Winter Bounty In Food Production

(#340) – A friend knocked on the door a few days ago with a commercial size colander full of the most wonderful looking spinach. I was looking at more than a week supply for salads and soups. He was wondering if I ever checked my garden and in any case if he might have some of the spinach he had just cut from this same garden. I was glad to say yes and a little embarrassed that he was the first to have harvested this bounty. I had not gotten around to checking the hoop house because of all of the ice in that area of the garden and the press of other tasks. I was also guilty of postponing review of the overwinter crops because the week before the ground inside the hoop house was so frozen that my greens were flattened and frozen to the soil.

In just a few days of sun and warmer temperatures, spinach was once again ready for harvest.

Another reminder of nature’s never ending productivity occurred at the always marvelous farm-to-market conference organized by the Pure Catskill program of the Watershed Agricultural Council. An afternoon session on extended food production using unheated hoop houses demonstrated that in upstate New York with colder and longer winters that Sullivan County, more variety of vegetables for the market than summer and a weekly income that peaked for the year in May was happening. In Sullivan County, most of us are just beginning to put a small variety of plants in the ground in May.

In an earlier column, I mentioned a March visit to a Sullivan food producer on a crisp-3 degree morning and picked watercress, lettuce and carrots. This farmer has a good paycheck every week of the year. Nearby restaurants and their customers enjoy the benefits of this agricultural husbandry every day of the year.

This should be enough to end some of the statements that continue to be made about how difficult it is to make a living as a vegetable or fruit producer in this area. It is not impossible and it is not prohibitively expensive to begin new vegetable and fruit production enterprise. Local people are doing it with no before start-up background in agriculture as well as others with many decades of experience.

Land is available for lease or purchase at very affordable cost. Other costs are far lower than on a conventional farm with tractors and related equipment. Growing food outside and in hoop houses can produce a good family income on 2-5 acres plus additional acres for housing and marketing,

One of the most fortunate aspects is the commitment of successful food producers to share unstintingly all of the practices and information on best seed varieties, and supplies that ensure their success.

There is a lesson here that should have a profound influence on local food programming. To get more healthy food and build agriculture in vegetable and fruit production, we need to prioritize the recruitment and training of small but highly profitable food production enterprise. There is economic opportunity for hundreds of such local businesses.

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