Fall is officially harvest season here in York Durham Headwaters. If you’ve been following our blog, then you know that we love to celebrate the harvest. We love it as much as we love all of our farmers who are out there in the dirt, gathering those delicious, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables that make our mouth water just thinking about them. But what goes on behind the scenes at a working farm? How does that delectable bounty make it to market stands, and what kind of work is put into producing it? To find out, we went behind the scenes to talk to Lisa Cooper, farmer and co-owner (with husband and farmer Steve) of Cooper’s CSA Farm and Maze in the small community of Zephyr, in the Township of Uxbridge.
Welcome to Cooper’s
Cooper’s CSA Farm and Maze is probably best known for its community shared agriculture program, where participants subscribe to the program to support the farm, and in return receive regular shares of fruits and vegetables, pasture-raised meats, and a few eggs, all grown and raised on-site at Cooper’s. “This is a customizable share that people can receive either weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly in the summer, and bi-weekly and monthly in the winter,” says Lisa. “That’s the main focus of our farm.” Cooper’s also attends a farmer’s market in the summer with their fresh produce, and operates an on-farm store.
In the fall, Cooper’s is known for its pumpkin picking and ten-acre corn maze. Beginning September 17th for the 2022 season, you can purchase tickets to romp your way through this a-maze-ing attraction during the day, or you can book time for a super spooky nighttime adventure! The paths are wide enough for strollers, wagons and wheelchairs, and outside snacks are welcome… you know, in case you get lost in there. A visit to Cooper’s also means you get to see the animals up close, which is a time-honoured tradition for the kids!
What is harvest season really like?
To start with, for Lisa and Steve as farmers, fall being labeled as “harvest season” is a bit of a misnomer because they’ve been harvesting since late spring. “Harvest happens all the way from May through to November—and sometimes into December if we’re harvesting field crops like corn, wheat and soy,” Lisa points out. “We are constantly harvesting. May starts with things like asparagus, green onions, lettuces and spinach, and we go all summer long.”
It is true that the volume of harvesting increases as the summer moves along, and that we are now into the heaviest part of the growing season. Lisa says, “Currently, we’re harvesting strawberries like crazy, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes… The list is endless right now. It’s the main harvest season, for sure.” By Thanksgiving, the frenzy of harvesting has relaxed some. This is the time of year when the winter crops are gathered and put into coolers for storage, and Cooper’s can focus on the entertainment portion of their activities.
Understandably, all this harvesting is the product of a lot of hard work and effort. As farmers, Lisa and Steve’s day begins at around five-thirty every morning (maybe, if it’s a slightly lighter day, they get to sleep in until six—but no later than that since they have employees who start their shift at seven). “We’ve got to get prepared,” Lisa says. “We have to do all of the house stuff that we’ve got on our plate before we can leave to do the farm stuff, so that happens first thing.” Employees at Cooper’s begin arriving between seven and nine in the morning, depending on when they are scheduled to arrive, and then it’s practically non-stop until five or six in the evening, when they begin winding down for the day and employees can go home.
But that doesn’t mean the day is over for Lisa and Steve. Far from it. “We get to come in and have some dinner, and maybe relax for a little bit, but there’s usually something we have to do at night,” Lisa says. “Come seven-thirty, eight, nine—you’ve got to go back out there and do something, whether it’s turn off the pump that’s irrigating the crops, or checking on the brand-new chicks that have just come in… there is always something to do in the evening.”
Farming is multi-faceted, 24/7 and 365!
This is perhaps what Lisa would most like people to know about farming: it’s a job which is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. As a farmer, you can’t walk away from your animals who need you because you’d rather Netflix the night away. Nor can you easily go on vacation—not unless you are extremely well-prepared and have someone lined up to take care of all those things that need doing. And you’ve also got paperwork, emails and administration—Lisa regularly sees up to fifty communications a day that all need to be dealt with!
As to the farming itself, this requires constant diligence. Lisa says, “We have to make sure we are on top of what’s coming ready, and what needs harvesting now. We need to make sure our employees are on top of their responsibilities, too. It’s things like being diligent with irrigation. If something needs to be irrigated, you can’t just say, ‘Oh shoot, I forgot to do that yesterday,’ because guess what? Today your plants are all dead.”
“You can’t plant a seed and walk away,” she stresses. “You can’t just have a baby animal out there and walk away. You have to continuously follow along and make sure that they are healthy and safe. You have to make sure the vegetables are growing and that they’re not being attacked by pests. You’ve invested a lot of time and, most importantly, money into your farm, and you need to recoup that investment, or you’re not going to have your farm for very long.”
Support local and visit Cooper’s
We at YDH are truly grateful for all that farmers like Lisa and Steve Cooper do for our community. For how hard they work to keep the small-but-mighty family farm a thriving feature of our rural areas. This harvest season (or should we say “harvest season” with big quotes, since we now know that harvest season begins in May for the farmer), visit Cooper’s CSA Farm and Maze for fun on the farm, fresh produce, meats and eggs, and to learn all about their community shared agriculture program. Our local farmers thank you for all of your support, just as we’re sure you thank them for all their hard work.
Cooper’s CSA Farm and Maze
266 Ashworth Rd., Zephyr
Story by Katherine Ryalen