Littlegrasse Semester Recap

Written by Kyler Cubbage and Ian Erlichman

With the onset of a frozen winter, the farm goes into hibernation.  After helping Bob set up fences to keep pesky deer away from the blueberry bushes and firing up the snowmobile, we backed the tractor into the barn and covered the arugula and kale, effectively tucking the farm in for a long winter’s nap.  As the fall chapter of our year on the farm comes to a close we would like to recap what we’ve done so far.

When we arrived in September the farm was overflowing with crops.  In the midst of harvest season our main responsibility was to pick the kale, carrots, tomatoes, squash, etc. bursting from the rows.  As the crop surplus began to dwindle, we cycled between finishing up with the harvesting and taking the steps necessary to ensure that the farm would be easily re-invigorated come springtime.  These steps included taking down the tomato ladders, splitting firewood, organizing the barn, and storing the vegetables that would be preserved for the winter.  We were able to see how farming is not a vocation, but a lifestyle.

Bob devotes a huge portion of his time to farming, and through working with him; we were able to observe nuances in the farming practice, unavailable to the average college student. One of the most preeminent among them was the connection to the earth. The life-giving power of the land dictates what we harvest, what we don’t, and most importantly what we can eat. Seeing the production of produce in its most natural form was a culturally humbling experience. I think in our age of manufacturing, information and technology we are overzealous in our approximations about how easily we can obtain food in increasing variety, and quality. Seeing the seasonal changes in crop availability and most memorably, performing the physical labor involved in harvest, disabused us of the idea that: “food just comes from the Supermarket.”  Bob emphasized the importance of “the arc”, and though that may seem enigmatic to some, by the end of the semester we knew exactly the type of changes he was referring to. From picking tiny cherry tomatoes and digging potatoes in early fall, to chopping wood and storing preserves, nearing winter, we now had a glimpse into the power the earth holds over our food availability and amount of labor required to extract it. Despite the knowledge we’ve acquired over the past semester, we still have a lot to learn from Bob and Flip. We’ve seen the harvest, but now we get look at the flip-side of the “harvest coin:” spring planting.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

To finish the fall season, we spent this past week putting fencing around the newly planted blueberry shrubs in order to protect them from the deer that continually enter the property.  Circling the property with wire fencing was one of the easier activities we have done on the farm, especially when compared to the wood splitting that we have done over the past few weeks.  Since this wood splitting became more of a friendly competition than anything, it can now be concluded that Kyler is an absolute samurai, Brendan has majestic technique, and Tenzing and Ian are mediocre at best.  It should be mentioned that these results are subjective.  To begin the winter season, we moved the snowmobile out of the garage and put the tractor underneath the lean-to.  I know that founder and owner of LittleGrasse Foodworks, Bob Washo, loves grooming a ski trail down one the road running through his property, which could be of some use to all of us at some point this winter.  


Now that the harvest season has ended, there is no better time to recap the entirety of the semester and it’s takeaways.  The fall harvest included collecting kale, carrots, chard, shallots, thyme, basil, tomatoes, squash, onions, beets, mixed greens, sage, leeks, garlic, broccoli, potatoes, raddish, cabbage, cilantro, and peppers.  This is quite an extensive list, and some vegetables may have even been forgotten.  It was an incredible learning experience for all, as we had never harvested many of these foods nor worked on a CSA farm before.  Some of the major takeaways of this semester’s harvest experience are:

  • Many hands make light work.  Helping out Bob and Flip just a few hours of each week quickened the pace of the harvest on some days
  • Supporting local businesses is extremely important.  
  • The food industry is extremely flawed.  It is astonishing the amount of genetically modified food that is present in commercial farming, and large food chains limit our healthy eating options to a certain few.

See you all in the spring growing season!

-Brendan Cyr

French Fries, Potato Chips, Mashed Potatoes…

Monday and Tuesday, October 2 and 3

For the past two weeks a large portion of our time at the farm has been spent harvesting potatoes.  As a tuberous plant grown underground, potatoes take more time to harvest.  The process we used at littleGrasse involved four people, the first two using pitchforks to turn over the topsoil and the remaining two, the “grubbers,” would follow behind sifting through the overturned dirt for the golden, starchy crop.  The relatively inaccessible potatoes naturally necessitate a slower method of harvesting relative to tomatoes, squash, pepper, or most other produce grown at littleGrasse.  

However, beyond the the time they take to harvest, potatoes have been the focus of our time at the farm so far because Bob and Flip chose to grow a lot of them.  When I asked Bob why there is such a preponderance of potatoes, he said, “baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, hash browns, french fries, roasted potatoes, potato soup, stuffed potatoes… see why?  They’re a staple.”  I knew potatoes were a staple in many Americans’ diets, but it got me thinking, what is the history of the potato?  

The hostile region of the Andes is the birthplace of the potato.  A tuber, the potato is less susceptible to climate changes, and can thus survive the dramatically shifting weather of the Andean Mountain Range.  Brought over to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors, the potato was not immediately embraced as it is now.  However, Europe had a history of serious famine.  The Smithsonian states, “France, the historian Fernand Braudel once calculated, had 40 nationwide famines between 1500 and 1800, more than one per decade.”  Additionally, “England had 17 national and big regional famines between 1523 and 1623.”  Obviously, the continent struggled to feed itself.  

Becoming more aware of the potato’s resilience, Monarchs and rulers across Europe began to promote potato farming as a means of feeding their respective nations.  By planting potatoes in their fallow land, farmers ended up doubling their caloric productivity, saving Europe from its continuous cycle of famine.  

The introduction of potatoes to North America came over from Europe to the British Colonies and were planted, in small quantities in Virginia.  It was not until Thomas Jefferson served potatoes in the White House that potatoes were accepted in the U.S. as more than a working class source of nutrients.  Like in Europe, the potato became increasingly popular, especially with the influx of Irish immigrants, a country that had developed a monocultural agricultural system focused on the potato.  Today, potatoes are a part of many people’s diets, found in gourmet dishes as well as in French fries from fast food joints.  



Mann, Charles. “How the Potato Changed the World.” Smithsonian November 2011

Chapman, Jeff. “The Impact of the Potato.” History Magazine

Agricultural Literacy

October 17th, 2017.

Today we harvested carrots, watermelon radish, black radish, cabbage, mixed lettuce, and cilantro. Ever heard of these vegetables? Believe it or not, this was the first day we harvested these varieties of vegetables, despite how common they may seem. In the previous days we spent time harvesting vegetables such as leeks or shallots. Now, have you ever heard of these?

Whether we were harvesting commonly known vegetables or not, it occurred to me that I severely lacked agricultural literacy. As a somewhat frequent vegetable consumer, to my standards at least, I felt slightly embarrassed of my lack of knowledge regarding the harvesting techniques of these vegetables I claim I eat “so often”. Or perhaps my incompetence is even more embarrassing because I come from a community of agro-pastoralists in the Himalayas? Despite my lack of agricultural proficiency, I think it is safe to say that the majority of young Americans suffer from the same lack of agricultural literacy as I do.

Having been born in a small village, tucked away at 12,000 feet and visiting frequently, I have continued to notice the vast differences between my two worlds here in the US and in Nepal, agricultural literacy being just one. In my village, the overall knowledge that people have of their agricultural practices is astonishing. Children are expected to help in the fields from a young age, and by doing so, they inevitably gain this knowledge of the land and where their food comes from.

According to the International Labor Organization, 68% of Nepal’s population is employed in the agriculture and forestry sector (Agriculture and Food Security). On the contrary, according to the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance survey, 72 percent of consumers reported knowing nothing or very little about farming or ranching. Less than 2 percent of Americans are actively involved in food production (Orr). This statistical contrast is reflective of the differences in agricultural literacy between these two countries. I feel this lack of agriculture literacy is conducive with the US’s growing dependence on large scale and commercial agricultural production. This reliance is fueled by what appears to be convenience and affordability, but is at the expense of local farmers, food insecure communities, environmental responsibilities, and our diets. Maybe if Americans had a better understanding of where their food actually came from and the impact it has, then perhaps we would make better and healthier decisions?

This day at LittleGrasse exposed me to the basic harvesting techniques of very commonly eaten vegetables, but even more so, provided me with a new perspective. I feel this is largely where the importance of agricultural literacy lies, especially for consumers. It provides us with insight of why it is important to protect local famers, support CWA movements, understand the relationship between agriculture and the environment, and simply grasp a better understanding of where our food actually comes from.



American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture. “Agricultural Literacy Is

Knowledge.” Ag Literacy. American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, 2017.


Agriculture and Food Security | Nepal.” U.S. Agency for International Development. USAid, 17

Oct. 2017. Web.

Employment in Agriculture (% of Total Employment).” Employment in Agriculture (% of Total

Employment) | Data. The World Bank Group, 2017. Web.

Orr, Carolyn. “Concerns about the Lack of “agricultural Literacy”.” Concerns about the Lack of      “agricultural Literacy” | CSG Knowledge Center. The Council of State Governments,    2012. Web.


Don’t Squash the CSA

Monday, September 25th

Harvested squash

The modern day practice that the CSA serves is relatively new, however, the intent behind CSA have been the pillars of small scale agriculture for millennia. An historical account of CSA dates back to the 1960s, with the pioneering work of  a man aptly named Trauger Markus Groh. Seeing the downfall of small organic farming in Germany, Groh took up his namesake and attempted to establish community based farming system that relied on mutual community debt distribution, and a mutual care for the earth. Groh established Buschberg Farm in this image, and it worked. Each of its 40 members contributed around 3,000 German Marks to the small, handy crew of farmers to allow them the necessary capital to start and maintain the farming set up. The novelty of the CSA movement spread to the US in the early 80’s and by 1986 the first CSA farming season in America had arrived.

The CSA movement has since been tinkered with, and the few budgeting problems it had have been fleshed out. A farmer named Asgar Elmquist saw that if farmers were paid week to week, fluctuating levels of spendable income in families buying from the CSA could leave the farmers with fresh food and no one to sell it to. Instead, Asgar decided to take a single payment at the beginning of every month to ensure his compensation, and more importantly the efficient use and enjoyment of his organic produce. CSA’s have used this model ever since.

It has been shown that  $100 spent at a local store generates 60% more local economic activity than $100 spent in a chain store down the road.” CSA’s are now watching out for mother nature as well as our local economy, and with local business disappearing at an alarming rate, we need farming establishments like CSAs more than ever. St. Lawrence County in one of the few counties in New York where 50 % or less of the population has convenient access to food. The general economic succession of food stores goes something like this: First local market close down, because of competition from supermarkets with a wider selection of produce. In Iowa, for example, the number of local produce stores decreased by half, while supermarket rose by 175% over a ten year period. Then those same supermarkets leave because of an demand need for people to sustain it presence in a small town, while simultaneously small town are shriveling in population size. The result is towns with no local grocery, who have citizen forced to commute to buy their food, assuming of course that the buyers even have a car. That presumption is on shaky ground especially when talking about impoverished communities like St. Lawrence county. Unlike Iowa, New York state is free of food deserts, save for the rural ghetto of St. Lawrence county. The saving grace for counties like ours, could be CSAs like Little Grass. With a little help from locals to aid in the transportation issue, poverty stricken areas of the north country could receive a consistent supply of fresh local produce at reduced cost.

Modern day CSAs, like our near and dear Little Grass Farms, the incorporate founding principles of ecological sustainability, economic contentiousness, and a general love for the land and the people on it. CSAs have reinvigorated a primal connection to the land that human beings has felt before the onset of industrial agriculture. It also serves a possible solution to help feed low-income families of the North Country. The fantastically named Trauger Groh and Asgar Elmquist have lead us back to our neolithic roots and allowed us to investigate possible humanitarian pursuits, keeping in mind the mantra behind all CSAs: Love for the land, and the people on it.

Ian Erlichman