Updating and Correcting the Roxbury Farm Vegetable Crop and Harvest Manual with Other Growers and Extension Specialists’ Feedback for Wider Adoption

Progress report for FNE20-950

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2020: $14,970.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2022
Grant Recipient: Roxbury Agriculture Institute at Philia Farm
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Jean-Paul Courtens
Roxbury Agriculture Institute at Philia Farm
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

Thousands of individuals have accessed the fertility, production, and harvest manuals available on the Roxbury Agriculture Institute website, and they continue to be accessed daily.  However, the production and harvest information in these manuals is based on procedures and parameters specific to Roxbury Farm, and frankly some facts stated are out of date.    In order to update the manuals and to make them more inclusive, I propose editing the production information to include production records from other successful market farms and to include high tunnel production.

By seeking input from Cornell Cooperative Extension specialists, the information offered on insect, disease control will reflect the most recent research on efficacy of products, and to ensure that the harvest manual corresponds with FSMA guidelines.  By making the detailed manual more adaptable to a variety of situations and by including input from other farms and corrections from service providers, the information in the manuals will become more relevant to the next generation of farmers.

These manuals will maintain their core identity as step-by-step reference sheet to help a new farmer move through the season from planning all the way to harvest procedures. This manual does not try to create a complete picture of all farming aspects, as it aims to provide a simple but complete reference sheet to produce each vegetable.

Project Objectives:

This project seeks to update and correct the Roxbury Farm Manuals by using more universal production parameters by reaching out to other growers and receiving feedback from extension specialists to appeal to an even larger audience of farmer/gardeners that work at a scale between 2 and 50 acres.  The new manual will also include production practices for high tunnel production.  The manual is to be used as a quick reference material to help to beginning farmers in creating a crop plan, help estimate what resources are needed, and to develop better and more efficient harvest and post-harvest procedures.  

Introduction:

While there are many emerging voices helping farmers understand how to lean their production practices (Hartman), maximize efficiency of small spaces (Fortier), and become a better businessperson (Wiswall, Shank), many books lack the simple parameters like yields to expect, what value to expect in the marketplace, harvest standards, row and plant distance, commonly used varieties, number of successions, what cultivation practices to use, what the best tray to use in the greenhouse, what the transplant or harvest readiness signs are, what bio-control to use for what particular issue and at what rate, what seed plate to use for what seed, etc.  Other sources by predominately Extension service include much of this pertinent information, but much of this is either hidden in between a lot of text or is not directed to small organic farmers.   When these farmers create their crop plan, calculate their fertilizer application rate, project their labor budget, design a spray plan, and many other tasks, they want access to the main parameters of one crop in once place.  The fertility, production, harvest and post-harvest instructions in the manuals available on the Roxbury Agriculture Institute website have provided just that.   Thousands of individuals have accessed printed or downloaded them (e.g. reprints by Organic Valley for their Amish member farmers).   People approach me all the time at conferences with testimonials on how instrumental the manuals were when they got started farming or thank me by email. 

The manuals were never written to be a universal reference sheet but was written initially as an internal document designed to teach the staff at Roxbury Farm.   After many requests from our local CRAFT (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) I made them available through our website.   I guess the rest is history.   But since the manuals have not been updated since 2012, some information (like spraying recommendations or post-harvest procedures) is outdated or simply incorrect.  Also, the production and harvest information are based on the use of parameters and practices specific to Roxbury Farm.  I want to make sure the procedures laid out in the manual reflect the latest FSMA regulations.   In order to make the manuals a more universal resource, I intend to poll a variety of successful market farms to gain their input on the most commonly used row spacings, the average yields of the different vegetables, the common disease and insect pressures, and what prices they receive at farmers markets, mini-wholesale and wholesale markets. In order to ensure the manuals are in compliance with Federal and State regulations, and to reflect the latest research on the efficacy of the methods described in these manuals, I intend to have them reviewed by Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Specialists.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Ethan Grundberg - Technical Advisor (Educator)
  • Crystal Stewart-Courtens - Technical Advisor (Educator)

Research

Materials and methods:

A Qualtrics survey https://cornell.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_dajA79BKYSC3mVT

was created with the help of Cornell Associates and was due to be send out to 50-60 experienced organic vegetable growers in the spring.  Due to Covid-19 we decided to delay this.   Many growers were anxious about having to change their marketing plans and did not have the time to fill out a time consuming survey.   As a result of this, the survey was sent out in October.  The questions asked will help in gaining insights on the most commonly used row spacings, the average yields of the different vegetables, the common disease and insect pressures, and what prices they receive at farmers markets, mini-wholesale and wholesale markets.     22 growers completed questionnaires and while they were asked to provide data on at least three crops, many exceeded this number.   We are grateful for their time and input and they will receive a $50.00 remuneration as a way to express our appreciation (two of the 20 respondents refused a stipend).   As the Qualtirx results are not very useful in their raw format I am still waiting to for the compiled results to enter these in the working version of the manuals. 

During this time we were able to get started with some of the editing of the existing manuals.  With input from Cornell specialists we have started to update and correct many of the recommendations for biocontrol on insect and disease pressure, fine-tune the fertilizer recommendations and ensure that all post-harvest procedures reflect the latest FSMA regulations.  

To incorporate information specific to high tunnel production, the initial proposal included an interview with two highly respected producers. This has not happened yet as we have not been able to travel to these sites.   An in person visit will reveal more than the numbers that these growers are willing to share.  

 

Research results and discussion:

So far it is too early to tell what the changes are as we are just about to compile all the feedback from the growers into a spreadsheet. The Qualtrix survey proved to be difficult to interpret without the technical help of Natasha Field a technical adviser working for Cornell Cooperative Extension.  This work should be completed by the next quarter. 

Participation Summary
22 Farmers participating in research
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.