NOFA-NY Field Notes


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On-farm Education at Fledging Crow Vegetables

On-farm Education at Fledging Crow Vegetables

On August 15, Fledging Crow Vegetables hosted a NOFA-NY field day at their Keeseville farm on “Quick and Clean: Planning for Efficient Harvest.” In this wide ranging field day, Fledging Crow farmer Ian Ater covered the history and development of their farm, how they manage their fields and cultivation to bring in large scale harvests, and how they are working to create washing and processing facilities that both meet their buyers’ food safety requirements while helping them efficiently handle produce.

Here are just a few highlights of the afternoon. Many thanks to Ian and all those at Fledging Crow Vegetables, as well as Dylan and Dan Badger of Ausable Brewing Company for your generous field day hosting.



Soil and fertility management

Soil management is a cornerstone of Fledging Crow’s farm operations. Growing from three to fifty acres over a relatively short time with a mix of sandy loams and heavier clays, Ian emphasized their consistent focus on soil health. Pushing soil too hard, they found, causes problems. Early in their farm history, they tried to max out every bed every season, but now limit themselves to one or two crops per bed per season.

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Fledging Crow expanded to have enough land in production to intentionally plan longer cover crop rotations and manage compost applications. They also added “bio-strips,” perennial swaths of mixed grasses spaced across every cropped acre, which provide habitat for beneficial insects and allows the soil to rotate out of production even on cultivated acres. They further built up their soil by integrating their landlord’s beef cattle into four to five year perennial pasture rotations.

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With the field day’s focus on root veggies, Ian addressed one big challenge for many carrot growers: cultivation. Over the years, they trialed a range of planting and cultivation strategies. While the farm’s climate is perfect for carrot production, spring carrots remain challenging due to their slow germination and high weed pressure. By summer, weed control is more effective, allowing efficient wholesale production using a cultivation mix of flame weeding, tine weeding, and a range of knives. 

Despite growing on such a large scale (they seeded twenty acres of carrots this year), I was surprised to learn that hand weeding still ends up having its place in their carrot operation. Ian finds that most plantings need one quick hand weeding – if timed just right, two people can cover about a half-acre in a day.

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If weather prevents correct timing for cultivation, they do plan to till and replant any plantings that can’t be effectively cultivated. A couple weeks before harvesting the carrots, if the weed pressure too heavy, they mow high above the carrot tops, removing any escapee weeds before they go to seed while leaving enough greens to harvest the carrots.

Drill Down into Carrot Production

Beyond cultivation, Ian covered how they seed, irrigate, and harvest their carrots. Their main seeder is a Jang push seeder modified to tractor mount—he would love to invest in a bigger seeder, but this works in the meantime.

Fledging Crow irrigates mostly with water reels, coming from the year-round brook that runs between their fields, with irrigation water applications logged in their food safety records, and irrigation stopped well in advance of harvest. Like 2016, 2018 has been dry—we actually watched the storm clouds separate over the mountains, throwing rain all around the farm, but not on the field day or the dry fields! The farm has been fine-tuning 2016’s lessons to keep their long-season crops thriving in the dry weather—Ian said that it was nice to have enough ground finally in production this season to group crops with compatible irrigation needs and harvest times together.

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Harvest Practices

Fledging Crow undercuts their beds at close to 18 inches and then works as a team to pull carrots out in armfuls, which they pile up on sanitized hay wagons. These wagons trundle back to the farm, where the carrots run through a refurbished onion topper and are sorted into firsts, seconds, and compost. The topper has been a game changer, handling round crops and plump finished carrots with ease.

After topping, the carrots run through a root washer, and then through a hatch into the cooler and packing room. Using a series of cones and scales, they are quickly loaded into 25 lb. or smaller retail bags. It takes three days of eight to twelve people to get each half-acre planting from the field to sales-ready.

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Wash areas

The field day finished off checking out the many washing, packing, and cooler areas at Fledging Crow. Balancing retail and wholesale production of a wide range of different crops, each with different handling and storage needs, encouraged the farm to build a range of dedicated harvest and wash facilities, some focused on local retail product handling and others under construction or renovation to meet full GAPs/FSMA compliance. Above, Ian shows their greens and farmers market processing area, with farm-made greens spinner, bubble washers, and warm-temperature walk-in. 

He then took us to their carrot processing line and topper, which is still under construction, and abuts their medium walk-in (picture below). They are working towards full GAPs compliance this winter, and Ian explained how they have been trialing different layout configurations this summer before they finalize and build the covered facility for the area.

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We then finished the afternoon in their largest walk-in and checked out their cultivation equipment, before heading down to Ausable Brewing Company for some delicious beers and more discussion. Thank you to all who attended, to Fledging Crow Vegetables and Ausable Brewing Company for hosting us, and to Flower City Media for providing videography services at our field days. If you missed the field day, be sure to check out our YouTube channel for recordings from all our 2018 events!


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