Farmers will be the first to tell you that growing food is one of the most unpredictable, challenging, yet rewarding jobs.
This year’s unusually hot spring and scorching introduction to summer in New Brunswick has made for a busy and bountiful start to the growing season.
As June rolls into July, Hayes Farm is preparing for its first week providing produce to its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) customers. Starting July 8, the team at Hayes will prepare 50 boxes of freshly-grown produce for customers, and will continue providing them for the following 19 weeks.
Over the past few months, lots of hard work ensured the farm is now prepared for its first week of food boxes. The nine Regenerative Farming Certificate (RFC) participants at Hayes Farm each play hugely important roles to ensure there will be lots of veggies to go around all season long.
Hannah Haynes-Macdonald is one of the hard-working farm trainees dedicated to learning, and growing healthy food in a sustainable way.
An average day at Hayes Farm starts between 6 and 8am, earlier if it’s going to be hot. Some participants will arrive as early as 5am to beat the heat and complete their work before the sun starts blazing.
Due to COVID-19, Hayes Farm has altered its operations to ensure social distancing is possible. This season specific field blocks have been assigned to each intern as their responsibility.
“We start the morning off by weeding, and then we usually work on our own field blocks or help each other out until lunch. After that, it’s more odd jobs around the farm, or helping people who need it,” explained Haynes-Macdonald.
Every day is different when working on a farm, but there is always work to be done. Constant tasks include weeding and watering to help maintain the crops. With the hot weather in Fredericton, watering has been a difficult task to stay on top of.
Hayes Farm aims to operate as sustainably as possible – this means collecting water from any natural sources the workers can find. The crew uses rainwater collection tanks as well as a berm, a trench dug diagonally through a field that feeds into a well. The berm at Hayes Farm helps drain water from the dense, clay soil, and redirects it to the well so it can be fed back into the irrigation system.
The intense heat Fredericton has been experiencing over the past few weeks draws attention to the importance of farmers taking care of themselves by staying hydrated, taking frequent breaks, and staying out of the sun wherever possible.
Haynes-Macdonald said that one of the most challenging aspects of the job is how tiring it can be, especially on hot summer days. She says going to bed extra early, packing everything the night before, eating well and drinking lots of water helps minimize stress and exhaustion.
One of the things she is most excited for this season is harvesting. The team at Hayes is beginning to prepare for the first CSA pickup of the season next week.
“I’m really excited for harvesting, starting the CSA, and meeting people who buy the food we grow,” she said.
Though she doesn’t quite know what to expect for the first CSA, Haynes-Macdonald is looking forward to seeing others enjoy the food grown at Hayes this season. This is one of the most rewarding parts of farming, as you watch something that once started as a small seed, grow into something that feeds others in the community.
Meeting and connecting with customers is also an exciting part of farming – it is encouraging to see how grateful the customers are when picking up their produce.
This week at Hayes Farm, the team was focused on weeding and staying on top of pest management. Pests have been a challenge this season. As a regenerative farm that uses organic practices, Hayes sometimes needs to get creative with how it manages pests.
Rather than using chemical sprays, the interns will often hand pick insects off plants. While this can be tedious, it makes a difference. Other techniques include spreading diatomaceous earth – naturally occurring fossilized remains of aquatic organisms called diatoms – on plants to keep slugs away.
Though the days can be long and exhausting, the incredible team spirit at Hayes Farm helps keep everyone going. Haynes Macdonald said one of her favourite parts of the job is the people.
“Everyone who works here is super great and has a good mindset. Everyone is really open and has so much to share from different experiences.”
Aldea Poirier is another intern at Hayes Farm this summer. After some much-needed rain, Poirier says she has been busy weeding in her field block this week. She is also trying to stay on top of potato bugs, by picking them off by hand and removing them from the field.
The unpredictability is one of the most challenging parts of the job, she said.
“It requires a lot more flexibility than I thought, I have to go with the flow and that’s a bit hard sometimes. I want to have control and make sure everything is okay, but then I’ll lose crops and things won’t go exactly according to plan.”
While farming can be hard work both mentally and physically, Poirier said its rewarding to see herself, and *most* of her crops get stronger.
“I’m excited for CSA next week. At first I was worried we wouldn’t have enough stuff because things didn’t seem ready, but now wandering around there is tons of lettuce, green onions, and things are looking good.”
The rain this week has been welcomed with open arms by the team at Hayes. After a hot few weeks, it’s exactly what the crops – and the interns – needed to be nourished and refreshed.
Hannah Moore is a recent graduate from St. Thomas University, currently working as a Food Security and Regenerative Farming Reporter for the RAVEN project at the University of New Brunswick.