Well, it has been quite a year at the JAM Farm. As the growing season winds down, I am reflecting on the great progress we have made, and the success we have had in our first season as farmers. We started with a barren, litter-strewn scrap of vacant land, sandwiched between the back of our shop building and the SEPTA R2 Media/Elwyn line.
Starting in early spring, our team of cooks and dishwashers-turn farmers, led by Executive Sous-Chef Angelo Grasso, cleared out the debris, including old track sections, weeds, concrete slabs and other detritus, and fenced in a narrow spit of “farmland.” Next, they created a flat surface on which they constructed 8′ x 4′ planting beds, raised up to waist height on stacked cinderblocks.
Beds finished, they turned to the herbs and vegetables they wanted to plant. It was an eclectic assortment; softball sized, Cavaillon melons, lemon cucumbers, baby watermelons, dill, purple basil, variegated opal sage, zebra tomatoes, chickpeas, and more. Determined to take no shortcuts, they started everything from seed, used one-ounce plastic souffle cups to sow their seed. Some took, some died. But enough germinated and survived replanting that by the late spring, we had our first, actual garden.
As spring turned into summer, the crew kept the garden watered using an elaborate string of hoses buried just below the surface of the dirt, in the beds. The water came on and off with the aid of a timer, ensuring that all the young plants would survive even the hottest days.
As the summer progressed, we were able to start harvesting, using the purple basil for our basil-lemonade, the sweet, orange cherry tomatoes for crudite, and the long, fragrant lemongrass leaves in our meadow water.
In an effort to practice what Maria Rodale, in her stirring book “Organic Manifesto,” calls “regenerative” agriculture, we also started two huge compost bins on our little plot. We have been collecting the melon skins, egg shells, corn husk and other food waste after our day’s prep is done, and combining it with dried leaves. This healthy mix cooks under black plastic tarps in the hot sun, with the end result being, that for next year, we will have all the compost we need, and will be able to replant our beds, using our own compost, without the need for added chemical fertilizers.
Now, as the growing season has started to wind down, and the weather cools, we are considering what worked well, and what changes are needed for next year. We will surely plant more chocolate mint next year; that was delicious! We will see if the fig trees we have just put in this month will last through the winter…let’s see if we are making fig tarts next year at this time!