The brunt of harvest season is upon us here at Featherstone! Our summer crops are just past their peak and we have begun harvesting our winter storage crops. This past week winter squash, beets, turnips, and kohlrabi started leaving the fields in bins destined for the coolers in our warehouse until they garnish your CSA boxes in the coming weeks and find themselves on the shelves of Co-Ops and Whole Foods throughout the region. Wooded bluffs that provide a backdrop to our fields in the valley are showing hints of yellow foliage. Refreshingly cool mornings also serve to remind us that autumn is upon our doorstep. Late summer for me has always been bittersweet, and is probably now magnified by the seasonality of working on a vegetable farm. The fleeting joys of summer come into clear focus in early September. It will be almost an entire year before we can again relish fresh sweet corn, watermelons, cantaloupe, cucumbers, or tomatoes! Not to disparage the wonderful vegetables that a Midwestern locavore can enjoy throughout the winter, but I have to admit there is a tinge of resentment that I feel towards our northern climes as we mow over, till, and cover crop our fields of summer vegetables. But these fields will rest, regaining fertility and organic matter, as part of our crop rotation until the next time they nourish our summer appetites.
This afternoon we harvested the remainder of our potato crop. This is a crop we only grow for you, our CSA members. As I harvested potatoes and mulled over what I might write for this newsletter a persistent thought entered my mind—we are exceptionally fortunate to have our ensemble of skilled and perpetually cheerful employees that make Featherstone Farm possible. Our year-round local employees are a wonderful and incredibly capable cast of characters but Featherstone, and agriculture in general in the United States, would come to a grinding halt without the migrant workforce we welcome every season. Featherstone employs about two dozen H2-A visa workers from the Mexican state of Guanajuato on a seasonal basis. The H2-A workers, along with several seasonal employees from Guanajuato who now hold a Permanent Residency or Citizenship, are integral to the planting, equipment operation, harvest, and warehouse work of the Farm. These men and women are truly the lifeblood of Featherstone Farm. Jack Hedin has been working with the Gasca family, and friends/relations of the family, for over two decades. They have been instrumental in growing this farm from its early days in Wiscoy Valley to the business we have today as one of the preeminent vegetable growers in the Upper Midwest. This subject has likely been a perennial topic of Featherstone Farm newsletters, but I am relatively new here and you may likely be a newer subscriber to our CSA shares so without digging into the archives I figured I would highlight the contributions of the Mexicanos that not only make this place run but also make my time here at Featherstone exponentially more fun both on and off the clock.
Ophelia works most often in our greenhouses and high tunnels.
Moises on our CSA pack line.
Mote, a vetern harvest lead of 7 years, weeding our fall carrots.
Esteban, one of our field production leads and a 20 year veteren of the farm.
Veronica, one of our main warehouse wash and pack workers, has been with the farm since 2013.
One of the patriarchs of the family, Estéban, has been working with Jack for over 20 years. He leads a crew of Field Production employees that do the bulk of transplanting, tomato trellising, and hand weeding on the Farm. Lupe, Jose, and Luis are irrigation experts and experienced equipment operators that do the gargantuan task of deploying and maintaining our irrigation systems and a seemingly infinite variety of tractor jobs such as tilling and seeding cover crop, cultivation, and running various harvest machines. There are three harvest leads at Featherstone—Mote, Gerardo, and Victor. They each have a crew of several talented harvesters that can make any harvest look like a breeze. These are the folks that harvest the majority of the produce here. Finally, and equally important, the warehouse workers Luis Enrique, Mayra, and Veronica receive, wash and/or pack the produce as it leaves the fields and before it ends up in your CSA box or on a pallet destined for a wholesale shipment. Sadly, absent from the warehouse this season is Adan, who is recuperating from a bout with colon cancer. Our thoughts are with him as he completes his treatment at the Mayo Hospital in Rochester.
I can’t overemphasize the fact that the skilled workforce of seasonal labor makes everything we do here at Featherstone a reality. Next time you open up your CSA box or shop at your favorite grocery store I encourage you to take a moment to consider all the hands involved in the production of the food that sustains you and your community. And thank you for supporting us farmers, we couldn't do it without you!