Family


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

After a week of intense heat, humidity, and mosquitoes, we were all very happy to work these past few days. We had a busy schedule of harvest for the Spring Season shares and early summer planting continues. In weather like this, everyone is eager to be outside and work seems to get done faster. Yesterday morning we had a short thunderstorm that sent us running for the packing shed only to get back out into the field 20 minutes later. It’s hard not to love your work during weeks like this.

Jonnah

Morning spinach harvest before the sun gets high in the sky.

Barb walking crates of spinach out of the field.

A beautiful stand of scallions. Pulling these out of the ground is one of my favorite jobs on the farm!

Jesse counting as Jon harvests.

Jesse and Barb, son and mother, figuring out the best way to remove the row cover.

Fresh garlic harvest. The smell of garlic was so amazing while we were pulling it up!

Summer really feels like it has started for me once we start putting tomatoes in the ground outside. Yesterday we planted 3024 tomatoes along with 7496 peppers, melons, and cucumber plants! All of those thousands of seeds that were sown on chilly spring days in the potting shed are finally strong enough to grow independently out in the real world. With the massive amounts of rain that southern Wisconsin has seen the past few weeks, our field planting got behind and now we we’re playing catch up. No one is leaving on Friday until everything is in the ground! – those were the words of the big boss, David.

May is an exhilarating month on the farm. We are in full swing with the Spring Season CSA harvest while managing the frenzy of transplants that need to be put in the ground for summer deliveries. Both are equally important and need our full attention. Thursdays are devoted to the CSA delivery but guess what we’re doing tomorrow? Transplanting. We will finish out the week with sweet corn, eggplant, broccoli, Brussel’s sprouts, and popcorn for a total of 25,354 plants in the ground over three days. I hope you’re hungry for summer vegetables – if you aren’t signed up for the Bounty Season Share they’re still available!

Bounty Season July 19 – October 18 – send us an email to join! farm@vermontvalley.com

~Jonnah

Jonnah pauses to capture a picture of what is behind her as she works on the waterwheel transplanter. She sits on a black plastic seat and has all of the tomato plants in front of her. The water wheel pokes holes into the plastic at a determined distance and water flows into the wheel and then into the hole for the plant. 

David adjusting the seat on the transplanter before we lay out a couple thousand plants.

Locked and loaded for high speed transplanting.

Raised beds with plastic mulch covering drip tape irrigation. We use straw mulch in between rows to control weeds in the entire garden.

Yea, spring finally came, and along with it the needed warmth for vegetables to grow. We’ve had a lot of fun harvesting greens from the hoophouses. This year we are growing more than twice as much food in those hoophouses and needed to be creative about how to squeeze it all in. We decided to make the paths between the beds of greens a bit narrower. Weeding and harvesting and maneuvering in a 12 inch row is not the easiest thing to do, and all without stepping on the crop that’s flowing into the row. For the past three days, with sore backs and lots of laughs, we harvested our way through beds and beds of greens. The sunshine makes the houses warm and when it’s raining outside somehow the rain manages to leak in, creating a slick muddy walkway. A balancing act all around.

Welcome to the Spring Season!

Barb

Sauté Mix harvest in those 12 inch rows! Note how we need to balance the crates on a bucket since there is not enough room in the row to place the crate. Casey and Yun harvesting arugula. Sophon, Ryna and Neing harvesting different beds of kale and mustard greens.

Ryna, Yun, Casey harvesting spinach. We pinch off one leaf at a time. This way we can leave the smaller leaves on the plant to grow bigger for next week.

The hoophouse a couple of weeks ago. The red lettuce in the foreground is what was delivered this week. It even looked like this when there were piles of snow outside. A lovely place to be.

Wednesday night after all of the employees had gone home Eric, Barb, Jonnah, Jesse and David (all with the last name Perkins) rallied for another hour to get every little bit done. We were all on our 11th hour, ready to be done yet still having fun! Balancing a phone on a sawhorse was the only way to capture the moment. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to grow your food.

Planning and planting are underway! Yes, I did say planting. Last Monday Eric and I planted 7,872 seeds and they are already poking their little green heads above the surface of the soil. Winter is an exciting time on the farm and not as long as most people imagine it is for us. The same week that we finally got snow and I can do what I love most in winter, cross country ski, was the same week that we started planting seeds for our upcoming season. Now, that is a short winter. The lucky thing is I still get to squeeze in skiing between my other winter farm tasks, a pure joy.

Jesse and Jonnah spend a lot of time in the barn office. Jonnah signs up new members, works on our marketing plan, organizes our winter conference schedule and handles member communications. Jesse keeps busy with the farm’s seed potato business. They and their kids squeezed in a vacation to California to visit friends, play on the beach and run.

David has just finished taxes and compiling greenhouse plans and field plans. He and I had a fantastic vacation to the Galapagos Islands in January.

The seeds have finished pouring into the farm via UPS and are all nestled into their bins and files.

Winter is a wonderful combination of work and play for us. March 1 marks the return of employees and some serious work as the greenhouse gets fired up and many tens of thousands of seed potatoes get bagged. Soon, in about 8 weeks, we will be planting outside. We better get in as much winter play as we can in the next few weeks.

See you all soon!
Barb

Eric, in the greenhouse potting shed, filling flats with potting soil.

Barb operating the seeding machine. Note we are all dressed very warm. This building is about the same cold temperature as outside.

The flats of seeds are germinating in one of our walk-in coolers, turned germination room for a few weeks.

2017 Farm Crew

Twenty-three years of Vermont Valley Community Farm.  For Barb and I, we find ourselves talking about “do you remember when”. But just like family picture albums, reminiscing is ok for a little bit. So briefly, we’ve been at it from the beginning of CSA in Wisconsin. There has been exciting growth in the CSA world; lots of new farms and farmers. Different twists for every farm, each being unique. Part of our purpose has been to grow the CSA movement. We have given countless workshops, seminars, one-on-one consultations and have helped lots of beginning CSA farmers. It has been very rewarding for us. Vermont Valley has been complimented by being mimicked time and again. We have grown, innovated, learned and most recently downsized; but, enough for the past.

I tend to always look forward, how to make it better; yes, how to change next year. “Same old thing” is definitely not my game. You all have had the opportunity to read about our new plans for 2018. We asked for feedback and received it (thanks).  A lot of thought went into this, so I want to share some of that.

The local food movement has exploded during our 23 CSA years; you now have lots of choices; farmers markets everywhere, organic in every store, more and more people trying to start a farm business. This is great in many ways.  However, for some of the choices out there now, local is nothing but a clever marketing ploy; buyer-beware. All the local choices (real and fake) have impacted CSAs. CSAs across the board are experiencing membership reductions, us included. People are making other “local” choices.  CSA has impacted the food market (yeh!), but that marketplace is evolving. This means CSA is here to stay, but it needs to adapt. There has been much discussion among CSA farmers about all this. So given what is happening in the CSA world, I unearthed my prior career “analyst hat”. I was looking for what we do best.

Your Comments: Some members have said “great idea”; we agree. Others are concerned or confused. What has been fun is the “eating with the seasons” lecture we have heard a few times from concerned members; which is great to hear; it’s what we preach. So what does “eating with the seasons” mean?  Some farms strive to deliver nearly 12 months a year; we never have. For us, CSA is about supporting your farm that feeds you. It is up to the farm to make that a great experience, whatever the mix of products, farm events or length of season. The CSA model is the weekly box from your farm. Our changes are meant to treat you to the best. We are honing in on the weeks we do it best at Vermont Valley Community Farm.

I can say with complete confidence that the 20 deliveries in our 2018 season will be the best we have ever done. Why, because they are the weeks when Wisconsin offers its best. If you are still not sure, I would ask you to defer to our farming expertise. I refer back to the reminiscing section above; we know what we’re doing out here.

Thanks, and we hope you have enjoyed eating well in 2017. We will be very pleased to feed you again in 2018.

David Perkins

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