The first West Stockbridge farmers' market of a chilly spring arrived warm and summery last Thursday. More than than any Memorial Day cookout, it seemed as if summer had truly arrived. It was great to see everyone after a long winter-not only other farmers, crafters and cooks who have come to seem like a sort of extended family to me in the otherwise isolated endeavor of farming, but also familiar regular customers, their dogs, and their children. How the children change from the final October market of the old year to the first May market of this new one! Meantime, my own "children" in the garden are growing, too - new lettuces beginning to take on their characteristic shapes of romaine and butterhead, and their mature coloring, from chartreuse "Tennis Ball" to trout-mottled "Amish Speckled" to forest green "Parris Cos".
Because it was a cold, late spring, I was ashamed to be bringing mostly crafts and not much else. I cut armloads of lilacs (it has been a marvelous year for these), fat bunches of rhubarb, and fresh jam made from last year's frozen peaches and raspberries, dried rose petals and the first harvest of rhubarb.
When I arrived, I found it was the same for the other farms as well—too cold for much besides the very earliest of crops. That's another thing that makes the first markets so nice: the reminder that I am not alone in coping with cold rains, snows, unheated growing spaces, etc. We can also share our triumphs: Molly at Colfax Farm is building a real, permanent heated and ventilated greenhouse this year, and Danny at Taft Farm is capitalizing on the rental potential of his vast acres for farm weddings. It's encouraging to see those incremental steps into a more solid farm future and interesting to see how the answer is different for each of us depending on scale, goals, and the limiting factors we're facing and (hopefully) overtopping.
As for First-Flower Farm, this afternoon Project Cooler is up and running. After two months' time spent searching for a used AC unit, I decided to buy a new one to be sure of getting a functional, appropriately-sized model of the kind specified by the Cool-Bot folks. One Haier AC unit (And $220) later, the room is reminiscent of a day in March. Installation was really simple. Thanks to a few trips to the Habitat Re-Store, the whole thing was really affordable to build aside from the mechanicals. It will be a few weeks before I can fill it with flowers and find out if this really lengthens the window of time I can harvest flowers before they go to market as fresh as I want them to arrive—in essence, buying me time to spread out the workload and prevent morning-of-market frenzy three days of the week.
I've been farming since I was a toddler, when my grandparents showed me how to put onion sets point-up in the sandy furrows of our Michigan homestead. It's taken thirty-odd years of horticultural jobs—from potting up lilies by the thousands to managing a 150-member CSA at Hancock Shaker Village—for me to embark on cultivating a farm of my own. Hence, the title.