For the first time when I woke up this morning there was a bit of chill in the air. The tomatoes are winding down from what was for my garden a below-average year, with some very good individual tomatoes but not the quantity we wanted and expected. Other news from the garden was better, as the cucumbers and beets have been exceptional and the arugula has been as reliable as ever, so I can keep my neighborhood name, “Arugula Ted.” Oh and the beds of carrots I tend (in four different locations) are looking good and plentiful.
I have been doing a little bit of selective pulling of carrots to give those that are left more room for growth in the next two months. These culled carrots have been good but only a hint of what they will become with the coming cold nights.
I want to thank Laney Siegner for the last Carrot Day post for raising the level of education and elevating the mission of Carrot Day to talk about carbon sequestration and doing what each of us can to slow the rise in global temperature that, because as we saw last year in Australia and now in the US is diminishing our earth’s resilience.
Keep doing all you can and know that in Massachusetts frost will come and the carrots will be good.
In this month of abundant harvests, the coming of tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, corn, onions, and more to the gardens of New England, let us do as Wendell Berry encourages and “say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest.” Invest in the millennium. Because even as our gardens bring so much joy and nutritious fulfillment into our lives, let us think beyond them and tend to this wild and tumultuous world we are living in. How can we ensure that we are tending the harvests of future generations, sowing the seeds now for successful sustainable food production into the climatically-changed future? We home gardeners are needed right now, and let us heed the call to action.
As many across the country jumped at the opportunity to start their own home gardens as part of their personal response to the COVID pandemic, let us be reminded of some of the motivation behind the home gardening movement: seeking to reconnect with nature, perhaps providing for one’s family or community with fresh and healthy produce, endeavoring to “do something” positive and productive when so much agency and connection was taken away.
In this month of bounty, it is a perfect time to recall the roots and seeds of such vegetative delights. First and foremost, say a big thank you to the soil. Let this be a month of gratitude and appreciation and forward thinking. The theme of this post is soil and carbon sequestration, an ode to the powerful community of microbes, fungi, bacteria, and organic matter that ensures the successive fertility of your garden and, incredibly, holds part of the great key we need to turn to unlock climate mitigation and adaptation globally.
Soils, and their capacity to store and cycle carbon (that originated as atmospheric CO2) as a beneficial and multifaceted element driving life, health, and resilience, have captivated me ever since I started farming and gardening 6 years ago. Think about all that CO2 up in the atmosphere, wrecking havoc on Earth’s climate systems, and then think about all the plants and trees that are working to suck up that CO2 and transform it into beneficial carbon-containing compounds below ground, that then become critical nutrients in our food supply. It’s a truly impressive orchestration of Sun-powered Nature at work.
If we as home gardeners can learn a bit more about the specific practices that aid in increasing our soil’s capacity to store carbon (therefore also storing and holding water more efficiently), and advocate for more gardening and farming operations to do the same; if we can organize and communicate to our elected officials that we want to see an American agriculture that incorporates soil carbon sequestration as a key focal area unlocking both climate resilience and a healthier food supply; if we can be part of the grassroots soil solution to the climate crisis, we will have contributed greatly to the challenges of our time from within the confines of our bountiful, abundant, tomato-laden plots. What are some of the carbon-sequestering practices? Add compost. Don’t till or disturb the soil. Cultivate green manures in the winter season. Rotate crops. Use legumes (beans, peas, etc.) to fix Nitrogen and provide fertility to other plants. These and other soil health practices are summarized in a recent video I made for an online climate school, Terra.do, to teach adult professionals about carbon sequestration via regenerative agriculture.
There is also a great article from Civil Eats back in January about black farmers who are leading the way towards implementing climate-friendly practices, written by the amazing Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm in upstate NY. Cited in the article is this factoid from the recent book The Carbon Farming Solution: “for every 1 percent increase in soil organic matter, we sequester 8.5 tons per acre of atmospheric carbon.” The article continues, “If all of us were to farm like Jenkins, Diggs, and Cameron, we could put 322 billion tons of carbon back in the soil where it belongs. That’s half of the carbon we need to capture to stabilize the climate. As Larisa Jacobson, co-director of Soul Fire Farm explains, ‘Our duty as earthkeepers is to call the exiled carbon back into the land and to bring the soil life home.’”
The best part? Storing carbon in the soil is fundamental to building healthy soil and growing healthy plants, so if your garden is healthy, you’re probably already doing your part for carbon sequestration
In the late 1950’s Pete Seeger took the words of Ecclesiastes and made the song called “Turn Turn Turn” about how to live and when to take action. It became an rallying cry for many in the 1960’s. It is a song about finding the moment to act, and it speaks to the entirety of life-political, social and personal.
“To everthing, there is a season-and a time for every purpose under heaven…a time to be born, a time to die… a time to build up, a time to break down…a time to dance, a time to mourn….a time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together.” The song became a famous anthem against the Vietnam War perhaps because of its last line: “A time for peace, — I swear it’s not too late.”
Now is the time for action– to hold our country accountable, and to live up to the true meaning of the creed that all men and women are created equal.
One very important need of the moment is to care or our community, ourselves, our young and old. May this be, too, a time for gardening and especially to grow frost kissed carrots in the garden. Here in Massachusetts it is the time to get your carrot seeds in the ground. If planted in June it is the time to thin the carrots.
Alice Munro, the Canadian writer who won the Noble Prize for Literature in 2013, is celebrated for recording the intensity of feelings of life in a small frame. When I read her short story “Night” for the first time the following passage about thinning carrots resonated with me: “I remeber squatting down to thin the baby carrots as you had to do every spring, so the root would grow to a decent size to be eaten.”
So few words, so evocative of my own experience: the “squatting down,” the “as you do every spring,” the “grow to a decent size to be eaten.” Now is our time for action and for thinning carrots.
There is a passage in Shakespeare Julius Ceasar, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune, / Omitted, all the voyage of their life / Is bound in shallows and in miseries, / On such a full sea are we now afloat, / And we must take the current when it serves, / Or lose our ventures..”
So now is the time for us to act for greater adherance to the true meaning of our creed, and to fight for social justice. If you have the good fortune to have a garden it is also a time to thin carrots and to acknowledge that all do not share in your good fortune. That is what I plan to do today.
I started this garden season back in October under a cold frame by sowing spinach and arugula. Then in February I tripled the area under cultivation, again under cold frames. I planted lettuce, kale, beets, turnips and radish seeds. Those early plantings mean that right now at the beginning of June we have been eating our own food for three months. Back in March each of those home grown foods was precious and eaten ceremoniously. But not right now, now food is pouring out of the garden and the daily harvest swells our kitchen. Every day Katy and I eat great quantities of that food but even we can’t eat it all.
Little gives me more pleasure than giving vegetables to friends. Most of those friends have land and they could choose to dig up their grass and grow food. Most don’t devote themselves to growing food. I choose to dedicate significant amounts of energy to growing food and I indirectly benefit from my neighbors choice not to to do so as I need friends to want the excess harvest.
However some of my friends don’t have a choice about growing or not growing food. On Tuesday May 26th I gave a friend, Dakota, a big bag of arugula, spinach, mustard and lettuce and said proudly like a child, “Picked this morning!” She said, “Thank you Ted. You don’t know what this means to me.” Dakota then paused and shook her head and said, “I would love to be able to grow my own food. Do you know how lucky you are to be able to grow your own food? Nothing would make me happier. It reminds me of visiting my family, in Costa Rica, and being told to go out back and pick a mango. That is the life I wish I could live.” Later in the conversation she talked about the injustice of our American life. She said that despite how hard she has worked and with all she has accomplished (Dakota is an absolutely astounding teacher) she has still not been able to get a loan to buy her own house.
She is right. It is not right that she can not get a loan. And it is also not right I had not realized how lucky I am.
I have grown my own food and had my own garden or worked on a farm for almost fifty years and I don’t think I had once stoppped to consider how lucky I was to have the space and time and physical ability to grow of my own food. I just had thought it was a choice I had made to devote my energy and effort to growing my own.
Every now and then someone will say something to me that makes me perceive a wider world, that changes who I am. On that day and the days that followed what Dakota said made me more present, more aware and more determined to advocate for universal access to health.
As the Covid 19 weeks go on and on and decades and centuries of racial bias are demonstrated the undeniable unfairness of our social contract is more and more exposed. The original sin of our country, racism, is too clear to see even if you are trying to not see it. The statistics of who is dying of covid and in custody tell that story all too clearly.
The history of discrimination in America is not restricted to police, education, and capital. There have been systematic political decisions that have been made that have taken Black American Families off the land and out of home ownership. The world of Edna Lewis and a close and healthy community that grew and cooked its own food was once quite common, it is not now. The story of the treatement of Black Americans is not a story of steady progress from the bad old days to Barak Obama — this can be clearly seen in the land holding of African Americans. In 1920 when Edna Lewis was a child there were 949,889 black farmers in the United States in 2019 there were 45,508 black farmers in the US and those farmers on average earn 22% of what white farmers earn.
Clearly political action by young people is needed. Clearly political action by old people is needed. Clearly a more honest telling of our national story is needed. Clearly each person confronting unfairness on large and small scales is needed. Clearly civic action and voting are needed.
Writing about gardening, planting carrots and encouraging others to plant carrots is a small and at times seemly unimportant passion. That is true. However small acts that teachers make like Carrot Day Massachusetts for children can lead to healthy bodies, healthy minds and healthy land. Stewardship and the opening up of access to land are big things and an important step towards a more just and healthy country.
On that same Tuesday May 26 I gave a second bag of greens to another friend. Later she wrote me a text that said in part, “It had all the delicious greenness that anything grown by you does, as somehow, your warmth of spirit and loving heart become infused in your produce.” I thanked her for those kind and generous words and I also corrected her. It was not my personal qualities she tasted but the qualities of really good soil. The deliciousness Edna Lewis experienced in Freetown Virginia in the 1920’s came not just by fresh home grown food it came from healthy farming and gardening practices. Healthy soil produces food with more nutrition and as the chefs will tell you flavor is a signal of nutritious food. I wrote my friend back and said it was not me but good soil that produced that “delicious greenness.” In my text I did take credit for the garden soil. I stated that I had nurtured it with seaweed and minimal till agriculture for over twenty years.
Now think of the privilege that lives in the facts of the last two sentences of the previous paragraph. It is true that I worked hard on that soil for twenty years but I was given the opportunity to build the same soil for twenty years. That is good fortune and because of systematic racism my good fortune has come at the expense of others, I was wrong to think of the quality of the soil as a product merely of hard work.
Why I am so passionate about Carrot Day? Why is this the form of my continued connection to elementary schools and their families?
I write this blog this because it is fun and because I believe and have seen how the taste of a really good carrot can influence how people live their lives. I have gardened with school children for 24 years and in that time I have heard from many families that their children got them to put in a garden. I have also publicly advocated for turning front lawns into front vegetable gardens. Few have followed that lead but the children have led their families into growing their own food.
This spring I learned about several former K- 2 students who studied with me at Holly Hill Farm and graduated from college this spring with a focus on the environment. In fact one of them graduated from Bard College with a degree in Urban and Environmental Studies with a focus on Agriculture.
Who knows all of the land and agricultural policies he will be able to influence and maybe eating a really good carrot is one of the reasons he is off to change a world that needs changing. Here’s to making a more just and fair country and a healthy world one relationship and one carrot at a time.
I still have planty of carrot seeds and a mid to late June planting is perfect time to plant “frost kissed carrots.” Get them by filling out this form.
As it turns to the middle of spring here in Massachusetts I am reflecting on what seems to be one of the most consequential events in my sixty years, the global pandemic of Covid 19. We are absolutely suffering in Massachusetts with rates of disease among the highest in the US and a loss of life that is staggering in the aggregate but scarier still for our residents over 80. If trends continue for the next few days 1% of our population over 80 will die from Covid 19. (https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19-dashboard-may-4-2020/download page 11)
Our whole way of life has changed here and a quarter of Massachusetts folks are currently unemployed. I feel and believe that on balance Massachusetts has the leadership and resources: political, medical, nonprofit, educational, religious, financial and spiritual to weather the crisis and remain whole. I hope and believe we will be able to learn from this and be a better community when the current period of fear and isolation are over. Globally the threat to other communities seems far more dire and I worry that coupled with climate change this pandemic could usher in years of suffering.
On Sunday May 3rd I gardened with my 94 year-old father-in-law and I must say I felt better about our situation after working with him. While we were planing sugar snap peas, he said we were getting the peas in two weeks late. I responded that lateness made sense with how cold our April was. We also planted carrots, radishes and beets. While we gardened I did tell him about the 1% figure and his immediate response was, “1%–now that is a low percent.” I was surprised by that perspective but on reflection if you have lived through the Great Depression and served in World War II in the Merchant Marines (the branch of the service with the highest fatality rate) the death of 1% of our residents over 80 did not sound that bad. Being with someone born in 1925 rather than 1960 showed me that we will get through this and that there have been far worse events. However this is our bad time and gardening helps me.
Gardening is part of my conscious strategy and I hope it can be a part of yours as well. For those of you who have requested carrot seeds I will be sending them out in the next week or so.
For those who have not yet please use this form to get your free carrot seeds.
There is little better than gardening with a child to make one feel better about the world. So in early June let’s get some carrot seeds in the ground and then thin them, tend them and harvest them after the frost. By then I hope we will have risen to the challenge of Covid 19. If not I know we will rise to the challenge later but we will have at least the respite of a really good carrot.
All photos below taken on March 31st in our gardens at 41 Western Ave in Hull MA
On Sunday I was reading this article in the New York Times by Kendra Pierre Louis about seed shortages due to the Covid 19 Pandemic. In the second paragraph she references Candide, and the ending of that story, with the phrase about tending one’s own garden.
I also saw that seeds are hard to come by as folks think about planting. Well, I have seeds–in fact, about 250 million carrot seeds, and I will be mailing them out, for free, to folks who would like them around May first.
Last year we had about forty sets of seeds go out and this year I am hoping for 100, though only nine folks have claimed theirs to date.
One of the most wonderful manifestations of Carrot Day Massachusetts 2019 was the work of June Fountaine and her students, and Heather Weber and her students. Here is what they had to say after the carrot day celebrations at their schools:
We celebrated carrot day with our middle school partners. We actually cut up the carrots so kids could taste the different colored carrots after seeing the cool shapes they grew in. Our “Medusa” looking carrot was admired by all, especially the pair of kids who had to work so hard to pull it out of the ground! My kids bagged the remaining carrots in paper bags (4 or 5 to a bag) stating that the carrots were from SSCPS and will be donated to a local food pantry. Some of the remaining ones will be cooked by the older kids into carrot and kale soup which we will eat this week. Kids loved the carrots! June Fontaine SSCPS
Memorial Middle School 7th grade students harvested their carrots this morning in advisory. They were so excited! I loved hearing all the comments. ” These are really the carrots we planted? From those little seeds?” I don’t even eat carrots, but this is so good!” “I am going to plant these at home this spring!” The First Annual Carrot Day in Hull was a wonderful day; it was filled with happy faces. The current 6th graders are very excited for their turn to grow carrots next year. Heather Weber Memorial Middle School Hull
After the March Post June Fontaine wrote:
Hi Ted and All Carrot Growers, This was a welcome email during this time of social distancing. Our connection with nature and the soil is one that we can depend on, whether we are in our own gardens or even just enjoying a sunny patch in a backyard. It surely will contribute to our mental health. It’s a good time for students to notice changes in nature and perhaps even plant a few seeds on a windowsill in preparation for outside planting later on. Thanks for keeping us grounded, Ted.
My goal is to send you a post every month between now and Carrot Day 2020. The big news this month is that the carrot seeds have arrived from Fedco Seeds. A little over a pound of them, which is lots of seeds, about 250 million.
Like last year I will be sending carrot seeds to the first 100 families or school who asks for them. To get your seeds please fill out the linked form. I have five different varieties and you can pick from them but I recommend the mix. Especially if you are gardening with kids the enjoyment of seeing exactly what each carrot looks like adds to the excitement of the harvest.
You will receive about 1000 seeds. That is enough to grow a 25 foot long row or, as I prefer, an 8 X 3 foot bed of carrots. After careful thinning, weeding and tending you should get about 100 carrots.
One of the reasons I order seeds from Fedco Seeds is the poetry of their operation. Quoted below is the message that came with the seeds, ” Dear Seed Lover, … Each order contains a riot of promise; each packet, so much food and beauty; each seed, a genetic history that carries the plant’s parentage and adaptations to all the conditions in which it has grown, and the knowledge of how to soak up water and sprout, how to send out roots and seek nutrients, how to unfurl leaves, how to seek sun and photosynthesize, how to form flower heads and fruit, then come full circle and form seed. … Happy Spring, Roberta Bailey, Fedco Seeds co-ordinator“
I am excited to be writing to you again. I hope you had fun growing, harvesting and eating carrots last year. We are set to do it again this year.
Last year we had dozens of schools and fifty families who let us know they had joined up to plant, tend, harvest and celebrate carrots. Who knows, we may have even more families and schools celebrate with us this year! While all of the carrots I grew have been eaten and the joys of carrot celebrations are over I hope that you, like I, still have fond Carrot Day memories.
The goal of this project remains the same: to grow, tend, harvest and eat carrots as a step toward a better tasting, better feeling and healthier life for ourselves and our local environment.
Why Carrot Day?
One rule of thumb is that flavor is a marker for nutrition; another rule of thumb is that when a child grows a vegetable that child is likely to eat it. I have seen homegrown carrots serve as an entry into eating all kinds of food, and a school garden altering the way a child grows up. Together let’s build habits and ways of gardening and eating that will endure, so that as individuals we counteract some of the harm we do in our daily lives.
With Groundhog Day marking the end of the darkest quarter of the year it is time to look forward to spring, summer and fall, and thoughts of carrots ahead. I am currently enjoying the process of ordering seeds. I get mine from a great group out of Maine, Fedco Seeds. If you want some excellent reading order their print catalog.
Happy end of winter and let’s start planning for Carrot Day next fall.
Well, here in Hull Massachusetts, we did not have our first frost until November 8th. Seriously cold weather was soon to follow with 21 degrees F. the night of the 13th. Other spots here on the South Shore had frost about a week earlier and I got reports of post-frost Carrot harvests in Pembroke on November 2nd and Rockland on November 3rd. I want to thank all who sent messages in about your harvests. I am very excited about our first year and want to build on it for next year. I would love to share your pictures of your harvest. If it is just the carrots no need for permission but if there are people in the pictures please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org that it is okay to post.
I want to thank you all again and tell you what fun I had this year with this project. I want to say a special thanks to the Jane Hershi at CitySprouts, Jon Belber at Holly Hill Farm and Heather Weber at the Hull Public Schools and June Fontaine at South Shore Charter. Let’s keep promoting growing and eating our own food and supporting farmers who follow practices that put flavor and healthy soil above short term profit. I think the pictures in this post show some of the joy of Carrot Day. I just wish you could have seen the kids eating and talking about carrots for twenty minutes straight at the East End House of Cambridge. These kids made a wonderful celebration of carrot eating right after they picked carrots at the Hurley Street Farm it does not get any better than that.
Let’s change the way we all think about food one carrot, one garden, one school, one kid at at time. Happy Carrot Day!!
The carrot on the left was picked and then eaten on November 13th by one of the students in the East End House After-school Program in Cambridge MA.
The carrot was planted in June at the the Hurley Street Farm, an urban farm that is part of GreenCambridge. They donated garden space for me to grow carrots. Over the course of the summer and fall I tended these carrots and on 11/13 the students from East End House accompanied by Community Charter School of Cambridge students harvested 60 carrots. Back at East End House some of the Community Charter School of Cambridge students washed the carrots while others read the Carrot Seed by Ruth Kraus. Then we had a Carrot Day Celebration with the staff and students at EEH that was great fun and highly rewarding.
Leave a Comment and tell us about your Carrot Day and many more Carrot Days to come!
The fall is here. The nights are now easily outlasting the days and there is a chill in the air. The ocean temperature is approaching 50 degrees Fahrenheit (my favorite temperature for swimming) and starches in the brassicas and root vegetables are turning to sugars. To see how flavors were coming along I have been periodically eating a carrot or two. The carrots have not been that good up until a few days ago. Then I pulled three small carrots and I am pleased to say they are starting to taste good. They were crisp and the earthy quality is blooming into a combination of earthy and sweet. My wife Katy and I thought they were almost there.
The ten day forecast in eastern Mass shows us getting close to 32 but not quite, but in Western Mass you have already had frost or it is coming soon. I am getting excited to think a frost might come soon here in Eastern Mass. When it does and you harvest your carrots please fill in the Google Form and tell us when you pulled your carrots, how much you harvest (you can give us quantity and weight, or quantity or weight) and most significantly of all, how you celebrated the harvest and how the carrots tasted. Please send me photographs and permission to post them on the blog.
Happy cold and happy harvest and happy eating and happy Carrot Day whenever you celebrate it.