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Why We Grow What We Grow

If you have driven by our Pittstown farm in the past few months, you may have noticed the vibrant, green sprouts carpeting the fields. This early season green is the winter rye that our farm team planted last fall as a cover crop, and it plays an important role in preparing the fields for this year’s growing season. Rye can germinate in near-freezing temperatures and tolerates the chill of early spring, which allows it to grow rapidly and crowd out potential weeds. Additionally, its roots loosen the soil, which improves the flow of oxygen and water through the fields. When it is time to plow the fields for our spring plantings, the rye will be turned under the soil and begin to decompose. As it breaks down, the rye releases nitrogen into the soil and becomes food for the next crop planted. 

We plant cover crops to prevent soil erosion and improve soil conditions, but how do we decide which vegetables to plant? The decision is based on factors ranging from environmental limits to recipient requests. For example, the first crops to go in the ground after the rye will be crops like cabbage and onions because they can tolerate – and sometimes prefer – the cooler weather. The garlic we planted last November is also cold-tolerant and will mature through the spring to be ready for harvest in early June. Once temperature and weather patterns are considered, we look to requests and feedback from recipients on what types of foods to plant.   

Many of the vegetables we grow are part of Feeding America’s ‘Hard 7’ list of nutrient-rich, storage-hardy foods. The ‘Hard 7’ are: potatoes, cabbage, apples, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, and oranges. Of these fruits and vegetables, oranges are the only type we do not grow at our farm, and you have probably helped us plant and harvest many of the others! These foods are grown in large quantities and are sent to food banks and food pantries for distribution as well as to our Free Farm Markets. We also grow foods specifically requested by recipients, such as hot peppers and green tomatoes among others. 

Another food we grow a lot of is sweet corn. If you have seen pictures from our Grow-a-Row Kids Farm Days, you have probably seen pictures of the children eating sweet corn they picked right off the stalk. The happiness captured in these photographs is a big reason we grow what we grow, because healthy bodies make for happy minds. Join us this growing season and be a part of that happiness!

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