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Time to Renew Your CSA Share

2015 Year in Review

Thanks to everyone who responded to our member survey! If you’d like to read my highlights of the survey results, as well as my own thoughts on the season, read on. If you prefer to go straight to the raw data, you can link to it HERE.

First, I’ll begin with some items that impressed me. Overall, the vast majority of you rated the value of your share as Excellent (46%) or Above Average (34%). Terrific! We got responses from 193 people, which is a rate of 73% of our 265 CSA members. 23% of you have been with us for 7 years or longer! I’m so glad to see that. This whole farm-supports-community-supports-farm idea works so much better when we can all get to know each other and take a long view. Plus, it’s so wonderful to see familiar, friendly faces at the pick-up. I’ve been on the farm for 18 years and a few of you have been members for even longer than that!

I also want to give a shout-out to the 41% of you who are gardeners. That’s spectacular. That gives you a chance to grow the things that you love most and we don’t offer quite enough of. Carrots, for example—there’s an easy crop to grow in a small space, a little bit of shade is no problem, they can tolerate a wide range of fertility, and they are a giant pain for me to grow (literally a pain; carrots require a lot of squatting and weeding). This year I turn 40! Let’s try to preserve these knees for old age. The other thing I love about having gardeners for customers, is that you are very forgiving. We all have a few crop failures under our belts, and it’s good to commiserate.

And you should congratulate yourself that we were able to donate 29,759 pounds of produce to agencies that prepare food or give groceries to people in need (in addition to a myriad of other critical services). Add that to the 15 shares we sold at half-price to low-income families, and it brings us to a total of 47% of our produce distributed to people who needed it most. Can you say that about anyone else you buy your groceries from? Of course not. Thank you for helping make that happen.

Now let’s get to some Q&A. Many of you posed questions or left comments that I would like to answer directly (in almost completely random order).

“This wasn't the best growing season, which was reflected in quantity and variety of produce.”
Indeed. You can see from these data, below, that 2014 was above average for us, and 2015 was well below average.

 

  2015 2014 2010-2014 average
Total weight harvested (pounds) 67,982 91,235 80,084
Average pounds/week/share 5.59 7.98 7.14


The biggest difference between this year and last was the weather (the staff were almost entirely the same, and most of our crop plans do not change significantly). In 2014, the rain was pretty consistent, and in 2015 we had a summer with almost no appreciable rain. That hits us especially hard because we have so little water to irrigate with. We were able to keep crops alive, but didn’t have enough water to get a good yield. And to exacerbate the problem, the deer pressure is worse in a drought because the pastures are less appealing than any crops we’re watering. Our best solution to this is to invest in another well with a larger pump, but this is a huge capital expense, and we have quite a few hurdles to jump before we can get there. Fortunately, this rough year was terrifically motivating.

A number of you mentioned the lack of peppers and eggplant, and indeed, those are two crops that did quite well in 2014 and exceptionally badly in 2015. Two other big hits were potatoes (spring too cold and wet) and okra (deer). Two crops that did a lot better this year were, not surprisingly, in the fall--sweet potatoes (the fence kept the deer out...so they went to the okra), and turnips. Now, I’m a big fan of sweet, fall Hakurei turnips, but if I have to choose one crop to do especially well when the others are suffering, I would not have chosen turnips. C’est la vie.

But the real bread-winner for us is tomatoes. Fortunately, we planted more tomatoes in 2015 than we did the year prior, so even though the yield fell, we still had an abundant crop. Phew!

I get excited about spreadsheets, so if you want to see a layout of the pounds, acres and yield of all 43 of our crops this year, you can see it all laid out HERE as a Google sheet or HERE as an Excel document. Also, we made a list HERE as a Google Doc and HERE as a pdf of what we offered in your CSA shares each week, in case you'd like a refresher.

Many of you noted that you love to you-pick, and wished there were more opportunities. In fact, 77% of you picked your own vegetables, herbs, fruits and/or flowers this season, which is wonderful. Nonetheless, when there isn’t much to harvest, we pick as much as we can to put in your share for you. So this year, you’re right, there was less to you-pick. But I am glad to hear how much you value you the option, and I’ll redouble my efforts next year to make that available as much as possible.

“Next year I am hoping that the strawberry fields are a little more organized.” Leave a strawberry plant to its own devices, and it will spread new plants in every direction, like a carpet. Last year, I just didn't have the heart to kill off the plants in the aisles, and as a consequence, we walked on many of them. I'm not sure that it had any real impact on the total number of berries that made it into your mouths, but I concede it was sad to see crushed berries, and harder to know where to walk. For your crop this coming spring, I've compromised, and tilled a few aisles, though there are still too few and they are too narrow. Hopefully in the spring, I'll toughen up and till in some more.

“If it is possible to improve the road to the furthers fields. It would be nice to be able to drive there instead of walking. It was very hard to get to the fields to pick cucumbers, tomatoes and beans. I had to carry a heavy bag probably whole mile up the hill. It wasn’t fun.” We just can’t afford to grade and resurface all the back roads on the farm. Every year I target some crops that I hope to have on the you-pick list, and plant them near the paved driveway (strawberries, cherry tomatoes, chiles and okra). When crops in distant fields are on the you-pick list, perhaps we can bring you out with the “Gus”--the newest, most-exciting, and orangest member of our fleet of vehicles.

“The deer fences were a great addition; did they actually work?” Yes! And no...We installed 8’ tall fences around the crops that the deer always go after--sweet potatoes, corn, melons, beans, strawberries and winter squash. Honestly, I’ve never seen deer strip okra and peppers like that before. Geez! So, we have some more fences to put up, clearly. It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there.

“It was a good season, I think. In the past, you had lots of daikons. I'm guessing other patrons didn't care for them? They were great.” Yes, lone soul, you are the only one who has asked for them. And even the soup kitchen workers give us the stink eye when we hand them a large stack of daikons. But you are in luck! We use daikon radishes as a cover crop in the field where we will be planting mustards and spinach the following spring. This year the dry weather delayed the radishes, so they weren’t ready to pick until December. The sheep ate them instead of you. But next year, ask us in October or November, and we’ll send you with a digging fork to have your way with them.

“I loved the idea of fresh from the farm veg, and I enjoyed the farm once there, but it was a 45 minute drive each way and I couldn't make it all the time. I also found we still had to buy veg from the organic market, and I ended up spending quite a lot on veg this year.” Yes, I have seen a trend over the years that people who have to travel 30 minutes or more each way to get to their pick-up site are less satisfied with their share. It makes sense that for those people, the farm has to provide a much higher value for the time lost picking up the share. A few of you mentioned that a life change is making the CSA more distant or less timely, and I wholeheartedly agree that convenience is a high priority. There may be other CSAs that or farm stands that make more sense. Godspeed and good luck! I applaud everyone that chooses local, organic produce, even if it isn’t ours. No need to be a martyr.

“I'm not sure who the gentleman was who sat at the end of the display every Wednesday, but his presence was a bit unsettling.” That gentleman is Mr. Joe Brown. He has lived on the farm since he was a teenager, and spent most of his life working for the Clagett/Addison family raising tobacco. Now he is retired, and if anyone deserves to roam the farm as he pleases, it is he. Mr. Brown is not the kind of person to initiate a conversation, and I’m sure, as shy as he is, that he is not trying to make anyone uncomfortable. But he doesn’t drive, and other than his television, the farm pick-up is about as much entertainment as he gets. A dozen years ago, there was a retiree, Mr. Raymond DeVaughn (now deceased), who used to drive onto the farm and stare at us while we worked. He also used to make fun of us, which Mr. Brown almost never does. Perhaps Mr. Brown is just taking his turn. Give it another 25 years and I might be the one in the farm’s bleacher seats, awkwardly watching the season unfold around me.

“If there is a preferred list that beef shares are offered to first that the general farm membership is not a part of, it would have been helpful to know so that I could have planned my meat purchase from a different source.” Michael Heller manages the beef and lamb operation on the farm. Typically, he sells meet twice a year (around June and November). He collects e-mail addresses of people who say they would like to buy beef, and then sends a mass e-mail to that list as the sale approaches. If any of you would like to be added to that list, it’s best to contact him directly: mheller@cbf.org. I apologize--it sounds like we miscommunicated or didn’t relay someone’s inquiry.

“Would love to have small portions of the beef available for purchase during year. I don't eat much beef, so purchasing no more than 2 lbs at a time is more than enough.” Wish granted! We now have a freezer in the washing station for the purpose of selling meat in modest portions. I believe Michael is planning to stock the freezer beginning in June.

“I wish the Rosemary was more plentiful.” Me, too! Rosemary is a tender perennial. It overwinters in our region in a normal year (but not the coldest winters), if it’s protected from wind. They especially like growing beside a building, which moderates the temperature, so you might consider planting it in your home garden or window box. For us, we’ve had a maddening time getting it to survive the winter. The washing station is in an especially windy area. This winter, we have surrounded the rosemary with straw bales and covered it with a polyester fabric that lets in light and water, but adds a layer of protection. Will it work? I don’t know; the suspense is killing me!

“I seem to recall that the membership increased by a pretty large amount this year, which seemed excessive.” We did raise the price by $75 (it was the same regardless of payment by check or credit card--to answer another member’s question). We hadn’t increased the price of the share since 2010, so our income was not keeping up with expenses. Thankfully, there’s no need for another increase this year. I mean, except for that well we need to drill and the fences, but that’s what grants are for, right?

“While we try to eat seasonal, the fact is our kids consume a lot of broccoli and cauliflower and the shares never contain enough of these week to week (do they ever have cauli?)” Unfortunately, this is a terrible climate for broccoli and cauliflower--too hot and humid. We used to plant them in the spring for summer harvest. But in the heat, the cauliflower turns yellow and spotty, and the broccoli is small and bitter. So I gave that up a few years ago. In the fall, we were more successful with broccoli this year than we usually are (which is still mediocre). Fortunately, we seem to have gotten the knack of growing the seedlings for fall broccoli and cabbage, which has been a tough nut to crack. But cauliflower is slower-growing and didn’t head until after the share was over. Next year, I’ll probably grow twice the fall broccoli and no cauliflower, and cross my fingers. I’ll count myself lucky if we get one nice head per share. Broccoli and cauliflower are the same species as cabbage, collards, kale and kohlrabi. Perhaps you could find a way to substitute? Keep up the good work--at least your kids are eating vegetables!

“At the very end of the year, I came for a share at the farm. We missed a lot of summer pickups, so were rather liberally doing doubles when we made it on the fall. The volunteer that day said rolling pickups over was only to be used over a two week period. This was the first I've heard this, and would love clarification.” The reason you were confused, is that we had different rules for the farm and Dupont pick-ups. Specifically, Genevieve had the reins at Dupont, and preferred a more liberal policy of allowing members to take a double share for any missed share, regardless of how much time had passed. Dupont members, I heard loud and clear how much you appreciated Genevieve (naturally--she’s fantastic!) and this is just one more reason to add to your list of gratitudes.
We at the farm pick-up were a little more stingy. We’ve had a few too many occasions where we misjudged how many people would show up for their share and ended up running short at the end. So our rule at the farm pick-up is that you can take an extra share within a week before or after you’ve missed one, but after that it’s forfeited.
Next year, Jenn Garvin will be in charge at Dupont. Will she follow Genevieve’s lead? Will we change the policy at the farm? I’m not sure yet, but at least we’ll try to make it clear up front.

Allow me to put in a plug for anyone who might be interested in working a pick-up in exchange for a CSA share in 2016.  You can choose Wednesdays, 2:30-7:30pm at the farm, 4:30-8:00pm at Dupont, or Saturdays 11:30am-4:30pm at the farm.  You can work 1-4 weeks/month, according to your preference.  We need people who have a very positive attitude, can lift a 30-pound bin, and are reliable.  Spread the word!  

“I'd like to say that a few years ago there was an email that you were planting blueberry trees, so I'm surprised we haven't received any blueberry's yet. Also, where were the melons this year? I don't remember seeing any. I don't mind the low yield btw, though I missed the peppers this year, because I am 100% behind the idea of the CSA and shared risk/reward.”  Yes, we did plant about a hundred blueberry bushes, and a year later we fenced the deer out of them. And you have one very dedicated volunteer, Rick Vitek, to thank for coming to the farm on his days off all summer long to weed those plants all by his lonesome. Thank you, Rick! The plants look good but small. We’ve been diligent about irrigating, fertilizing and mulching with wood chips. The soil is not as acidic as they prefer, but plenty high in iron, which they especially crave. So we’ll wait and see. I’m hoping that they suddenly pop up to twice their current height, but I doubt you’ll see blueberries in your share in 2016. Maybe 2017?

The Asian pear trees we planted are not faring as well. Many of them have died from fire blight, which is a big problem for fruit trees in our region. It leaves me wondering if I should invest the time needed to coddle the ones that remain, or if I should focus more energy on planting something new--such as persimmons, figs or black raspberries, all of which grow successfully here and there on the farm already. But rest assured, we are definitely working on building up our fruit stocks.

“This was our first year and it was a great experience. Got to taste some new vegetables, such as kolhrabi and jerusulem artichoke!! We were unable to volunteer this year, but VERY MUCH APPRECIATE the people who work so hard to bring us this CSA. To all the ones who plant, weed, and harvest the produce-THANK YOU SO MUCH.”

“The farm is woven into our lives -- we wouldn't be without it.”

“I'm used to the vagaries of the harvest. It's the way you know it's authentic and appreciate the risks that people of the land without the safety nets we have face every day.”

You’re welcome! The feeling is completely mutual. It is hard work, and sometimes we really screw up, but we love our customers. You are a family for us, you bring us gifts and wisdom and energy and smiles, and we feel blessed to work for you.

There were a lot more comments that I didn’t respond to here, but I definitely read them all.  If we missed something you’re still curious about, or don’t think we quite got the message, leave a comment here!

Your farmer,
Carrie

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