’re looking forward to the day when we can hug you all instead of wave across the parking lot.

The honor system self-serve front porch at the stand is up and running for early spring seedlings –please check the website daily as we try to keep the list of what’s out for sale as accurate as possible (you can even see what time the list was last updated). We still have some bagged McEnroe compost and potting soil also available. It shouldn’t be too much longer before the variety of seedlings grows, and maybe we even get some edible early greens and rhubarb up there (if the weather cooperates that is). Please remember that this is done on the honor systems, so exact change or check only. And it’s open as long as the weather is above freezing – so feel free to come by anytime – social distancing is easier at 9pm? Although it’s a little dark to see the plant tags then…

While spring planting is in full swing, we’re starting to think about how we are going to tackle this season from a retail perspective. Let’s start with the good news – we will be opening the farmstand in late May/early June as usual! Farms are classified as “essential businesses” and certainly getting food is an essential part of life.  While we will be adding additional protocols in the stand to help with physical distancing and potential cross-contamination points, we will be opening and you will be able to still get the somewhat usual Hutchins experience you are used to.  The Farmers’ markets also will be opening on schedule, but with different protocols and some physical changes to reduce hand to hand interactions.

Hutchins is known for a few things, but perhaps chief among them is our daily harvest – attempting to provide our customers with the freshest produce we can, we run through this crazy dance of harvesting all our greens first thing before the stand opens. This perhaps obsessive devotion to this goal means we plant many plantings of a single product to attempt to get a consistent stream of produce to the farmstand each day. This does not lend itself easily to a sudden pivot to a weekly CSA model or pre-orders, and the wheels were already set in motion back with our seed orders in December. So, while we won’t be offering a traditional CSA, we will be offering weekly a “Farmers’ Choice Box” on a pre-ordered online platform. These will contain a variety of what we are growing at the time, and as the name implies, the farmers picking that day will be deciding what goes into them. While the boxes won’t be all the same, but they will all contain the same dollar amount of produce. We expect to offer them in different sizes, and you can change your size every week depending on your needs. Likely these will start up in late June or early July when we actually have enough produce variety to do them without drowning you all in salad. We will also be offering some pre-ordered “a la carte” (if you will) items as well, for example lettuce by the head. All of these pre-paid orders will be available for curbside pickup so you don’t even need to come into the stand. They will also be available for pick up at our three farmers markets. Liza is working hard to set this up and figure out all the logistics, so many more details on how this will work to come!

Also, for those of you looking for a weekly pick-me-up, Mel’s Field Edge Flowers CSF share still has spots open – please see her website here for more details. We will also be offering Field Edge Flower’s bunches on our online platform for pre-order as well.

We’ve gotten a lot of phone calls and emails from you all over the past several weeks, and we cannot thank you enough for your support as we take on these new challenges. We are happy to still be farming and will be happy to see you all again, even under these strange circumstances. We hope you continue to shop with us, whatever that looks like as we go forward!

Wishing you health and peace,

-The Hutchins Farm Team

  From left to right: Baby pepper plants, Huey transplanting in the greenhouse, Peas up in the field      

March 2020 Newsletter - Parsnips are ready!

Happy Spring? We guess? What happened to winter this year?

         The warm weather woke up our parsnips early, which in turn piqued the interest of our resident deer, so we thought it prudent to dig them right away – they will be available self-serve on the porch beginning Saturday, March 7th – remember it’s an honor system and exact change or check is required. As farmers and gardeners who grow them know, producing parsnips is fraught with difficulties: they germinate very slowly, and can easily dry out and fail to get established during this protracted phase; and should you be lucky enough to get a strong stand, they are extremely slow to grow and not competitive with weeds, so they require constant attention to keep them from getting overwhelmed by aggressive garden bullies. They take a long time (well over 3 months) to mature, so problems with germination or early growth often means that a second try is wasted effort. Should the stars align and the gods smile and you achieve a creditable stand of parsnips, further difficulties arise during the marketing phase: otherwise tolerant and open-minded people are inexplicably prone to statements like “I’m pretty sure I don’t like parsnips” despite never having tried them. Perhaps something about the “-ip” ending, in common with turnips and the bunyip, is off-putting. We’re confident that those who are able to rise above irrational prejudice and rank slander will find our freshly dug parsnips, sweetened by the winter, are a delicious and satisfying way to welcome the new season. They are exceptionally versatile and make a wonderful soup, desirable addition to stocks, purees and roasts, and a sweet treat shredded and fried.
        Our annual shipment of McEnroe compost and potting soil has arrived. Stop by at your convenience to get what you need for the upcoming growing season-payment is honor system: leave cash or check in the slot next to the door. Potting soil is $12 per 22 quart bag, or 3 for $33 (price includes tax). Compost is $9 per 40 pound bag, or 5 for $40. Potting soil is best used for growing in containers or for starting your own seedlings, compost is best for mixing into beds and gardens prior to planting, or topdressing existing plantings.
        Other developments include the return of several members of our team, including such luminaries as assistant farm manager Brian Daubenspeck (recently returned from an agriculturally oriented vacation in Colombia), Huey-harn Chen (our farmer’s market manager, among her many other roles), and Melanie Hardy (once again managing our greenhouse while operating her own, on-site cut-flower operation: Field Edge Flowers– which still has CSA shares available). In addition to these familiar faces, we welcome Dave and Kathy Rice, most recently of Sweetcore Farm, in way upstate New York – Dave will be managing our neglected apple orchards, and seeking ways to boost yield and consistency in that organically challenging crop, while Kathy will be working in the farm stand. We are excited to have them join us in our efforts to maintain Hutchins as a vibrant and productive part of Concord’s agricultural landscape.
       The Hutchins Farm 2020 plant catalog is up on our website for all you gardeners planning already – just check the tab under “produce information” for the downloadable PDF. We hope you can join us as well, as the winter recedes (did it ever show up?) and the world awakens under the benign regard of the sun and the gentle encouragement of the rain, light breezes cajoling drowsy trees to swell their buds and unfurl their leaves, warm evenings inviting peepers to awake and fill the night with their song.
-Brian Cramer and the Hutchins Farm Team
  From left to right: Mel harvesting parsnips, parsnips after they have been washed, Dave harvesting parsnips.