You could blame it on the weather. You could blame it on the fish oil. Or you could simply blame good karma. The fields of the Community Harvest Project are now bursting with so many vegetables, they've had to issue a frantic call for help from volunteers.
How frantic? Volunteer Coordinator Tracey Harger says she has enough work, daily, to support 100 volunteers a day -- and she's gone the unheard-of route of throwing open drop-in volunteer hours to seven days a week, instead of just weekends, to help the farm get its harvest under control.
"There's a lot to do here and we need a lot of hands to get it done," Harger said. "We're about two weeks ahead of schedule. We're starting our second harvest of produce in many of the rows and we have to keep ahead of it."
The crops aren't the only thing that's thriving in the fields of the Brigham Hill Community Farm on Wheeler Road. Weeds are higher than the crops in some areas as volunteers have been re-directed to keep up with the rapid harvest. The farm has also been without an important piece of weed control equipment in recent weeks, she said.
With tomato plants thriving -- last year's crop was lost to tomato blight -- and an additional field of corn added, the farm is on a track to break last year's record-setting harvest of 48,000 lbs. of vegetables. To date, 18,000 lbs. of vegetables have been harvested and the year's goal is 80,000 lbs.
"We'll exceed that, without a doubt," Harger said. "It's incredible how fast everything is growing now."
The entire crop is donated to the Worcester County Food Bank, which distributes the fresh vegetables to food pantries and soup kitchens around Central Massachusetts. The farm's mission draws volunteers not only from around the state but also from across the country -- visitors this week include a Young Neighbors In Action group from Reading, Penn., who happily worked tying tomato plants that in some cases were higher than the volunteers.
Why are the crops so plentiful this year? A wet spring, followed by warmer-than-usual temperatures have put the growing season about two weeks ahead of schedule. Harger also gives credit to volunteer Jed Waddell, an agronomist by trade, who suggested adding fish oil to the soil, among other suggestions, which has nourished healthier plants.
The farm also continues to follow good growing practices. The fields which once held broccoli and cabbage now hold beans; the bean fields now hold broccoli and cabbage. By rotating crops, nutrients are returned to the soil.
The farm is growing 11 varieties of crops this year. By request of the food bank, the farm added carrots and corn, the latter of which is grown on a field donated by board member David White.
"It was expensive for the bank to buy corn last year, so they asked us to try it," Harger said.
The new farm open drop-in hours are:
- Saturdays 9 a.m.-noon
- Monday-Friday until the end of July 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
"We try to give people a variety of things to do so they're not just stuck picking beans for three hours," she said. "But picking beans is kind of relaxing -- you have to do it by hand, so you sit down, just you with the beans."
For information about volunteering, call Tracey Harger, 774-551-6544 or visit www.community-harvest.org.