Fourteen-year-old Ben Stankoski of Colchester CT, has been working on his grandmother’s farm ever since he can remember. For owners of Maggie’s Farm, Carol Brzozowy and her partner of 30 years, Jim Peppin, organic farming is a way of life. Ben brought awareness of his family’s produce to his school, the Regional Agricultural Science and Technology Center in Lebanon, where the farm is located.
In this agricultural program, students must choose a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE), where documentation of hours worked, money made, community service time, new knowledge, projected goals, and participation in ag-related events are continually logged in. Summer vacation is no exception to the rule. A student in this program continues to commit to his/her selected experience, with scheduled visits from their school advisor expected.
Ben needs no prompting to continue to work with his Grandmother as this is his chosen SAE.
Maggie’s Farm is a member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association and their organically grown shiitake mushrooms have been a specialty. Ben’s work keeps him busy year round. “One of my goals was to reach 200-300 logs this year and we’ve already surpassed that.” says Ben.
His process starts with cutting and cleaning oak or maple logs to a semi-sterile state. They are tagged and dated to keep track of batches. Then holes are bored approximately four to six inches apart down the length and three inches apart around the diameter. Once the logs are ready, Ben inoculates them with purchased mushroom spawn (mycelium). He then seals each hole with a thin layer of wax to preserve moisture. After soaking the logs in a tub of water for two days, the batch is stored indoors through winter months, as warmth will stimulate the spawn’s initial growth.
Shiitakes need high amounts of humidity to produce, so the batch is then moved to the shaded woods in the spring where they will start to produce fruit a year from their inoculation.
“Once the first harvest is cut from a log, you can re-soak the batch and it starts all over,” explains Ben. “Some logs will produce for two or three years.”
Used logs are composted and put directly on their gardens.
Along with mushrooms, Maggie’s Farm produces several organic lettuce varieties, Asian greens, Italian pole beans, eight varieties of tomatoes and garlic. Ben stays busy as crop rotation is put into effect. Beds can be planted early in the spring with peas, then cucumbers, followed by an October planting of spinach. “Three crops out of any one bed a year can be achieved.”
Ben brings his life-long expertise into the forefront through his school assignments. He displays his hands-on knowledge through speeches, photos, presentations, or by bringing in samples of the family’s produce. He will continue at the Lebanon Regional Agricultural Science & Technology Center in the fall as a sophomore.