Valley Bounty: Climate resilience on the menu in Shelburne Falls

  • Abby Ferla looks over a field at her Foxtrot Farm in Shelburne Falls. CISA

For the Gazette
Published: 9/5/2020 12:35:08 PM

Abby Ferla, owner of Foxtrot Farm in Shelburne Falls, has spent her summer nights camping in a tent in her fields, accompanied by her partner and dog.

“This is the first year we’re growing food crops, and it’s been an evolving process learning how to keep the deer, skunks, and porcupines out of the corn and peas,” Ferla explains. “Currently my dog whines when he hears something in the gardens, and I just let him out of the tent to chase them off.”

Foxtrot Farm is a certified organic 3-acre farm specializing in growing bulk fresh and dried botanical and culinary herbs. This year, Foxtrot Farm launched a CSA focused on plants that walk the line between food and medicine, with an emphasis on climate-resilient growing methods.

“We have a strong focus on climate resiliency at Foxtrot Farm, because like many farmers across the Valley, I have seen how climate change has caused unpredictable seasons and weather patterns,” Ferla says. “Understandably, this has led many farmers to try to increase their control of the climate they grow in so that their crops can thrive, for example using greenhouses, low tunnels, and black plastic to protect against frost. For me, I really wanted to limit my plastic use, which led me to the question of, ‘What would it look like to explore growing crops in a different way, and what are the crops that require less babying and outside inputs, or might be frost resistant, or drought resistant, or flood resistant?’”

That has remained the guiding question for Ferla’s CSA and has led her to growing many foods typically seen as weeds, along with plants closely related to weeds.

Amaranth is an example of this — closely related to pigweed, amaranth is similar to spinach, packed with vitamins and minerals. Unlike spinach, amaranth is heat and drought resistant, and in one square foot you can grow about five times as much amaranth as you can spinach. Even with heavy harvesting, and little to no watering, the amaranth on Foxtrot Farm has grown to be unstoppable.

Another example of a climate-resilient crop grown on Foxtrot Farm is a variety of corn called Painted Mountain Corn. The story behind this corn is that a farmer in Montana grew every variety of corn indigenous to North America that he could find. He grew these varieties of corn in the same field, allowing them to cross-pollinate, and each year he saved the seeds from the corn that did the best.

Since this farmer grew in such volatile conditions, the result is a variety of corn that is resistant to heat and frost, droughts and floods. The genetic diversity in this corn makes each ear look different. While it usually is a burnt orange color, some kernels are blue, purple, pink, white or burgundy, giving off a purple or magenta hue when ground up. The brightly colored kernels make this corn ideal for decoration or for eating fresh, roasted or ground up to make colorful tortillas and more.

Ferla is also growing pears, grape leaves, orack, Italian dandelions and radicchio, and buying in hawthorn berries for the CSA.

“The CSA has been a total pleasure,” Ferla says. “It’s been really fun to explore this idea of what our cuisine could look like if it were more place-based and centered around both human and environmental healing, with a group of people also interested in having these discussions.”

Beyond just picking up their produce each week, CSA customers at Foxtrot Farm have enjoyed the opportunity to share recipes such as grape leaf pie while sharing in the delight of what each season has to offer, and learning about the histories of the foods they are taking home.

“So many of the things that we think of as weeds today were actually brought to the U.S. as food crops,” Ferla says. Dandelions, for example, are not indigenous to North America, but were brought to the continent by European settlers. Orack, another crop grown by Foxtrot Farm, is very similar to spinach, and used to be more popular than spinach during the mid-1800s.

“For reasons unknown, spinach came into style, and orack fell out. I love spinach too, but you can only grow it for four months of the year, if you’re lucky. Orack is much hardier and can be eaten any way you would eat spinach. My favorite way is quickly sautéed with garlic,” Ferla explains.

Social justice intertwines with farming at Foxtrot Farm.

“It informs what we do and how we do it in a really big and personal way and is always something I’m working to further integrate in our farming practices,” Ferla says. This includes offering a sliding scale for the CSA, a blanket 15% discount for all people of color, and an “herbs for activists” program. Those who have reached out to her about this program have been people of color doing work in their communities to reclaim old herbal traditions and distribute herbs.

“It feels like a real privilege being able to send these plants out to folks to aid in this work,” Ferla remarks.

Those interested in buying from Foxtrot Farm can find their products at the Ashfield Farmers Market. They are also planning to relaunch their website in the winter.

To find more local farms near you, visit buylocalfood.org/farmguide.

Emma Gwyther is the development associate at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.




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