Barb


 

Eric, Jonnah, David, Barb, and Jesse Perkins

Twenty five Sandhill cranes just flew overhead. I saw them out of my office window as I sat down to write. I walked to the deck and stepped out. I could hear them calling and counted them, way up high, flying south. They are saying good-bye one more time. And twenty-five didn’t seem insignificant. We are in the 25th year on our farm having just completed season twenty-four.

We have shared this land with Sandhill cranes since moving here in 1994. They have always been special. Our farm’s first logo was a crane flying over a barn and then became a crane flying over the marsh. They return in late February, just when we are beginning our greenhouse work and leave in December just as we are sending out our last delivery.

They squawk seemingly nonstop when we are working in the hoophouse in early March, nest in our marsh and parade around the fields and roads with their young. They walk around the farm fields, seeming to claim them as their own. And then they eat what we plant; corn, melons and even potatoes!

These cranes are synonymous with this land. They were here long before us and will be here long after. The Crane has become a symbol of hope and healing during challenging times.

Goodbye from the cranes and good-bye from The Perkins Family. You mean a lot to us and we are forever grateful for your support of this farm.

With hope for the future,

Barb and David

This is it, the last weekly blog post as your farmer. My head and heart are swirling with emotion, which will likely continue to unfold for months and years to come.

The 2018 Crew. Kneeling: Ryna, Sophon, Jonnah, Standing: Sid, Jesse, Barb, Eric, Abby, David , Ning, Yun.

We didn’t do this on our own! We had the idea and initiative, but it takes a whole community! Thank You to our CSA community for the support you have provided for 24 years. A very special Thank You to those of you who have been with us for all or most of these 24 years. You had the confidence in us and in the concept. You hung in there with us as we figured it out, made mistakes, went through growing pains and in turn we used your feedback to direct change and make improvements.

Thank You to our worker shares! Hundreds of you have given your time to join us in the fields and packing shed as we tackled every hot, cold, dirty, sweaty, repetitive task. You gave it your all, you were valuable crew to the farm and we got to know each other. This farm’s labor force was built on the Worker Share program.

Thank You to our site hosts! You have very generously opened your homes and have been an integral part of this movement. You have shown patience and humor and persevered as you made phone calls, helped families and went out of your way to make sure everyone got what they needed. Particular thanks to Joe Schmitt, in addition to being a site host for 24 years, he was instrumental in helping launch the farm with his wealth of growing knowledge.

Thank You to the Cambodian crew who has been with us for 15 years! You have been the consistent work force on this farm. We value your dedication to our farm and our family. You made us feel part of the Cambodian community in Dane County.

But most of all, THANK YOU TO OUR CHILDREN. How could we ever have imagined when we started this farm, when you were in grade school and middle school, that you, along with us, would become the backbone of this CSA? We had the crazy idea to move you from your comfortable east side neighborhood to a farm! We worked day and night and weekends and felt as if we had precious little time to spend with you. But in return, you embraced what we were doing and decided to do it with us! Jesse, thank you for your proficiency with equipment and field techniques as you worked with your dad and most recently amazing crew leadership as you worked along with your mom. Thanks for carrying on the seed potato business. Eric, thank you for your attention to detail and packing shed processes which have allowed deliveries to go out smoothly week after week. Becky, thank you for the delicious and nutritious lunches you prepared for the crews and your time spent in the packing shed. Jonnah, thank you for taking over the office duties, communicating so well with members and taking our farm into the age of computers. Thanks to each of you for spending hours brainstorming and discussing ideas and concepts to move this farm forward. I know it has not always been easy working day after day with family, so thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

With heartfelt joy and gratitude,

Barb and David

As we prepare to make our last deliveries, we reflect on the harvest and create ideas for the future. The last Vermont Valley Community Farm CSA harvest is near, as (hopefully) everyone knows. We keep so busy getting each week’s delivery accomplished, there seems to be little time and energy for contemplation. But an era for us is ending and it most worthy of reflection.

Every year has been a challenge in one way or another. Easily this year’s primary challenge has been the relentless rain.  Mud, mud and more mud! Week after week, day after day, putting on rubber boots and rain gear; harvesting with one slimy step at a time. We are committed to make every last delivery as bountiful as we can. That is reflective of how we have approached everything we do and have done on this farm. Whether it is the harvest or the member events; our goal for our CSA is to be the best. When we started 24 years ago, there was a common misconception that it was ok for organic vegetables to be “less good”. We rejected that immediately. Our vegetables were going to be better than the non-organic! Granted, this is farming, and things go wrong, but our goal has always been unshaken. We have communicated our trials and tribulations and your responses have been wonderfully supportive.

This fall the ground is so saturated we will likely not get our fall cover crops planted for the first time ever. Even though the vegetables are ending, we will continue to care for the land. Our commitment to organic farming, and by extension your commitment, has been key to our success. We do not use the system fungicides and insecticides that make conventional produce cheaper to produce; instead we have to be better farmers. We would not have even considered giving you vegetables loaded with pesticides; we preferred them to be loaded with flavor and nutrition. Organic agriculture is changing all of agriculture, but will only continue to do so with your support. Belonging to an organic CSA or shopping at the farmers market or buying organic products at the store are choices you can make. You make a huge impact by choosing organic!

Over 10,000 households have committed to Vermont Valley over the past 24 years; many of you for lots of years, and some for all 24 years. It has made literally all the difference; we did not exist without you.  Please give another farm the same chance. There are many good CSAs and organic farmers in the area.

Thank you for all of the comments we have received, please keep them coming. Your stories about the farm are precious to us. We are forever grateful to you for choosing us to be your farmers.

Your farmers,

David and Barb

This is getting a bit old; all this talk of rain, rain, rain. We knew it was going to rain all day Monday, and we simply can’t take a day off from harvest, or it won’t all get done so we came up with a plan. The leek beds were right next to one of our hoophouses. If we could harvest the leeks, we could bring them into the hoophouse and clean them. If… David wasn’t sure if he could get the undercutter, which is pulled behind the tractor, through the mud to lift the leeks but he did! For the harvesters it meant dodging the torrential downpours and avoiding being out in thunder and lightening, which seemed to go on for 24 hours with minuscule breaks. The sound of the rain beating on the plastic structure blocked out all other sound, so we worked in silence. We spent all morning and half of the afternoon at this daunting task, but finished. Then, as we were cleaning up, someone looked out the door and said, “A river!” The water was cascading over the driveway and rushing the entire length of our field. Whoa! But the path of the water did not run through any crops. There’s always a silver lining.

Barb

Leek harvest in the rain.

Ryna hauling leeks to the hoophouse.

A river formed while we were cleaning leeks.

Cleaning leeks in the ‘dry’ hoophouse. Notice none of us took our rain gear off all day.

View from the door of the hoophouse. We are looking towards the crops we will be harvesting the next day, no matter what! And we did.

Wednesday morning collard harvest. No rain, just mud to walk through.

A pallet on the tractor was loaded with crates of leeks. The tractor is the only vehicle that will be able to make it through the fields for the rest of the season. If any other vehicles tries, it will get stuck (I know!).

We did it on Tuesday! The prediction was for rain in the afternoon, at about 3:00 pm, and we put a lot of faith in the 100% prediction. The fields are getting quite saturated and not drying off between rains. David had to finish the potato harvest. There were potatoes in two fields. Monday was a failed attempt with both fields, just too darn wet, the machine that digs the potatoes is not meant to deal with heavy, wet soil. Tuesday morning was going to have to be it. David in one tractor pulling the potato harvest machine, Jesse in another tractor pulling the wagon and four people riding the harvest machine to pull those clumps of dirt and grass out of the rollers so only the potatoes would be conveyed up into the wagon. As they were harvesting the potatoes, five of us were in the same field bringing in the kale. Both jobs done before lunch!

Now let’s head across the valley and bring in the winter squash and pie pumpkins, and get it done before the rain. Several bins filled before lunch. A much needed one hour break then all hands on to clip, pick up and count them into bulk bins before that 3:00 rain deadline. We were working in the valley with an amazing view to the west where the storm clouds were mounting and moving our way. As a bin filled Eric hauled it by tractor to the shed. At 2:30 it began to rain, a nice gentle rain which felt good to our warm bodies. Almost done, and at 3:00 the sky opened and began to pour! The last bin was filled, we all ran and climbed into the back of the pickup truck for a wet ride back. Soaked to the skin and happy to return to the packing shed, we spent the next two hours washing squash. Eric, in full rain gear, drove back and forth with heaping bins.

This afternoon everyone is out harvesting sweet potatoes to get ahead of the next rain.

~Barb

Watching the potato harvest go by as we harvest kale.

Bins of Carnival squash. Jesse uses the skid steer to move bins around the field .

Here come the storm clouds as we harvest winter squash.

Kale harvest, notice the mosquito net Sophon is wearing!

Why does it always come down to weather when I sit down to write? I guess if we worked inside it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but we all work outside all the time. It rained on Tuesday and believe it or not, it was a welcome event. The 1 inch we received was perfect for the plants, the ground was beginning to get dry. Remember a couple of weeks ago I said if we didn’t get more rain this fall we would have to irrigate, well we were getting close to that point. The rain came down gently all morning and we worked in it all morning! Although most of us had on rain gear, we all felt and looked like soaked little puppies after four and a half hours. We surprised ourselves and harvested lettuce, kohlrabi, celery and kale in that time. Rather an ambitious haul for one morning. I think all just hunkered down and got it done.

And then there’s the mosquitoes! On this farm we have never in 24 years even come close to experiencing such an invasion. They hang over us in clouds. They are relentless and their bite is nasty. We all cover up completely, keeping only our faces exposed, but somehow, on two occasions, a mosquito made its way under my glasses and stung me on the eyelid. First my left eye then the next day my right. Both of my eyes are all swelled up. When Jesse saw me yesterday morning he said, “What happened to you? Looks like you lost!”

The vegetables in the fields are all fine and happy although we need to wait until the ground dries to finish potato harvest. The ground needs to be dry for that activity so we have very small windows between rains and the time it takes the ground to dry.

I guess I know why I talk about weather so much!

Barb

Kale harvest on Tuesday morning. We had already been working in the rain for four hours by this time. We were getting cold and bitten up by mosquitoes, even kept going into our lunch hour so we could finish!

I really can’t remember weather like this. Not only the rains, but the fog and humidity for such an extended period of time. Many of the vegetables are responding positively to so much water and others are not so happy. The fall crops like cabbage, kale, collards, lettuce heads, radishes, carrots are all happy enough with the water. Then there are the crops it has posed a challenge with. The beans were all knocked over and suffered in quality, although the taste is still great. The corn was knocked down and had to be harvested from the ground. The salad mix had a good many leaves effected with black spotting, we did our best to pick them all out of the mix. The tomatoes, which always get hit with multiple diseases, got an excessive dose of diseases that brought the outside tomato season to a halt several weeks sooner than usual. But, the hoophouse tomatoes are beautiful and will be harvested for many weeks to come. The peppers are happy and thriving, turning big and red.

We do our best with the weather we get. We haven’t had to irrigate for some time now, saving us a lot of time, but we have not put the irrigation equipment away, there are still seven weeks to go and believe it or not if it stops raining we may need to irrigate.

And then there’s the mud! As long as we wear rubber boots and keep the trucks on the gravel drives, all is OK.

But it’s sure good to see the sun today!

~Barb

Monday morning fog and pepper harvest.

Abby and Eric slogging through the mud as they harvest mix.

Then the crates of salad mix need to be carried to the truck.

I wonder how long Jesse’s green rain pants are going to survive. Last week they were duct taped together, now they are looking rather skirt like. Farm fashion is definitely like no other.

The crew spent a bit of time cutting the tips off of the corn to get rid of corn ear worm damage. Although the worm is perfectly safe (a family member said: it just eats corn, so probably tastes like corn), no one really wants one. But if you do find one, cut it off and enjoy the rest of your corn.

 

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