A market for all seasons

Nov. 18, 2013 @ 02:44 PM
Winter may be coming, but that does not mean you are sentenced to a diet of frozen vegetables. At the South Durham Farmers’ Market, S&H Farm will still be selling freshly harvested produce from their greenhouse and three high tunnels even in the middle of February.  
On less than a quarter of an acre just south of Oxford, NC, S&H Farm owner Vicki Salisbury and her farm manager, Liz Young, generate berries, root vegetables, herbs, leafy greens, tomatoes and peppers all year round. In the middle of November, they continue to bring sun gold tomatoes, bunches of basil and sweet pimento peppers to market. 
Many local farmers seek to extend their growing season through the use of low tunnels or hoop houses, but by growing exclusively in the greenhouse and high tunnels, Ms. Salisbury never has an off season. Throughout the winter, the soil inside their tunnels remains a temperate 40°F to 50°F, and the air temperature regularly reaches 85°F on sunny days, hot enough that they must open the tunnels’ upper windows to prevent their cool weather crops from bolting. 
Besides the ability to grow throughout all four seasons, farming in tunnels offers several other benefits. For one, the water inputs on S&H Farm are completely controlled. Their crops are watered at the roots using drip irrigation, an excellent method for reducing water wasted through runoff, evaporation and over spraying. Additionally, the plants on S&H Farm are not adversely affected by the torrential downpours, like those we had this past summer, which damage leaves, lead to flooding and rot, and compact the soil. Moreover, the controlled moisture levels and the physical barrier of the tunnels help prevent the spread of common plant diseases.  
Since 2011, S&H has been a Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) farm that grows all their crops using sustainable agricultural practices. (The CNG label has become increasingly popular among small farmers who use organic methods, but cannot afford the expensive and time consuming process required to obtain the USDA Certified Organic label.)  
Ms. Salisbury and Ms. Young enrich their soil with compost from the farm and other organic amendments. They also maintain the soil by cover cropping with nitrogen-fixing plants and rotating nutrient demanding vegetables like tomatoes. S&H Farm’s integrated pest management includes the use of companion plants, which distract common insects from the fruits of neighboring vegetables. And, their impressive diversity of crops limits the impact of any one pest. 
In just three years, the ladies of S&H Farm have developed the know-how to grow a dazzling variety of fruits and vegetables. This past weekend, in addition to heaps of leafy greens and more heirloom tomatoes, Ms. Young brought leggy lemongrass, tender baby ginger, peppery turmeric and fragrant bundles of herbs to the South Durham Farmers’ Market. It’s nice to eat with the seasons, but the mild Piedmont climate and the ingenuity of farmers like those at S&H help ensure that winter is filled with more than just crucifers and root vegetables.