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Monday, August 17, 2009

Farm Tour 2009 - Summer Edition

Hopefully, you recall my spring posting, "Farm Tour 2009". Well, I’m back with an update. How things have changed since those early days of spring! In the spring, the fields were just being plowed, and in some cases, seeds hadn’t even been sown yet. It's a wonderful sight to look out at these same formerly barren fields and see how they are flourishing. In most cases, the fields are filled with some really gorgeous looking veggies.

As you can tell by now, I enjoy visiting with our farmers, so for my summer tour, my first visit was to Cedar Meadow Farms in Holtwood, PA. This farm is doing some pretty creative things when it comes to getting the most out of their plantings. The owner, Steve Groff, recently received a Sustainable Agricultural grant to experiment with grafting tomatoes, which is a technique that is commonly used for apple trees.

Grafting in tomato production is used to increase the resistance to soil-borne diseases, and it also increases fruit production due to the increased strength of the plant. Basically, they take a very hearty and disease-resistant root stock from one variety of tomato, and graft it to the fruit-producing shoot of another variety of tomato. This yields a very prolific and quality tomato. As you can see, Steve’s grafted tomatoes are doing quite well.
I then went Brenckle’s Farm and Greenhouse in Butler, PA. This time, I visited the farm and not the greenhouse. I met with Don Brenckle and had an opportunity to see the fields and variety of vegetables that he grows. One of the items that I saw was zucchini. These plants were 4 feet tall had tons of yellow flowers on them. This particular field had already been picked but the plants were again producing more fruit for future harvesting.

Some of the other fields that I saw were corn, celery, red onions, eggplant and lastly, tomatoes. Every one of the fields was producing an abundance of produce, except for the tomatoes. Don said that his tomatoes were growing unbelievably well, and then on the evening of August 4th, things went south.

That evening, he noticed a white powder that was forming on the leaves of the tomato plants. Overnight, these plants turned brown and large blisters were found on the tomatoes. This highly contagious fungus destroyed all of the tomato plants in one of his fields. The spores of the fungus, called late blight, are often present in the soil, and small outbreaks are not uncommon in August and September. But the cool, wet weather in we had in June and the aggressively infectious nature of the pathogen have combined to produce an explosive rate of infection this year, specifically in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States.

Below is photo of what the tomato plants looked like when they were affected by the blight.

Thankfully, only one field was affected by late blight, and we have our fingers crossed that no other fields will be hit by the outbreak. Though Don’s tomato crop was lost, we are fortunate that our other local suppliers were not affected, and we’re still able to offer our guests healthy, delicious locally-grown tomatoes throughout this month and hopefully in to September.

My visit with Don was a reminder of the challenges faced by our local farmers, and how our FarmSource program can help sustain them when something like the late blight takes a toll on their production. Our FarmSource program ensures these farmers with a dependable income to support their families and their farms through the next growing season.

Until next time,
Jamie Share

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