Submitted by Bryce Moore, Sustainable Food and Farming Student
The apprenticeship at Out Post Farm in Holliston, Massachusetts was exciting as the opportunity to gain practical experience farming fruits and vegetables allured me. The farm is primarily for Turkeys as it has a small, boutique-style sandwich and ice cream shop. It’s safe to say that the business does very well around Thanksgiving. However, the farm is also established as a supplier of apples, corn, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables, peppers, carrots, pumpkins, sunflowers, various assortments of flowers and much more. The farm is an excellent source of direct, pesticide-free farm to consumer produce. It’s as close to organic as possible without certification. As globalization increases everyday, it is important to have successful, dedicated small businesses.
Independence and responsibility to make critical decisions is crucial for learning, health, and happiness. As Greenhouse and Field Manager a variety of options are available involving crop production. Fortunately, this job consisted of tasks that are required every day and spontaneous. For example, the first objective every morning, as the sun rose, was to water and deadhead assorted potted flowers. This includes different colored French Marigolds, Calibrachoa, Coleus, Petunia, Zinnia, Geranium, Verbena, and Impatiens. The front of the shop sells seedlings during spring and summer including every vegetable sold, strawberries, a few herbs, Rose bushes, and small tomato plants. Subsequently, I stocked the front entrance with fresh tomatoes, eggplant, corn cucumber, spinach, kale, lettuce, zucchini, basil, broccoli, and pepper. Furthermore, I was in charge with implementing and maintaining the aesthetics of the front landscape, porch, and entrance. From the front, I would head back to the greenhouse where I would water all the seedlings. The beginning of the 7-hour shift always began the same and ended differently.
When I arrived for work at the beginning of May the greenhouse was not in ideal condition. Weeds were overgrown, seedlings not even planted, and the present tomato plants drastically needed a haircut. From the very beginning I was responsible for implementing the knowledge I learned in school. My expectation was to create a timeline of duties that would improve growth productivity. I started by pruning the bushy jet star tomato plants in the greenhouse. I maintain that in order to maximize yield, it’s necessary to get rid of inadequate shoot and leaf growth. Specifically, I cleaned small growths near the root I knew would not yield well. At the end of pruning, tomatoes began to ripen quickly.
The second large-scale task I underwent was hanging the Cherokee Heirloom tomato plants to prevent drooping and stimulate upward growth. It took many hours of work to properly hang the profuse heirloom tomatoes to the structure of the greenhouse. Afterward, they were pruned to facilitate effective growth. Harvesting fresh tomatoes and basil for customer’s everyday was underway. As the season continued, weather became appropriate and the field ready for planting. We added turkey manure and let it dry out for weeks, weeded, and made rows. The seedlings were strong enough to transplant outside. The Out Post owners reminded me where they planted the tomatoes and cruciferous vegetables the year before. With this information I shifted the vegetables closer to the front, replacing them with tomatoes, and then flowers to replace where the tomatoes had been. I planted a medley of sunflowers at the base of the garden, adjacent to the parking lot, so customers could appreciate their beauty. After weeks of planting, everything was in place and ready to be tended to.
As a botanist, my approach to pruning is aggressive. I prefer to remove all suckers as early as possible except for one about a foot off the ground. With the double stem method the plant is allowed to grow in a V shape, which should maximize yield. I removed all unnecessary leaf and shoot growth, especially at the bottom of the plant. I suggested that this approach would accelerate upward growth and stimulate large, early fruit production. As I worked on pruning the outdoor plants, the rest of the crew began to set posts and wire. One of the most exciting aspects of farming is prioritizing multiple projects that have converged. When this occurs, time management and problem solving are the two most important qualities a manager can have. As manager, it was easy to prioritize but hard completing the tasks. The help was limited and many tasks go undone when others are deemed more important. The lettuce and zucchini were ready for the first round of harvest. I learned, through error, that it is crucial to pick zucchini when it’s ready otherwise they will become too big and unattractive. Also, by the time I got to harvesting, washing, and preparing lettuce for sale, many had bolted.
Dutch hoe tilling, weeding the landscape, planting seeds, creating bouquets, and cleaning vegetables and fruits to prepare for sale are a few examples of short-term tasks. All of these jobs taught me discipline, patience, positivity, and attention. Some of these responsibilities may seem trivial, but are fundamental for proper display and function of a farm. A few of my favorite aspects of the job were working under the intense sun, breathing fresh air, sweating in a humid greenhouse, and being in the middle of food production. However, the most fulfilling element of working is directly influencing results. Introducing new science behind crop yield and size, attempting to diagnose plant disease, altering soil characteristics with manure/fertilizer, and improving ease of transaction are effects I am proud to be instrumental in. Working at Out Post Farm could not have been more of a positive experience. I fell in love with everything from the work environment to the monotonous projects. This was the first time I felt my presence as an intellectual, as opposed to a laborer, made a considerable difference in the structure, function, and outcome of a business.