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Green sprouts greet spring at local farms

By Judy Benson

Publication: The Day

Published March 21. 2013 4:00AM
Rough winter leaves some eagerly anticipating a season's worth of digging, planting and harvesting

At Hunts Brook Farm in Waterford, the green needles of garlic leaves awakened to the lengthening solar rays and poked through the snow at the end of February.

By the time the first day of spring arrived Wednesday, Rob Schacht, who runs the farm with his wife Teresa, had caught up to the garlic shoots leading the way into the new season, and mentally were ready for the digging, planting and harvesting ahead. The Schachts stay busy through the winter repairing equipment, planning for the next season and growing salad greens and spinach in their greenhouses for local restaurants, but the pace is decidedly slower.

"I went through a stage this winter when I would get really sleepy in the afternoon, but now I'm feeling energized again," said Rob Schacht, standing inside the greenhouse at the foot of one of the rows of dark green leaves where his wife, and farm manager Nicole Clark, were methodically cutting spinach, leaf by leaf, to fill two large tubs.

Several miles away at Provider Farm in Salem, Max and Kerry Taylor spent much of the first day of spring in their greenhouse, too, planting flats with seeds of golden beets and cabbage, and tending to the onions, leeks and tomato seedlings already sprouted in trays filling long tables.

"I feel like I want spring really bad," Max Taylor said, a beet seed between his fingers, dressed in a T-shirt and coatless despite the breezy, 40-degree day that started with a frost. "I can't wait to get the tractors out into the field. I'm sick of winter."

Though meteorologists say it was warmer and wetter than average, the winter dealt the Taylors, in only their second year running a farm, a tough setback when snow from the Feb. 8 blizzard collapsed their greenhouse. That brought an abrupt end to their slower pace as they suddenly faced a major cleanup and rebuilding.

"It was completely crushed," Kerry Taylor said.

Soon after finishing the greenhouse, the Taylors' phone began ringing with customers wanting to sign up for the farm's Community Supported Agriculture program this season, and payments started arriving in the mail. The increasingly popular program, also offered at Hunts Brook and several other local farms, provides customers with a steady supply of a particular farm's harvest throughout the growing season. Thus far, Hunts Brook has 55 customers for 75 CSA shares it is offering this season, and Provider has about 150 for its 200 shares.

"Now it's exciting to go to the mailbox every day," Max Taylor said. "Last year, we had 100 CSA members in Manhattan, but this year we had enough interest locally that we didn't have to do that."

Both farms depend on their CSA customers for more than half of their income, so they're eager to respond to customer feedback. At Hunts Brook, that means growing fewer radishes and more kale and other types of greens, adding sweet corn and keeping the 20 tomato varieties and the fresh garlic, Schacht said. Provider CSA customers want more peas.

"It's really cool to be helping people improve their diets, and to be providing for our own community," Kerry Taylor said.

In addition to the CSA income, both farms also sell to restaurants, and offer their produce at Fiddleheads Food Co-op in New London and at farmers markets. This year, Hunts Brook is adding a mobile wood-fired pizza oven to the mix, selling freshly made pizzas at the Coventry Regional Farmers' Market on Sundays and at other events throughout the summer.

"We'll use as much as we can off our own farm, and as many other local ingredients as we can," Rob Schacht said. "The meat will be all humanely raised, and the flour will be from a mill in upstate New York."

With temperatures expected to remain in the low 40s for the next few weeks - and snow still a possibility - neither the Schachts nor the Taylors will be rushing to plant outside just yet, even though spring is officially here. Max Taylor has set April 14 as his target date for his first sowing of carrot seeds.

The Schachts are figuring on starting sugar snap peas at about the same time. A Boy Scout troop that will be volunteering at Hunts Brook at various stages in the growing season will spend its first visit on April 6 picking up rocks out of a field.

"The ground's still way too wet to plant," Schacht said. "A lot of people say you can plant peas on St. Patrick's Day, but if you wait until the third week of April, they catch up."

j.benson@theday.com

MORE INFO

Hunts Brook Farm: huntsbrookfarm.wordpress.com

Provider Farm: www.providerfarm.com

Other CSA farms: ctnofa.org/CSAs.htm

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