August 2012

The tomatoes start in this great sea of seemingly green. Although it is hard to see the tomatoes on this picture, they are there, along with about 10 other workers crouching and picking.

The tomato pack in the packing shed on Wednesday afternoon.

This week we harvested 16,800 tomatoes. We separate them by variety into stacks and figure out how many of each variety should go into each bag. Then we gather our crew, assign a tomato variety or two to each person and pack 1235 bags of tomatoes in about 1.5 hours, whew!

Thursday morning on the packing line. We spend Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday harvesting, washing, counting, weighing and bagging vegetables. On Thursday morning we gather to pack share boxes. Each vegetable item comes out of the cooler and is lined up. Each person is assigned an item or two and we spend about 3 hours packing 1235 share boxes. Again, whew! Then into the trucks and off to our pick up sites we go.

Baby Paavo Perkins admiring and approving the vegetable pack.


Thank you to those of you who voted Vermont Valley Community Farm Madison’s Favorite CSA in the Isthmus Annual Manual.

Ann Man mini-leader

As we harvest the summer crops and leave only vegetable matter behind in the fields, new plant life comes as we plant cover crops.  Cover crops are planted for the purpose of enriching soil fertility, preventing soil erosion, sending roots deep down to break up soil compaction and to increase the soil’s organic matter content.  The cover crop is planted, mowed down and tilled back into the soil.  Sometimes it is referred to as ‘green manure’.  Just last week we planted 20 acres into cover crops, including: field peas, Austrian winter peas, oats, alfalfa and tillage radish.  We also plant rye, wheat, barley, clover, fescue and hairy vetch.  A basic concept in organic farming is to keep the sun working for you with cover crops; collecting solar energy by converting it into plant matter which is then converted into soil and subsequently into the nutritious, delicious vegetables you eat.  The cover crops are an integral part of this farm’s soil fertility program thereby reducing off-farm inputs; “We grow our own fertility”.

Oats, Peas and Tillage Radish planted where the garlic once grew. Garlic was harvested in July.

Weekly Harvest Routines

You have been receiving squash for many, many weeks.  It is a plant that continues to bear fruit seemingly endlessly.  It hides under foliage and gets enormous overnight.  We have had to stay very vigilant for the past 8 weeks lest the squash takes control of the farm. We harvest squash every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.  The daily harvest often takes 6 – 8 people 2 – 3 hours.  With the onset of cooler weather we think the squash will give us a break!  We will reduce our harvest commitment to three days per week without any sadness.

Searching for squash in the ‘squash jungle’. The plants have scratchy spines on their thick stems so long pants, long sleeves and gloves are a must.

Ohn, Elisabeth, Chad and Clara empty their buckets of squash into crates, then back for more.

I have talked about ‘year of the eggplant’ several times in “This Week’s Harvest”.  It truly feels that way.  We have not had such a bumper crop of eggplant in the farm’s history.  Although eggplant is such a beautiful fruit, the harvest is no fun.  Eggplant plants have pollen or dust or some such thing that cause all of us harvesters to sneeze and cough and get itchy throats.  The following picture shows how Elizabeth and I deal with crawling through those plants.

Elisabeth and Barb harvesting eggplant.

Our resident Sandhill Crane family walking through newly planted lettuce heads. The mom and dad are in the front and back and the two young are in the middle. We have watched the adults raise their young all season. They are usually in our big field announcing their presence as we get close. Rarely do they become frightened enough to fly away.

Barb and David

This weather these days sure makes working in the fields more pleasant.  We can no longer begin harvest at 5:30 am if we want to see what we are harvesting.  On Tuesday at 7:00 am as we began celery harvest, the sun had not risen above the hills yet; and when it did the intensity wasn’t there.  Fog lies heavy in the valley each morning and we wear boots and rain pants as we harvest tomatoes.  Tuesday’s light rain seemed like mist from the gods.  Life on the farm is good.

Pepper harvest. Harvesting sweet red peppers and hot peppers.

Our view from the pepper field. If we give ourselves a moment to stand and gaze, this is what meets our eyes. Then it’s back to peppers. The pumpkin patch is the big mass of green leaves.

Celery harvest. The base of the celery plant is cut just below the surface of the ground. Then the scraggly outer stalks are pulled off and the root end is trimmed.

Washing celery. The celery soaks in a tub of water to remove field dirt. It then gets sprayed with a hose to remove any remaining dirt, trimmed and counted into a crate. In the backround on the right Kathy and Roz are standing at the bagger bagging potatoes and to the left Eric is moving a stack of celery onto the scale where it gets weighed and recorded and then moved into a 32 degree cooler.


Vermont Valley Community Farm is one of the 3 stops on the 6th annual Bike the Barns route.  Underground Food Collective will be preparing lunch on our farm and serving it to Bike the Barns riders. Proceeds from this event benefit FairShare’s Partner Shares Program, which helps low-income families purchase local, organic vegetables and have a direct connection with their food and farm through community supported agriculture.

Rough Map of the Bike the Barns Route

Registration is still open!  Click here for more information.

Bike the Barns

The roma tomatoes are beautiful this year!  We will be holding several roma tomato u-picks.  Members can come out and pick up to 10 pounds (per share, not per family) at no cost; additional pounds will be available at $1.50 per pound, quantities permitting.

We need to know if you will be coming out to pick and how many pounds you want to pick.

An RSVP is required; In your email, please put Roma Tomatoes in the subject line and let us know which date you would like to come u-pick and how many total pounds you would like (including the 10 free pounds).  You will receive an email from us confirming your U-Pick date.  If you have any other farm questions or comments please contact us in a separate email.

If there are more requests than ripe tomatoes, we will ask you to wait until the next u-pick.

Arrive at the start time of 9:00 (10am on Saturday, September 8th) so you have the opportunity to pick the best tomatoes.  If you arrive late there may only be under-ripe tomatoes remaining and the u-pick may be over.

A note on the weather:  Madison weather is often different from what we are experiencing out here on the farm.  If the weather looks questionable at home on the morning of a U-Pick bring a rain jacket and boots.  All events are rain or shine.

U-Pick Dates and Times: 

Saturday, August 11th, 9:00 am

Saturday, August 18th, 9:00 am FULL

Saturday, August 25th, 9:00 am FULL

Saturday, September 1st, 9am FULL

Saturday, September 8th, 10am

Bring your own containers or bags to pick into and to transport your tomatoes home.

The farm always can use plastic bags and neatly folded full sized paper bags.  Bring them if you have them.

Roma tomatoes are perfect for sauce and salsa because they are less juicy than slicing tomatoes. They are also delicious to eat and do keep very well.  We have 6 different varieties of traditional roma tomatoes (all red varieties) and 7 varieties of interesting heirloom varieties (a mix of colors and shapes with very rich flavors).

Basil: No charge for a limited quantity.

Hot Peppers:  We have grown a few different hot pepper varieties.  You may purchase them for $3.00 per pound

Tomatillos:  Available for $2.00 per pound.  We grow a limited quantity of tomatillos.

Garlic: $6.00 per pound

Please leave your dogs at home; as always.

Directions to the Farm 

for GPS use: 4628 County Road FF, Blue Mounds, WI  53517

  • From Madison take Highway 14 (University
    Avenue) to Black Earth.  Turn left onto
    County F/Highway 78  (this is at the
    stoplight on highway 14, at the Shoe Box shoe store).
  • Stay on County F for five miles to the intersection with County FF (Co. F turns
    right in Black Earth, then turns left 1 mile outside of Black Earth).

The farm is at the intersection of F & FF. A map
is on our website at

We are now harvesting from every tomato patch on the farm.  Here is what you can expect to see in your share box over the next couple of months.  Hopefully this will help you identify it when you see it in your share.  Most of our tomatoes are Heirloom varieties.  An Heirloom is an open pollinated variety that has been passed down for generations.

Garden Peach: These 2oz yellow fruits blush pink when ripe and have fuzzy skins somewhat like peaches.  Soft skinned, juicy and very sweet.  Light fruity taste is not what you would expect in a tomato.

Orange Banana: Long, orange paste-type tomato. Sweet and flavorful.

Black Prince: A 3-5 oz. tomato with a deep reddish/purple color and unusual brown shoulders that become orange-red as they ripen. Distinctive, rich, fruity tomato flavor.

Red Zebra: A small red tomato overlaid with golden yellow stripes.

Ruth’s, Estiva, Wisconsin 55, Pink Beauty: Red slicing tomatoes with amazing flavor and texture.

Japanese Trifele Black: A tomato that looks like a beautiful mahogany-colored Bartlett pear with greenish shoulders.  A rich and complex flavor.

Cherry Tomatoes: Sun Gold, Sun Cherry, Yellow Mini and Black Cherry.  We mix them up for you.

Roma/Paste/Plum/Processing Tomatoes: These tomatoes are drier than most slicing tomatoes, making them perfect for cooking, drying, sauce and salsa making. We grow a mix of traditional red paste tomatoes and others with fascinating shape, size and color.  Here are their names:  Debarao, Bellstar, Plum Regal, Granadero,  San Marzano, Monica, Viva Italia, Speckled Roman, Amish Paste, Federle, Sheboygan, Opalka,. 

We aim to harvest our tomatoes just before they are vine-ripe. We do this so you don’t receive an over ripe tomato.  But it also means that you may receive a tomato that needs to sit on your counter for a day or two before it is perfect to eat, heavy and quite soft.  And when you do receive a very ripe tomato, eat it up.

top row, left to right: Black Prince, Pink Beauty, Ruth’s or WI 55 (they look similar), Debarao
bottom row, left to right: Garden Peach, Orange Banana, Red Zebra, Japanese Trifele Black

Melon Harvest

Monday, Wednesday, Friday …..repeat……  We harvest cantaloupe and watermelon every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning.  They ripen over several weeks, so we harvest the ripe ones each time we walk the patch and leave the others to ripen. It is cool early, so just after sunrise the melons get our attention.  There is an art to the harvest of each type of melon.  And since melon is one crop that we can not see inside of, we have to trust that our sense of ripeness is correct.

The Cambodian crew harvesting watermelon. They pass the melons to Tonny who makes piles on the ground. We then load the melons into crates and transport them back to a 45 degree cooler.

The cantaloupes are harvested the same way and then loaded into bulk bins. As the workers load the melons they are counted. The full bulk bins get transported to a 32 degree cooler.

Thanks to everyone who came to our 18th annual Corn Boil.  It was a wonderful day.  The corn was delicious, the pot luck was amazing and the little goats were a hit.