Preseason Newsletter #3 – April 19, 2013

nsmail-11-1Preseason Newsletter #3

April 19, 2013

While spring has been as hesitant as the last leaf holding on in the fall, we welcome it as the beautiful unpredictability of this life we have chosen.  We find ourselves bundling up every morning, and taking regular breaks to warm our fingers.  But we are not fooled by the chill in the air.  So clearly is spring upon us, as our morning work is serenaded by the conductor-less, yet perfect, symphony of the myriad song birds. And as the day warms, the peepers come to life, and like hardcore party animals, go all day and through the night, lulling us to sleep at night and carrying on with their celebration of spring.
For us, farm life does not happen without the balance of community and land, spirit and our physical capabilities.  We had the honor of hosting our dear little friend, Caona’s first birthday last Saturday.  Leah’s god daughter.  Her life is a true celebration!  Biggest of love and congratulations goes out to our family and shareholders Taina Asili and Gaetano Vaccaro.New life is abound here.
The greenhouse is now complete and was transformed from a building site to a growing area.  We hauled countless wheelbarrows of compost into the space, formed new beds, and planted, what we hope to have early tomatoes and peppers, the hottest of hot peppers, a little bit of greens for our voracious household, and we even threw some ginger in the ground to make sure we did not forget how experimental this all is.
P1010795resizeOur work with the Albany Food Justice Coalition continues to build.  Leah, Melissa and Capers drafted a survey to be used in the community food security assessment.  The survey aims to fill in the gaps of past assessments, and reflects a result of pouring over countless pieces of existing information and data that has been collected over the years.  The biggest gaps in data: people’s personal habits, decisions and motivations around eating, and what they are interested in seeing in their neighborhoods.  Guess someone forgot to talk to the people that lived there.  So we will.
We are hoping to pilot the survey at the upcoming community meal in Arbor Hill on May 18.  This meal is an opportunity for people from the Arbor Hill neighborhood to celebrate and learn about healthy eating.  Guest cooks Deirdre Kelly and Ellie Markovitch are working with the Arbor Hill Community Center youth group to plan the menu, order the food, and cook for 60 people.  Thank you Ellie and Deirdre and all the organizers!
Outreach this winter around youth programming at Soul Fire has resulted in some amazing connections, and the significant growing of youth education on the farm.  This season we will be welcoming youth from programs all over Albany, Troy, and Springfield, MA, and continue to get more inquires.  Some groups are coming several times throughout the season to develop a stronger connection to Soul Fire, and have asked Leah and I to guide then through a reflective process as they mature as a group.  We also continue to develop our own Soul Fire curriculum.  We are committed to offering our youth programming free of charge, so your support of our farm means we can continue to grow this work.Now for a confession.  I am not sure I’m ready for this, but here it goes.  After years of practicing all hand scale, no-till farming – that’s right, we have only used shovels and hoes to grow your food – we invested in some tractor equipment that will allow us to significantly expand our operations, grow more food, and ultimately feed more people.  The decision was not an easy one.  We have prided ourselves on our ability to intensively grow large amounts of food on minimal land with minimal mechanical inputs.  Sound crazy?  This is how most people have grown food throughout history, all over the world.  This is how most people still eat, all over the world.  However, traditional farming is vanishing in exchange for expansion, centralization, and massive mechanization.  This means less people, growing their food.  This means more people moving off the land and often to substandard urban conditions.  This means that the farmer is being replaced by agribusiness growing food for profit and export.  And no one ever touches the soil.

So what are we doing that I feel so hesitant to share?  We are tilling.  We continue to use extensive sheet mulching – laying down large rolls of paper and hay to smother pasture grass – followed by a minimal tilling to establish new planting areas.  Then we use a bed former.  The bed former replaces our shovels for the most part, and ultimately replaces weeks of intense work digging for half a day of tractor work.  Our interns, volunteers, and MY BACK, are celebrating this one!  Once the areas are established, we do not till them again.  Light, fluffy soil is a myth!  Good soil not only means what is in the soil, but the structure of the soil.  Tilling destroys this structure that is an essential and integral habitat for the billions of microbial bits of life we rely on to grow the highest quality of food we can.

This decision to add mechanization to our operation came from another spring with an outpouring of requests to join our already full CSA.  Maybe not the best place to make a decision from, but as our ties with our community strengthen, and our work continues to deepen as a labor of love, there is no better time for a decision than now.  So that means, we are expanding the CSA even further this season.  Maybe I’m too soft, but I just can’t say no to feeding people.CER_8817-7resize

Finally, and so exciting here at Soul Fire, we started growing mushrooms.  Shitake mushrooms to be exact.  You may have read a few weeks back that we harvested logs for our mushroom operation as part of our larger land use and perennial plan.  On Wednesday, Melissa, Capers and I inoculated close to 70 logs with mushroom spawn – a mixture of the mushroom growing mycellium and sawdust – at our recently constructed “inoculation station”.  The logs are stacked in the woods near the pond and should produce their first crops early this fall and then regularly twice a year for anywhere from 3-8 years.  While I think growing mushrooms for eating and making extra income generation is a great idea, fungus is a personal passion of mine that I know far too little about.  Nonetheless, I thought this a good opportunity to share a few of the miracles of mushrooms that I have come across.

#1. Mushrooms have incredible healing qualities, many which remain untapped and unexplored.  Several species are well known for their medicinal qualities in Eastern medicine.  Yet many more mushrooms have healing qualities that range from being antiviral, antibiotic, cancer healing, anti-inflamatory, and the list goes on.

#2. In addition, fungus are the healers of forest ecosystems.  The mycellial mat of a single fungus organism can stretch for miles.  The mycellium are kind of like the roots of a fungus.  Mushrooms are the “fruits”.  Most of a fungus cannot be seen without peeling back a mat of leaves on the forest floor.  These mats are so extensive that they have shown to divert nutrients from one healthy tree to a stressed tree through mycellial P1010802resizemats.  In fact, it is fungus that are the only organism on earth capable of breaking down cellulose.  Without mushrooms, there would be no soil on this planet, but rather piles of dead trees miles high.  At least that’s how I think about it.

#3. The single largest organism in the world is actually a fungus, covering somewhere around 2200 acres.  This happens to be a parasitic variety of mushroom that kills trees.  Aerial photography shows this where it has decimated a forest.  However, some edible fungus are beneficial to plants, which we hope to be growing in the gardens in the coming years.

#4. And this may be either exciting or disturbing to you.  I find it exciting.  Fungus, are more closely genetically related to humans than they are to plants.  That’s right.  Us and fungus branched off long after plants.CER_8800-4resize

#5. And for the record, humans cannot digest raw mushrooms.  They must be cooked.  So the whole button mushrooms in salads, I hate to break it to you, but they are coming out the same way they went in.

I’ll leave it at that.

Have a wonderful week.


  • THANK YOU! Almost all of you have paid your full CSA payments. If you still have balance, please let me know your plans for paying it. REMEMBER paying through Paypal is optional. You can pay with a check or cash and avoid the Paypal fees.
  • If you are a shareholder, you can volunteer 5 hours over the course of the season in exchange for an additional week of food in the fall.
  • Pasture raised poultry is available for pre-sale here.
  • Remember that you are always welcome to visit socially and/or to volunteer. Give a call to schedule a time.
  • All of our newsletters are archived on our website
  • Please also like us on Facebook.  There are larger picture albums there, and more being added each week.
  • Return your cardboard egg cartons if they are clean.
  • Summer Solstice Party is June 29.  Dancing, trapeze, fire, food.  Mark your calendars.