Where Are the Veggies?
FEBRUARY/MARCH, 2021: Welcome to Seasonal and Local Eating 101.
WHY AREN'T THERE MORE VEGGIES ON THE BUYING PAGES?
I sent this question out to our farmers, and many of them took time from their very busy schedules to send responses. I've pulled them together below, hoping that this will help our members understand how hard our producers are working to serve the market and also what bigger-than-usual challenges our producers are facing. There's a common theme in their answers: It's deep winter, and this is never a time of plenty. But it's been even more challenging than usual this year. Here are their stories.
Rain, Rain Go Away!
Thanks to above-average rain and snowfall, it's been hard for our farmers to plant for the spring as they usually would. Long stretches of grey, rainy days make the soil too wet for planting. The few days of sunshine in between haven't been long enough to dry the ground out for seeds and seedlings. It's currently a waiting game.
A gorgeous scene from Liberty Tree Farm,
As Lyndsay Constable of Crumptown Farm explains: "Plants require sunshine for photosynthesis, an essential ingredient for growth, and in winter, there is significantly less sunshine. Unless we grow under artificial lights, which requires some major $$$$, the plants we have planted to grow in winter require much more time to regrow than they would in the summer. We had a very cloudy, rainy fall & early winter, which has an impact on how much we have to sell later in the season."
Lyndsay says: "This may be the new norm with our changing climate. We have major downpours now that were NOT common even 5 years ago, and we have been farming in this area for almost 15 years."
Getting specific, Lyndsay says: "Massive amounts of rain leads to more problems with fungal disease on plants. These diseases are much more pervasive than they were even 2 years ago. We planted a few thousand kale plants this fall, and
very few survived the downpours we experienced. Most got a fungal disease we call black spot, which can occur when leaves are wet for 6 or more hours straight and there are too few sunny days to dry them off. We are modifying our growing techniques by increasing space between plants (which lessens yields) and using some organic anti-fungal products (which can be $$$), but it feels like we are playing catch-up with climate change that can be very frustrating and daunting."
Ice is Not Nice. TWICE!
Along with the rain, we've had a frigid polar vortex slam us twice, bringing ice storms and below-average temperatures to the region.
Ice on the trees and Nandinas at Misty Morning Sunrise Farm in Dinwiddie County.
Even our producers who use season-extenders (hoop houses, greenhouses, high tunnels) suffered losses due to the lower-than-normal temperatures. Then came the power outages that occurred when the ice-coated trees lost branches or fell under the weight of the ice, taking down power lines.
Some of the growing plants were killed outright, especially if they were in outdoor beds. I'm wondering how these beds at Dragonfly Farm fared during the deep freeze. Doug Reid shared them just a little while before the ice storms hit.
Sugar snap peas emerging.
Doug says these are "onions just peeping at the sun."
Any plants that survived must be a little frostbitten and growing more slowly. And the low temperatures also slowed the growth of any seedlings being raised in hoop houses and high tunnels.
Our Producers Just Keep on Going (and Growing).
Christy Callas of Thistledowne Farm practices seasonal eating the old-fashioned way--by putting food by so that during the deep winter she can eat from what she has canned, stored, and preserved.
Anyone who knows her knows that Christy is in near-constant motion. She's a worker! During the months of plenty, she's canning and filling her root cellar with storage crops like potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbages, and apples.
She says, "In the low light of the Hunger Times, food and warm shelter from the elements remind of the closeness of the prospect of once again enjoying the long light."
After the hard work of farming during the cold, gray days, Christy enjoys the warmth of the wood fire that burns on her hearth.
Dominic Carpin of delli Carpini Farm has also shared some of what he's been doing to prepare for spring and the time of abundance to come.
"Right now," he says, "we are focused on our propagation station, starting eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, brassicas & microgreens from seed. We planted a lot of leeks, shallots, scallions, onions & garlic for spring harvest this winter. We're also outside, sowing cold hardy cover crops like spring oats & crimson clover to enrich the soil."
Seeds under the grow lights at delli Carpini.
A new season extender at dell Carpini.
And Jo Pendergraph of Manakintowne Specialty Growers, whose pictures are always a delight, sent us this pictorial answer to what's happening right now on their farm in Powhatan:
This picture needs no explanation!
"I love paperwork!" said no farmer, ever.
Mint putting on new growth in the greenhouse at Manakintowne. Yay for longer days!
Coaxing salad greens out of the soil in Manakintowne's high tunnel.
Germination testing the seed stock at Manakintowne.
Vegetables will return soon--Now, more than ever, we need our members.
Our produce farmers have invested in seeds, plants, equipment, and other expensive measures in order to meet increased demand for local food. Demand for produce has risen sharply since the pandemic brought a large number of new customers to Fall Line Farms & Local Roots and other local food outlets last spring. Increased awareness of the value of local food is a good thing, and our farmers are working to try to meet the higher demand. But there's a learning curve, and the weather has not cooperated with efforts to get the spring startup going early. Crop failures on big ag farms in Texas due to the freezing weather there will drive demand up further. We need you!
You Can Help Keep Our Local Food System Strong!
Use your Fall Line Farms & Local Roots membership to purchase as much locally as possible. When you shop, go LOCAL first. Buy from Fall Line Farms & Local Roots or one of the other farmers markets that sell directly to the consumer before heading to other grocery outlets.
When you shop in grocery stores, look for stores that offer local and regional foods. If you don't see local items in their stores, let a manager know that you'd appreciate that option.
Hang in there and bear with us until the weather breaks. Unless something unforeseen happens (I knocked on wood and said a prayer as I typed this), we'll be a few weeks behind, but we'll soon enjoy the glorious abundance of fresh food that spring provides.
Accept our gratitude for being part of this community, where we value seasonality, local-ness, and sustainability, and where our ethos is collaboration and neighborliness. We appreciate you!
Many thanks to the producers who took time to help me put this blog entry together and whose pictures I borrowed: Liberty Tree Farm in Bumpass; Crumptown Farm in Farmville; Misty Morning Sunrise Farm in Church Road; Dragonfly Farm in New Canton; Thistledowne Farm in Farmville; delli Carpini Farm in Beaverdam, VA; and Manakintowne Specialty Growers in Powhatan.