I can’t think of anything I would rather do on a Sunday afternoon than dig out weeds for nearly 3 hours. Okay, I can but yesterday was really amazing!!!
A coworker organized an outting for some of us to volunteer at Gaining Ground in Concord Ma. Established in 1994, Gaining Ground is an organic farm, located on the land of Henry David Thoreau’s Birthplace, that donates all of its produce to area food pantries and meal programs. 70% of all the work on the farm is volunteer based, totalling 5,500+ plus hours of man power.
I thought this was an interesting program to volunteer some hours to. Plus I figured I would learned a bit about gardening, which is always a plus. I brought my friend Natalie along with me to take part in some farmin’!
Verena, the Gaining Ground farmer, brought us to an area of the farm that needed some heavy-duty weeding. Our goal was to weed out the quakgrass that was in the plot. I now hate quakgrass. I had no idea what it was before but I hate it now. Here’s why… quakgrass is a hearty perennial grass that can quickly take over your lawn, or in this case, your farm. Verena explained that his land has been farmed for over 300 years and the last farmer here was for rhubarb. Just rhubarb. Acres of it. Sure you can make some great pie with it but not rotating crops is not great for soil, which is why quakgrass took over. Some weeds, like dandelions, have tap roots, but quakgrass has a root structure that resembules a carpet. Ends and ends of roots. You can’t just mow this stuff down since the roots will remain, allowing them to come back again and again. Also, no herbicide or pesticide has been able to tame it. Gaining Ground is organic, so they would not use pesticides, but a home gardening might not understand why this awful grass is standing rough against the sprays. So you just have to use a pitch fork or get on your hands and knees to dig this stuff up.
Why doesn’t Gaining Ground use a machine to do it? They don’t have any large farming equipment. No, they are not crazy. Vernena explained that if it is really necessary they will rent equipment but their goal is to be from equipment like that because of what it does to the ground. She explained what soil really is and how mechanical tilling is hard on soil. It disturbs it which causes the connections between the particulates, microbes, and other matter to break down, which deteriorates the quality of the soil. Doing the work by hand allows volunteers to help and limits how the soil is disrupted.
While digging out the quakgrass we unearthed several frogs. Natalie thought she speared one of these guys with her pitch fork but he was spared. Little hard to spot rock shaped living creatures hiding about 6″ underground!
The weather for the day predicted that storms would roll in the area around 2pm, luckily the rain did not come until 4ish. After we heard some decent thunderous booms we packed it up for a quick tour of the farm. We were brought over to the pig pen. The pigs are being loaned to Gaining Ground from another farm because pigs like poison ivy and Gaining Ground has plenty of it. Sheep also will eat poison ivy, but like quackgrass, the roots need to be removed, which pigs happily do.
Gaining Ground grows several varieties of vegetables, including tomatoes, peas, beans, lettuces, boy chow, potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, etc. The list goes on and on. One of the coolest things they do now is ’make’ maple syrup. They tapped public and some private trees around Concord to draw sap from to make syrup.
The best of the day was when I locked myself out of my apartment and had to introduce myself to my new neighbors hoping to get in through the back door (it was locked also). Really nice to introduce yourself while your legs and clothes are covered in dirt and you smell as nice as the pig above from digging weeds for 3 hours in some crazy humidity. I’m good like that…