Three Part Harmony Farm 2018 season end of year report
All of the farmers in the mid-atlantic (not to mention all farmers everywhere!) went through some serious trials and tribulations this year, and Three Part Harmony Farm was no exception. The overwhelming theme was unpredictable weather, which actually has become our new “normal” Each year, the impact humans have on the environment is increasingly undeniable. As my 2 1/2 year old goddaughter would say, the earth has a boo-boo. I cannot bring myself to tell her that the Elsa band-aid is not going to work, and that she is going to inherit a big mess someday.
To this date, not a single month this season has brought us what would be considered normal weather:
– We got snow on the first day of spring.
– We had an early drought in April and I was caught off guard without my irrigation system set up.
– It was uncharacteristically cool in August (we took advantage of this, warily.)
– Then, besides a late heat wave in September, we also received too much rain: the very old (I like to call her the 100-year old oak for lack of a specific date) lost her footing one incredibly rainy Sunday, became uprooted and fell on our deer fence.
Hands down, the biggest gift that I receive as a farmer is a chance to feel a little less guilty about my impact on the climate. In fact, as an agroecological farmer, I wake up each morning and re-dedicate myself to nurturing my relationships with people and the planet.
I’m grateful to our little piece of land and the vibrant ecosystem that I help foster. Each day, each week, each month, each y
ear it is more alive than before. I’m grateful to all of you who support our work in so many different ways.
I am delighted to share this end of season report with you all, the 3PH family. In a sense, this end of season report is a compilation of the first seven years, because the tremendous growth we experienced this year was built upon the incremental successes that most of you have witnessed from the beginning.
Farming is no joke: it’s a struggle. That makes this joyful moment even sweeter.
During a hard year, it’s important to keep things in perspective. The only reason our farm didn’t go under this year, from the strain that all of the hard times created, was because of the gifts it received from all of the people supporting it. We actually ended the season stronger than ever because of the seasoned and dependable community that has grown exponentially since the farm’s founding:
– This season for the first time, both part-time crew members returned! Jon and Cristina take on major responsibilities that lighten my load and increase the farm’s capacity ten-fold. Jon is in charge of the CSA pick up at the Montessori school across the street from our farm. All of the kids love “farmer Jon”; when he went out of town to visit family this fall, one pre-K child cried while hanging on to his mom’s leg when he realized that farmer Jon wasn’t going to give him his apple that day. Poor Cristina, who was standing in for Jon! She took it in stride. For her part, Cristina is developing a business plan to start a flower farm. She’s part of the Beginning Farmer Training Program, of which 3PH is currently the only training site for the program located in DC. Her concentration is on the cut-flowers, which I’ve always found challenging to keep up when the vegetables take so much time and energy. Next season, the flower bed along the street should finally be in full production for the entire season under Cristina’s watch.
– In 2018, we doubled our CSA. Harvesting twice a week for five different locations (for a total of 170 shares) is quite a logistical feat. We work with almost 12 other farms to buy items we don’t grow, which makes our CSA membership quite valuable. Our small urban farm is best suited to focus on greens, roots, herbs and flowers. It’s a joy and a blessing to be able to work with other farmers who bring us eggs, cheese, honey, rice, micro-greens, winter squash, sweet potatoes, melons, and medicinal herbs. I applied for a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant to help fund the marketing piece for the multi-farm CSA. Because of a technicality, our application was denied in the first round so I have appealed and we are waiting to hear what the rural development officer decides.
– This season, the last large load of compost was delivered. I almost had a heart attack, because the truck actually got stuck when the load shifted as the driver dumped out its contents onto the new field. Luckily, a friend who owns a moving company called the tow truck he uses, and for a discounted “friend” rate, the semi-truck was towed back onto the street.
– With that last load of compost, we extended all sixty-four vegetable beds by 25 feet each, to now reach our maximum footprint on the property’s main growing space. Both rectangles measure about 100 feet long, and there’s now just the smallest walk way between them where we can quickly mow the grass, and of course turn around the tiller. It took 7 years, but we now have soil. It’s actually the crop I’m most proud of, and it gives me great delight when visitors comment on how beautiful it is!
– We were not able to qualify for the USDA program that would fund a high tunnel at the farm because of the limited tenure. Instead, a good friend arranged to have the old greenhouse from Martha’s Table moved to our farm, temporarily, until she finds a permanent home for it. To date, we have received $1,275 in donations as well, that will go towards buying materials and renting a truck to move it.
The term “community” in Community Supported Agriculture means more than just customer. The 170 shares that are distributed at five difference locations are enjoyed every week by people who take a leap of faith to join us on a sometimes rocky road each season.
There are so many who put in additional sweat equity besides our three person crew, that I hesitate to name individuals. But my reliance on a few key folks is especially striking in the sleep deprived late season days and each evening I pause and just think, “We wouldn’t have made it without this person.” That is especially true for the workshares who take on a role that is crucial to the operation, and they carry out their responsibilities with love, dedication, and reliability. This list includes Erica, Kimmi, Robin, Michelle, Lydia and Harum.
We renewed our lease this year, and during the process I’m again reminded of the fact that the my landlord (The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate) is our single largest donor. Thanks to a carefully worded clause in the Farm Bill, they are able to pass along the exemption so that we do not have to pay any rent.
I started a farm in DC because I wanted to have good food in my home, and to share that with my friends and neighbors. I wanted to be connected to the people who are nourished by the food I grow, and the community that comes to the farm every year to celebrate during the fall festival is representative of that. How wonderful to see kids brave enough to put leaves, flowers, even roots into their mouths straight from the plant!
I also wanted to show that we can feed ourselves, and in a time when food sovereignty should be on everyone’s minds, it’s a great thing for people to see that there is a farm in the city that harvests every week for 170 shares. Because of the weather, that meant some extremes in crop wins and losses this year. The “wins” were all of the greens, especially the mustards this fall. The “losses” were root crops, mainly carrots and beets that we struggled to grow. “Thank you” and “Sorry” are phrases that go hand in hand to our CSA members, as well as “There’s always next year!”
In all seriousness: your unwavering support and joy in making mustard green smoothies makes us feel more than just appreciated: we feel like farmers are esteemed in this community, and that our commitment to grow food for our people is not taken for granted.
More than any other year, the 2018 season – our seventh – is underscored by the cumulative effort of so many people who have toiled with me in the dirt until we can say that now, we are alive! and the soil is alive! As my dad always says, “now we’re off to the races!” I can’t wait to see what the next seven years will bring.