By Bill Taylor
When my wife Jaye Alison Moscariello and I moved from California, we left a large property where even the 2 acres we grew on (with much of our land above it catching the seasonal rainfall into our pond and spring-fed tanks) was more than we wanted to handle. It is the same with the 12-month growing season with year-round markets. In our mid and late 60s, scaling back seemed wise, and now we are doing so - in southwestern Massachusetts, selling at just one farmers' market and to local folks on request. Here, our growing canvas is just under an acre (although with steady rainfall throughout the year, we harvest wild plants from other off-site areas as well). Like in California, we host a farm and garden show on the local radio station, WBCR-LP Great Barrington, berkshireradio.org, with local and international pioneers in regenerative farming and permaculture. But we no longer host interns/apprentices, which, as wonderful as they were, distracted us from our other passions, art (Jaye) and composing music (Bill).
Neither of us likes to do the same thing for long. Jaye has several bodies of work, including portraits and landscapes, narratives and abstracts, and I like to write for piano, small ensembles and orchestras. This is what I call “scaling up": having a fuller and more fulfilling life by making more than one career at once - each feeding the other. While at an educational music festival in June (the Mostly Modern Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY), I wrote a piece contrasting monoculture and regenerative farming for a 6-piece ensemble that I hope will inform the new farm bill.
The bill, which is supposed to pass in this calendar year, may not be worked out for some time because of the divided Congress. This is a shame since healthy food, lower health care costs, climate stability and happier farmers seem to be good things regardless of one’s political persuasion. A recording of the 8- 8-minute piece, “Regenerate, Heal, Cool”, will be available in September and I will provide it for free to anyone emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org and also on the website www.touchtheearthmusic.com. I encourage you to send it to decision-makers and anyone who might want it. It will also be on the Mostly Modern website, https://mostlymodernprojects.org/, once the 2023 performances are posted there.
Back in the market garden, this season's rains created a proliferation of wild plants. Our practices are to remove anything not food or cover crops (much of which is food) from the beds, allow wild food plants to grow, and encourage pollinators by allowing much of our lawn to be a meadow with mown paths. We have seen honeybees, bumble, and other wild bees significantly increase in numbers. We are making more money with multispecies beds with multiple harvests. All the biodiversity there and in the meadow is precisely what we need for climate stability: to sustain the water cycle and increase the amount of carbon cycled into and out of the soil. Our tomatoes may be delayed a week or 2 by allowing sow thistle, ribwort plantain, mustard, volunteer kale, and dandelion to have much of the space. These wild plants feed the microbiome, which will benefit the succession of crops. Also, we make wild and kale chips from these plants, adding farm-grown and purchased organic ingredients. We sell the chips at a Farmers Market and after subtracting ingredient costs, we still make hundreds of dollars in profits each year. Our signature salad with its herbs, flowers, the tender parts of the wild plants, lettuce, cress, and arugula can be harvested from the same tomato beds and other multispecies beds. In late June and July, ever-widening circles around the tomatoes and other later crops allow us to dry some wild plants for winter smoothie powders. As of late July, I’ve already made 3 half-gallon jars of these smoothie formulations, which will last us from freeze to spring regrowth. In the late summer and fall, many of the wild plants will come back, providing us with another chance to gain from these additional harvests - so if you’re reading this and curious to do this yourself, you still have time.
With its coffee-like flavor, the sow thistle (more of a wild lettuce in its use) makes a perfect additive to a gluten-free green bread (buckwheat, millet, quinoa, dock seed and herbs). This intensive harvest is possible with a smaller growing acreage. Painting and music can thrive with a more go-with-the-flow attitude toward the farm. Diligence is still needed to keep undesired weeds at bay. We even do have ways to manage “invasive” thistles (Canadian and Bull) and garlic mustard. The latter is great in salad and can be “banished” to areas outside beds, and with the former, Jaye makes a blended and filtered liver tonic drink (with a bit of lemon and apple) that we can sell at the farmers’ market.
Our final scaling up involves erecting a 30-foot geodesic dome greenhouse. It has been a slow process because the company we bought it from went out of business, so we are doing more of the work ourselves than anticipated. We aim to grow our winter food and turn 700 square feet of our “Siberia of Massachusetts” climate into something more Mediterranean for figs, rosemary, pepper, cucumber and melon production in the summer. Underground, we laid 900 feet of drainpipe connected to 2 manifolds by which fans will feed, send hot air down, and bring warm air up at needed times to keep the growing area warm. Going with a high tunnel would have probably been more cost-effective, but our tight space made the NRCS requirements for high tunnels unreasonable, and we had already ordered the dome. One advantage we hear is that air circulates better in a dome than in a tunnel, and it will be better in wind. With a solid drainpipe gutter, we plan to collect our irrigation water into 2 large tanks inside. Rainwater is better for plants than groundwater, and we already use it (off the house’s metal roof) in the beds outside the greenhouse dome.
We invite you to scale back on herculean efforts to have a weed-free, cleaned-out farm and subsequently scale up on your use of the nutritionally superior wild plants with which we are blessed and sometimes cursed.
Bill Taylor is a market farmer, radio co-host, educator, pianist, and composer and can be reached at email@example.com.