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Who Are Your Farmers? — Habiba

Posted by: on Aug 20, 2012 | One Comment

Habiba Said — Crew Member


Habiba works as part of the crew, doing everything from seeding to harvesting to weeding.  She is 28 years old and in her 3rd year at RFF.  She grew up in Somalia and came to the US when she was 19 years old.  She lives in Springfield with her husband Haji and their 6 children.




What do you like about farming? I like that I can do so many different things while working here.  Some days I clean onions, other days I seed in the greenhouse, other days I weed, and other days I harvest.  The work here is very hard, but I like it and will stay here for a while.  I especially like that I can be outside a lot.


What’s your favorite vegetable? How do you cook with it?  I love to make soup with carrots, onions and all varieties of potato.  I love to cook with sweet potatoes too.  I cut and fry them on a pan with coconut milk and sugar.  The tomatoes here are very good, so I enjoy eating those all season too.


What do you like to do when you’re not farming?  I spend a lot of time with my family.  My youngest daughter, Ella was born in January of this year.  She is 8 months old now, so when I’m not working, I spend a lot of my time with her.  My oldest daughter, Hawa is 16.  In between my oldest and youngest, I have a 13 year old son named Abdulkadir, a 12 year old daughter named Amina, an 8 year old daughter named Jasmine and a 4 year old daughter named Fahema.  When I’m not working, I spend a lot of time doing things around the house, shopping and caring for my kids.




Harvesting basil

Late Blight Found on the Farm

Posted by: on Aug 13, 2012 | No Comments


We are very sad to report that late blight (Phytophthora infestans) has struck some of our outdoor tomato fields in Montague.  This disease is the most dreaded disease that exists for tomato and potato growers. We saw it first on our farm in 2009, weeks earlier in the season, where it caused massive crop loss and severely impacted us financially. It is the disease that caused the Irish Potato famine in the 1800’s.  It has been increasingly found in Massachusetts and the Northeast in general over the past few years.

The early spread of the disease in 2009 was due to infected plants sold by big box stores. This year the disease traveled north by natural dispersal, though faster than in other years. Usually we don’t see much of late blight here – if it arrives at all, it comes after our plants have mostly died back from the common and omnipresent septoria leaf spot and early blight (these are much slower moving diseases).

The rainy and humid weather that we have been having the last week or so creates perfect conditions for this disease to thrive (while it has been a relief of the drought).  The disease spores travel very easily on wind, clothes, hands and farm machinery, so plant pathology experts at Umass have been alerting growers to be on the look out for this disease as it came up the Atlantic states.  Many organic farms in the valley are finding it in their fields. All tomato fields in Massachusetts are at high risk for getting infected by this disease.  Potatoes are also in danger, though there are no confirmed infections of potatoes to date in the state. The disease spreads with devastating speed and can kill healthy tomato plants within one week of initial infection.

This is what our tomato fields should look like:




2009 tomato field with late blight




Meanwhile Umass extension recommends that we spray all of our still uninfected tomato and potato fields with a copper material at least once per week until the crops ripen.  This is fixed copper and is the only material that certified organic growers can use that has a chance of slowing the spread of the disease.  Even though it is a naturally occurring metal and is allowed for use in organic farming, it is a material that can irritate the eyes and skin of the person applying it.  For this reason you may see us driving around the farm on the spraying tractor wearing a mask and goggles as a safety precaution.  There is a possibility that you will see some of the green residue of this spray on the tomato fruits, and if you do you should wash the fruits before eating.  Copper in this form has a very low toxicity to humans and animals, but it is important to wash it off the fruit.
We don’t like having to rely on a spray to fight this disease, but we see no other alternative.  Our tomato crop is at very high risk and even with the spray we might lose most of the tomato crop.

Here is a close up of an infected plant, showing affected stems and browned leaves:

Here is a close up of tomatoes in which the fungus is living and sending out spores:


At its worst, late blight could cause us to lose a massive amount of tomatoes, meaning that shareholders would not get as many tomatoes for the season as we had hoped.  However, if the copper can prevent the fungus from inoculating and infecting the leaves and fruits on our later season plantings, we might still get a crop. We do expect it to impact the farm financially, as tomatoes are a big part of our business, as ingredients in our shares, through bulk orders to our members, in retail sales and in offerings to our wholesale restaurant and store customers.

Compared to the losses of 2009, we are doing much better, as we had dead fields by the end of July in 2009. We have some separated fields in Montague that are not showing signs of infection yet. We also have a section of heirloom tomatoes for the Tomato Festival in Granby that are not infected yet.

Our tomato plants this year in Montague were looking loaded with fruits, one of the best-looking crops we’ve seen – and we hope that we will still be able to harvest a portion of these before the disease progresses. Since we plant so many acres of tomatoes, we have high hopes that even in the event of a major loss, we will still be able to provide tomatoes to our members for weeks.  We will just have to wait and see.  We can also protect our later season tomato plants in hopes of those turning out healthy.  Dry weather with little rain is also helpful in preventing the spread of the disease. Though we don’t want too much of that either!

Drought Update

Posted by: on Aug 8, 2012 | No Comments

Some of you are wondering how our fields are doing since we mentioned a few weeks ago that we were experiencing a severe drought.  We did indeed have one of the driest July’s that I can remember ever experiencing in my 25 years of farming in the Pioneer Valley.  Not only was it rainless for weeks on end, but also the temperature was in the upper 90’s for days on end.  This caused significant stress for our crop plants, and in some cases for small recently planted or seeded plants that still had only small root systems, we did have some crop death (a cilantro succession, some summer radishes, some lettuce plantings, & a rutabaga field which we have since reseeded were among the worst casualties.)  Fields with sandy soil suffered the most, but plants everywhere had a challenge during that period.

We irrigated for weeks on end in order to try and get enough water onto the land where the crops were actively growing, and for the most part due to the extensive irrigation effort put out by our staff, we did save most of the crops from severe drought damage.  In Montague Greg and Mike J led up the irrigation effort moving pipes & pumps daily in order to reach all the fields.  In Granby Abby, Vinny and most of the Granby crew participated in the rigorous schedule of watering the fields.  Our farm mechanic Norris also repaired the pumps numerous times in order to keep them operational with the non stop use.  Irrigation can be one of the hardest and most frustrating tasks on a farm, so those who eat Red Fire Farm produce should be hugely grateful to the extra effort put out by these irrigators.  Without them there would not be a harvest this summer and fall from most of our fields.

   In the last 1.5 weeks we have had a couple of decent thunderstorms which have brought us inches of rain and relief from the grueling irrigation tasks.  The plants are much happier now, including the cover crops which we can not justify irrigating during drought.  Now we are starting to evaluate the financial impact on the farm from the irrigation effort that we put out.  We purchased thousands of feet of extra water tubing and fittings in order to reach all of the fields, hundreds of gallons of gas and diesel to run the pumps, a big new pump to keep up with the pumping needs, and in a few cases tanker trucks of water to save several fields that were dry but had no nearby ponds or rivers from which to pump water.  The bills are still being paid and tallied, and the overall expense not yet calculated.

Whatever the expense ends up being, I am confident that the effort was worth the expense (without it we would have had no crops at all), but there is no question that growing the crops this year was more expensive than a typical year due to all the irrigation needs.  We are trying to recover some of these costs by charging a little bit more for produce to our wholesale and retail customers this summer than we typically would in a moister growing season.  Overall at this point I am just relieved that we have had rain, and that most of our crops are still alive and looking like they will yield a good harvest!


The Cost of Locally Grown, Organic Food

Posted by: on Aug 8, 2012 | 5 Comments

  A note from Ryan:  Occasionally we hear questions about how we decide what to charge for our produce at farmers’ markets or farmstands.
This is a complex issue that brings up questions like: What is it worth to grow produce while also considering environmental factors? How much should farmers & farm workers get paid? How much should good food cost, especially for lower income folks with limited means?
These are all questions that we struggle with at Red Fire Farm when we make our budgets and set prices for our produce each year. Many other organic farmers around the country also contemplate these issues. Another Massachusetts farmer who has thought a great deal about these issues is Ben James from Town Farm in Northampton. He wrote an article on the topic, which gives a good overview of how farmers struggle to price their local, organic produce.

  – Ryan Voiland, Red Fire Farm

The following is a reprinted article by Ben James of Town Farm. He agreed to share it with the RFF community on the blog. Thanks Ben!

What price produce? Calculating worth tricky but vital for small farm


Saturday, June 26, 2010

NORTHAMPTON – Last week at market a customer complained about the price of our dill ($2 for a not-huge bunch). He said the price was an outrage, but he was smiling, so I was too flummoxed to ask why he was going ahead and buying the dill, or even how he’d arrived at his notion of its value. This is not an unusual occurrence – every week at market we get at least one or two potential customers who shake their heads in dismay at a $2.75 head of lettuce or a $4 pint of strawberries.

Sometimes I engage in conversation, sometimes not. I try not to get defensive, and I frequently encourage the customer not to buy the product, offering suggestions of where to find cheaper food, either at the market or elsewhere. I do my best not to reveal that the value of our produce (as well as the value of our community-supported agriculture shares) is a question that fills me regularly with a tremendous amount of anxiety.


What is a carrot worth? A bunch of kale? A handful of berries? Too often, I find myself on the tractor making quick calculations in my head. A bed of carrots: the soil amendments and the cover crop last fall, the chicken manure, the organic fertilizer, the plowing, tilling, seeding, irrigating, thinning, weeding, harvesting, washing, bunching, packing and selling, plus the cost of the tractors, implements and fuel, plus the cost of childcare and preschool, plus – somehow – all the time spent on the computer (where does that fit in?). And I haven’t even mentioned the cost of the land (hundreds of thousands of dollars, in our case). The sheer number of labor hours and material and property costs that went into helping this soil produce these carrots. I ought to shellac them and hang them on the wall.

So for us the value of our produce can be measured – at least imprecisely – by how hard we and our crew work to grow it.


But what if the workers were just slow weeding the carrots that day? Or what if the farmer himself is a hack? What if it takes him three seedings over that many weeks before he even manages to get a row of carrots to germinate (I’m not naming any names here). Should the customer be expected to pay for the incompetence of the grower?


Fortunately for me, I suppose, incompetence is much less of an issue than the very nature of the project we’ve undertaken. We grow many different crops (46 and counting) on a small amount of land (11 acres), and this – as each of our variously weedy rows can attest – is a fundamentally inefficient thing to do.

Although we strategize endlessly how to make our operation run more smoothly – setting up systems, buying new equipment, instructing and correcting the crew – it’s a hopeless endeavor. Eventually, we will either need to substantially increase the size of our farm, or we’ll need to shift our marketing strategy to grow only a handful of the most profitable crops.


Until then, we mechanize whenever and wherever we can, but even the potato harvester and the water-wheel transplanter I’ve got my eye on would have a hard time paying for themselves at our scale, and so we are left with that most versatile and least cost-effective of technologies, our hands.

All of our hands – Oona’s and mine, our four full-time employees’, plus the scattered extras that frequently fill in the week. And if there’s anything to match the anxiety of assigning a value to our produce, it is, for me, the challenge of figuring out how much to pay our crew (now at least $9 an hour).

I was raised by leftist labor organizers in Kentucky, Detroit, and Queens, and it’s fair to say that the plight of the Big Boss Man was not a frequent topic of conversation around our breakfast table. I learned the importance of work and the compromised position of the worker and I was taught to question at every level the judgment and the ethics of the person in charge.


So to that small subset of the American population that was raised in the inner-city by Marxists before going on to start small, diversified farms and employ several recent college graduates I say, Hey, I can relate. It’s not easy to be a boss, especially when your workers are getting paid more than you are, the pigweed is as high as your navel, and the man at the farmers market is smiling while he complains about the price of your dill.


Fuzzy math

The value of our produce and the value of our labor. These remain for me unsolvable computations that I puzzle and worry over constantly. And while some parts of Oona’s and my situation are unusual, the basic equation is not: small-scale farmers and their employees are earning nowhere near the money they should be making for the endless, all-encompassing, dangerous, exhausting work that they’re doing.

Easy to say, but hard to figure out what to do about it, whether you’re the farmer or the customer.

A whole can of worms, these questions, and in the midst of all it is my son Silas. He is 4 this summer and recently he’s made some startling revelations, namely that this is OUR farm, we OWN it, these are OUR vegetables and OUR workers, and Mama and Poppa are IN CHARGE. I’m pleased by his pride and sense of ownership in the farm, but I also want to laugh and say, “Yeah, we own these vegetables, but do you know what they’re actually worth?”


I also cringe a bit at the entitlement that comes with the package. The few times I’ve seen Silas try to play boss to the crew I’ve pulled him aside to say that when he learns how to do the jobs faster and better than all of the workers, he will have earned the right to tell them what to do (I don’t say he’ll also need to learn to see things from their point of view, but he will).


Tasting trip

Recently he and I walked across the road so he could meet the new lambs I’d put on pasture. Along the way we checked to see what crops were coming in. The first sugar snaps brought tremendous satisfaction. I’d known they were there, but for him it was like discovering a room you didn’t even know you had in your own house. His mouth full of the juice and strings. We walked over a few beds and I pointed down a row. “Go check out those,” I said, and he stepped into the field.

“It’s kale,” he said.


“It’s onions.”

“No, look closer.”

He bent down, rubbed his palms across the curly greens.

“Look in the ground,” I said.

“Hey! It’s carrots!”

He’d been asking about them for weeks, and now we pulled a few, cleaned them off in the wet grass, and he ate his first one of the season. It was pale orange and slender, not even as fat as a Sharpee. It was gone before I could blink. And I say this with all sincerity: It was worth it.

Who Are Your Farmers? — Kaelen

Posted by: on Aug 6, 2012 | No Comments

Kaelen Howard — Operations Manager


Kaelen spends most of her days in the Montague office, but can be found frolicking in the flower patch and occasionally driving a tractor.

Kaelen works closely with the field crew and packers to make sure that wholesale, retail, CSA, and inter-farm deliveries are delivered accurately and on time.  Kaelen is 28 and in her second year at RFF. She loves swimming, cracking the NYT crosswords, and spending time with her cat, Oliver.  She dreams of one day opening up a farm to table cafe.



How did you get into farming?  I was rooftop gardening in NYC and found it really rewarding to grow my own food.  I wanted to learn how to grow food on a larger scale, and to experience a more rural lifestyle.  I grew up in LA and moved to the east coast after college.  I started working in television doing lighting for TV sets.  It wasn’t something I saw myself doing forever, so here I am.


What’s your favorite vegetable? How do you cook with it?  Mashed potatoes.  Sauteed kale with salt, pepper and nutritional yeast.  My absolute favorite would be brussels sprouts.  I par-boil them, slice in half, oven roast with salt&pepper, then add a dijon-mustard sauce.  I love to make chickpea cutlets with the brussels sprouts and potatoes on the side.  For the chickpea cutlets, I mash chickpeas and add wheat gluten to gel them together like steak.  Shape and fry them on a pan.


What role does farming play in your life?  Since I started farming, I have a sense of fulfillment that I didn’t have before.  I’m less reliant on others, less reliant on our out-of-touch food system, and that feels good.  When I came to Red Fire, I didn’t expect to feel so self-reliant and to turn my back so much on grocery stores.  It’s very satisfying to be able to harvest and bring home food that you planted from seed.

Before I started gardening, I didn’t realize that all foods have a season.  It’s not something you stop and think about, because everything is available in stores year round.  Now, I accept that when tomato season is over, I won’t eat a fresh tomato until the following summer.  Eating seasonally makes food taste better.  You can’t take produce for granted when growing it yourself, because there’s such a short window when fruits and vegetables are ripe.  The first strawberry is so good, and it’s so special because you’ve waited a whole year for it!  I eat much more creatively and thoughtfully when I eat seasonally.  This year I’ve gotten into preserving and fermenting food.  I’m experimenting with pickling and making kim chi.  Preserving is also really satisfying.  In this way too, I’m becoming less reliant on food products that travel from far away lands.


Drying Herbs

Posted by: on Aug 1, 2012 | 2 Comments

Basil, thyme, oregano, parsely…our PYO herb patches are booming and ready to be picked.  Drying herbs is a simple and rewarding way to preserve summer’s bounty.  Looks neat too!  While some herbs like basil can’t be beat fresh, you’ll be happy to have it dried come winter.

Before drying, wash herbs when freshly cut, then pat or spin dry.  To dry, bunch a few sprigs together with a rubber band.  Hang bunches along a string or from a clothes drying rack in a dry place.  Once your herbs are brittle-dry, crumble the leaves off the stems into a bowl, and transfer to whatever herb-storing container you like.  Mason jars work great.  Remember to label them so you don’t forget what’s what!

It takes about one to two weeks drying time, or more for larger leaves. Once they are dry, get herbs into a sealed container soon so their flavor lasts longer.














Who Are Your Farmers? — Pat

Posted by: on Jul 30, 2012 | 3 Comments

Pat Smith — Harvest and Packing Manager in Granby


Pat’s job is to coordinate the daily harvest in Granby, while simultaneously managing the washing and packing of everything that comes in from the fields.  Certain early crops are harvested only in Granby this year, such as Greenhouse tomatoes, so Pat is responsible for all of those early season veggies.  His projects also include harvesting bulk items, such as garlic.  All of the garlic this year was harvested in Granby.

Pat says he tries to “keep his hand in everything around the farm.” You can find him in the Packing Shed at the Granby Farmstand, in a field harvesting, around the greenhouses, or on a tractor.

Pat, born and raised in Springfield, MA is 38 years old and in his 3rd year at RFF.


How did you get into farming?  Kohlrabi brought me to RFF.  I had originally tried it in the Berkshires, and loved it.  My girlfriend, Sheena is a big fan of supporting farmers’ markets and eating vegetables.  We saw kohlrabi at Red Fire’s farmstand at the Springfield Farmers’ Market, and I knew then that I had to get involved.  I wanted to learn how to grow kohlrabi and other plants professionally.  Since working here, I’m eating and feeling much healthier than before.  In the process of learning about farming, I’ve learned why eating healthy is important.  My father died of a heart attack, so I knew that something had to change for me.  I’ve learned how consuming healthy food can prevent illness and disease.  Working outdoors at this farm has not only taught me how to eat better, but also how to live better.  The working environment I was in before farming was much stuffier.  I worked in customer service prior to this, and I find the spirit of working here to be much freer.  I’m much healthier and happier than I was at my old job.


How do you see farming in your future?  I take it day by day, but as of now, I see myself here in the future.  I want to fulfill whatever need the farm has, and I will try to adapt myself to whatever need that is.  This year, for example, I’m needed as the manager of both harvest and packing in Granby.  This is a new position for me, and I learn something new everyday.  Some days it’s a challenge, as everything new is, but I work through it and continue to learn.  I’d like to see the Granby farm continue to sustain itself and whatever that means for me, I will do my best to fulfill what’s asked.


What’s your favorite vegetable? How do you cook with it?  While I do love kohlrabi, I can’t say it’s my favorite vegetable.  I have to go with broccoli.  I love it simple — steamed.



Who Are Your Farmers? — Mike S.

Posted by: on Jul 16, 2012 | 2 Comments

Mike Sirois — Packing Manager

You can usually find Mike in the Montague packing shed wearing the big green frog suit (above).


Mike is responsible for organizing and coordinating all the produce that comes in from the fields, while maintaining a standard of high quality. He makes sure your food gets to you on time and looking good!

Mike is 24 yrs old and from Easton, MA. This is his 2nd year at RFF.  His farming career started at Enterprise Farm in Whately, MA.



How did you get into farming?  It was an accident.  I was full time in school at Holyoke Community College and I started learning about food systems and wanted to explore farming.  I love good food and wanted to be a part of growing it.


What’s your favorite vegetable? How do you cook with it?  Orange sweet potatoes.  I love to make sweet potato fries or curry.  Any kind of winter vegetable is great with curry sauce.


How do you see farming in your future?  I’d like to get into the education of farming.  I want to teach about the environment and about food systems.  I wasn’t aware of food systems growing up, so I’d like to teach people about where their food comes from.


What do you like to do when you’re not farming?  I love spending time with my friends and family.  I’m one of six kids and have a huge family.  I love to do things outdoors, especially fishing, and I enjoy good beer.



Pickles & Dilly Beans

Posted by: on Jul 9, 2012 | 2 Comments

Pickled cucumbers are a treat at any time of year.  Be sure to use the pickling type (bumpy ridges along skin).  Some of our favorite recipes are:


Bread & Butter Pickles
3 large cucumbers, sliced    1/3 cup sugar     2 onions sliced

1/2 tsp   celery seed     1 Tbs. salt   1/2 tsp   mustard seed

1 cup white vinegar
Use fresh cucumbers; wash and slice. Slice onions. Mix   vegetables with salt and let stand 1 hour.  Drain and rinse with 2 cups   cold water. Combine vinegar, sugar, celery and mustard seeds and heat to   boiling. Cook 3 minutes.   Pack vegetables into jars (2-3 pint wide-mouthed jars), add hot   vinegar mixture, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Seal at once and process in   boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Cool and store.


“Quickles” aka Refrigerator Pickles
1 lb. Pickling cucumbers     1 cup white vinegar     2 cups cold water     1 T sugar     2 T kosher salt     1 t. mustard seed     1 t. whole peppercorns     1⁄2 t. red pepper flakes     1 cup fresh dill     5 cloves garlic peeled
Evenly divide the garlic, dill and cucumbers among   four wide-mouthed pint jars. You can cut up the pickling cukes   however you want, from slices to halves, etc. (smaller slices soak up   the flavor faster). You can pack as many cukes into the jars as   possible, even more than the recipe calls for if there’s space.   In a bowl, mix together vinegar, water, red pepper flakes, salt,   mustard seed and dill seed to make a flavored brine. Use a funnel to   fill each jar with brining liquid. If the cukes aren’t mostly covered,   you can add a little more cold water and shake it up. Cap tightly and   refrigerate at least one week before eating (or eat some right away and   every day after, to see what they’re like:).


Another savory treat are Dilly Beans.  If you enjoy pickles, you’ll love these!


Dilly Beans


  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup pickling salt
  • 6 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 8 heads fresh dill weed
  • 1/2 cup pickling spice
  •  1/2 cup mustard seed
  • 8 dried red chile peppers
  • 16 cloves garlic, peeled
  •  1 teaspoon alum
  •  5 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed and trimmed


  1. Sterilize 8 (1 pint) jars in boiling water for at least 5 minutes.
  2. Combine the water, pickling salt and vinegar in a large pot, and bring to a boil. When it begins to boil, reduce heat to low, and keep at a simmer while you pack the jars.
  3. In each jar place the following: 1 head of dill, 1 tablespoon of pickling spice, 1 tablespoon of mustard seed, 1 dried chile pepper, 2 cloves of garlic, and 1/8 teaspoon of alum. Pack beans into the spiced jars in a standing position.
  4.  Ladle the hot brine into jars, leaving 1/2 inch of space at the top. Screw the lids onto the jars, and process in a hot water bath for 6 minutes to seal. Store for at least 2 weeks before eating.

This recipe is from

Freezing Your Produce

Posted by: on Jul 9, 2012 | No Comments

Many crops are super easy to freeze.  Some can just be washed and popped into the freezer, while others need to be blanched beforehand.  Here are a few recipes for freezing summer crops.



Remove green tops (of strawberries) and simply wash under cold water.  Spread berries out on a large surface such as a baking pan, and allow to dry. Drying the berries before freezing prevents water from freezing them all together. Once dry, place in plastic freezing bags or tupperware and put in your freezer.  It is that simple!


Summer Squash/Zucchini

Grate summer squash or zucchini or cut into slices. (Food processors are great here.) Blanch for 3 minutes. Toss into a strainer and rinse with  cold water until cooled. Spread out on large surface and allow to dry. Store in a freezer bag, in the freezer!

Many folks don’t blanch the grated version, and it preserves well.  If you have a zucchini bread or other recipe you really like, freeze measured bags in the quantity that recipe requires.