July 2015


Garlic is planted in late fall and is the first plant to poke its nose out of the ground in the spring. You already enjoyed the mild flavor of the garlic scapes we included early this season. Removing the scapes makes for larger garlic bulbs. The bulbs are harvested once the plant has decided it is done; late July is garlic harvest season across the Midwest. We completed our harvest this week; you will get to enjoy the harvest for the rest of the season. We will be adding a garlic bulb into your share on a regular basis.

Long term members have enjoyed lots of garlic and likely recall the season that the spring frost killed almost all of our crop. It has taken several years to recover from that loss, but we finally have. For those new to the garlic discussion, we save our own garlic for replanting and have needed about 20% of the harvest just to maintain the current plantings. So if you lose 90% of the crop, you are in trouble.

We decided to purchase some new varieties to add to our diversity. We are very pleased with several of those and are growing out the seed stock so you eventually get to enjoy them. This year we will be adding Italian Red to the CSA deliveries. Our varieties going back many years are German, Music and the mystery variety we’ve named Rose. The other new varieties we are very pleased with, and you will hopefully taste next year, include Chesnok Red and White Russian. Two that are not making the cut after a several year trial are Red Grain and Leah. Two we may give one more chance are Carpathian and Belarus. Yes, there are a LOT of garlic varieties; like hundreds.

Garlic harvest is a bit of a grueling task. Each bulb is unearthed; the dirt needs to be removed from the roots; and, the tops are trimmed for initial curing. The garlic is moved to the upper barn where hay once was stored for dairy cows. The garlic is allowed to dry and cure. We then take each garlic bulb, clip the remaining top and roots, clean off most of the remaining dirt, and deliver it to you. As you can see, this is a lot of hand-work. Enjoy!

David

Tonny in the garlic during the scape harvest.

Tonny in the garlic during the scape harvest.

Paul loading the harvest.

Sophal loading the harvest.

Unearthing garlic bulbs.

Soek and Oun unearthing garlic bulbs.

A crate of bulbs fresh out of the ground.

A crate of bulbs fresh out of the ground.

The harvest curing in the barn.

The harvest curing in the barn.

 

Two weeks ago hundreds of members converged on the farm to pick basil and make pesto. It was a lovely day for all who ventured out. The weather was perfect, the aroma of fresh basil hung in the air, lots of pesto was prepared and everyone seemed to have a wonderful time.

We host festivals so you can come out to the farm and we have a chance to meet you. Hope to see you out here this season.

Barb

After the basil is picked, members stand around tables picking off the leaves. It is a way to enjoy the company of friends, family and other members.

After the basil is picked, members stand around tables picking off the leaves. It is a way to enjoy the company of friends, family and other members.

Prepping to make lots of pesto!

Prepping to make lots of pesto!

This group had so much fun experimenting with the taste of their pesto. I was lucky to be standing at their table tasting and agreeing that yes this one is very cheesy or garlicky. Fun.

This group had so much fun experimenting with the taste of their pesto. I was lucky to be standing at their table tasting and agreeing that yes this one is very cheesy or garlicky. Fun.

Let’s talk about the big storm. It seems to have hit everyone and we all have our own story. Here’s ours. I awoke at 3:00am to the sound of gentle thunder. Then the power blinked on and off. Figured I had better let the dog in, she gets pretty scared. And I may as well take a peek at the radar so I know what we have in store for us for the day’s activities. Just then the wind started blowing, howling, pounding. I heard that train sound people talk about with tornadoes. I had better find a working flashlight. Found one. I closed the big packing shed door, we have a remote, so I could close it from the house. The potting shed door needed to stay open, I wasn’t going outside. Now to go study the radar and read the Storm Advisory. Didn’t look good. I need to make the decision to call off our Cambodian crew or not. Eight of them were on their way. A few more minutes with the radar and I picked up the phone to call them. It was 4:00am I got a hold of Rith, the driver. He was on his way to pick up one more person (they all carpool together). I said we may need to call the day off. We had already received over an inch of rain in one hour and I was watching the rain gauge go up quickly. He said it wasn’t so bad where they were on the south side of Madison near the beltline, but I warned him it would be bad soon. Within minutes he said they were pulling off the road to sit it out. We talked for another 5 min or so as I continued to watch the radar. The storm was moving through quickly. By 6:00am when they start work it should be past. It would be really wet, but more rain was in the forecast and it could be worse the next day. What should we do? I told them to come. When they pulled it just before 6:00 we had gotten 1.8 inches of rain and there were limbs and branches strewn all over the farm. The first job was to help me clean the place up. Then off they went to our field in Arena to harvest peas. My next crew arrived at 6:30. Several of them told me of following road crews pushing trees off the road, clearing the way for their car. Somehow, we carried out a nearly normal day. We couldn’t drive the trucks as close to the crops as we usually do for fear of getting stuck, so we did a bit more walking; but we made the most of what Mother Nature had given us and thanked her for 1.8 inches of irrigation that she dumped on the whole farm at once. No serious damage to crops. Barb

Rith clearing branches from around the packing shed and greenhouse.

Rith clearing branches from around the packing shed and greenhouse.

I was out in the fields shortly after 6:00 am to check for any damage and to see how wet it was.

I was out in the fields shortly after 6:00 am to check for any damage and to see how wet it was.

Monday morning Swiss chard harvest.

Monday morning Swiss chard harvest.

Monday morning cucumber harvest, look the sun has come out already.

Monday morning cucumber harvest, look the sun has come out already.

Tuesday morning onion harvest.

Tuesday morning onion harvest.

* Some share will get shell peas this week and the rest of the shares next week; this is because they don’t all mature at once on the vine and need to be harvested multiple times.

Shell peas are a bit old fashioned and truly a ‘slow food’. These peas need to be shelled before you can enjoy them. David timed himself as he shelled our peas, so we know it will take you about 5 minutes to shell your peas; yielding a bit more than 1 cup. They are sugar sweet and can be eaten raw or very lightly steamed. Toss them on a salad or with pasta dish. We have included a recipe. We are excited to be growing them for the first time and want to know if we should grow them again next year. So let us know what you want. We will base our decision on what you say. Thank you.

Members have been asking us lately “Have you been getting too much rain?” The short answer is “no”. As a matter of fact, we have been running irrigation for the past week. As you can likely guess, we monitor the weather constantly. We check forecasts and watch radar many times a day if necessary. The forecast tells us if rain is likely and the radar allows us to see it coming towards the farm and lets us make an educated guess as to when it will hit. Is the front in Iowa or Iowa County? This piece of information lets us plan the day or the next hour. Rain patterns this season have been unusual. For weeks there have been multiple rain cells forming, growing, shrinking and moving across the sky. Most of these cells are relatively small, at times raining on our potato fields in Arena but not on the home farm. Our employees may drive through a downpour to get to the farm and but the farm doesn’t get a drop. Vegetables need a lot of water on a regular basis; an inch to inch and a half per week is good. Three inches one week followed by no rain for three weeks doesn’t do us nearly as much good. When we transplant little plants they need water right away, so we run irrigation over them. They can’t wait until it rains, the risk is dead plants. We love gentle one inch rains (weekends are best); then the fields aren’t too wet to work in. But of course we do end up driving trucks and harvesting vegetables in muddy fields. It creates challenges, but we are used to challenges. No two days are ever the same on the farm, plans are made in advance, but we all have to be ready to change them as the weather changes. Rain or the threat of rain determines what we do when. It keeps things interesting around here. And we did get a nice rain Monday night.

Barb

Jesse pulling out an irrigation hose with a tractor.

Jesse pulling out an irrigation hose with a tractor.

The large gun irrigating the cabbage.

The large traveling gun irrigating the broccoli.

A muddy fennel harvest.

 

* Some share will get shell peas this week and the rest of the shares next week; this is because they don’t all mature at once on the vine and need to be harvested multiple times.

Shell peas are a bit old fashioned and truly a ‘slow food’. These peas need to be shelled before you can enjoy them. David timed himself as he shelled our peas, so we know it will take you about 5 minutes to shell your peas; yielding a bit more than 1 cup. They are sugar sweet and can be eaten raw or very lightly steamed. Toss them on a salad or with pasta dish. We have included a recipe. We are excited to be growing them for the first time and want to know if we should grow them again next year. So let us know what you want. We will base our decision on what you say. Thank you.

USDA color sealFrom the beginning, our farm has followed the principals and practices of organic agriculture. This underlying concept has a big impact on the farm and beyond: including the amount of work it takes to grow your food, the cost incurred to grow your food, the quality of your food, and farming’s impact on the land and water around us.

Seldom do I get asked questions regarding our farming practices. I believe this is a combination of our members simply trusting what we are doing (thanks!), and the lack of an opportunity for members to inquire. So I will use this space now and then to disseminate “why organic” from this Farmer’s perspective.

My formal training was in chemical agriculture from the University of Wisconsin and I spent years as an agronomist promoting this style of agriculture. My more distant background was growing up on a farm in southern Wisconsin which transitioned from organic to chemical agriculture. Everyone was organic in those days (although the word was not used) and almost everyone transitioned to chemicals. Then, for a period of my life, I was exposed to the politics of agriculture. Put this background together and you are sure to go organic!

I refer to non-organic agriculture as chemical agriculture because that farming system is absolutely 100% dependent on the application of pesticides, including pesticides used to kill weeds, insects and diseases. Take those chemicals away and the system absolutely implodes. Contrast this to modern organic agriculture which employs a multitude of practices to avoid the use of chemicals. To put it another way, if you take the few organic approved chemicals away, our farm would not implode; you would continue to get food. And in fact, there are materials we once used that are no longer available, but we do without just fine. Chemical agriculture is dependent on chemicals, whereas organic agriculture is dependent on farm management practices.

So what is the big picture impact, organic versus chemical? Well the list is quit long and as independent scientists begin to catch up with reality, the list gets longer. Let’s start with agricultural chemical contamination of your drinking water; a very well documented fact here in southern Wisconsin. What is more important to the human body than clean water to drink? In my mind, that’s ENOUGH. What other motivation is needed to take action, and so we have taken action here at Vermont Valley Community Farm, and so have you by joining us: you are eating organic. Of course, clean water is critical to other creatures and ecosystems as well.

Organic is the elimination of unnecessary contamination of water and soil and the unnecessary consumption of agricultural chemicals by you as you eat your food: and I emphasis “unnecessary”. The world was raised on organic agriculture; pollution agriculture is a recent phenomenon. The public debate on what agricultural chemical is ok to eat or drink strikes me as ludicrous; it is unnecessary.

Vermont Valley lettuceSo what are the practical implications for you the CSA member? Long time members can verify the quality of the produce we grow. Good quality organic produce is not “buggy”, rotten or dirty. We work very hard to give you clean, beautiful, healthy and delicious produce. However, on occasion, something gets through to you that we have tried the cull out. For example, a member recently contacted us about a worm in their lettuce head; they were very concerned. We work hard so such meetings do not occur, but that work does NOT include spraying our lettuce with a broad spectrum insecticide to kill an occasional bug. Our lettuce is just lettuce; and in fact lettuce rarely gets any hitchhikers’; we were surprised by this. However, hitchhikers are an issue with broccoli, cabbage and sweet corn. So we monitor those crops and, if warranted, apply a biological insecticide to keep the hitchhikers home on the farm. The use of an organic approved pesticide is a last resort, not a standard operating procedure on this farm. Even though organic approved pesticides are largely benign compared to most pesticides, I still do not like them. I treat them with a bit of disdain, but I will succumb to using them if the impact is too severe without them.

We get lots of great member stories. One of our favorites is the response of a member’s daughter to green worms they got in a broccoli head. The daughter was so excited with the unexpected surprise; she made a home for them and raised them as pets. That was quite the lesson in how important perspective is. I hope I can have the same perspective when I encounter something unexpected. We will continue to keep your surprises to a minimum, but an occasional surprise is part of our efforts to minimize any use of any chemicals on your food.

Your Organic Farmer

David Perkins