A successful season despite the rains
It’s been a rough year for chemical-free farms like Holcomb Farm, as the incessant rains have depleted the soil and encouraged the fungus and rot that attacks so many of the types of produce we grow.
Nevertheless, Farmer Joe and his crew have kept the Summer CSA shares full, and the farm store shelves well-stocked. We are already hard at work replenishing the soil, having received a grant from the State of Connecticut Department of Agriculture that will help us add $20,000 worth of compost. We are already excited for summer 2024, and CSA share sales have opened: go to holcombfarm.org and get yours soon, as we have sold out the past few years.
Thank you to Kim Gayle, Clayton Green and McKean Thomas
We thought it a good time to share with you three of the reasons Joe and team are so successful despite the ravages of the rain: that is, Kim Gayle, Clayton Green and McKean Thomas. (“We love our local crew, too, but since Kim, Clayton and McKean will be heading home to Jamaica in November, they are our focus today.”)
These professional farmers arrived at the end of April through the federal H-2A program. The H-2A temporary agricultural program helps employers who anticipate a lack of available domestic workers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to perform temporary or seasonal agricultural work including, but not limited to, planting, cultivating and harvesting.
“Farming is about risk management,” explains Farmer Joe O’Grady, “and a few years back, before we tapped into a rich vein of young, local adults who embraced the challenges and rewards of growing food, I wasn’t sure how we were going to get the summer staff we needed.” The H-2A program brings with it significant regulatory hurdles and expenses, designed to protect all involved. O’Grady runs a great farming organization, and the annex attached to the Holcomb farmhouse provides the required housing, so Holcomb Farm offered a great place to give the program a try.
This summer was Gayle’s fourth at Holcomb Farm, after working sugar cane in Florida and picking apples in Vermont. He lives in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, which is rich in its vegetable farming history. He explains why he comes back to Granby: “It’s like back home for us…except, of course, in the winter.”
Green is finishing his third year with us—and his 35th in the program—and is looking forward to getting back to his own farm in St. Ann, Jamaica where he grows sweet potatoes, carrots and pumpkins for the export market. Likewise, Thomas farms at his home in Manchester, Jamaica; this is his first year with Holcomb Farm.
The motivation to leave homes and loved ones and come to the U.S. to augment the farm work labor force is, of course, money. “One day of pay here would take a week of work back home,” explains Gayle, so they are happy to make the personal sacrifice. Still, he has a five-year-old and a nine-year-old at home who are anxious for his return. “Daddy, are you packing?” his youngest asked during a recent FaceTime call.
Another benefit they all take advantage of is access to much cheaper goods, which the program allows them to purchase duty free. When sales happen, they stock up and send products home, because sales don’t happen in Jamaica. And some appliances and tools are less expensive. Thomas is in the process of purchasing a chain saw to send home. Other than this, though, all three said they don’t do much on their one-day-a-week off, Sunday, but rest up. “We don’t want to spend money while we are here; we are here to support our families.” Green’s kids are grown, and his grandkids number nine already. Young Thomas has a three-year-old. All three say the first thing they will do when they get home is rest for a week. Then, back to work.
A few other interesting notes from my conversation with these special friends:
To get into the program, and receive a “farm work card,” they need to be nominated by the Member of Parliament that represents their parish.
While wetter seasons are harder than droughts for Holcomb Farm, the opposite is true in Jamaica, where easy access to fresh water is limited. They all commented on our great fortune to have the West Branch of the Salmon Brook nourishing our fields.
Thomas really misses “Yam Roast,” which is yams, salt fish (cod), tomato and peppers roasted over an open wood fire.
Gayle misses fresh fruit. “At times I feel like I would pay $100 for a fresh mango!”
They see Jamaica as offering a simpler way of life. It is not uncommon for people to rise and work very hard from 6 a.m. until noon, and then be done for the day.
They all wish people would look beyond the tourist spots and visit the beautiful places Jamaica offers. They say there are many guest houses available in St. Elizabeth, Portland, and St. Ann, offering restful vacations.
Farmer Joe concludes: “I first viewed the H-2A program as a sort of ‘insurance’ against insufficient access to labor, but it has proved to be so much more. Kim, Clayton, and now McKean have become part of our family. They are supremely motivated, and they provide a bit of diversity and cultural exchange right here in West Granby.”
We thank these folks for their commitment to Holcomb Farm, wish them safe travels and much happiness back with their families and, if it proves possible, we hope to welcome them back as the frost leaves the ground next spring.
Include Holcomb Farm veggies in your Thanksgiving feast
If you’re bringing a vegetable dish to the big meal, take it up a notch by purchasing your vegetables from Holcomb Farm. We will be at the Lost Acres Vineyard annual Thanksgiving Farmers Market on Nov. 20, from 1 to 7 p.m.; and our Farm Store will be open Nov. 17, 18, 20 and 21. We will e-mail our list regarding what will be available. If you don’t get our e-mails now, drop a note to email@example.com and ask to be added.
Continuing Opportunities for Fresh Food
While there will not be a Winter CSA Share available this year (due to the aforementioned incessant rains), we do hope to offer some pop-up sales of root veggies and fresh greens from our greenhouses, come January and February, depending on how the greenhouses do. Again, join our email list if you want to be in the know.