What do farmers do in the winter months?
If you have a home garden of your own or are otherwise attuned to the seasons – rather than assuming that all produce is available year round in your chain grocery store ¬– you might think that Bucks County farmers are enjoying a well-deserved “down time” from first frost in the fall until last frost in the spring. But the reality is that farmers don’t really get much down time. When they aren’t actively planting, growing and-or harvesting, they are deep into planning for the upcoming growing season. Some are engaged in preparing the soil, their tools and equipment, while others attend seminars and conferences where they learn new techniques and share what they know with others.
The Bucks County Foodshed Alliance, a grassroots organization of farmers, consumers, chefs, environmentalists and other local businesspeople, is a seven-year-old nonprofit that’s committed to improving the variety and availability of locally produced food, supporting local farmers’ ability to grow and market their products, increasing the demand for local, sustainably grown food through education and advocacy, and providing trusted information about locally produced food in and around Bucks County.
Recently, BCFA’s administrator, Lynne Goldman, interviewed two local farmers at opposite ends of the county to find out just how they are spending their winter months. What she learned may surprise you.
For Joanna and Marc Michini of Purely Farm’s Naturally Pasture-Raised Meats, not much changes in their daily routine year round. They raise pigs, chickens, lambs and turkeys on their farm in Pipersville.
Their pigs are raised on pasture (as opposed to in pens) and continue to graze throughout the winter. Right now the sows are farrowing – giving birth to piglets. Farrowing happens twice a year, in winter and in summer, and is spaced out every four to six weeks. Pigs born last summer are now being harvested, so the Michinis have plenty of pork, as well as lamb, to sell at area farm markets in time for the holidays and warm winter meals.
Their chickens – called layers because they produce eggs – are also grazed on pasture, supplemented with feed. Chickens raised for meat – broilers – are more seasonal, as are turkeys, but will be back in early spring.
Joanna and Marc raise their animals using organic and sustainable methods although they are not certified organic by the USDA (many small farmers find it difficult and costly to do so). It’s organic “on a handshake,” says Marc, meaning they make every effort to follow organic guidelines, sometimes even going beyond what would be required by the USDA.
The Michinis also use the winter months to do shelter maintenance and attend agriculture conferences. You can find their product at the Stockton Indoor Market every weekend and at the Wrightstown Farmers’ Winter Mini-Market on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month through April. You can also buy direct from the farm. Reach them at 215.317.0889 or email [email protected] The farm is at 55 B Municipal Road, Pipersville, PA 18947.
Sandy Guzikowski is busy on her Lower Makefield farm too. For the past several years, she has run a CSA (community supported agriculture farm) called Endless Bounty Dynamic Winter CSA, which provides weekly shares starting the week before Thanksgiving through January 16th (and maybe beyond depending on the weather). Sourcing vegetables and eggs from her own farm and other area farmers she maintains quite a variety of products.
“Most folks are amazed to realize how much food we still have available through the fall and winter and are delighted with the choices,” says Guzikowski.
The list of products available includes: apples, onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, daikon, radishes, turnips, rutabagas, beets, lettuce, bok choy, kale, collards, chard, spinach, tatsoi, mustard greens, cauliflower, broccoli, broccoli raab, cabbage, winter squashes, cranberries, wheat berries, Asian pears, fennel, mushrooms, dried beans, salad mix, horseradish, Brussels sprouts, radicchio, arugula, escarole, parsnips, pea shoots, and eggs.
But Guzikowski will enjoy some downtime in late January and early February. She uses the time to plan the farm budget for the coming year, review and reflect on the past season to determine what worked and what needs improvement, do general equipment maintenance and field clean up, catch up on agricultural research and food system issues, and attend winter agriculture conferences. She’ll also make time to play guitar, bass and drums (“who wants to jam?”), see friends and family and catch up on much needed sleep.
“I also like to try something completely new,” she says. “This winter I’m learning the sport of curling!” You can reach Sandy at [email protected]