Not everyone up here in the 21st century gets the chance to build a farm from scratch.
But Josh Schiff did.
And not for himself. He works as farm manager at The Chatham Bars Inn, growing flowers and vegetables for its four restaurants. It’s a farm-to-table venture where he works hand in glove with executive chef Anthony Cole, raising everything from arugula to zucchini.
“We’ve developed a close relationship over past five years,” Schiff says. “He’s at the farm three times a week to see what the kitchen can utilize, and that pushes us both.”
It’s an eight-acre affair, with a greenhouse. When Schiff first saw the property, it was covered in pitch pines and scrub oaks. They all had to go.
“We hired an excavation company that cleared the wood, and flattened as much as it could,” he says. “Every off season I get on a bulldozer or bobcat – I’m trying to make the best with what I have.”
It’s no walk in the park. The soil is sandy, the wind is salty and there’s no shortage of fog and mist. “We can’t grow melons because there’s no heat in the summer,” he says. “And there are no apples because of diseases.”
His biggest ally is compost – he’s spread 2,000 yards of it over the past five years, to the tune of a quarter million dollars. He also uses poultry manure and cover cropping – like rye, hairy vetch and buckwheat, in an effort to enrich the sandy base.
“The good thing about sand is that it’s easy to work with and it drains easily,” he says. “The bad thing is that it’s very droughty and doesn’t hold water or nutrients well.”
The growing season gets off to a slow start. The first crop is planted on April 14 and runs through Dec. 1. He and his staff of 10 store root vegetables, potatoes and onions crops in a walk-in cooler.
And he mixes up his crops. “The rotation is really important because a small farm produces a lot of crops,” he says. “There’s never a fallow field –every winter I make a really extensive spread sheet to show where every crop was planted.”
The harvest is not just for the inn. Schiff sells to other restaurants, and has set up a subscription model, or CRA program, for the locals. “It’s a 20-week season, and they pick up a big bushel of vegetables – whatever’s fresh at the moment,” he says. “We have 110 subscribers right now – it’s a great way to connect with the community and it’s good for revenue.”
And for the inn.
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