Robert’s Farm (V)

Posted: 3 September 2010 in Robert's Farm

Been out to the farm twice this week; Robert needed some help grafting English Walnuts onto Black Walnut root stock.  It turns out that we only got to that at the very end of the first day since harvesting melons and tomatoes took priority (it was market day and we had hoped for melons–only got watermelons).

This made me painfully aware of the challenge of mobilizing labor on a small family farm.  That particular day everyone in Robert’s household was gone and his two hired laborers were out too.  When I rode out Robert was already in the melon patch but it is tough work to do alone.  Note to self: learn more about labor challenges on family farms.

I also became more aware of the reality of water and how it too must be “mobilized” to assure things grow during the period they are supposed to grow.  An irrigation ditch runs through Robert’s farm and he had scheduled three days of off take to flood (essentially) the walnut orchard.  Lack of water last year stunted young tree growth, not allowing grafts to take and basically putting the whole thing back by a year.  Irrigation water will be cut off in about a week (last year there was none at this time).  The rest of the farm is watered by ground water but Robert wants to use a storage pond to provide some water for other parts of the farm from the irrigation ditch.  Challenges abound–the main one of which is water pressure and the need to use diesel to get the pressure needed to push the water out via “drip-tape.”  Drip tape saves on water but requires pressure.  Note to self: learn more about which source is more sustainable–ground or irrigation and the relative benefits and costs of each kind (not just on the farm but more broadly).

Today we harvested a LOT of melons (and watermelons and tomatoes) for all the barbecues this long weekend.  Then a group of Japanese students (about 25) showed up with an organic farmer from Japan and their professor to take a walk around the farm.  Furiously taking notes they listened as Robert talked them through the “integrated” nature of his farm from rotation schedules, to pest control to water management.  I listened in.  Most of my career I trotted the globe asking the questions.  Whenever I did that there were always the local “experts” and the “tag-alongs” who mostly listened in but had little to say.  It was strange not only NOT to be the questionner but also not to be the “expert”.  I added essentially no value to their learning (but I picked and passed around some strawberries and took a few pictures for the group shot).  Note to self: reflect more on this experience and how it feels to be on the receiving end of a research group.

Going out to Robert’s farm one more time this week–this time to pick some tomatoes that he can’t sell (sun blistered or bird-pecked).  Hopefully we can use the tomatoes to can some sauce (or just straight tomatoes).  Haven’t done that since about 1969 in Bowmansville, PA, in my mom’s kitchen.  Stay tuned…

  1. Nancy says:

    You may not have asked questions or been the expert, but hopefully you learned something!

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