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A Little Help From Our Friends

By Anna Minsky

The frost has finally arrived and we are winding down our 2015 Farm Fellowship. Our capstone projects are complete and we all feel a whole lot more rooted to this mountain-top than we did six and a half months ago. We have tucked most of the beds in, preparing them for a long, cold winter and harvested and processed just about the last of the produce. One of our final big harvests was our potato crop. The last of the potatoes were harvested a couple of weeks ago, with the help of some especially rambunctious young farmers. These farmers are the members of Ms. Foster’s kindergarten class in Monterey.

Most of these kindergarteners came to the farm in the spring, just a few months ago, as preschoolers, to plant the potatoes. They planted Yukon Gold, Russet, Dark Red Norland, Adirondack Red, Rose Finn Apple, All Blue, and Rose Gold potatoes. The preschoolers did a wonderful job planting our seed potatoes.

Over the course of the summer, we tended to the potato plants as they both sprouted their new growth above ground, and sent energy into their underground tubers. Potato plants need to be “hilled” every couple of weeks as they grow, meaning that they need soil or mulch to be constantly piled up around the plants, forming little hills. We do this so that as the tubers grow, they don’t get exposed to sunlight (which turns them green), so that they stay submerged in loose soil or mulch and thus expand easily, to keep weeds down, and finally to help with drainage. We chose to hill our potatoes with mulch this year, thus making our harvest much easier, as we mostly just needed to pull the mulch back to expose the potatoes instead of digging too deep into the beds. The mulch also helped improve water retention. As the above ground potato vines started to die back early this fall, we knew it was getting to be harvest time and that the preschoolers would soon be coming back as kindergarteners.

When the newly inaugurated kindergarteners piled off the bus two weeks ago, they were excited to see what had happened to their potato plants, visit with the chickens, and play in the garden. They stayed until the afternoon and we all had a blast working hard and playing outside together. The kids split up into groups of four or five, each with a fearless farm fellow leading the way as each group picked a row or two of potatoes to harvest. The kids were hard workers, digging for the potatoes like they were digging for gold in the rich, fertile garden beds. They pulled up bright red, purple, and brown potatoes, squealing with delight at each new potato color. After all of their hard work, it was time for some play, so the kids foraged for summer berries left behind and went looking for chickens to play with. Many a berry was munched on and many a chicken carried around. We all shared a lunch full of mashed potatoes, made from our very own potatoes, to better get to know the fruits of our labor. Before we knew it, it was time for the kids to get back on the bus and head back to school.

All in all, we harvested a total of 398 pounds of potatoes this season! Many of these will go into cold storage for the 2016 farm fellows, who can think of the preschoolers turned kindergarteners and all of their hard work next year when they are enjoying the potato bounty. Many thanks to all of the students, teachers, and parents who came out to the farm!

Kindergarteners getting used to toting our chickens around

2015 Farm Fellow Nick enjoying a purple mashed potato lunch with the kindergarteners

The whole group showing off some of the bountiful potato harvest

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