By David Bayne, Board Member and Bicyclist
One of the exciting things about reading the Co-op Newsletter is the investigative reporting. As one or two of you might remember from several months ago, I was sent out to discuss certified natural farming with Mark and Lindsay at Owl Wood Farm in Salem. Of the many things that came up in my conversation with them was the discussion about the two main soil types in our area: Hoosic loam and Bernardston gravelly loam. In my ignorance, I had referred to the latter with a puerile eye roll, and woefully referred to soil as “dirt.” Our stalwart editor has sent me to Long Days Farm to correct my imbalance. As part of the package, I went by bicycle once again. This is what I discovered on this adventure:
Long Days is the enterprise of Debby Jaffe and Edwin Schiele. They supply produce to the Co-op as well as the Cambridge Farmer’s Market. Debby bought the farm property, which is in South Cambridge, in 1996, and she and Edwin farm an acre and a quarter of Bernardston soil. It’s a good looking spot on the top of a rise that faces east, and, as I took off my helmet, I could see Mt. Equinox just touched with clouds.
The asparagus patch next to the house was our first stop. The season had pretty much passed, and the plants were tall and ferny. Debby pointed out that asparagus foliage provides good cover for games of hide and seek. Hide and seek? For example, they will move their chickens into the patch soon because the tall plants provide cover from predatory birds, such as owls. Owls apparently enjoy eating the heads off chickens.
On the other side of the road was more asparagus, as well as beets. Did you ever notice the little red holes in beet greens? I’ve sometimes thought they were pretty ornaments but apparently they are the result of a fungus (Cercospora beticola—which, as a side note, has a very interesting sex life). Debby and Edwin may have finally figured a way around these nasty little things using a Queen’s gambit of crop rotations that certainly confused me, even if it doesn’t a common fungus. We munched a leaf or two to celebrate the supposed triumph over the fungal monsters.
After a quick stop in the blackberry patch, we finally got to the garlic. I have always associated Long Days Farm with premium garlic in a multitude of varieties, and there it was. Glorious! A high point of any visit. There were seventeen beds, five different varieties, and over 13,600 individual garlic plants. Cambridge is full of secret beauties, and this garlic is certainly one of them. They sell garlic both as a fresh crop (which should be refrigerated), dried, and as seed garlic.
But what about the Bernardston soil? I finally got the temerity to ask as we looked at a plot with an odd pattern of attacks as if by Freddie Kruger. The patch was slashed and I stood there (feeling very much like a farmer) breaking up these convenient clumps in my hands. Bernardston has more clay and rocks then Hoosic loam and it takes slashes and thrashing to break up these clumps. You also have to make a game out of pulling the rocks out; one after another. But the sweet reward is that the hard work releases more nutrients for the plants. They love you for your hard work and push up brazenly through the soil, and taste better too – both sweeter and richer.
Now the Hoosic loam people would probably argue this point (that Bernardston soil makes tastier veggies), and their protestations is what makes this newsletter so exciting—I say, bring it on. To preserve community agrarian harmony, and to keep the local farmers talking to each other, the market is divided up in a way that makes it tricky to compare a Bernardston carrot to a carrot grown in Hoosic loam. But give it a try at the Co-op or the Farmer’s Market and see if you can get some friendly arguments going.
Of course I would recommend riding your bike to visit Long Days Farm. But I would not recommend taking County Route 59 from the Co-op to South Cambridge. I did because I wanted to check out the roadside clean up the Co-op sponsored this spring. Although only one Bud Light Blue can was spied, the road is a mess and a hazard. Until the County steps up and does a repave the surface is too rough. Instead try going out Turnpike and over Oak Hill to King Road. The town is presently doing a better job than the county in keeping their surfaces rideable. Either way it is about 9.5 miles.