Wow, that was a heck of a year, my friends! It’s the kind of year that makes me grateful that you, our customers, can support us when weather puts a strain on our ability to grow food. Without you, we surely would have gone out of business.
Here’s a round-up:
- We harvested a total of 36,258 pounds of produce. That’s a lot of food, but it’s actually our lowest yield since 2001 (our average is 67,194 pounds). Yikes!
- To prevent giving you half-sized shares all season, we did a few things to get you a better product.
- We bought a few things from farmer friends on a couple of occasions (sweet potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers).
- And we donated only 25% of our harvest, instead of our 45% target. In fact, our contact at the Capital Area Food Bank said that farms across the area were suffering large losses in yield, so donations of fresh produce were way down this year.
- And fortunately, although it was not our intent, we sold only 205 shares (21 of which were half price for low income families), which is down from our typical 270. Although financially unsustainable for us, that allowed for more food per member this year.
- Our average weight of one share per week was 5.5 pounds (our average is 7 pounds).
A few bright spots:
- The Capital Area Food Bank connected us with an organization called Brighter Bites, which brings our produce to elementary schools for free distribution to low income families, along with ample nutritional and culinary guidance.
- We had a lot of wonderful greens this year. They don’t weigh much, but are a high value item in your shares in the spring and fall. We also were surprised by how well the onions and fennel grew this year, and our old standby, garlic, was back up to its old rock star yield.
- In fact, while the first 13 weeks were slim, the second half of the harvest season was quite good. The crazy weather moderated for a bit in August and September, and the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and then the fall greens and roots had a chance to grow normally.
- Next year’s strawberry crop was planted this past spring and they look fabulous! So even though this year’s strawberries were mauled by deer, 2019 strawberries are well-protected and are looking to produce abundantly this coming May.
- This is our 26th consecutive year (out of 26) without an outbreak of E.coli contamination. There were no reports of major illnesses or fatalities. No chemical spray drift accidentally harmed wildlife, our customers or our workers. All of our employees were paid a fair wage and worked reasonable hours with time off for illness and vacations. Every ounce of food you brought home was good for you and your family’s health, and supported a vibrant ecosystem. We care about you. You belong here. Romaine, anyone?
Why was the year so challenging?
We were hit by one extreme weather event after another. In March, a tremendous wind storm ripped the brand new cover off of our high tunnel, which set back our earliest tomato and carrot plantings (thanks to warmer weather in May we were able to put it back on, and this time a little more securely). We had an unusually cold and wet spring that set back the rest of our summer crops. Then June and July we had 6 weeks without a drop of rain. And since then it’s been rain, rain and more rain interrupted by a few weeks here and there of sun and moderation. Even now, this is the wettest November on record.
Climate change is making life tough for your dear farm, and we are examining our options for adapting to a future of weather extremes. We will be digging a new well this winter to augment our irrigation during dry spells, and we’ve been working on our strip-tillage system to stabilize the soil and improve absorption of rainwater during wet spells. But nothing beats a moderate combination of sun and rain! Keep the pressure on our legislators, friends. We must dramatically cut back our production of greenhouse gases.
There’s a lot of new, sustainable growers in our region right now--many of them were trained right here at Clagett Farm. The average age of farmers in Maryland is 58, which means we need all those new farmers to succeed and train the next generation that will be taking over. Now is not the time to start buying produce from some other state, delivered to your door.
Nothing supports a farmer like a customer that greets us with a smile and uses our product every single week, all season long. We need you! You need us! We love you! We’ll see you next year!
-Carrie Vaughn (Vegetable Production Manager), and the rest of the farm staff