Photo: William Lamont
Of the 95 acres, 30-45 are in vegetable production. Jim Crawford has been farming here for 40 years and farmed in another location for the five years before that. His farming career sprung out of being a serious gardener. We had the opportunity to spend a morning with Jim and senior apprentice Jennifer Glenister.
Before the tour started we had an excellent discussion about how having enough farm labor is one of the biggest problems for horticultural operations, in particular vegetables. New Morning Farm employs twenty-five workers: 12 are in an apprenticeship program--college graduates seeking farming experience, three are in the H-2A program and come from Jamaica, and the rest are local hourly labor.
Jim mentioned advantages and disadvantages to each labor pool. The most efficient labor in terms of production per hour are the H-2A workers. While efficiency is lower for the apprentices, they are more knowledgeable about farming practices and are the decision makers on the farm. For the local labor, four people return every year and new people fill the remaining positions. Jim tries to keep workers employed year round. To do this he has two winter markets and also sells firewood. Labor issues coupled with regulatory issues are severe enough that Jim sees it as an impediment to new people entering farming of operations. Especially to someone not having land resources available to them.
Quarter cords of firewood sold at the markets. Photo: William Lamont
The farm in organized into 10 row rotational units separated by permanent grass strips. Rows may or may not have plastic mulch depending on the crop grown. Additionally, crops are grown in four high tunnels. Crops grown include various herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, celeriac, leeks, sweet corn, baby corn, potatoes, eggplant, onion, garlic, peppers, and squashes. Produce is also purchased from and sold to Tuscarora Organic Growers Cooperative (TOG) to meet the demand in their markets.
10-row rotational units with permanent grass strips in between. Photo: William Lamont
About 1/3 in volume or ¼ in sales of the harvest is sold wholesale to TOG. The remainder goes to four farmers markets in the summer and two in the winter in Washington, D.C. At these markets people are willing to pay premium prices for quality local produce. Jim has established a network of local goods that he purchases to expand his offerings at the market and includes items like bread, fruit, and chicken. Jennifer said, "Jim's attention to marketing built the farm." The packing shed was buzzing with activity getting ready for the next day's market (Saturday). We saw people grading tomatoes and packaging cucumbers and basil. The packing area included seven coolers set at varying temperatures to keep crops at the peak of freshness.
Jennifer Glenister and Jennifer Landry, both apprentices, in a tomato cooler. Photo: William Lamont
With the exception of one tunnel for European and slicing cucumbers and sweet basil, the high tunnels are not used to produce crops in the summer. The focus for high tunnel production is fall, winter, and spring. In one tunnel clear plastic was being used to solarize the soil as a way to manage weeds. To do this the soil was saturated with water, a plastic sheet was placed over the soil, and periodically checked to make sure soil was still wet. They will keep the plastic in place for about 2 weeks. Because they've had several overcast days, they were going to keep the plastic in place longer. After solarization, a lettuce crop was scheduled to be planted.
Jennifer Glenister in the cucumber and basil high tunnel. Communication with walkie-talkies keeps all employees informed. Photo: William Lamont
Soil solarization in a high tunnel. Photo: William Lamont
In another tunnel, a cover crop of field peas and oats was established. Every year, they try to have 25% of the farm in cover crops. A new tunnel using a Beiler's greenhouse structure was being constructed. A thick layer of insulation was placed at the baseboards. In the past overwintering lettuce has been difficult and hopefully this will improve lettuce production.
New Beiler's high tunnel under construction. Photo: William Lamont
Field peas and oats cover crop in a high tunnel. Photo: William Lamont
In one field black plastic had been laid over raised beds with drip irrigation in preparation for planting garlic. Using a water wheel planter, garlic cloves will be set. Then, the plastic will be removed. This method was used to manage early weeds and aid in planting cloves with the water wheel. Straw mulch will be placed between rows for weed management.
Field ready to plant garlic cloves. Photo: William Lamont
Jennifer Glenister and Tom Ford admiring part of the garlic harvest. Photo: William Lamont
For weed management in tomatoes, first black plastic and drip irrigation tape is placed on raised beds. Then a cover crop is planted between rows, for example Ladino clover and oats. Tomato transplants are planted up to 1 month later. In another field we saw tillage radishes. Over the winter the tillage radish is killed by low temperatures and provides early season weed management as well as soil improvement. They also use a hillside cultivator for between row weeds.
A field of tillage radish. Photo: William Lamont
Jim said that this is the driest year that he's ever experienced. Despite that he didn't see any produce that looked drought stressed. Drip irrigation and a traveling gun are the key to maintaining crop quality. Water is pumped at seven or eight different locations from a river that runs a mile along the property. A well is used for high tunnel crops.
Even though plastics mulches, drip irrigation, row covers, low tunnels and high tunnels are important technologies used in vegetable farming, the disposal of these plastics continues to be an issue to be dealt with successfully.
Plastic ready for disposal at the landfill. Photo: William Lamont
Thank you to Jim Crawford for allowing us to visit his farm and also for an engaging and wide ranging conversation on the state of vegetable farming. Also, thank you to Jennifer Glenister for taking the time to provide us with a tour of the farm and for sharing her expertise. It was also great seeing Jennifer Landry, an excellent former employee at the Penn State High Tunnel Research and Education Facility.
New Morning Farm
22263 Anderson Hollow Rd., Hustontown, PA 17229