Homegrown Alabama is performing their farm inspections now in preparation for their first Farmer's Market of the season on May 6th (3-6 PM) on the Canterbury Church Lawn, on Hackberry Lane. Farm Inspections are an important element of a successful farmer's market because they ensure that the farmer's are actually producing everything they bring to market on their own land. There will be a follow-up inspection towards the end of the growing season as well. Students working with the community organic garden took advantage of this opportunity to participate and meet local farmers face to face on the land they work. The first farm we visited was Snow's Bend in Tuscaloosa. Margaret Ann will be hiring 8 interns this summer to help her and her partner, David, run their 150-member CSA and prepare the naturally-grown harvests for the market!
Margaret Ann shows us her tomato field. She uses metal stakes and 6 in. checkerboard wire as trellis to support the plants, and black plastic to mulch, which suppresses weed growth and keeps the soil warm, which the tomato plants prefer. The plastic mulch is thinner than a plastic bag, and is effective is eliminating all weeds except nutgrass, which will occasionally poke a hole right through the plastic and keep growing!
These white floating row covers are placed over melon seedlings to protect from insects and drops in temperature.
Many varieties of greens, which are delivered to locals through CSA subscriptions, grow in these lush fields, which are irrigated with a drip-tape system. The drip tape allocates water directly to the roots of the plants, thus minimizing waste and conserving water usage. Snow's Bend currently uses both well water and river water.
Although Snow's Bend is only raising pigs for the purpose of selling them at this time, they are interested in developing a system that integrates the pigs with the farm production in more ways. For example, it is possible to use pigs as part of a functioning composting system. Some sustainable farmers "Pigerate" - meaning they let their pigs dig in and till/turn the land and compost with their busy snouts as the pigs look for corn to munch on.
A high-tunnel (a.k.a. hoop-house) extends a farmer's growing season, which is very important for a professional farmer, because it gives farmers a "cutting edge" that makes them competitive producers in a market. This method of growing "in doors" allows farmers to sell early tomatoes when few other farmers have fresh vine-ripe tomatoes. Snow's Bend is growing two varieties of tomatoes in this hoophouse, using landscape fabric as mulch. Margaret Ann said she would rather use landscape fabric instead of plasticulture, but it is more expensive so she just uses it in the high tunnels.
New College graduate Lydia Atkins sniffs the aromatic tomato plants in a Snow's Bend high tunnel.