Pioneer Valley Farmers Feel the Effects of the Unseasonably Warm Winter

16MAR

New England is infamous for sporadic weather. Unlike the heavy snowfall of 2011, the winter of 2012 has been relatively dry. We may find warm temperatures and dry roads pleasant, but for area farmers, an unpredictable season can be a serious liability. Pioneer Valley farmers spent the first few months of this year re-adjusting their businesses.


Leslie Cox, is the manager of the Farm Center at Hampshire College. Cox cares for the farm’s diverse livestock, the hay fields, and the maple sugar crop. He discussed with us the negative impact of recent weather patterns on the sugaring process. Cox expressed concern over the economic implications of diminished crops this past winter.

He told us he earns between $1,500 and $2,000 annually from the maple sugar crop. This year he chose to skip the harvest completely. His decision was based on the unpredictability of the late winter temperatures and the worn-out condition of the trees.

“Sometimes you just have to let things rest,” Cox told us. “When I walked through the sugar woods I felt really guilty for letting it get this bad…so I chose to sit the season out.” He told us that the Cornell University Agriculture Department, who specialize in sugar maple harvests, sent out a bulletin suggesting farmers tap their trees earlier than usual. The people that followed this instruction and tapped early had a near-normal season.

Jarrett Man, co-owner of The Kitchen Garden Farm, spends the winter growing leafy greens like kale, lettuce and spinach. Most winter vegetable farmers grow in un-heated greenhouses. Man told us his season hasn’t hit hard by the weather.  He told us that despite warm temperatures, the ground has been colder than usual this year. Without the insulating layer of snow, soil has stayed frozen throughout the past few months.

Man has been taking precautions to ensure a healthy crop season in the spring and summer. He does so by tracking ‘growing degree days’, which essentially means he’s been monitoring temperature fluctuations closely. He does so to make sure his plants don’t jump the gun and start growing before it’s time. Plants are physiologically programmed to move faster when it’s warm out, but Man worries if they follow their instincts they’ll die in an unexpected freeze.

Cox told us that unlike his sugar crop, this weather has been great for his animals. They’ve been able to stay outside in the pasture for much of the season, instead of in a heated barn. If they were inside, he would have to pay to heat and feed them corn. In the field they can graze on grass and keep warm in the sun’s light, saving Cox tremendous energy costs.

Nancy Hansen manages the vegetable growth for the Hampshire College FarmCommunity Supported Agriculture Program, or CSA. She also grows her winter crops in greenhouses, but she says the unpredictability has caused some financial losses this season. Their inability to accurately predict temperatures has thrown off their harvests. Hansen’s vegetables are coming in too fast or too slow, but generally not on time.

Post and Video by Melissa Gately, Tyler Manoukian, and Remy Schwartz

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It’s always encouraging to meet a young, successful journalist. Especially people like myself whose  perception of succeeding in the journalism field was undoubtedly foggy, with fears of  slim job opportunities and filled with rejection.

Eric Athas, a 2008 UMass Journalism graduate, diminished my fears, shinned a new light and gave me new hope. In Athas’ presentation, Athas stressed ‘the traditional standard steps of working your way up’ in the journalism field is a fallacy in order to become a successful journalist.

Although, Athas states that there is nothing wrong with wanting to pursue ‘the traditional standard steps of working your way up’ but  it’s not the only option. Athas is living proof and a prime example of a journalist that found an alternative solution. Instead of following ‘the stereotypical steps’ novice journalist need to do in order to be successful.

The beginning of Athas’ presentation, I was in awe when I discovered that Athas work experience included:

It’s very impressive that someone only four years out of college could gain this much experience. Especially since many journalists wait years upon years to achieve those kinds of experiences.

As Athas continued further on with his presentation, I learned that it is attainable for a young journalist to gain those experiences.

The secret I learned is to fully engage yourself with an array of journalism internships before college graduation.

When Athas graduated his resume included:

Many future employee were impressed with Athas resume which made him an ideal candidate for any journalism position.

And within a couple months after graduation, November of 2008,  Athas’ assiduous portfolio landed him a job/ editor at The Washington Post.

When Athas spoke about his experience at the Washington Post, it was very pleasing to hear him reminisce about his experience because he spoke with great enthusiasm and charisma.

One of Athas fondest memories while at the Washington Post, was the night of Bin Laden’s death. Athas recalled it was one of those dull nights in the newsroom and everybody was packing to go home. Then the unexpected happen, all hands were called on deck and the quaint newsroom instantly became pure chaos.

Another fond memory was when Athas happened to be present on a spot breaking story. The story later developed and unraveled into having major twists and turns.

Currentlt Athas is working on a new project  for NPR, that uses geotargeting on the NPR Facebook page and is also a digital news specialist at NPR’s Digital Services division in Boston.

Lastly, one piece of advice I’ll take from Athas’ presentation is to never stop thinking, never stop challenging yourself and blogging. Athas is a firm believer that blogging is crucial. Athas ephasized ‘mastering the art of blogging’ helped him become a stronger and better journalist. Overall, Athas’ presentation was uplifting, appealing and informative.

Early in the morning on Sunday, February 19, 20 year-old University of Massachusetts student Brandan Wall was struck by a moving vehicle. The accident took place on North Pleasant Street in the crosswalk next the Fine Arts Center. The Umass Daily Collegian broke the story in their February 22 edition of the newspaper. The accident has raised student awareness of pedestrian safety on campus.

Almost two weeks after accident, Wall is slowly recovering. When we caught up with him in his dorm room Tuesday night, he was moving slowly. A pair of crutches leaned against the wall and a spirometer sat on his desk. We asked him how he felt about pedestrian protection on campus. As he shooed us out he said in a tired voice,
“I think it needs to be a more prominent concern, the fact that there are so many crosswalks around campus, cars don’t give enough diligence to pedestrian safety.”

According to Massachusetts’s law, pedestrians do not always have the right of way. The law states that a ticket may be given to a driver who does not stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. This is true unless the car has a green light, or the pedestrian is crossing the other side of the road. Despite the confusing legal details, the University abides by the state law.

While students are beginning to take note of crosswalk safety, the UMass Police Department policy remains unchanged. The department encourages the people on campus to stay on the sidewalk and out of the street. They also suggest that pedestrians wear clothing that allows them to be seen by oncoming traffic. Soon after the accident the UMPD issued a safety bulletin to help ensure student safety. The bulletin underlined the same basic points:

  • Always walk on the sidewalk –  If there is no sidewalk and you must walk in the road, always walk FACING traffic, so you can see any dangerous-driving cars heading towards you. This is also a good precaution to take if the driver does not see you.
  • Dress to be seen. Brightly colored clothing makes it easier for drivers to see you during the daytime. At night, wear special reflective material on your shoes, cap, or jacket to reflect the headlights of cars coming towards you.
  • Tips for crossing the street:
    • Cross only at corners or marked crosswalks.
    • Stop at the curb, or the edge of the road.
    • Stop and look left, then right, then left again, before you step into the street.
    • If you see a car, wait until it goes by or stops. Then look left, right and left again until no cars are coming.

The majority of students we spoke to agreed that crosswalk safety has been an ongoing issue campus since before the accident. The UMPD has been sponsoring a pedestrian safety campaign this year. Driver safety posters have up around campus and on PVTA buses since the fall. The ads show the point of view of a driver on their cell phone about to strike a student in the crosswalk with the words “R u ready 2 stop?” They also put together this great video.

Post by Melissa Gately, Tyler Manoukian, and Remy Schwartz