Spring Is Here!

With the thick blanket of snow

...finally giving way to a late February warm spell, the carrots, spinach, cilantro and other winter hibernators we planted last year are starting to wake up to the lengthening days, and all of a sudden the 2018 growing season feels a whole lot more real. 

Spring is coming, and with it, some exciting things currently in the works for the Harris Family Farm Foundation.

First, we're planning on expanding our growing capacity. In addition to building 6 new raised beds totaling 108 square feet of growing space, we'll be tilling and cover cropping a whopping four acres of adjacent farmland that was previously conventionally farmed. The cover crops will help to break up the heavy clay soil and add organic matter so that in two or three years we can start organically cultivating fruits and vegetables there. I have also been getting some very helpful tips and training from local organic orchardists in order to sustainably nurse our 24-tree orchard to health for an abundant harvest of apples, pears, peaches and pluots in 2018. Special thanks to Richard Rutschman of Wild Raspberry Apple Orchard, Julie Studier of Tower Hill Farm, and Donna and George Bosas!

With expanded growing capacity will come an ability to expand the number of organizations and institutions working with underserved communities that we can donate produce to. The number of farms whose surplus we include in our donations will grow as well. We'll also have a regular schedule of deliveries that we'll publish so that people can have a better idea of where and when they'll be able to access our produce. And when they go to a food pantry or senior center to pick up our fruits and veggies, they'll also be able to take home information cards, developed with the help of Granor Farm chef Abra Berens, that include simple recipes and nutritional information for each type of crop we donate. 

But beyond expanding upon the growing and giving we did last year, we're especially eager to meet some of the deeper challenges to food security and healthy eating through educational programming and collaborations with local organizations. A recent report by Be Healthy Berrien revealed that 15.3% of Berrien County residents lack access to nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and a whopping 32.4% eat vegetables less than once a day on average. This corresponds with a higher than average prevalence of overweight and obese adults (72.4%) as well as a higher rate of diabetes and heart disease in the county. While cost is predictably reported as one of the main barriers to eating healthy, 56.2% of respondents also indicated a lack of proximity to healthy foods, 23.2% said that they weren’t familiar with or didn’t care for them, and 13.4% said they didn’t have the ability to prepare them. 

In order to reach people we may not have been able to reach last year, we’re working to organize a number of onsite and offsite educational events, including cooking demonstrations, gardening workshops, classroom presentations, and field trips that explore the intersections between gardening, health and the environment. We’re also talking with leaders in local food and public health circles about finding new ways to address not just the lack of proximity some have to healthy food, but also the cultural barriers and stigmata sometimes associated with healthy eating. 

But more important than any individual program is sharing the fun and empowerment inherent in growing, cooking and eating. The farm is set up like a home garden, with raised vegetable beds and spaces to relax, and we’re building a space with a pizza oven so that visiting groups of all ages can participate in growing and eating the farm’s bounty. By creating a beautiful space for demonstrating how easy and fun it can be to grow and cook healthy foods, the hope is to inspire visitors of all ages to take a little bit of that with them, whether it’s by whipping up a tasty veggie dish or starting a small veggie garden of their own.

I can barely wait to see where all of these new efforts take us. For now, though, I think I'll try one of these February HFFF carrots while planning a new drip irrigation system for the farm.