Fountain House is currently enjoying the many and varied fruits of the hard work done in Fountain House Farm’s gardens and orchard. Two acres of the farm are devoted to growing a variety of produce. Half of this is cultivated each year for vegetables and flowers and half contains the orchard from which we produce gallons of delicious apple cider each fall. The effort needed to plan, prepare, maintain, and harvest a garden is huge and has involved a large and diverse group of Fountain House members who help us all maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The gardens have been expanded over the last 3 or 4 years as we have sought to increase the amount of produce that we can provide to Fountain House. This is part of a ‘closing the loop’ strategy which the farm has adopted and which seeks to ensure that the work that we do here at High Point results in an end product that can be returned to Fountain House in New York. The expansion means that we now have more than 20000 sq ft of land under cultivation producing delicious and healthful veggies as well as beautiful cut flowers every week from the beginning of June right through into the fall.
As any gardener will tell you the work is never over. As soon as the last crop is harvested in the fall, we begin plans for the following season. Learning from past mistakes we decided to focus this year on crops that could easily be transported from northern New Jersey to Manhattan. With this in mind we have grown onions, leeks, garlic, beets, carrots, potatoes, kale, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, watermelons and cantaloupe melons. All of these crops are robust and easily survived the 2 hour trip. Without exception, we’ve been very pleased with our crops, and many members have commented that the flavor of our produce is superior to anything that can buy in the supermarket.
Our produce is grown without chemicals. Whilst not certified organic, we use only the manure provided by our alpacas, llamas and chickens to condition our soil. During the growing season we supplement this with a few other organic products to ensure that our work does not go unrewarded with a poor crop. Well, at least most of the time.
A universal gardening experience is confronting the reality that there are a multitude of critters out there which like the things you want to grow and have no respect for property rights. Imagine this gardener’s displeasure when more than 200 broccoli plants – plants that had been lovingly tended to by staff and members – were devoured in a matter of hours one morning this June.
The culprit was undoubtedly a four legged criminal such as a woodchuck or a rabbit, and I don’t mind admitting that I wanted blood. I was persuaded to resist taking any drastic action by my Buddhist leaning co-manager, and since then we have managed to protect our crops with a solar powered electric fence. However I can still sense that anger when I see a rabbit or woodchuck loitering with intent near recent transplants.
Sadly, there was no protecting our apple trees from the effects of a sharp frost at the end of April, and our apple crop will be much reduced from the one that produced over 100 gallons of cider last year. The vagaries of the weather or the appetites of wild animals are just two of the challenges that face us as we strive to play our part in improving the health and well being of the members of Fountain House. However, it’s clear that the pleasure derived from growing the crops, from turning the veggies into a nutritious meal, or from simply eating such a meal is more than enough justification for taking time this fall to think about how we are going to meet those challenges next year.