A Slow Start For Farming

onionsWHEELOCK - A sigh of relief can be heard among Vermonters as temperatures finally begin to resemble Spring. For many, Winter's prolonged presences has been an annoyance. And for those that depend on a successful transition of seasons for business, it has impacted their scheduling tremendously.

 One example is Mountain Foot Farm, located in Wheelock at a relatively high elevation. On April 30th, much of the ground surrounding the property was still covered in snow. According to Curtis Sjolander, who has owned the farm for approximately 30 years, the season is starting much slower than in years past due to the climate conditions. "Everything is too wet to do anything in the fields. There's some years with an early spring that I've already transplanted onions by now, but they're still in the greenhouse."

Sjolander's business consists of growing vegetables and raising trout. So while half of his products are unaffected no matter what season, the other relies entirely on weather.

Fortunately, Sjolander does have an impressive greenhouse where he's been able to start his planting process. This year, he began in March with onion seeds, and now has a significant portion of his vegetable assortment growing indoors. Nevertheless, the threat of overgrowing crops during this preparation phase lingers. In the past, he has had to throw out crops after they've gotten too big, or because their growth has become stunted from the indoor conditions.

"You can have overgrown things. I don't have anything really overgrown yet, but I have had years where things need to go in the ground, and I can't because of whatever reason. It might be too much rain, too cold like it is this year, or too dry. There's multiple reasons why things aren't right to go in the ground, and sometimes when things don't go in the ground when they should, and you hold them longer, they can be impacted. That's just part of farming. You have to bend with whatever nature gives you."

When asked what will come first once weather permits his planting to be taken outdoors, Sjolander discussed the importance of preparing the land. According to him, getting the ground ready for transplants is essential. In doing this, he creates rows that are called furrows each year in order to provide the plants with the space they need to grow and thrive.

As mentioned before, Sjolander also raises trout year round. This was a business decision he made about the same time he was learning to farm. "Back in '88, I was living here and it was a drought year, and the spring that I was using for water for the house had basically dried up. So I went looking for another spring, and I found a really good one quite a ways up in the woods, but it was putting out a lot more water than I needed for the house. So that summer I laid a pipe down from that newly discovered spring to my old spring, and that got me through that season. And then in subsequent years I developed that spring, piped it down, and I had all this water, more than I could use for the house. So one of the ideas was to raise fish, and that's what I started experimented with, and now I've been raising trout for 26 years."

Sjolander's trout population has grown into the thousands since he began in the eighties. According to him, this is actually quite small from an aqua-cultural standpoint, as most people will grow a population into the tens or hundreds of thousands. Nonetheless, his stock is appropriate for his business, which is selling primarily to local restaurants.

When it comes to vegetables, most of Sjolander's profit is driven at the St. Johnsbury Farmer's Market, where he's been a vendor since 1988. He discussed his excitement to get back into the market season now that Summer is approaching, stating that he doesn't feel nervous about his products, even after the cold and wet Spring. Like he mentioned before, you can't control the weather, and as a farmer in the Northeast Kingdom, it's something you learn to deal with. "Some seasons are early, some seasons are slow. This is a slow season, this is a late season, it's just the way it goes."

That being said, he was very hopeful that the week's warm temperatures would assist in melting the remaining snow in his yard, allowing him to begin planting outdoors sooner rather than later. "Listening to the weather report this morning, they say it's supposed to be up in the seventies by Wednesday, and if that comes true, and we get a few days like that, a week from now I could be out there planting. Or if it doesn't go as predicted and it stays cold, it might be two weeks before I get out there."

Sjolander and his Mountain Foot Farm products can be found at the St. Johnsbury Farmers Market, running every Saturday, May 12th through October.