Farm Apprentices Learn their CRAFT
Last night, fifteen young farmers gathered at our farm to learn, eat, and socialize. It was our turn to host a gathering for CRAFT, which stands for the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training. CRAFT first began in the 1990s by a group of farms located in the Hudson Valley, Berkshires, and the Pioneer Valley, but has now spread throughout the country. This is the fifth year that a program has been running in our region, coordinated by a partnership between RAFFL and NOFA-VT.
The CRAFT model is fun and inspiring. Farm workers meet at different area farms throughout the season to learn more about their trade. Each gathering includes a farm tour, workshop on a particular farm topic, and a potluck dinner. CRAFT participants receive a resource manual with information on each presented topic, as well as a guide to the myriad services for beginning farmers in our state. Perhaps even more importantly, these gatherings give apprentices a chance to talk and laugh with other farm workers. Working long hours in rural settings can be isolating, so CRAFT workshops provide a perfect social gathering of like-minded individuals.
As the anchor farm for the Shrewsbury Institute for Agricultural Education (SAGE), our farm, Alchemy Gardens, has always been committed to education as one of our “crops.” We love to teach people of all ages and backgrounds about the origins of food and how to grow it. Hosting CRAFT workshops is particularly fun.
For this CRAFT gathering, my husband Scott shared his methods of crop planning. Many farmers use Excel spreadsheets for this task, with dozens of columns and loads of information about each crop on the farm. With the use of computerized formulas, Scott can type in our weekly demand—say, 100 pounds of carrots per week—and know exactly how many seeds or plants are needed to fulfill that demand based on our average yields and duration of harvest. He can know how many feet of garden beds he will need for each crop, and can easily communicate all planting details to our apprentices—rows per bed, plant spacing, and more.
After the short presentation, the group walked down the road to our farm field for a tour. We walked through the garden, and talked about cover crops, irrigation, and tractor implements. A couple of apprentices may have fallen in love with our 1954 Farmall tractor, a beautiful machine. While we toured around, our 9-month old daughter sat in the grassy aisles munching on a cucumber and red clover flowers, content to be in the garden on a nice summer evening.
When we returned to our house with the group, a spread of the most delicious fresh food was laid out—salad, beet dip, cucumbers sliced on the spot, tomatoes, bread and dip from Earth Sky Time Community Farm, organic nectarines, freshly made garlicky cheese, and of course, some zucchini. It was so delicious, and nothing out of the ordinary for these gatherings.