FARMER BEN DEARNLY has grown enough food to feed 40 families over the coming winter. His favorite vegetable to grow is beets, because they are reliable and can be grown all year.

FARMER BEN DEARNLY has grown enough food to feed 40 families over the coming winter. His favorite vegetable to grow is beets, because they are reliable and can be grown all year.

At what averages out to be $25 per week, you can pick up a variety of vegetables every week from October to March through a community supported agriculture winter farm share program at Life Force Farm in Bowdoinham. That’s enough to comfortably feed a family of four.

On approximately two acres, farmer Ben Dearnly has grown enough food to feed 40 families over the coming winter.

 

 

“This is a CSA farm, so essentially people in the community make a commitment to me (by paying a deposit), then I, in turn, also make a commitment to them that I will provide them with quality vegetables throughout the winter. That’s my goal here, to provide quality food to people at a reasonable rate,” Dearnly said.

The cost of a winter farm share is $350 for 14 weeks of fresh produce during a time of year when most perishables are trucked into Maine from other states.

Because Maine has a relatively short growing season, many farmers have been forced to build heated greenhouses at great expense in order to try and lengthen their growing and harvesting season. This past year Dearnly was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Natural Resources Conservation Service so he could build a large high tunnel.

 

 

“People refer to these high tunnels as greenhouses, but it really isn’t a greenhouse because that would indicate that it was heated. I really only have one traditional or heated greenhouse and that’s heated from a wood stove. The others are basically unheated, but by being covered they help keep sun-heated air in, and the wind and colder temperatures out,” Dearnly said as he pointed from an older structure to the new construction.

 

 

Dearnly uses a spreadsheet to plan his planting schedule. “The only unknowns are weather, pests and disease. The weather I can’t do anything about, but I do monitor the others. I don’t like to have to spray for pests, but sometimes you have to,” he said.

At times the plant itself will decide when it’s had enough. “All plants want to flower when they are stressed. They don’t like to be alive in a stressful environment, like in poor soil, too much heat or cold, too much or too little water, not enough nutrients in the soil and so on,” Dearnly said. “They want to flower and pollinate and then go to seed, to essentially be done with it.” He hopes to eliminate many stressors by using the high tunnel as a more controlled environment.

 

 

Dearnly’s favorite vegetable to grow is beets, because they are reliable and can be grown all year. “But I like Brussels sprouts, too. And cabbage, because they have a really cool looking plant and they are fun to harvest,” he said.

The hardest?

“Sweet potato. I’ve been trying to grow those for the fourth year in a row and I have gotten very low yield out of those plants,” he said. “This year I got a powdery mildew on my winter squash, and had I known I was going to get it I wouldn’t have planted them in that field. Other than that it’s been a good squash year.”

He enjoys getting to know the people who come to pick up their “harvest” on a weekly basis. “It makes me really happy when customers share that they had more than enough food. I hate to hear that they ran out. I love seeing people leave here with shopping bags full of food I’ve grown and smiles on their faces,” he said.

Dearnly hopes one day to be able to increase his production and use the remaining two acres of his four-acre parcel.

“It’s hard getting everything done that needs to be done around here, because this is really my part-time job. I work full time at the Spurwink School in Chelsea, so once the school year starts I am up there during the week. In fact, I have built a garden up there, too, and we are doing a summer-share program from that garden. It’s been really fun, the kids love it, too,” he said.

For more information, visit www.lifeforcefarm.com.

¦ TYPES OF vegetables available: — Greens: Spinach, Asian greens, Bok Choy, broccoli raab, Swiss chard, kale, collards, lettuce and cabbage.

— Alliums: Onions, garlic and leeks.

— Roots: Carrots, beets, potatoes, parsnips, celeriac, rutabaga, turnips, radishes and sweet potatoes.

— Other: Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and winter squash.

¦ FOR MORE information on CSA farms, visit www.mofga.net

To learn more on high tunnel greenhouses, visit www.hightunnels.org


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