Working with Guy Kilpatrick on the Terp Farm allowed me to see up close what it takes to run the operation. It’s a large job that not only requires long hours and many hands to get the physical work done, but also intelligent and conscientious planning. It also means being able to adapt quickly to unexpected occurrences.
While I was working on the farm, Guy explained how the recent cold snap had affected the crops. Over the previous weekend, temperatures dropped down to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit during the night. This drop killed the remaining unharvested crops out in the field, including peppers and eggplants. Even though the sudden cold was unexpected, Guy knew that winter would eventually bring weather that these crops could not live through. Knowing this, he had already harvested most of the peppers and eggplants and brought them into refrigerators to keep them in good condition until they get shipped to campus.
High tunnels are another way the Terp farm plans around the changing seasons and unpredictability of the weather. These plastic covered structures are similar to greenhouses in that they allow farmers to grow crops outside of their normal seasonal range. Most recently, the high tunnel on the Terp farm was used to continue growing tomatoes, which are normally out of peak season after August. The tunnel helps provide some insulation from the cold, and protection from wind, rain and animal pests. It also allows the tomato plants to be suspended from a ceiling, keeping them off the ground and away from pathogens in the soil that may otherwise affect the vulnerable leaves of the plant.
I helped to clear the tomato plants in the high tunnel while I was on the farm. They had provided their last harvest for the season and needed to be pulled out of the ground, unhooked from the ceiling, and transported to the compost pile. A cover crop will likely be planted there through the winter. Rotating to a different plant during this time will help replenish the soil with nutrients. This long-term strategy aims to increase the quality and yield of the crops grown in the spring and summer that are harvested and brought onto campus.
Successfully running the Terp farm requires a lot of hard work, as well as a ton of background knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices. It’s a large and admirable endeavor, and I consider myself very lucky to have gotten to be a part of it, and to work with Guy and the others who are involved in it.