Valley Bounty: Rainbow Harvest Farm

“This year, March felt like April and April felt like March,” said David Paysnick, who owns Rainbow Harvest Farm in Greenfield, during a recent conversation.

Throughout March, Paysnick was able to leave the heater off most days in his greenhouses, which are located on a 1/3-acre plot close to the center of town.

“And now in April, it’s been running a lot … because we’ve had so many cloudy and cool days,” he explained.

But despite the cool weather, Paysnick reported that his field plantings, located on a separate nine-acre plot on the north end of the city, are running right on schedule.

“I’m usually shooting for around April 20th – 25th for when we get our first outdoor crops planted. And we got our first round planted last week,” he said.

That first round of plantings included kale, kohlrabi, scallions, collards, lettuce, salad mix, and cilantro. He expects to pull his first harvests out of the field around the third week of May.

Paysnick opened Rainbow Harvest Farm in 2009. In addition to growing a wide variety of vegetables and herbs, the farm also raises over 300 varieties of plant starts for home gardeners, including herbs, vegetables, and flowers.

“Now is the perfect time to be getting your garden ready,” Paysnick said.

“There’s a lot of things that can already be planted,” he explained. “Many herbs, as well as your leafy greens and more cold tolerant plants … It’s also a good time to plant perennials like strawberries and blueberries,” he said.

But he warned that it’s important not to jump the gun on warmer weather crops.

“While many people are eagerly trying to get ahold of their tomatoes and peppers right now, I definitely wouldn’t recommend that anyone put those outside for at least a couple of weeks,” Paysnick said. He usually puts his earliest tomatoes in the field between May 5-15. It would be rare for him to put peppers out before May 15-20.

“Peppers and melons are things that even if we aren’t going to get a frost, they just really don’t like the cold soil and temperatures,” he explained. “Even if you put your peppers out two weeks earlier, they may mature two weeks later because they get so stunted from being out there through too many cold nights.”

You’re best off waiting to put out those heat-loving crops until after nighttime temperatures have stopped dipping below 45-50 degrees.

Unsurprisingly, Paysnick has been preoccupied with a lot more than the weather forecast this spring.

“The big changes this season have less to do with climate and more to do with COVID,” he said.

Rainbow Harvest Farm typically sells upwards of 90% of its products at farmers’ markets, including Springfield’s Farmers’ Market at Forest Park and the Greenfield Farmers’ Market (opening for the season today!) But the opening of the Farmers’ Market at Forest Park was postponed while the market manager works with the city to finalize an opening date.

So Paysnick pivoted.

A month ago, he set up a new website that has allowed customers to order products online. Paysnick set up a contactless pick up system on the farm, and began delivering directly to people’s homes across Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties.

“I think [home delivery] is the safest way for people to get plants and produce right now. It limits how many people are gathering in any one place at a time,” he said.

So far, Paysnick feels good about his new online system. “Getting that set up and having the orders coming in has really relieved some of the pressure and concern around how markets are going to run in the spring,” he said.

Paysnick is expecting a great year for plant start sales.

“With the state of the country and food security issues front and center for so many people, I think that more and more people are looking at increasing their garden this year or starting a garden for the first time,” he said.

But keeping up with demand hasn’t been easy this year. Deliveries have been consistently delayed, including seed orders and essential supplies, like pots for starts. Also, Paysnick has put off hiring additional summer staff for as long as possible to keep social distancing easier on the farm.

He hopes that customers will show him, and other local farmers, empathy as the season ramps up. “The big thing is: everyone please be patient with everyone else,” he said. “Farmers are working harder than ever to get all the same crops out and find new ways to get them to people safely.”

To order plant starts from Rainbow Harvest Farm, visit rainbowharvestfarm.com. The farm is offering on-location pickup in Greenfield, and home delivery to Greenfield, Deerfield, Turners Falls, Bernardston, Gill, Northampton, Amherst, Sunderland, Holyoke, East Longmeadow, and Springfield.

Customers who would like to pay using SNAP or HIP are welcome to order online, but will need to pay in-person using their EBT card when the products are delivered.

Farms throughout the Valley have stepped up to accommodate customers during the pandemic. To find local food near you, visit CISA’s online farm guide, which has up-to-date information on curbside pickup, delivery, online ordering and more at buylocalfood.org/farmguide.

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).

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