PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #3 from Long Lane Farm

Each year, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards $5,000 seed grants to fund the launch or early-stage growth of a project, program, or venture

Since its founding in 2003, Long Lane Farm has worked towards a model of food sovereignty, in which all people not only have access to affordable, healthy meals, but also have a say in how their food is produced. Following the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic to both the Farm and our communities, the LLF team will look ahead, strengthen and expand the farm’s role in the community, and shore up our strategies for the future. The Patricelli Center Seed Grant will help make this growth possible.

This is the last of three reports from the Long Lane Farm team. It was submitted by Elam Grekin ’22.

Fall on Long Lane is a busy season. The beginning of fall is awash with the harvest as most of what we grow becomes ready and spend countless hours harvesting, cleaning, and distributing produce. This year, with the improved COVID situation at the beginning of the Fall we were able to welcome some Middletown residents onto the farm from time to time to help with our harvests and other work. This fall, for the first time in two years, we were able to hold a large public event on the farm with the return of Pumpkin Fest, our annual fall gathering. The festival, a partnership with the Wesleyan College of the Environment, featured live music, vendors, crafts, free veggie burgers, and a farm stand. The event was a huge success at getting a broader swath of the Wesleyan community and members of the broader Middletown community to come out and see the farm and graced by good weather, featured a sizable crowd.

The season carried on quickly as we began to break down the plots in preparation for winter. On an organic farm where you can spray, weed control and soil health are crucial. Both of these require the use of cover crops – crops planted without the intention of harvesting that add nutrients to the soil, prevent erosion, add organic matter to the soil, and prevent weeds. In order for these cover crops to do their job they need to be in early enough so that they have time to grow before the hard frost of winter, making putting them in a mad dash. We spent most of the fall pulling out the summer’s crops, putting in cover crops, and moving our large greenhouses in preparation for winter. The fall is also a really fun time to see the new first years start to take an active role in the farm.

As a horizontal collective Long Lane is committed to making sure that everyone working on the farm has an equal say in what goes on on the farm. As the new first years start to really get acquainted with how Long Lane operates, they start to add their voices to discussions and take on more leadership. This is crucial to making sure that the knowledge of how to run the farm is passed down as older farmers graduate and it is incredibly exciting to see people start to take on more responsibility.

Winter on a vegetable farm is a quiet time. After a full spring and summer of production and following the hard work of closing up the farm at the end of the fall, with the snow and freezes of winter the farm is able to sleep for a while. Even in this slower moment there is still a lot happening on the farm. Garlic, asparagus, sunchokes, and a variety of other crops lay dormant under the surface, growing slowly and waiting until spring when they can shoot up. Trees and bushes sit above ground conserving their energy and getting ready to shoot out buds at the first sign of spring. The cover crops, planted in the fall, will continue to grow for a little while longer, fighting out the weeds and replenishing nutrients in the soil. In the greenhouses beds of winter greens are steadily growing. While this coldest part of the year means slower growth even in the greenhouses, these greens will steadily produce food throughout the winter, providing a local and organic source of greens.

Winter is a quieter time for the farmers too. The break from the heavy work of the production season offers us the chance to slow down and fix all of the things we couldn’t get to over the busy season. It is also a crucial time to prepare for the next season. As a collective we came together to decide what crops to plant next season, getting us ready to make our seed order for the year. We also take this time to catch up on administrative work, adding up crop yield totals, compiling information for our annual reports, acquiring funding and starting the hiring process for our summer farmers for the next season, and looking back on the past few years for ways that we can improve our practices. Though this work is less hands on than the work of the growing season, it is crucial to our continued functioning. As the year wraps up and the quiet of winter continues on, we spend time looking back on the past year and looking forward to the work of the next, always with an eye on how to improve.

Though the year was marked by a number of challenges getting the farm back in shape after the incredibly disrupted 2020 season and though the ever change situation of COVID and the incredible damage it wracked on so many people has saddened us deeply, we found incredible joy and gratitude in being able to work on the land and grow food for the people around us. Long Lane is a small farm in one relatively small city in one relatively small state. While we work to have as much impact as we can, we know it will be limited. However, by providing a place for students to learn, experiment, be inspired, and build community, we are able to set the members of our collective up to leave Wesleyan ready to build and support local farming initiatives for food sovereignty wherever they end up. The work of Long Lane is as much about growing relationships and passion as much as it is food and, after an incredibly hard 2020 season, this year has brought both. We look forward to the thaw of spring and to the work of next season, on Long Lane and in our communities wherever we end up.