Seeds we plant

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

– Robert Louis Stevenson

 

It takes 70 days to harvest a tomato from the time I first put seed to soil.  Add another two weeks to that if you include the amount of days I spend deciding on the potting soil that will give the tomato seeds the best opportunity to thrive.  For 84 days, give or take, the tomato takes effort, it takes thought, it takes patience, it takes trust and it takes an extra large dose of faith. 

 

We seed, we water, we transplant, we water, we trellis, we weed, we water, we weed some more and then finally, we harvest, and we celebrate. 

 

In year three of farming, I learned finally, that not all celebration should be put on hold until harvest.  84 days of giving with nothing in return is inequity to the extreme, and it is untenable.  The Bhumi team would end each day fatigued and empty with this way of thinking.

 

This year, finally, we flipped the script of previous years on its head, and celebrated the giving.  Transplanting wasn’t a necessary evil to get to the harvest day any longer, but rather a gift, to be returned or not, that we gave to the farm, and ourselves.  The gift of tending to our crop, even in the most mundane brain numbing ways, is something to be appreciated.  It is an act that connects us in the most intimate way to our plants, your food, and it is something to be celebrated in the moment.  Celebrated, not in anticipation of the organic tomatoes that are on the trellised horizon, but rather, for the effort put forth without any promise of a harvest at all.  We celebrate the act of caring, the act of giving selflessly, the act of being brave enough to do what most others won’t and mostly, we celebrate the seeds, literal and metaphorical, of the good we plant into the earth each day.

 

Imagine the world that would grow if we all planted seeds of good.

Autumn Equinox

Today is the Autumnal Equinox.  Like most days with funny names, the Equinox comes and goes without much thought.  The Equinox is a moment in time when the tilt of the earth and the orbit around the sun combine to make the Northern and Southern hemispheres receive exactly the same light from the sun.  It’s also when the day and night are perfectly matched in duration.

I remember as a child trying to balance an egg on its head hoping it would stay upright.  Looking back it could have been a clever teacher ploy to keep us kids quiet and busy. 

Now, as an adult with an abundance of quiet time to think, the equinox is a symbol of balance.  The Earth and the Sun, with all of their atmospheric moving parts, have found at least two days in a year to be in hemispheric balance.  Often times, it seems like two days of balance is a lot to ask of us, but really, the choice is always ours.

Me, I am always working and trying to improve.  Even in the quiet fields I am thinking of ways to grow better organic vegetables, how to make my customers happier, and ways to offer more products.  It’s a never-ending mental treadmill, and it’s far from being in balance.  I have to make a conscious effort to get lost in the moment and to enjoy the task at hand, however mundane, for what it is and for what it offers.  In the quietude lives the infinite, I remind myself.

You, I’m sure experience the urban version of the farmer treadmill.  Different in content, but exactly the same in sensation…the feeling that there is just too much to do. 

In a lot of ways the egg exercise in 8th grade earth science is a metaphor for life.  It takes a lot of effort to find balance, perhaps it may even be impossible, but without attempting to find balance, even for a few minutes a week, we crack, just like an egg.  Wow, Mr Petrizzi was like Yoda, and I just realized!

Autumn Farm Share Letter 1

When discussing organic farming to non-farmers, I often bring up the rhythm of farming.  Within each day there is a circular flow of energy.  In the morning its uplifting.  At the end of the day, as the sun is setting, the energy is more inward.  As a farmer, you tap into these rhythms.  If you spent a few hours at my farm, undoubtedly you would share a similar feeling with me, the vegetables and land that surrounded us. 

 Seasons, like days, also have a rhythm to them.  The weather, the amount of daylight, the angle of the sun, all contribute to this.  Everything in nature is attuned to this flow and abides by it, except us humans.  We don’t really respect or understand nature in its entirety.  I’m guilty of this also.  We keep lights on all day, we don’t change our behaviors much from one season to the next, and I believe we throw our rhythms off.  Who doesn’t feel a greater urge to nap in colder weather?  An urge we normally respond to with an extra cup of coffee.  What we do to ourselves is akin to trying to waltz to a hip hop song…the beats and rhythms are unnaturally and forcefully paired.

The Bhumi Farms Autumn share is an excellent opportunity for us to align our bodies with the changing seasons. September is still offering us the sweetness of summer vegetables, while also hinting of the green goodness on the way.  Watermelon and tomatoes are being delivered alongside dark greens like Raab, eventually giving way completely to the hardier vegetables. 

Our bodies are made to eat seasonally and locally.  Of course, I’m not suggesting you completely deny yourself avocado and lemons, I enjoy those things also.  However, please be mindful of how you feel when you eat things being grown organically, in season, and near your community.  My contention is that you will feel better, more nourished, and more in synch to the natural rhythm’s of earth.  Your mood, most likely, will also balance.

It is a real honor and gift to be offering these vegetables to you.  I am a farmer by way of Finance. I completed my MBA in Finance from Stern, and  I once was a card carrying CFA Charter Member.  My beliefs don’t come from living on an ashram as a child of hippies.  My thoughts are being formed and tested every day as I farm.  I believe that trying to understand a little more each day about our place on earth will only benefit us.  I also believe that eating Bhumi farms vegetables in a mindful way is a great step down a path toward better health and balance.

First Winter as a Farmer

I open the gate to my field and I pause.  The past 13 hours brought with it a steady snowfall and blustery winds.  Snowdrifts climbed halfway up the 10-foot fence, just low enough for the deer to peer into the field they are forbidden to enter.  It is almost exactly a year to the day from when I first laid eyes on this field, then also dressed in frosty white snow.  From that day, until now, so much has gone into and come out of that soil, its hard to fully appreciate that here I am again, standing in the same place, looking at the same field that has taught me so many lessons, both gentle and harsh. 

 My first year of farming has given way to my second, and with that turning of page a lot of my optimistic first year assumptions have fallen away. In planning my first year, I envisioned perfectly straight, weed free rows, covered in fruit, happily hosting bees and ladybugs.  In reality, not a single straight row adorned my field, let alone a weed free one.  This time last year I thought potato beetles would buy into my mission of providing nourishing food for the community and would magically leapfrog my field, leaving my fingerlings looking fresh and spry.  The truth is that I spent a substantial amount of time each day squatting, legs straddling potato plants, making my way down the row in this penguin like funky chicken walk only familiar to small scale organic farmers, while I manually removed each hyper-sexual potato beetle from the plants.

 The snow crunches under afoot as I make my way onto the field.  I past the first acre, where the crows practiced dive-bombing my watermelons on the previous year’s hot August days.  Those days were some of the more heartbreaking for me, and passing that melon patch brings those feeling back again.  Very few things excited me as much as watching watermelons grow each day, so it was hard for me to see the melons broken open and barely eaten.  The crows, watch me now from the trees, as I curse them under my breath.  I’m hopeful that this year we can come to some form of agricultural détente.  I’m happy to provide them with their pound of organic vegetable flesh, but an all-you-can eat buffet does not seem equitable to me.

 I walk along the second acre now, the winter rye hidden by the snow, where plump tomatoes will hopefully grow this coming summer. In this manner, row-by-row, acre-by-acre, I traverse the field.  Each footprint left in virgin snow, pressing down on soil that is anything but virgin. 

 This soil has a rich history with a vibrant story to tell. It’s experienced centuries of freezing and thawing.  This patch of land has hosted many farmers. I’m just the latest in a string that must date back to when Indian’s ruled the East End.  This ground has felt the elation of seeing seeds germinate in the June sun and the panic of an early frost that brought Brandywine tomatoes to their knees.  This soil is waiting patiently for the snow to melt so it can be heard again, in harmony with the farmer when things are at there best.  I also eagerly wait for the farm to warm so I can practice all that I’ve learned this offseason.  The frozen ground lends itself to reading all the books that I couldn’t get to from March to October.

 The field is glistening stunningly as the sun warms the very top of the snow.  To others looking out over Town Lane on this day, they would appreciate a beautiful snow covered field, but part of the message would be lost.  But to me, and my farmer friends, we know what this fence-ringed land means.  It’s the past and the future.  It’s at once a reminder of all the joys and all the struggles that is farming.  It’s a vivid memory of the smiling faces that for the first time ate a carrot fresh out of the ground. It is a chance to have another shot at last year’s mistakes.  It’s an opportunity to recreate my vision of who I want to be and how I want that vision to manifest itself in my field. 

The field seems to go on forever, so I slowly turn to look back to see the prints I’ve made in the snow.  I know I’ve come farther than I give myself credit for and I’m thankful for the time I’ve spent on this soil.  At the same time, I’m eager to carry on and to see where this snow covered field leads.

 The rows will never be weed free or perfectly straight, but somewhere in the middle, between that utopian image of the farm in my heart and last year’s reality, that’s the farm to strive for.  A life in balance, and a farm in balance, that is what this soil is meant to grow.  This could be the year.

Article written for AFI

When I made the decision to farm, I did so imagining my winters would be spent traveling far from the farm. I romanticized the idea of a January spent leisurely wandering around Asia, backpacker style, on a farmer’s budget. 

During many long August days, the thought of being somewhere else in January was the fuel that kept my desire to farm hot and burning long after many other professionals were already two deep into their happy hour drinks. 

  Instead, I'm here, closer to my farm than I had imagined and having the below conversation on almost a daily basis:  

 

 Friend: “Hey Frank, how is the winter? Are you still  farming?”

 Frank: “Yeah great thanks.  Yes, I’m still farming”

 Friend: “Really?!  What vegetables are you growing?”

 Frank: “Well, I’m not growing any vegetables, its zero  degrees outside.”

 Pregnant pause and quizzical look follow.

 Closer to the farm and further from the "reality" I had imagined for myself, I have learned that farming is a year round profession.  Yes, farming is about managing relationships between soil and sun, pests and fruit, and weeds and plants, but it is also about constantly learning about nature and how to interact within natural boundaries in the most effective and unobtrusive way possible. 

 Learning, I’ve come to find, is as much a part of farming as the field work.  It is such a large undertaking that it cannot be accomplished entirely during the growing season when the field is moving at lightspeed (pun intended).

 This winter, YES, I am farming. Rather than vegetables, I am growing a farmer.  I’m growing my knowledge and experience as a farmer.  I’m growing my ability to deal with problems that may occur during the season, I’m growing from a first year farmer into a sophomore farmer, and this in turn will grow better vegetables, I hope.  The farming never ceased, it has simply changed venues.

 This winter, my evenings have been spent trying to stay warm by the fire, reading the latest and greatest information and solutions for natural forms of weed suppression, and researching organic ways to control pests, and occasionally, I allow myself a minute or two to daydream about a next January spent in Asia. 

Letter to Members #7

Hello farm members and friends,

Sorry for the delay in writing this update. The farm has been busier than usual. The spring fields needed to be put to bed for the season, the fall crops were introduced to their new home and the main crops have required an inordinate amount of weeding and shepherding.  The newest challenge is the kamikaze diving crows.  This unsavory bunch of avian hooligans has been dive-bombing my tomatoes, zucchini and melons for no other obvious reason other than to annoy me.  This latest trial has really tested my fortitude, and frankly, some days I get close to capacity.

The recent cooler nights have created a desire to reminisce. As I look over the fields, I see a lesson learned in each row. Each foot of field is a reminder of things that transpired, both beautiful and frustrating. It always takes a large dose of faith to believe that everything happens for a reason. In yoga teachings, something (GW should “something” be replaced with “which” or “that”?-PW) I hold dear to my heart, there is a principle that a teacher comes in every form, meaning that good or bad, one is wiser for the experience. 

As the farm slowly cycles from one season to the next, I can’t help but think of stages of my own life that have come and gone, only to be replaced by the next. It’s hard to say goodbye honestly, to people, to places and, more recently, to the vegetables that I spend so many hours with. My hope is that with each goodbye, an indelible lesson has been learned that will make each subsequent relationship more profound because I will cherish it more.

Masanobu Fukuoka, a revolutionary Japanese farmer once wrote, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” At the time of first reading this particular quote had very little meaning to me, and now, after almost a full season of farming, I believe I still only grasp a small portion of what he meant, but the insightfulness of his comment is certainly less foreign. 

The lessons on the field have impacted my life off the field like no other endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. Farming teaches me to be humble and grateful, to be patient, to be bold and to accept what befalls me despite all efforts for the contrary. The farm has been a teacher, both nurturing and punishing.

Perfection has never been my goal, in farming nor in life, but moving towards a better version of ourselves should be. As I roll one row into the ground to sow another, Id like to think that it’s just another step in the right direction of being a compassionate human, farmer, friend.

Thank you to all my teachers, in all forms.

With gratitude,

Farmer Frank

Letter to Members #6

Often in the course of an endless day of farming I find myself with a tool in my hand, sweat on my brow, a little sun on my nose and not a “things to do list” in my head.  It’s during this stillness, something that exists between an inhale and an exhale, that my mind asks questions I otherwise never had time to contemplate.  These are the moments I try and share with you in these letters. These letters are not meant to be a soapbox or a bully pulpit.  They aren’t intimating that I know something that you don’t.  This is me sharing something that most people don’t have any more in their lives…time to think.

Most evenings the very last thing I do on the field before I leave to is to bow at the waist and to quickly say a few words of thanks to Mother Earth for all the wonderful things that grow on the fields, tangible or otherwise.  Lately, however, I have been leaving less optimistic and a little heavier in my thoughts.  The act of giving thanks became a physical motion rather than an emotional one.  Last night, as I began the short but extremely tedious chore of opening and closing the deer fencing (see, not cheerful!) something made me pause and just take inventory.

I am a farmer. I feed families vegetables that I grow with my own hands.  I chose this path and I do it with all my heart.  I leave the field exhausted, but content.  Yes I wish the radishes are bigger, but they are growing.  Yes I wish the lettuce was taller, but they too are growing.  So this exercise continued; point and counterpoint.  “I wish there were less weeds!” “Yes, but from amongst those weeds the kale grows!”

Over those few moments, despite life being dynamic, nothing physical changed that dramatically on the field. I was standing in the same place, facing the same direction, but my mood was markedly better.  Lighter.  Bordering on ebullient.  What changed was my perspective.  I became grateful again for everything around me, weeds, pest, growing tomatoes, beautiful zucchini flowers and all.

I guess that is the lesson. All of these emotions exist on the field and off, in harmony and unfortunately in disharmony occasionally.  It’s not that I should ignore the weeds in some Pollyannaish stupor, but just the same, I should not ignore the beauty that also surrounds me. 

The power to decide where we focus our energies is all ours.  In my case, a few minutes of taking inventory of the good with the bad was all that was needed to wipe the field dirt from my perspective.  (You should prepare to receive a bag full of weeds for your Bhumi Farm share this week.  If you strain real hard you may just see oranges!  Just kidding.)

With Gratitude,

Farmer Frank

Letter to Members #5

Hello CSA members old and new,

I hope this letter finds you well and in good health.

The farm has been a hotbed of activity the past week. One season is overtaking another as earlier spring vegetables are on their way out while the summer vegetables are quickly racing to provide fruit. Mustards have been the first to bolt, as have some varieties of spinach and Asian greens. In farmer parlance, “bolting” is the vegetables bidding their final adieu before they pack it in for the season. (Side-note: I had a girlfriend I once bolted from. That was a good decision.) The final act provides colorful flowers that turn to seed and someday grow into a plant again.

As I walked the field earlier I noticed some zucchini and cucumbers coming along nicely and the broccoli has some florets blooming. The fava beans have flowers on them, so I imagine fava beans can’t be too far behind. The cabbages are starting to roll themselves into tight little fists. Even some green tomatoes are adorning the 1000 feet of trellis that makes an overhead view of the field look like a Stratocaster. The radicchio looks really beautiful but a bite of the leaves makes my face contort from its bitterness. A celebrity chef that visited the farm (and said he was impressed) (note, horn toot in progress) said that cooking the radicchio will take the edge off. I hope he is right or everyone will be able to spot a Bhumi Farm CSA member from his or her crinkled furrows.

I must confess, there are many times during the week when I wish I had a crew of migrant workers to help me weed (incidentally, CSA members are always invited to toil in the soil for an hour a two) and a big tractor that could drive itself in straight lines (those that have visited the farm have clearly seen that I can’t drive in straight lines) to harvest and cultivate. Everything has a cost though, and the cost of outsourcing comes at the expense of intimacy. The benefit of doing it alone comes with knowing what is going on with each plant in each row. I can see who is in distress and who is flourishing.

Familiarity with the vegetables is paramount.

But why stop this line of thinking at the field’s edge. In a world where speed and quantity is rewarded and expected, and relationships are formed and held together is snippets and phrases, the farm champions just the opposite, a slow deliberate process that can nourish us in so many ways. The farm is here to remind us that closeness is everything, on the farm and off.

Thank you so much for your support and kind words. I hope you are happy with everything you’ve received thus far.

With gratitude,

Farmer Frank

Letter to Members #4

Dear Members,

I don’t have any children, but if I did, I imagine having her go off to college would not be unlike the feeling I had the other day picking radishes.    Sounds odd?  Read on.

I was picking radishes for my CSA farm members when I realized that unlike the mustards and pea tendrils, this radish was not coming back.  More radishes would not fill the hole this perfect little French Breakfast once filled.  Once gone, it will be gone for good.

I planted these seeds at night, because I am understaffed and the sun was setting quicker than I was seeding.  I placed each seed by hand gingerly into its proper place because I have yet to master my seeder.  I did my best to manually beat back weed pressure to give the radish the best chance of success and I ventured to give these radishes neighbors they would really enjoy.  They were nurtured and pampered and loved, these little radishes. 

I actually considered keeping the radishes on the field and replanting them.  I wondered if they would grow again if I stuck them back into the ground.  I was creating a list of reasons why the radishes should stay put.  I then realized I was going through a radish version of empty nest syndrome and slowly came to terms that the radishes should be shared.  As farmer, I did my best to help the radish, but then I must let it go off into the world.

Farming is work.  It is laborious and time intensive.  It is even emotional at times.  But what I've come to find, more than anything, is that farming is a new lesson every day.  And on this morning, in the misty fields of Amagansett, I learned that sharing the fruits of my labor would be the greatest gift of all.  Farming is certainly about planting roots, but it is not about keeping them.

I’m  glad the radishes are going to happy homes.

With Gratitude,

Farmer Frank

Letter to Members #3

 

Hello Bhumi Farm CSA Members,

 

The pitter-patter of rain on the roof!  Music to my ears. 

 The times I was lucky enough to speak to you, without fail, the question of what is planted has been asked of me.  So this evening I thought I’d give you a little look behind the curtain. 

 A few things to point, however. 

I have used the broadest identifier possible, so as to not give too much away.  For instance, I have planted 4 varieties of radish, but only use “radish” each time.

This is just one field, Ganesha.  No need to fret, the bulk of the Solanaceae family, aka nightshades are on an adjacent field.  The Solanaceae family consists of two broad components; capsicum and Solanum.  Solanum is made up of potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant.  Capsicum is mainly peppers.  We have over 300 tomato plants, close to the same number of eggplant and with peppers we focused mainly on Shisito peppers to the tune of 400 plants.

Each bed is about 160 feet long and has two to three rows per bed depending on how much room each specific crop needs.

Its midnight and my eyes are closed and crossed, so please excuse any glaring (and less obvious) mistakes.  I’m pooped.

Without further ado, the field map (well, more like a list than a map):

 

With gratitude,

Farmer Frank and Bhumi Farm

Letter to Members #2

Hello Bhumi Farm CSA Members,

 Its 8:30pm on Thursday and I’m just getting home from the field.  Working at dusk has a very special feeling to it and it’s nice to tuck all the little guys & girls to bed.

 I was harvesting some mustards just now for your weekly share, and I was lamenting over the little holes the flea beetles make in the leaves.  I stress about this often because we’ve been trained to judge vegetables by their appearance.  This evening I got to asking…”What is true beauty?”. 

 Below are two pictures, a shiny red apple and a mustard leaf that looks like it was the victim of a Dick Cheney hunting trip.  The apple looks more appealing for sure, but what if I told you that to be wormless and dentless, an apple is sprayed an average of 27 times.  27 passes of chemicals that are not at all nutritious covered that apple.  The soil, most likely, is devoid of any life, and in turn, the apple potentially could be lacking nutritional value.  You are basically eating a mirage.

 On the other hand, the asian greens and mustards at an organic farm like Bhumi  Farm are grown in a life nurturing soil.  The soil is alive and dynamic, and some of the participants in this ecosystem have a craving for Asian greens.  I can’t say I blame them, asian greens are mighty tasty.  To spray the plants and get rid of the flea beetles in a “conventional” way would be a death knell for the entire body of life that surround these plants. This not only goes against everything I believe in but it clearly makes no sense to throw the baby out with the bath water. 

 My hope is that we can look past the holes and enjoy the nutrition that is coming to you in the form of organic crops.  (I’m currently trying a lightweight row cover, but this method isn’t 100% effective because when I lift the row cover to tend to the vegetables, the beetles rush in like it was black Friday at Wal-Mart.  All the arugula will be covered though, so here’s to hoping!) The holes aren’t without utility, by the way, the flavor sticks to them better. 

 My conclusion; Life is beauty….beetles and all.

 With gratitude,

Farmer Frank and Bhumi Farm

Letter to Members #1

Hello Bhumi Farm CSA Members.

I wanted to take a few minutes of your time to get you up to date on the farm.

All the offseason planning is starting to show up on the field and in the greenhouse.  Each morning I’m greeted with new seeds that germinated overnight and a new weed or two in the field that is trying to crash the party.  Without the use of pesticides or other chemicals, weeding is done entirely manually, and mostly on my hands and knees, so I must admit to not always being the most gracious host when they arrive. 

The weather has played a little trick on us as well.  Taking a page from the European playbook, the rain department decided to go on strike in April and so far in May also. Everything is moving in the proper direction, but at a much slower pace.  Imagine driving your bicycle with flat tires, well that is what is happening on the field.  To remedy the situation, I’m in the process of installing drip irrigation. Drip is much more precise than any other type of irrigation, and therefore reduces wasted water, inline with Bhumi’s sustainable mandate.  I know that one cannot control Mother Nature, thus I shouldn’t stress about that which one cannot control, but why not find a middle ground and become less beholden to her.  If ever there is a chance for  Mother Nature to get the last laugh, however,  she will start the monsoon rainy season just as soon as I’ve invested my last dollar in getting water to the fields.

To close this letter out I want to let you know that I intend to work tirelessly to bring you the best product possible.  There will be weeks when you will be overjoyed with what is in you Bhumi crate, and sometimes you may be moderately disappointed, but in its entirety I want you to feel that joining Bhumi Farm was a smart decision and something that you would do again without hesitation.  Short of controlling the weather, I promise you that I will do what I can to make sure that happens.

With gratitude,

Farmer Frank and Bhumi Farm

Ps-  This week in your box I expect to have some baby kale, maybe some baby chard and mustards also.  I’ll include some sweat pea tendrils, some spinach and micro greens.  Finally, there will be some edible flowers that work just as well as decoration.  I’d encourage all of you to come to the field and visit some time this summer.  Especially the July to labor day.  It’s a carnival of colors and smells.