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    in Ten Easy Years

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 • Maple Syrup, p.2
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 • About Garlic
 • Garlic for Sale
 • Garlic Year Round
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 • Growing Rounds from Bulbils
 • Whole Bulbil Cluster Method
 • Planting Garlic

 • Using Mulches
 • Combatting Quackgrass
    with Mulch

 • We Want Your Leaves!
 • In Praise of Chips

 • Buying in Bulk for
    Storage, Canning & Freezing

 • Winter Storage Tips
 • How to Freeze Our Veggies
 • Building Techniques
 • Our Outbuildings
 • Evolution of the Farm Table
 • The Story of Our Cooler
 • Prepping Veggies for Market
 • Crop Rotations
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 • Planting with Spreadsheets
 • Greenhouse Vegetable

 • Let-tuce Begin
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 • Gardening Class Notes
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 • Being Green
 • Digging Potatoes by Hand
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 • History of Pittsfield
 • Hybrids or Open Pollinated?
 • Making Websites
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    Our Retirement Plan
 • How Should a Farmer Retire?
 • Impediments to the want-to-be     farmer
 • Reducing the Value
    of the Land

 • Who Will Farm Here When
    We're Gone?

 • Apprentice Terms and Stages
 • From Apprentices to Partners
 • Transferring Farm Ownership

…and now for something completely different…

At dawn
Canoe bow waves are quickly lost
    on the shoreside
But go on out of sight
    on the lake side.


The constant swish-swish of skis
    On a day long ski.
The constant swish-swish of wiper blades
    On a day long drive.


My dog, trotting barefoot
Steps on a garden slug
And thinks
Nothing of it.


Word spreads quickly
as I approach the pond.
All becomes quiet.


Hidden in the vines
a large warted cucumber
jumps out of reach.
A toad!


Delicate puffs
of marshmallow snow
carefully perched
on a branch,
await the trigger of my hat
to melt their way down my back.

Deep in the tomato jungle
Fruits of yellow, purple and red
Tell of their readiness
To go to market.

Sugarin' Chores
Snowflakes hurry through my flashlight beam,
As my boots knead new snow with spring mud,
On my nightly Hajj to keep the boil alive,
For as long as possible until the dawn,
To match the power of the flowing sap,
With my meager evaporator and will.
The prize at the finish line are jars of syrup
And Spring.


Valuing Our Ag Infrastructure:
Hybrids Aren't the Enemy

by Tom Roberts, 2000.

In the Winter '00 issue of The Seed Bed, a review of Will Bonsall's presentation at the NOFA Vermont winter conference suggested that growers should boycott hybrid seeds in favor of OP's (open pollinated varieties) in order to retain control over varieties. I believe this call to be a disservice to the interests of small growers. It assumes that hybrids are principally a tool for monopoly corporate control and that they are a detriment to growers.

Lois and I operate Snakeroot Organic Farm in Pittsfield, Maine, where we have two MOFGA certified acres of truck gardens which supply our stands at four farmers' markets. The varieties we grow consist of both hybrids and open pollinated crops. Of the OP's we grow, we save seeds from only a few, mostly the easy ones like tomatoes, lupines, echinacea, marshmallow, cherry tomatoes, garlic and hot peppers. This is because we aren't seed producers; we have specialized as vegetable, perennial & herb growers and marketers.

We select varieties based on their ability to produce a marketable crop, and some—like brandywine or hogheart—require a bit of extra educating of the public in order for us to sell them. We enjoy this educating part of the selling process, but the bottom line is that if a variety can't be sold in appreciable quantity, it is counter-productive for us to grow it.

I believe there is a basic fallacy in avoiding hybrids. After all, all OP's have natural hybridization in their ancestry. Most OP's naturally hybridize, which is why it is so hard to keep some OP's like squash from crossing, that is, naturally hybridizing. And in the same way I don't learn blacksmithing in order to produce my own hoes, or weave my own trellising twine, I likewise don't engage in saving all my own seed nor confine myself to varieties that I could, in principle, save. I like the fact that there is an ag infrastructure out there which is breeding beneficial insects, selling hoes, offering a wide variety of vegetable seeds, and interbreeding varieties to produce hybrids of superior performance. And while ther are plenty of hybrids without superior performance, there are plenty of poorly performing OP's out there, too.

The argument that there are OP's more locally suited than hybrids runs contrary to my experience. Even from the wide selection of OP's offered by FEDCO seeds, I am careful to adopt only those that I can grow. There are many which won't mature for us at our farm. So my tomato patch consists of mix of OP and hybrid varieties that experience has shown me best fits my growing and marketing situation: Valley Girl, Moskvich, Paragon, Hogheart, Brandywine, Pruden's Purple, Yellow Brandywine, Voyager, Jetstar, and Daybreak. This represents variety in type and season as well as in an OP/hybrid mix. I would find it difficult to make ends meet if I had to farm with one hand tied behind my back.

Ironically, due to our busy harvest and market schedule, I have come to the conclusion that even for many OP varieties that I could save, it isn't worth it. Since they are OP, they are offered quite inexpensively in the Johnny's & FEDCO catalogs, so it is hardly worth the bother to save my own. I'd rather support some other local grower who has specialized in seed saving and supplying those seed companies.

In a similar way, I would also rather support the plant breeders who have made those hybrid crosses which benefit our farm. As small growers, we need to encourage plant breeding entrepreneurs who in turn need us as their markets. If someone is hybridizing for a trait of benefit to me, they are part of the agricultural infrastructure I want to see succeed.

I know many breeders are huge conglomerates, but so is Honda (my market vehicle), Mobil (it's fuel), Kubota (my tractor), and so on. This is the nature of our economy, the economic environment we exist in, and if we are to choose our battles, they should be those where we can win, or at least make a difference.

I do boycott the large out-of-state seed company's catalogs, because I want to support those local seed companies which are smaller and more in tune with a "buy local" philosophy we employ ourselves and atttempt to instill in our customers.

I boycott GMO seeds because the producers are currently introducing traits for the wrong reasons, and because they are playing with forces they don't yet even begin to understand. In the newest propaganda from the GMO crowd, you will see an attempt to blur the distinction between genetic engineering and hybridizing, with phrases like "farmers have been mixing genes since the dawn of agriculture." They attempt to make the public feel that GMO's are as safe as hybrids, but I fear some growers and seed savers may take it to mean that hybrids are as dangerous as GMO's. In truth, hybridization is more like dog breeding, while genetic engineering is way more dangerous than xenotransplantation (transplanting amimal parts into humans).

In short, my aim is to support seed companies that are giving me the mix of hybrids and OP's that best suits my needs as a market grower.

Comments? Write to:

27 Organic Farm Road, Pittsfield Maine 04967
owned and operated by
Tom Roberts & Lois Labbe
Tom: Tom@snakeroot.net (cell) 207-416-5417
Lois: Lois@snakeroot.net (cell) 207-416-5418

Gardening for the public since 1995.

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