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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date July 1, 2021

July 1st. Wait, what? It’s J U L Y ? It’s July and the kale has exploded along with the weeds. I’m so thankful for our hard-working team (not just the farm workers!) and the handful of volunteers who have joined us in liberating our crops from the overwhelm of hungry, green-leaved neighbours. Fresh Roots has a few hungry neighbours of the human variety, too, which has made an impact on our yields. The unique pressures of Urban Farming continue to surface as we try our best to fulfil commitments to our CSA members, Markets, Programming, the Community Eats Program, Lunch Lab, and Donor Recipients such as South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Hub. All of this is to say, I feel the theme of the past month has been about Community. 

Community

The Fresh Roots Community is blooming into the Summer Queen that she is. All of the youth hired under the Canada Summer Jobs contracts are trained up and ready to operate the Fresh Roots Summer Kingdom (aka Farm). By the second week of July, we’ll have SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership) participants growing, learning and leading at three sites, keen to pull weeds and distribute wood chips (I can’t wait to utilize those hands!) and harvest veggies for the market. 

Our Community Supported Agriculture Program is in its 5th week, now, getting our lovely greens and roots into the hands of thoughtful consumers who know their investment is supporting not only the operation of our farm, but also our programming to employ youth and teach kids about agriculture and themselves. It has been a pleasure to put the faces to the names on our CSA sheet and watch as our vegetable babies find their forever homes… in your mouths, I guess?

We attend two markets with two distinct but wonderful communities: Saturdays at Riley Park we connect with the market-goers, organizers and vendors that make up the incredible Vancouver Farmers Market; and on Wednesdays our market is hosted by the ever-generous folks at the Italian Cultural Centre. The ICC market community ‘feel’ is definitely different this season than last – yes, that means the pizza and wine are missing. That is because the ICC is putting their effort into supporting the community in another way: they are hosting an epic vaccination site, seeing an average of 1600 members of our community get vaccinated each day. So while I’m sad that we don’t get a slice of pizza, I’m happier still that we are overcoming this virus with the support of places like the ICC. 

Other amazing community experiences include ogling all the adorable dogs that are walked around the periphery of the farms, connecting with our curious neighbors, playing I-spy with neighbourhood kids, chatting with students who attend the schools where we farm, and staff sharing a lunch of Fresh Roots Salad Mix with that tasty yeast dressing we all love. 

I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg that is the support and connection happening between the coreteam members of Fresh Roots! It seriously takes so much teamwork to adorn our Lady Fresh Roots with the glory she deserves. It takes meetings — so. many. meetings — and so much planning, and phone calls, and notes and communication boards to make sure all the cogs are turning in time between each department. There is also a lot of: “who does what?” in this organization, as she evolves and transitions into something new, it seems like every moment. 

So, yeah. We get weedy, and stuff gets stolen, but the trade off for working in a supportive community is totally worth it.

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Seed-date June 1, 2021

Nuts and Bolting

The nuts of farming, to me, translate to the “awe, nuts!” moments – like when you arrive one morning to your lovingly hand-reared broccoli transplants and find that they have all bolted prematurely. Riding the waves this spring – whether they were tropical hot or arctic cold – meant that a lot of our plantings behaved differently than expected. This early in the spring, when most of our planting spaces are spoken for, it’s hard to make up for failed crops without having a time machine. The effect for Fresh Roots is that we have adjusted our market start dates, and introduced a “soft-market” concept to our first week. 

That said, we did have many gorgeously productive days on site, with all our farm team recruited and in the process of all staff (22 new team members!) training over the past few Mondays. The Vancouver farm team transformed our greenhouse over the last 4 weeks from wild, gregarious, multi-shaped leaves bursting over every surface to a serene, warm oasis with tame baby head lettuces lined up in rows of green and purple. While seeding and rearing transplants is a lovely, crafty task, the prep for transplanting is everything in this process. 

Putting the Seedlings To Bed

When seedlings are ready, their bed has to be made. To start, we first have to uncover the beds that have been sleeping under silage tarps or lumber wrap all winter. If they were uncovered previously, we need to weed — sometimes for hours — before we can move on. Next, we measure and mark out each bed: 36 inches wide, with an 18 inch path. Then we wheelbarrow 3 loads of compost for every 45 foot bed, rake the compost out, and wheelhoe the bed to integrate the nutrition and fluff the mattress, so to speak. If a fluffy bed is a mattress, then consider row cover the sheets. For transplanted beds, the best way to save yourself future battles with weeds is to apply a sheet of landscape fabric to the prepared bed to prevent scattered, wild seeds from seeing the sun or getting irrigated. When we run out of fancy fabric, sometimes we create low-cost covers out of lumber wrap that we cut holes into with rickety scissors found at the bottom of cracked rubbermaid boxes. Transplants are popped into holes in these sheets, and eventually their plumage cascades over the surface, hiding the fact that their sheets are not Egyptian cotton, but rather, black plastic.  

Prepping our beds in this way not only prevents unwanted weed pressure, it also retains the nutritional quality of the soil, preventing nitrogen from being taken up by unplanned plants. Additionally, it prevents surface leaching, by blocking irrigation and rain outside of the holes we farmers have cut. In these ways, we are serving our soil as well as our crops, to minimize our nitrogen output, which also protects the environment.

We did lots of other cool stuff besides bed prep, including clover angels (who knew this was a thing?), building an epic tomato trellis, donating 14 totes of veggies to South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, and wrestling rhubarb – whose leaves I’m considering using in place of landscape fabric, maybe, to suppress weeds? Also makes a great hat during a thunderstorm. 

 

June will see our first CSA Pickup and Market Days – don’t miss them! 

 

We’ll be at the Italian Cultural Centre from 4-7 on Wednesdays starting June 2nd. We’re located at the southwest corner adjacent to the park-look for the white tents, orange signage, and basketball hoops!

AND

Vancouver Farmers Market at Riley Park from 10-2 on Saturdays starting June 12th.

 

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Start-date, May 1, 2021

A week into April I found myself completely transitioned from working behind a screen to my hands covered in compost, unable to check my messages. It’s awesome. This is why I farm. I love being outside, covered in dirt, with wet, matted hair. Thank Manure it’s finally time to work the soil! We direct seeded about twelve beds at the David Thompson Secondary schoolyard farm, a handful of which are now sprouting. These sprouts are destined to be the first veggies in your CSA box or your June market haul! Time to get excited!

This month, I spent about 2 out of 5 days each week fiddling around with irrigation. This time reminds me once again, how important preparation is for a smooth farm season. When Fresh Roots starts up the growing season, Gray, our Infrastructure Manager, first has to test all the lines and replace any broken bits. Any leaks (or explosive sprays!) need to be repaired before we can hook up the lines that will water our seed babies. Next, we make lists of the parts we need, place an order, and pick them up, sometimes requiring a trip out to Abbotsford. Ideally, we would have a very organized inventory of all the essential, tiny, plastic parts that are dispersed over our many sites. Fresh Roots operates over six sites across the lower mainland (and counting) so this process is a little like herding cats with a broom. 

 

Once we’ve got all our bits and bobs, we need to assemble them according to crop, asking questions like, “do we need overhead or drip irrigation;” “do we need 1, 2, or 3 lines per bed;” “what kind of emitters do we need and what’s their coverage;” etc etc. It’s a little bit like lego, which is kind of fun, but also tedious. Once everything is in working order we finally set the timers… the hardest part. The technology is not user-friendly. It’s like setting an alarm on a water-damaged watch from the ’90s: half-analog, half-digital, with about two dozen impossible-to-find settings buried under complex command chains. TBH, I’m not really sure if these minutiae are interesting to you, Dear Reader, but there you have it – irrigation in all its tiny, explosive glory. 

 

Our seedlings in the greenhouse are now fully irrigated and warm under the clear light shining through fresh panes of glass. It seems like the ideal situation, right? Wrong. Turns out a heavenly courtyard in the middle of a school is also a haven for small animals that like to chew things — namely, about a dozen trays of gorgeous plant babies. I can’t blame the animals. Who doesn’t love a sumptuous spring salad after a winter of garbage… Er, turkey? Our response was to build 6 more cages to protect our precious seedlings from grazing. It also spurred a much-needed deep clean in all the nooks, crannies, and under-the-stairs. The whole team — all departments — banded together to tackle this work and it felt so good to accomplish it together. 

 

Stay tuned next month when I’ll talk about transplants, why we do row covers and the onboarding of our seasonal staff.  

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Farmer’s Log, Start-date, April 1, 2021

Oh, March. Another month of prep before the busy season comes on. The idea is that the better we prepare, the smoother the tomato volcano will be… but I’m sure many-a-farmer will argue that there’s simply no way to prepare for a vegetable glut in the heat of summer. 

There were a couple of things about my job that I fell in love with this month. First is the SOYL youth alumni who joined us for Spring Break:

  • At Van Tech they tended to the sensory garden after amending our entire growing space. 
  • At David Thompson, they planted cold-hardy seeds in the learning beds, built a new bed for a ‘tea garden’ in the outdoor classroom, helped us seed in the greenhouse, and drilled together a frame for a bed in the courtyard.
  • They also collected observational data on our overwintered chard to determine what might have led some plants to survive the cold while others died (conclusion: the healthier plants had more leaves to insulate them from the cold so they survived).
  • SOYL hands distributed about 20 yards of compost over two sites, which is an incredible help for Fresh Roots farmers. Their ingenuity in observations and energy tackling the huge piles of compost left me inspired. So many great problem-solving skills were applied in the building projects, too. What a delight!

My other new love is Fresh Roots’ greenhouse. Jack, Fresh Roots Delta farm lead, and I spent many hours there this month, seeding for our Vancouver locations as well as our new farm project out in Delta, a partnership with Farm Roots. We listened to co-op radio (what an awesome mishmash of music and personalities) while we sprinkled seeds and love into every cell. Even on bitter cold days, the greenhouse is nice and cozy, especially nestled in the courtyard at David Thompson Secondary. In this little oasis, the resident hummingbird screams its electric Tarzan call atop the huge magnolia tree and there are a couple of ravens that visit, often circled by angry crows. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that this space is in the middle of the city.

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Start-Date: March 1st, 2021

Hello and welcome to the Farm Team’s very first blog post of 2021! My name is Camille and I’m the new Farm Manager for the Good Food program here at Fresh Roots. I come from a  Deaf Family (Deaf parents, hearing kids) of mostly white European settler descent. Growing up on a large piece of land in what’s now known as South Surrey, the Indigenous land of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt, and Tsawwassen First Nations, I was afforded the privilege of tending the soil and growing food with my family. This was where my passion for vegetables was ignited and it continued down paths of wildcrafting, permaculture, and urban farming to where I am now, here at Fresh Roots. 

 A few fun facts about me:

  • my first language is American Sign Language
  • I am obsessed with wild mushrooms
  • I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Critical Theory and Critical Studies in Sexuality. 

My combined education and experience leads to interests at the intersection of everything, like how the ‘local’ food movement can serve to simultaneously feed and exclude marginalized communities – and how breaking bread can bind us together. 

Similar to most Farmers in our region, February was a month of planning at Fresh Roots in addition to a whack of orientation for this noob to the organization. I had lots of introductions to people, programming, and technology that I never knew existed. I’ve been pouring over documents and making seed orders, planning compost deliveries, and scouring resumes to hire folks for our seasonally expanding  Farm Team. I am so excited to bring all of this planning to life. Just like a little garlic sprout, these ideas will transform into something lusciously green and delicious, and I can’t wait to share it with you. 

Looking forward, we’ve got lots of stuff germinating. I just received our first seed order from Johnny’s and even got a couple of seed trays started with the help of our Program Manager, Galen. Seeding is kind of like making perogies – put on some good music, set up the trays, get a flow going, and you’re in the zone. I like to imagine all the energy in the room going into every ‘plop’ of a seed. What were Galen and I talking about and how will those words be brought to life by these plants that will emerge? I don’t care if this seems hippy-dippy. It feels good to set the scene for intention and growth in a holistic way. Other things featured this month: an epic, steamy, slippery compost dump; approximately one million zoom meetings; a gigantic, online group interview for our summer staff; and… snow (what!?).  

In March you’ll hear more from me through social media and the second Monthly Farm Report, and by June CSA Veggie Box members will be reading my weekly fresh sheet updates. Soon enough, I hope you’ll all be eating the food the Farm Team has collaboratively created. Can you taste those sweet Hakurei Turnips, yet?

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log – October 14, 2014

With school back in session there is a buzz of activity around the farms, reanimating the space and offering new opportunities to engage with our community. We only have a few weeks left of new seeds going into the ground this year. As the days get shorter the crops keep growing but sllllllooooowwww down. This means if we want to see a harvest from anything we plant in the next few months it needs to start growing soon! We are happy to have all our winter kale in the ground, brussel sprouts starting to bulge and lots of sweet cool-season spinach starting to roll in. Soon we’ll be tucking the tender crops under plastic to protect them from the cold so you can enjoy mid-winter, green delicacies.

Farmer Scott
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Farmer’s Log – September 2, 2014

With the cool weather and rain I’ve been jump started into planting a lot more of our winter crops. Soon to be salad greens, sweet winter spinach, turnips, kale and radishes are all nestled in the ground getting started before the cold weather arrives. Soon we’ll cover them with a warming layer of plastic and wait for the glorious taste of fresh vegetables in the middle of winter. Despite planning for winter we still have beans, zucchini and cucumbers growing their fruits just as quick as we can pick them. Stop by the market soon for these flavours of summer while they last!
Farmer Scott

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Farmer’s Log – August 26, 2014

This is our biggest week yet! Our harvest is bigger than it has ever been, wow! I’m glad that I’ve been working out on the farm, it makes lifting these potatoes easy as, well, easy as lifting these potatoes.
This week we’ve had students, teachers, and parents checking out the garden – as September beckons for a new school season. It also means that the deep fryer is coming out – there is nothing like fried zucchini, fried potatoes, and fried pickles! It’s a veritable country fair with Fresh Roots! Looking forward to seeing you out at the garden!
Farmer Scott

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Farmer’s Log – August 19, 2014

This week I can feel the Fall Harvest approaching. Our Brussels sprouts are growing strong and are prepped for winter. The garlic is hanging and, is some of the most beautiful I have ever grown. I’m looking forward to braiding it and sharing it with you! As the days get just a bit shorter, I know that I’ll have more evening time to start making my delicious pickles, sauces, and jams. I’ve gotten out the canning supplies and I’m making pestos with our mustard greens – add parmesan, olive oil and walnuts to make a dip that is out of this world. As I’m planting and preparing for this fall and winter, I’m getting excited just thinking of all of the beautiful food that we’ll have. Get Ready
Farmer Scott