The following guest blog is from Helsing Junction Farm (HJF), a 1,000-plus-member CSA farm in Rochester, Washington, featured in Bounty From the Box: The CSA Farm Cookbook. Farm co-manager Dan Finklestein, in his second season at HJF, wrote this piece. We loved seeing the farm through his eyes—with the help of some terrific photos, many of them documenting the people and machinery from early farming days in Independence Valley.
Dan (that’s him in the first photo) hails from Boston and had no special connection to food or farming before reading books by Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan, and Eric Sloane. He arrived at HJF after 10 years of working on small, organic vegetable farms, primarily in western Massachusetts. He also has a degree in Plant, Soil, and Insect Sciences from the University of Massachusetts.
Helsing Junction Farm was founded in 1992 by Annie Salafsky and Susan Ujcic, and the CSA has been going ever since then. Dan told us, “It’s great to have mentors like them, and like Howard, the farm mechanic who I talked about in the newsletter, to teach me all the skills and knowledge necessary to do this challenging job. I feel very honored to be a part of this farming community. Without the kind and patient instruction of experienced farmers like them, young farmers like myself will never be able to fill their shoes or be the best possible stewards of the land.“
This is Dan, one of the farm’s managers, filling in for Annie (who’s celebrating her birthday this week!). It’s taken a little while, but summer is finally in high gear here at the farm!
Our tomato plants are beginning to sag with the weight of ripe, juicy tomatoes, our pepper plants are popping with color, and we picked our first ripe watermelon last week!
It seems my fridge is never quite big enough in August and that I can’t cook (or eat!) fast enough to keep up with all the bounty coming in from the fields. It’s hard not to frequently feel overwhelmed with gratitude during this abundant time of year.
I feel grateful for our fertile valley for growing such beautiful and delicious food; grateful for Annie and Sue for creating such a wonderful farm and workplace; and grateful for my co-workers, who all work tirelessly and inspire me to become a better farmer daily.
There are so many people and so many reasons to feel grateful.
There are also many unsung heroes here on the farm—from all the little pollinators without whom we wouldn’t have our cucumbers, zucchinis, tomatoes, or green beans, to all the plant breeders over the years who helped select and develop so many of our delicious varieties.
One of the farm’s unsung heroes who most affects my daily life is Howard, our farm mechanic.
When everything is going well, we hardly see Howard. But to me, his presence is always felt. While we are still quite a small farm in the scheme of modern agriculture, we are actually a fairly sizable operation in the world of highly diversified fresh-market farms. Not only does it take a lot of people to tend to all the land we manage, but it also takes a lot of equipment and machinery.
We have equipment for preparing the soil, equipment for planting seeds and transplanting starts, equipment for applying fertilizer, equipment for removing weeds, equipment to help harvest the crops…the list goes on.
All this equipment is a huge timesaver and allows us to grow enough food to supply all of you, but only when they’re functioning properly!
Without Howard, I fear we would have an ever-growing pile of busted tools and equipment and lots of fields and crops in need of attention.
However, under Howard’s care and attention, our tractors run as they’re supposed to, our equipment remains in tip-top shape even after decades of abuse, and whatever we break gets quickly repaired (and often improved!) and sent back into service. Howard has saved the day more times than I can remember and we would be at quite a loss without him.
Sue’s House, 1920s
Howard is not only our mechanic, but also our neighbor. He and his family are long-time residents of Independence Valley.
His family emigrated from Sweden in the 1800s and Howard is the fourth generation raised here in Rochester (there are now 6 generations raised in this Valley!)
Howard’s father Ellis went to grade school in a one-room schoolhouse directly across the street from our farm’s main field.
Howard’s brother Keith raises dairy cows on land adjacent to the farm and supplies the milk used to make the Flying Cow Creamery Yogurt we offer through our Yogurt Share.
Keith with his numerous awards for his milk and dairy!
Howard and Keith claim to have farmed just about every field in our Valley at some point in their lives, including all of ours.
Their parents’ generation farmed with horses, and Keith and Howard witnessed (albeit as children) the first arrival of tractors and mechanized equipment to their little farming community.
This was the founding family of Annie’s Farm today.
When pressed hard enough, Howard can tell you how the Valley has changed over his lifetime and recollect with clarity all the different friends and neighbors he’s seen work this land.
I am extremely grateful for Howard and his family for being such careful and attentive stewards. Many generations came before us, farming these fields and shaping this lovely valley we call home.
During this time of abundance, I am grateful for all the farmers and families who came before me, upon whose shoulders I now stand, benefiting greatly from all their hard work and ingenuity.
All photos courtesy of Helsing Junction Farm.