By: Amelia Hazen, Production Assistant Corpsmember
“What do vegetable farmers do during the winter?” It’s a question I am often asked, and the truth is, there isn’t always a lot to do. Here at Real Food Farm, we utilize high tunnels to extend our growing season, which means we produce vegetables year round. So, for us, there’s always something to be done. Even so, the pace is significantly slower than at the height of the growing season. Throughout the winter, we spend a lot of time completing necessary repairs around the farm, finishing projects that got thrown by the wayside during the summertime hustle, crop planning for the coming season, and, learning.
This winter, I had the great fortune to attend three different farming conferences, an opportunity that helped me think more critically about our approach to agriculture, talk to farmers from all over the country, and discover new tools and techniques to apply at Real Food Farm. Conferences serve as a rare opportunity for farmers to leave the farm, learn new skills, and share their knowledge and excitement with other farmers. If there’s one thing I know about farmers, it’s that we have a hard time talking about anything but farming. These conferences give us a space to do just that.
Last weekend, several members of Real Food Farm’s production team made the trek to State College, Pennsylvania, for the 25th annual Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference. There, we, and 2000+ fellow conference attendees, attended workshops on a wealth of food and farm related topics taught by experts. The workshops ranged from farm-made fertilizers to mycoremediation to intensive grazing; there was something for everyone. Each of us from Real Food Farm gathered new techniques and ideas, and in the week since the conference, we’ve been bursting at the seams with excitement about our newfound knowledge. In addition to attending workshops that provided practical tools and knowledge for us to apply at Real Food in the immediate future, we all attended workshops on topics that reflect our personal passions and interests. I went to fascinating workshops on small-scale grain production, fermentation, and seed saving, among others.
In addition to our time spent learning at conferences, we spend several hours each week throughout the winter in the farm’s classroom, most recently taking a series of classes about soil science. In our soil science classes, we’ve learned about the fundamentals of soil, developing a deeper understanding of soil composition, soil nutrients, cover cropping, and reading soil tests. These classes have been an important way for us to better understand many of the techniques we use on the farm. Through these classes, we are gaining useful knowledge that can be applied on any farm. It’s easy to get caught up in the physicality of farming and divorce the tasks we do on a day-to-day basis from the science that makes it all happen. Dedicating extra time to learning and networking during the winter is invaluable to us farmers after a long, hard summer. Winter is a time of reflection; a chance for us to slow down, think about what we do and why we do it, and consider how we can do it all better. We’re excited to share this with you in the coming season!