Community, Work, and the Bounty of the Summer Harvest

Hello Farmers!

August has rolled in and we at the farm are seeing the benefits of all the work we put into our land, enjoying our pickings and looking forward to all the great autumn harvests we know we’ll have this year. Those harvests will be going to the dining hall, to the veggie van, and we will be selling at market on campus again when classes start.

Through all my work with LaFarm, interacting with the Veggies in the Community and other farms, and all my other Lafayette work that has brought me in contact with the Easton Farmers Market, Buy Fresh Buy Local, the Easton Hunger Coalition and others, I have always been most astounded by how much food and agriculture can so easily create a sense of community. Wherever I meet farm workers, farmers, gardeners, food distributors, cooks, or anyone else whose life revolves around food, whether it is at market, them visiting LaFarm, me visiting another farm, at a kitchen or anywhere else, there is always conversation to be had, information to be exchanged, goals to accomplish, and a friendly feeling of being in this life together with a shared purpose. That is one of the main advantages of centering one’s life around such a quintessential part of the human experience, the sense of community we all share.

Being in this community has brought me to look back at all the work we’ve done on the farm and take even more pride in what we’ve produced. So I took the time to bring together many of the pictures I’ve taken (and a few that I’ve been in) during this work:

What we all can accomplish together is amazing. look at this harvest from just one day this summer:

From the ground work we have laid this summer, we expect harvests like this once or twice a week for the next few months, albeit with the exact types of vegetables changing a good deal over that time. Out of the rather small chunk of land we have, I definitely find this impressive, and I know that despite our struggles this is all possible because of the many, many hours of hard work that all of the people working or even just helping out once at our modest farm. So many thanks to Peter, Leslie, Miranda, Alexa, Rachel, Haley, Brandon, and all the volunteers and visitors we’ve had this summer, and of course a special thanks to Sarah, without whom none of this would happen, and Profs Lawrence, Cohen, Germanoski, Brandes, and all the others who help make the farm a part of Lafayette! I look forward to another great year as I enter my last Fall semester at Lafayette in this community of food workers.

Joe Ingrao, Summer 2015 EXCEL Scholar

Cover Cropping

This post comes at a very good time as the National Working Group on Cover Crops and Soil Health recently released a top ten list of ways to improve soil health. So, since these are some of the things we’re doing out at LaFarm, it makes sense to share some basics about cover cropping.

Last year we covered a 40'x40' plot with sun hemp. Sun hemp fixes nitrogen in the soil, can be used as cloth, and is very effective at shading out weeds (also you cannot smoke it.)

Last year we covered a 40’x40′ plot with sun hemp. Sun hemp fixes nitrogen in the soil, can be used as cloth, and is very effective at shading out weeds (also you cannot smoke it.)

Cover cropping is the act of purposefully planting a non-food crop on your land for one of a few reasons. You can use leguminous cover crops to increase nitrogen in the soil (or a whole host of other crops to increase organic matter or specific micro-nutrients) to protect a plot, bed, or field from weeds before or after you’ve used it for food in a season, to mark permanent walking paths between permanent beds, or even sow a crop that doesn’t grow tall under a food crop to shade out weeds so you don’t need to weed under your taller plants.

One of the main differences between cover cropping and just growing buckwheat, sun hemp, or any of the other numerous plants commonly used as cover is that generally you’re not planning on using the product of the crop, but instead are planning on tilling it under before the next season or composting it to increase soil fertility-though that’s not necessarily the case. You can grow oats as a cover, hand-harvest the oats and then still till under the crop. Likewise we could have harvested the sun hemp we grew as cover last year to use as fiber for clothes and left the leguminous nitrogen nodules in the ground for this season. But the main goal with cover cropping is the soil health benefits, not the produce of the crop.

As I’ve mentioned previously we had to pull a whole row of potatoes after the storm on June 30th. Because there’s a good deal of growing time left, we decided to cover crop it with cowpeas and buckwheat. We chose these because cowpeas fix nitrogen in the soil, and the buckwheat will live for longer into the winter, keeping protection on the bed, but both will die before next season, so we can till them under for increased soil nitrogen and organic matter. This handy guide by the USDA is a great quick reference for what kind of cover crop you may need.

We started by tilling the bed, and then getting out our Earthways Broadcast Seeder. When broadcast seeding, you can spread by hand, it just takes a lot of time on any significant scale. We filled the seeder with the cowpea and buckwheat seeds, and then walked it across the newly tilled row. With cover crops, soil compaction over the seed is actually desirable (unlike with vegetables where it is to be absolutely avoided.) After just one pass with the seeder, we used a soil rake to cover all the seed. It was that simple! And since we’re not harvesting this crop for food, we don’t need to pay any more attention to the bed really (except for some optional hand weeding if weeds start getting too big before the peas or wheat get established.)

This was just on on a single row. At the farm, we’ve also cover cropped all our permanent pathways with crimson clover, which doesn’t grow very tall, shades out most weeds, and marks the areas we can walk on, and we’ve covered whole plots with buckwheat, Sudan grass, sun hemp and other crops. For that, you just till the whole plot, broadcast seed until you see seed over most of the area of the plot, and then step all over it and/or rake it into the ground. Some farmers tie wooden boards to their feet to help step on the whole area faster.

Hope this helps some diversified growers out there!

-Joe Ingrao, Summer 2015 EXCEL Scholar

Natural Disasters, Resiliency, and Agriculture

Hey Farmers,

The storm now weeks past brings to light a lot of issues that are becoming increasingly salient for people around the globe. As an educational establishment, standing with one foot in agriculture and the other in academia, we at LaFarm study the broader food and agriculture system and its interconnectedness with human society as well as the rest of the world beyond humans. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss the ripple effect of non-human events (natural disasters, even small ones) through this indelible network of human and non-human processes.

This storm was not actually too huge. It’s definitely not the biggest storm that’s hit this area in the few years I’ve been here (as we should not forget hurricanes Sandy and Irene.) And yet the damage it did to us was devastating. As I said in my last post, this storm could have easily ended a young farmer’s career. The localized hail and wind damage alone took a good percentage of our overall yield away, and the cost of dealing with the ramifications is high enough to make a farm dip far into the red.

So consider farms at our scale. Very small, very local. Other such farmers could sell to a local market, run a CSA with a few dozen shares maybe, or a combination of both. Even a minor natural disaster, one where no person was too seriously injured, maybe one downed power line or already is having a huge effect on these people. The farm gets hit hard, the farmer and their family is out of a job, and could lose the land. CSA members may get a refund, or maybe the farmer can’t even get that money back to them. Thousands of dollars are lost or turned into debt, and a lot of families’ economic situations are complicated. A market gardener loses supply and the market doesn’t make them money any more, they lose customer loyalty and even if they somehow make it back to the market next year, they now have a harder time competing. Think about this happening to an area that’s close to a food desert. Imagine the families buying fresh vegetables from the market on SNAP benefits, or who rely on their local urban farm who might not be able to get produce from anywhere else around. So there’s hits in the health and stability of families as well.

Now think about the problem scaled up. Imagine a mid-scale producer being hit with a bad storm or an awful flood. If they sell wholescale to the local hospital or school, there’s going to be a lot of economic disruption for years to come, not to mention the potential for a food shortage. And then a large farm being hit with a bad hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or drought (I’m thinking out west right now.) The potential ramifications will have effects on thousands of people easily.

So given that storms and other natural disasters are going to get worse from here on out, what can help the food system become more resilient against the potential of natural disasters? Well, a lot of things:

  1. Local food networks. Say you’re the administrator of a hospital, looking at where to source your food. If you buy all of your food cheap from mono-croppers halfway across the country, and any one of the few farms you source from gets hit, that’s potentially catastrophic. But, if you source from 20 different farms within 100 or 200 miles of the hospital in any given direction, than one single event can’t completely disrupt your food supply.
  2. Grassroots support organizations. With farmers helping each other, CSA members who are willing to come help after a storm or flood, a co-op designed to support its member farms, or a myriad of other possible formal or informal partnerships, every producer benefits in their time of need.
  3. More diversified growers. If you run an just orchard, a hail storm can destroy a whole year’s crop, if you grow only annual vegetables, a bad flood could wipe away your whole farm. But only the worst flood could carry away an established nut or fruit tree and hail can’t annihilate forage crops grown in the understory of a food forest.
  4. Better policy support for small, diversified farmers. Large mono-croppers can get some form of crop insurance, but diversified growers cannot. There’s plenty of subsidies for conventional corn growers, but not so much as an assistance program for diversified organic growers. We need policies in this country (and in other countries as well) that can support the sort of system we need to be sustainable.

In addition with the slow plodding push for that sort of change, already started by others, individual farmers can prepare themselves in several ways:

  1. Educate yourself about how to deal with damage due to natural disasters. Look for webinars, ask your USDA extension agent, or learn from other farmers.
  2. Form partnerships with other farmers. Tool lending libraries, co-ops, and even just friendships with other farmers in your area will help you and them be prepared with both the knowledge and skills necessary for when disaster strikes. In addition, if everyone helps each other become established, everyone will already be in a better place when something does happen.
  3. Educate your customers about agriculture’s relationship with natural disasters, and society in general. This will make everyone a better ecological citizen, who may be more likely to be understanding and not need a refund for part of a CSA share lost to drought, or pay extra for your remaining produce at the stand after a storm.

There’s a lot of work to be done to make our food system sustainable in the face of a climate-change stricken world

Documenting Damage

Hey Farmers,

So we’re going to continue with the sad storm news. Although it has been two weeks since the storm, that does not mean the damage is no longer affecting us. This storm will have an impact on what happens on the farm for the rest of the season. In the overall scheme of things it will have even further reaching impacts, and I’m going to dedicate a full post later to discussing that. For now, I’m going to catalog and analyze the damage in as much detail as I can based on my experiences and what Sarah and our USDA extension agent Tianna DuPont say about it.


Walking out on the farm on Wednesday, already a day after the storm, I was astounded by how much had been done. On campus, we had just been told to stay inside for half an hour as the worst of the storm passed, and the amount damage that happened to the farm in that little time left me speechless. On Wednesday and Thursday, I spent over an hour just walking the field, taking pictures and notes on all the damage, afterward talking to Sarah about what the damage would mean.

Some of the impact is obvious. The first thing through the gate of LaFarm, our onions, fall into this category, as do all our peas and a fourth of our potatoes. This damage is pretty obvious: destroyed plants can’t finish their life cycles. For our peas, the damage was absolute: broken stakes and hail damaged pea pods mean the last week or two of pea harvest was no longer feasible. Even what was on the vine wasn’t even safe to give away; hail damage to the peas would mean they would probably rot on the vine, none of it would keep long enough to be eaten. This led to hours and hours of work pulling the plants, stakes, and trellises when previously that work was going to help establish other crops. As for onions and potatoes, we could salvage what was there but a good amount of potential was lost. Our onions would have grown a significant amount more in the next several weeks, but we needed to rush to harvest and cure every onion in our northern most plot. Of our four rows of potatoes, the oldest, northernmost row acted as a wind break for the other three, but was devastated in the process. We harvested that whole row of potatoes that day and sent them to Chef John on campus, who luckily needed them that day.

Most of the rest of the damage was less obvious, and will require more work to overcome in the long run. With these peas, onions, and potatoes, we just had to salvage what we could and rip the rest. For many of our grown but not yet producing crops, we’ll be nursing them to health for the rest of the season. USDA Extension Agent Tianna DuPont recommended to us and the other organic farms hit by the damage 5 different organic chemical treatments, plant steroids and the like, to help remediate the damage. This damage is also more uncertain in its impact. We know roughly how much we lost in time and food between the above crops, but since our other plants are still in the middle of their lives, we’ll never know for sure how much this storm took out of them. And this insidious damage comes in two degrees as well: the first is the direct damage. Trellis cages blown away, hail holes in leaves and vegetables, broken branches and stems, etc.

The second is much more indirect, and more long lasting. Healthy plants are more resilient against pests and diseases. This is obvious even on our scale with potatoes and eggplants: this year we composted our potatoes, and even though there are Colorado Potato Beetles around, we have hardly seen a lick of damage on them compared to last year when we didn’t compost them; our eggplants went in the ground this year before a long hot period without any rain, and were unhealthy, soon they were devastated by flea beetles. So now all of our plants are hurt, and spending their energy on trying to heal. This means they have less energy to fend off blights and beetles. It’s no coincidence that Wednesday, the day after the storm, was the first day Fletcher, Peter and I remember seeing Japanese Beetles in such huge numbers around the farm. And with early blight hitting many tomatoes in the area, we’re on the lookout and have been pruning like crazy.

This is where the damage is obviously far reaching, even if only considering LaFarm. A bad pest and disease year means for years to come we’ll have to fight back against further pest and disease damage. As Sarah put it, the storm hitting the farm is like someone training for a marathon getting in a car accident: they’re going to be spending a lot of time dealing with their injuries and probably won’t be able to finish their training before the marathon, and those injuries could hurt for years. For a starting farmer, the amount of lost money and required additional work and investment this sort of storm event caused us, this could mark the end of a career, and the loss of a farm. A CSA may have to cancel most of a season and probably need to supply refunds of money they already spent, a market gardener would lose thousands of dollars of income between direct and indirect losses. And this has a lot of implications on the broader food system, which I’ll be writing about at length in my next post.

– Joe Ingrao, Summer 2015 EXCEL Scholar

The Smell of Spring

When I imagine Spring, I think of sunshowers and wildflowers. And when I think of farm work in Spring, I think of early plantings like onions, peas, and potatoes. I don’t usually think of the smell of compost (I no longer have anything against the smell of good compost though—now that I’ve seen the amazing results of such compost the smell just reminds me of success.) But one of the most grueling—and important—tasks of Spring farming is spreading compost. So we invited our friends to help!

Shoveling compost takes a lot of strength!  Pictured: (from left to right) Fletcher Horowitz, Miranda Wilcha, Monica Wentz, and Benji Helbein.

Shoveling compost takes a lot of strength!
Pictured: (from left to right) Fletcher Horowitz, Miranda Wilcha, Monica Wentz, and Benji Helbein.

Work is much more fun when you make it a party, and Spring farm days definitely make good parties! Even getting a team of 5 or so people out to shovel compost evokes feelings of community and family which we don’t get everyday in our modern, disconnected lives. So it’s very nice to get a bunch of people together to do something like this (especially if it means that just one person needs to do it for 5 times as long later on!) which is totally doable because it doesn’t take much background knowledge to shovel and spread nutrient rich dirt.

Spreading compost is not the most glamorous farm job, but it is necessary and still fun in groups.

Spreading compost is not the most glamorous farm job, but it is necessary and still fun in groups.


After your primary cultivation (your first tilling of the soil in the Spring) you take your compost (we get ours straight back from the dining halls we sell to) and spread it over your beds until it’s about an inch thick. For this, we dump piles of compost on the field with a wheelbarrow or cart and then use a rake (tilling rakes work especially well) to spread it evenly. After spreading, we till the beds again to mix the wonderful nutrients in with our normal topsoil.

But truly, it feels wonderful to be back outside, no matter what you’re doing on the farm, and all the more so when you can share it with friends. Here’s to hoping for a good season!

Joe Ingrao, Spring 2015 EXCEL Scholar


Filling out the Farm

June 27th 2014

Now that we’re getting far into the growing season, the farm is filling out. Almost every plot is being used either for some established perennial, a nice annual crop, a ground enriching cover crop or a beautiful flower. Our projects all continue to move along and recent infrastructure expansion is assisting our production greatly.

Also this week I discussed at length with my advisers the broader picture as well, why we do all that we do at the farm, why we have a farm, why I’m researching farm infrastructure. We defined the ultimate goal of what we sustainability-focused Lafayette community members do as The Promotion of Stronger Eco-Citizenship. What we mean by that is making more people, at Lafayette, around Lafayette, and hopefully beyond, more conscious and supportive of efforts to bring our society to an environmentally sustainable point.

And everything we do at LaFarm is part of that. As the other workers and I plant cucumbers, mulch tomatoes, and weed herb gardens we are simultaneously learning a plethora of information about the environment and how our everyday choices of what to eat and how to eat it impact it. Several workers at LaFarm intend to become farmers themselves, or otherwise stay connected to the food system in their later lives, and I certainly have been affected by my time at the farm as to push me toward the career path of a farmer myself.

Expanding the farm, employing more workers, getting more food to more people have real effects on their lives and on the efficacy of our sustainable food loop model. And this big picture thinking is important for all food-system workers to keep in mind, as it is easy to get lost in the toils of labor and forget about why we want to do what we do. It should not be forgotten that the purpose of our toil is to live in harmony with the land so that we will not be some of the last to be able to live at all.

-Joe Ingrao, Excel Scholar Summer 2014

Getting into Gear at LaFarm

June 13th 2014
As my second week of work closes, LaFarm is really starting to get its production underway. On the 9th, Eric, Jenn and I took a few hours finally filling in the herb garden around the gazebo at the center of the farm. Now we have a nice rock-covered herb garden growing basil, bee balm, and several other healthy, fresh plants to beautify our scenic outdoor break room and meeting space.


The cover crop that we planted just last week has already begun to push itself up out of the soil, and our peas and strawberries are ready to harvest!

We sold 2 ½ quarts of strawberries and almost three pounds of sugar peas and snow peas to Gilberts and Marquis, to be eaten right here on campus.

Our June 9th Harvest

Our June 9th Harvest


On the 10th, we planted 515 row feet of tomatoes! That was a whole dang lot of tomatoes. Varieties from various Heirlooms to Roma to Amish paste are all in the ground now, fully staked and ready to grow.


Tomatoes, freshly planted. Featured stake drivers are Jenn Ruocco and Kelly Carpency

Tomatoes, freshly planted. Featured stake drivers are Jenn Ruocco and Kelly Carpency

Flowers from the greenhouse, about to be planted

Flowers from the greenhouse, about to be planted

After getting so much produce in the ground, we planted 4 rows of flowers in the back of the garden too! Now we’ll have celosias, salvias, zinnias and several other flowers growing up and making the whole garden feel like home. To round out the day, we also planted leeks and thyme.



Taking a look around the Easton Farmers Market this week, I decided to take notes on what’s currently available in our area. Our local mushroom growers, Primordia Mushroom Farm, had 6 varieties for sale, white trumpet, white elm, shiitake, blue oyster, crimini, and portobella. The various veggie farms had for sale a long list: asparagus, arugula, beets, broccoli, bok choy, carrots cucumbers, escarole, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, onions, peas, radishes, scallions, and swiss chard, and anyone selling fruit is still just selling strawberries. As for the herb market, basil, cilantro, chamomile, dill, mint, parsley, and verbena were all around.

Also, this week my job gained a lot more purpose connected to the future of the farm. In conjunction with my myriad bosses, Professors Cohen, Reiter, and Brandes, and of course Sarah here, I’ll be doing my best to plan a packinghouse and greenhouse for LaFarm, so we can expand our production and get more people involved with growing organic and local. First thing I’ll be doing is going out to visit other small farms to see what they’ve done when they went through similar expansion. Keep a watch out for more about what we’re doing here!

-Joe Ingrao, Excel Scholar 2014

First Week back at the Farm

June 4th, 2014
After a hiatus for my second academic year at Lafayette, I’m finally working out at LaFarm again, and this year I’ll be out here a lot more, doing a lot more.

In only 2 days I jumped right back into work weeding, laying cover crop, planting and transplanting potatoes and asparagus, and watering our strawberries, rhubarb, horseradish, and pleurisy root. I also got to meet three of my co-workers for this summer: Jenn, a recent graduate and aspiring farmer; Kelly, a fellow rising junior; and Serim, a rising sophomore.

In just these two days, we have already done so much.


Rhubarb, under a tarp. you can see the leaves poking up where there's straw!

Rhubarb, under a tarp. you can see the leaves poking up where there’s straw!

Here is what will be, in a few years, a (hopefully very productive) strawberry patch!

Here is what will be, in a few years, a (hopefully very productive) strawberry patch!

And we cleaned up our new beds of rhubarb and strawberries.

Much of these patches just look like indiscriminate dirt with maybe some straw right now, but it won’t be too long until these plants are recognizable and even producing food. That’s the magic of agriculture, with a little help from humans, nature does the hard part (actually growing into food.)

I wasn’t able to post anything here until this week (the week of June 20th) so I’ll be posting everything up until this week right away, but from then on expect weekly updates!

-Joe Ingrao, Excel Scholar 2014

Community Garden Gazebo: Under Construction

This gazebo is the first project undertaken by the new Lafayette student chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. This group was founded in the fall of 2010 to help promote green architecture and sustainable structural design at Lafayette and in the Easton community. The concept for the gazebo grew out of discussions with Jenn Bell and its goal is to provide a recreational and community gathering point for workers and visitors at Lafayette’s Organic Garden.

The original plans (created by Lafayette students) for the gazebo went through several iterations, with the final design chosen in Spring of 2011. Construction began in Fall, 2011, with the gazebo composed predominately of recycled and reclaimed materials. The majority of lumber used for the wood was taken with the permission of Lafayette’s Plant Operations from ramps used during construction at Acopian Engineering Center and Pardee Hall. The gazebo’s four columns are supported by a foundation of pervious concrete, using a mix developed in the thesis research of senior Civil and Environmental Engineering students. The roof is a sustainable Pergola canvas, selected for its lightweight, environmentally-friendly material.

The gazebo is due to be completed prior to Earth Day, 2012. The final layout will include a berm of raised soil and native plants around the exterior, and benches inside the gazebo also made from reclaimed lumber.

This gazebo has been constructed solely by student members of the Lafayette College U.S. Green Building Council Student Group and supported financially in large part through the generosity of Turner Construction.

By Sarah Welsh-Huggins `12