Family


Today Barb celebrated her 60th birthday by waking up at 4:30am to organize the weekly pack. She is taking the afternoon off to relax and go swimming. Twenty-three years ago, August 1st, 1994, our family moved to the farm that became Vermont Valley Community Farm. Barb celebrated her 37th birthday a week after moving to the farm and the next spring began growing vegetables for the CSA’s first season. The 37th birthday is meaningful to me since I am about to turn 37 this winter. For the past 23 years Barb and David have made Vermont Valley what it is today. If you see Barb, join me in wishing her a Happy Birthday.

Jesse

Barb and David dancing on the farm during a Farm-to-Table brunch. Photo: Stick People Productions and photographer Kelly Doering

Whether this is your first season or your twenty-third, you are what this farm is all about! Twenty-three years ago, before most people knew what CSA was, David and I started this farm. We strongly believed in the concept of CSA and wanted all of the food grown on our farm to go only to our CSA members. We didn’t know if this was possible, but we gave it a try. We didn’t know if it was possible to make a living growing organic vegetables and distributing them through our CSA but we wanted to give it our best. We quickly got our answer as memberships increased each year. We wanted a connection with our members, something people generally don’t have with the person growing their food and with the farm where it is grown. This is why we give you many opportunities to come out to the farm during the season. We hope to meet you for the first time or see you again. We hope you enjoy the food that comes your way. And we always welcome questions or comments along the way. Happy season #23 from Vermont Valley Community Farm!

Barb

Monday morning. Harvesting rhubarb from our quarter acre rhubarb patch. That’s a lot of rhubarb!

Tuesday morning. Harvesting spinach. We pinch off leaf by leaf. Yum.

Tuesday morning. Scallion harvest. My view as I sat on the ground trimming roots.

Early Wednesday morning. Salad mix harvest. The sun is just rising in our valley.

Monday afternoon. Weighing and banding rhubarb.

Wednesday afternoon. Washing and trimming fresh garlic.

Wow, we’ve been growing food for the community for a generation. Our kids are now in their 30’s – we were in our 30’s when we started this farm. Members used to bring their kids out, now their kids bring out their kids! We (David and Barb) started growing organic food when it was a new concept, now organic food can be found in a wide variety of places. This farm has been an integral part of the CSA movement and we have witnessed its growth and acceptance into thousands of households. Twenty three years ago CSA needed lots of explaining, today it is nearly a household word. When we started our farm people would ask us if we thought CSA was a fad. We always emphatically and without hesitation said ‘no’. How can a concept that connects people with the source of their food, the land that it is grown on and the farmer that grows it be a fad?? It all makes too much sense and over the years we have seen how much people have embraced the connection with their food and the land. The C in CSA stands for community and that C becomes more and more important in our fast-paced world. So thanks for embracing Community Supported Agriculture and everything it stands for. We love growing your food and hope to see you on the farm this season!

Barb

First tractor

1994 was a big year for our family. We moved from Madison’s near east side to our farm. Our first tractor and three proud farm kids. Becky, age 9; Jesse, age 13; Eric, age 11.

All in the family: Eric, Jesse, Jonnah (Jesse's wife), Becky, Felix, David and Barb Perkins

The entire family now farming together: Eric, Jesse, Jonnah (Jesse’s wife), Becky, Felix, David and Barb Perkins. Jesse and Jonnah’s children, Paavo and Mischa, are not pictured.

Sunday’s corn boil was a fun time for all who attended. Harvesting sweet corn is an adventure, especially if you have never done it before. David encourages tasting an ear raw in the field, always a pleasant surprise. Perfect weather, ordered up just for the day. Thank you to everyone who brought such a delicious dish to pass. The food was amazing! The day was a spectacular mix of friends, families, children, grandparents, people arriving on bikes, long time members, first time members, exchange students, babies (the youngest being 13 days old). Thanks everyone for making the 22nd Corn Boil really special.

Barb

Harvesting sweet corn for the very first time!

Harvesting sweet corn for the very first time!

Yum. Eating great food, enjoying a great view, relaxing with family and friends.

Yum. Eating great food, enjoying a great view, relaxing with family and friends.

Barb and David welcoming everyone.

Barb and David welcoming everyone.

David talking with members and answering questions about the corn and the farm.

David talking with members and answering questions about the corn and the farm.

Third generation Vermont Valley farmers. Felix, Paavo and Mischa; Barb and David’s grand kids.

Third generation Vermont Valley farmers. Felix, Paavo and Mischa; Barb and David’s grand kids.

Every summer a group of Central American students come to the farm for a tour. They are part of a UW program and accompanied by a professor. This year the students are from Costa Rica. I spent a year in Costa Rica as an exchange student so I am able to give the tour in Spanish. Coming from a very different climate and ecosystem they are very interested in the farm and always have many questions about how we farm organically.

Eric

Costa Ricans

 

Our son Eric is getting married on Saturday. The wedding is on the farm. What a great reason to get everything looking absolutely gorgeous. We spent Monday transplanting spinach, broccoli, celery and lettuce. We harvested rhubarb, turnips, radishes, scallions, spinach. Then after the work day was done and employees had gone home, eight yards of mulch (for the flower gardens) was delivered. Let the party begin. On Tuesday there was more harvest and washing of vegetables. In addition, the flower gardens around the house got weeded and mulched. We transformed one hoophouse from spring share to tomatoes. The tomatoes have been growing side by side with the greens. Once we finish harvesting the greens we tear the roots out, weed the area clean and change over the irrigation from sprinklers to drip. On Wednesday we finished the harvest, bagged the greens and got the yard looking really pretty. The decorating crew came on Wednesday night to transform the barn into a dance floor. Oh yea, we had to clean out the barn too. Best wishes to Eric and Loretta!   -Barb

The last harvest of salad mix.

The last harvest of salad mix.

Cleaning out the beds we have finished harvesting. Removing the roots of arugula as we make more room for the tomatoes.

Cleaning out the beds we have finished harvesting. Removing the roots of arugula as we make more room for the tomatoes.

Harvesting fennel. One of the last standing crops in the hoophouse.

Harvesting fennel. One of the last standing crops in the hoophouse.

And now onto wedding preparations:

Mulch pile on driveway (or is it a dog bed?)

Mulch pile on driveway (or is it a dog bed?)

Garden mulching crew.

Garden mulching crew.

Eric, the groom, getting it all in shape.

Eric, the groom, getting it all in shape.

Tom doing some fine tuning.

Tom doing some fine tuning.

Good Bye Shanna

Sunday was Shanna’s last day guarding the farm. She died peacefully at the wise old age of 15. For years we joked that she would never die. She had too much to do and didn’t want to leave Nasta in charge. Nasta is Jesse and Jonnah’s spunky, much younger husky, raised and vigilantly kept in check by Shanna. Shanna came to this farm in the year 2000 as a vegetable guard dog. She and her companion Blue were partners in a five year DNR/USDA pilot project to determine if dogs (in the confines of an invisible fence) could keep hungry critters out of the vegetable fields and keep the vegetables free from damage. The project was a total success. Shanna’s life work included protecting her territory and being a best friend to every person who came to this farm. She always had a smile on her face and a sloppy kiss if you got close enough to her face. She loved Thursdays; she could greet members as they came to pick up their shares, get lots of attention and occasional treats. Shanna played soccer, yes pushed the ball around as good as any player on the field. She welcomed Oby, Becky and Brian’s dog, to the pack a few years ago. She was the alpha dog. Now the dogs and people she has left behind have to reorganize and go on without her. We miss you Shanna!

Barb

Shanna (left) and her companion Blue in 2004.

Shanna (left) and her companion Blue in 2004.

Shanna the amazing farm dog.

Shanna the amazing farm dog.

 

Introducing the Vermont Valley Tomato Family 

Orange Banana, Red Zebra, Pink Beauty, Estiva lower row: Garden Peach, Clementine, Indigo Cherry Drops, Japanese Trifele Black

Orange Banana, Red Zebra, Pink Beauty, Estiva
lower row: Garden Peach, Clementine, Indigo Cherry Drops, Japanese Trifele Black

Here are the tomato varieties you can expect to see in your share box from now until the frost. This should help you identify your tomatoes. Many 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.

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

Estiva, Arbason, Geronimo (grown in the hoophouses) and Pink Beauty: Red slicing tomatoes with amazing flavor and texture.

Indigo Cherry Drops: A stunningly jet black, 1-2 oz. tomato with striking dark blue anthocyanin coloration over red flesh. When sliced it looks like a plum with its deep red flesh.

Japanese Trifele Black: A tomato that looks like a beautiful mahogany-colored Bartlett pear with greenish shoulders. A rich and complex flavor. Let it sit on your counter and get dark colored and soft before eating it.

Clementine: A round orange, 2 oz. tomato with sweet, tart flavor.

Cherry Tomatoes:  Yellow Mini, Sakura (red), Solid Gold, Black Cherry and six un-named varieties of red cherry tomatoes; the ones we are trialing for Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 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:  Granadero, Viva Italia, Tiren, Speckled Roman, Amish Paste, Federle, Opalka, Oxheart.  We invite you to come out to the farm to harvest your own Romas – U Pick details on our web site.

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.

You know what I love about winter? The promise of Spring. I also do love to ski and read good books by the fire and take a vacation to a warm place. But I couldn’t do those things forever, just like I wouldn’t want to live in a place where I could farm all year. We visited such a place this winter, a lovely place where the temperature barely fluctuates month to month, season to season. And in that place vegetables grow all year. As a Wisconsin native I appreciate the seasons and as a farmer my life is directed by them. The seasons define what we do around here. March through December are for growing and delivering vegetables. January is for vacation and February is for planting the first seeds. As usual, the start of a new season is exciting. Spring can seem like magic sometimes. This week the thermometer is fluctuating between barely above zero to below zero and we have plants growing under lights. Those plants are going to get planted into the ground in just 4 weeks. That ground does have a plastic structure over it, but still, it is the ground. Our months of planning and soon planting mean that you have something delicious to look forward to. This is what I love about winter. Barb

Barb and Eric Perkins (mother and son) planting seeds for the spring share. Each year we use the kitchen counter as our work space and then move the flats to down to the basement where they live happily under grow lights for a few weeks. They move into the greenhouse  a couple of weeks and then get planted into the hoophouse.

Barb and Eric Perkins (mother and son) planting seeds for the spring share. Each year we use the kitchen counter as our work space and then move the flats  down to the basement where they live happily under grow lights for a few weeks. They move into the greenhouse for a couple of weeks and then get planted into the hoophouse.

Another season at Vermont Valley Community Farm is coming to an end: twenty years and counting! The harvests are mostly wrapping up this week, although a few Storage Share vegetables stay in the field till November. Fall colors this year have been spectacular, but they have reached their pick, with winter soon to follow. The foggy mornings are particularly beautiful this time of year; Barb and I get to enjoy the view over breakfast.

Vermont Valley morning fog

The fields get put to bed for the winter; below was my view this morning finishing fall tillage in preparation for early season plantings in the spring. The ridged soil goes through a frost/freeze cycle that will produce a mellow seed bed in the spring. The still green fields were planted with cover crops in August; these plants will end up supplying nutrients to late season vegetables. So, your food these last few weeks began their cycle with cover crops planted over a year earlier. Garlic will be planted next week, the last planting of 2014 which is also the first planting for 2015 harvests.

Vermont Valley chisel plow

Every season is unique and has its ups and downs. What I will remember most about this season is the exceptionally wonderful weather. No extreme heat or humidity during the summer months. Fall has been filled with beautiful day after beautiful day. I can think of just one nasty hot day and just one nasty cold and rainy day all season. Working outside everyday makes the weather all the more relevant; and this season’s weather was great to work in.

As some of you may remember, last winter continued on late into the year. I, like everyone else, wanted it to end; but now as I look back I have different thoughts. The cold was followed by a gradual warmup; there was no summer in March like a few years back (very bad for plants); no hot to cold to hot to cold… that killed our garlic last year (very bad), no monsoons, just a consistent warmup (very good). The extended winter also likely accounted for a reduction in the insect problems this season. So pardon me if I wish for another winter just the same as last year’s, but I am.

The rainfall was overall quite good, other than a drought from July 1 to mid-August; lots of irrigation going on then. Water is absolutely critical to vegetables, with the best water coming from the sky. We are equipped to irrigate, but are thankful when we do not have to. Temperature and rainfall are the two key elements to growing food, neither of which we have control over. The year 2014 was good to us on both counts.

We were very pleased with the quantity and quality of nearly all the crops. The most frequent comment heard from members was, “great sweet corn”. I can’t tell you how many people said “great corn” to me this season; we will go for a repeat in 2015. The mild temperatures seemed to make everything happy, even the heat loving crops did well. There are always some problems, it goes with the concept of growing over 40 different crops. Our biggest problems for the year were the early legumes, they did not come out of the ground, including beans, peas and edamame. Although, the later season beans were bumper crops. Oddly enough, we had beet germination problems as well, apologies to the beat lovers out there. That’s it for the bad, everything else did well to great. We are always trying to improve, but I’d take this year’s harvest every year.

The festivals and u-picks were the best attended ever. Over 1800 pumpkins were carried from the field at the Pumpkin Pick, the goblins must be proud. The tomato u-picks where super popular, I am curious to know the amount of salsa, tomato sauce… resulting from the picks. We host these events so you have a chance to be on the farm that your food comes from. We are happy that many of you take us up on the opportunity.

Vermont Valley Tomato U Pick

Thank you for allowing us to be your Farmers. Barb and I have been at this for 20 years now, and since starting a CSA was a mid-life correction for us, time is coming to create a strategy for the next 20 years; stay tuned. So farewell to 2014; hope to feed you in 2015; and please fill out that Survey.

David

See you next year!

See you next year!

 

Jesse, Joe, Josh one of the first worker shares and David on the packing line our second season

Jesse, Joe, Josh one of the first worker shares and David on the packing line our second season.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how we deliver your produce. This week I want to talk about how the delivery has changed over the past 20 years, as the farm has grown. Presently we deliver about 1200 vegetable shares and 225 fruit shares every week; our first year we delivered 50 vegetable shares.

In the early years of the farm our delivery day was on Monday, because Barb and David were still working jobs in Madison for most of the work week. In that first year nearly all of our harvest, washing and bagging happened on Monday. Our only cooler was an old refrigerator, found on the curb of the near east side. The first season we packed share boxes around two metal tables which we still use in the packing shed and at our events. Each box was labeled with the member’s name. Since we knew almost all of our members that first year (most of them were friends from the near east site who bravely supported this crazy idea of ours) we could give someone more or less of a vegetable if we knew their preferences. We delivered all of the shares in a 1989 Dodge Caravan, to two sites; the current Jenifer Street site and the Mason Street site which was a site until two years ago.

Our second year we added improvements that are still an important part of the farm. We added our first walk in cooler which we still use, allowing us to harvest earlier in the week. We also greatly improved our box packing area. We filled in the old dairy barn manure gutters and added our box packing line, which has only been slightly modified over the past 19 years. Our box packing line was built from parts of the old bowling alley at the Eagles Club, that Joe Schmitt salvaged when it was torn down to build Willy Street Coop. We also added a trailer that we towed behind the minivan for our deliveries. It had a canvas cover draped over metal bows, kind of looked like a gypsy caravan.

Over the years we have continued to make changes to our delivery system. After two years we switched the delivery day to Thursday and began to only pack and deliver the shares on Thursday; harvest happened prior to Thursday. We began renting trucks from Ryder for our deliveries to replace the minivan and then eventually bought our own box truck which we also used for harvest. We have added (and gotten rid of) trucks until we got to our present fleet of two box trucks and two box trailers which we use to deliver to 34 sites. We added a loading dock, so we no longer had to get a running start to load the boxes onto the truck. We also switched from wax boxes that we had to assemble as we packed them, to the plastic boxes that we use today.

The delivery process has evolved and has become much more efficient over the years. Even though the farm is now over twenty times bigger than when we began, we are still able to pack and deliver all of the shares in one day.

Jesse

Box packing line 1995

Box packing line 1995

Set up for the pack our first year.

Set up for the pack our first year.

All of the boxes assembled and labeled.

All of the boxes assembled and labeled.

Ready for the pack our second year.

Ready for the pack our second year.

Barb leaving for the delivery.

Barb leaving for the delivery.

Twenty years ago we bought 40 acres (5 of which were tillable) an old farmhouse and even older barn to start this farm. Everything needed lots of TLC. The land was overgrown with weeds, the barn was on the verge of crumbling and the house, well it was livable, so we moved in. We’ve acquired more land over the years, both bought and rented, and improved it each year using organic practices. We’ve plugged away at remodeling and adding office space onto the house. And we’ve put lots and lots of time and resources into the barn. Not only have we saved it from crumbling, but we have turned it into the hub of activity on the farm. It was the hub when this was a dairy farm and it is again the hub with this farm. As I was getting ready to write about the barn I remembered that I had written something years ago. Below is what I wrote in 2007, I don’t think I can say it any better today.

This old barn is one special friend on this farm. She is over 100 years old and gets more beautiful with age. When we bought this farm in 1994 she was in need of lots of help. The first thing we did was fix her foundation. After it was all patched and put together, concrete was sprayed into the once beautiful but now crumbling lime stone walls. Her foundation was now strong. We needed a walk-in-cooler so we poured concrete, built a cooler and built walls around it. The Barn now had a cooler attached to her. We removed the cow stanchions, scooped out lots of old manure and filled in the manure gutters. After a few years we needed a packing shed to wash and sort vegetables so we added one onto her north side. First concrete was poured, then our beloved dog, River, walked through the concrete (note his paw prints some time). The steel walls were constructed with one side open to the east. It’s a beautiful place to work. Over time we needed more cooler space. A cooler couldn’t be properly built under crumbling beams so the big project of removing two sections of the upper barn floor happened one January. What a difference. A solid floor upstairs and a solid ceiling above the box packing area. (prior to that we had a sheet of plastic nailed to the ceiling to keep the crumbling bits from falling on us). A beautiful new cooler was constructed. Potato storage. The north side of the barn had housed David’s workshop and storage for small tractors and equipment. As our farm continued to grow the space was much too small. We also needed additional cooler space. Again, major renovation. The remaining three sections of the barn floor were removed and replaced, another January project two years later. A large potato cooler was constructed with a potato sorting room. (the old potato cooler is now an additional cooler for vegetables). This meant David’s workshop had to move, so a year ago he built a large shed, big enough for a workshop and storage space for the ever growing fleet of tractors and specialized vegetable equipment. But, alas, each time it rained we knew our beautiful new barn floor was getting wet. It was time. A new roof was put on.

Now I have to add to the story because more has happened since 2007. As the farm grew and we acquired larger equipment to wash vegetables, we needed additional packing shed space. We built ‘the annex’, an addition on the east side of the barn, to house our greens washer, root tumbler, and various potato sorting equipment. Cooler space was getting scarce so we added yet another large walk in cooler inside the original packing shed area. This cooler is tall and has a garage door so we can drive in with bulk bins of vegetables. And then the major facelift came in the spring of 2010 when the old wood siding was covered with metal. The old look is gone, I cried, but this old barn will stand another hundred years or more. This old barn is an amazing part of Vermont valley Community Farm’s history and future.

Barb

The addition of  ‘The Annex’ in 2009

The addition of ‘The Annex’ in 2009

Siding the barn in the spring of 2010

Siding the barn in the spring of 2010

Eric, Ken Schuster, and David working on the west side the barn .

Eric, Ken Schuster, and David working on the west side the barn.

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