Farm History


 

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

The season is indeed starting out with bounty. Much thanks to all of the rain and hot weather; plants do respond positively to both of these things. Everything looks great in the fields. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons and all of the summer crops are flourishing. Although we did have a dry period last week and needed to irrigate. Crazy how that works, so much rain then none, the plants need consistent water.

Green beans were one of the bounty crops this week. They are as beautiful as can be. We harvest green beans with a mechanical harvester, then bring them into the packing shed and run them over a bean cleaning machine. Many people stand in front of a conveyor to take out any debris (stems, leaves) that may have come in with the beans.  This cleaning process takes about 3 hours. The mechanical harvesting takes about 2 hours. This process allows everyone to work standing up and eliminates crouching over bean plants for an entire day.

We acquired this bean machines about 15 years ago, bought it from a farm near Green Bay. It was winter and I took our old Jeep pickup truck and trailer to get the machine. I had stayed in a hotel the night before and woke to a blizzard, loads of snow had fallen during the night and was still falling heavily. I headed to the farm on a completely snow covered country road. The farmer successfully loaded me up, strapped down the machine and off I went. The interstate was no better.

Now this old pickup truck was a piece of work. The gas gauge didn’t work, the head lights were mediocre at best. I kept track of mileage to estimate when to fill up, but pulling a trailer with a heavy piece of equipment of course uses more gas. The snow covered interstate was as horrible as conditions get (blowing snow, semi trucks, low visibility). I knew I was getting close to needing gas so exited on Hwy 151 and ran out on the off ramp. Was able to coast to the side of the road. Now these were the days before cell phones. I ran up to a car on the off ramp and hitched a ride to a gas station; a mom, two girls and a fresh box of pizza.  I filled a container with gas and started to walk the mile or so back to my truck, not seeing anyone at the gas station I felt comfortable asking for a ride. As I walked in blinding snow and below zero wind chill back to the truck, a man and his son pulled over and gave me a ride. I did what I needed to do and got home pretty late and in the total dark. When I asked David if he was worried, he said ‘No, should I have been?’ I guess not.

Barb

David drives the tractor and skillfully operates the harvest machine while Jesse monitors the beans dropping from the chute. The machine harvests the entire plant. All of the plant matter gets blown out of a chute (between the tractor and the stack of crates) and the beans drop through another chute.

 

Many hands picking through the beans to eliminate leaves, stem and such. The machine sits in the packing shed addition where we get nice air flow and sunlight under the shade of a roof.

Many hands picking through the beans to eliminate leaves, stem and such. The machine sits in the packing shed addition where we get nice air flow and sunlight under the shade of a roof.

 

 

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

I was gone from the farm for two full delivery weeks, the longest I’ve ever been gone from my farm in 23 years. My dad passed away and I went to Milwaukee to be with him before he died and for the days afterwards. I drove back home last Friday late afternoon and as I got into the hills and close to the farm I noticed that fall had come to the valley in the 11 days I had been gone. It felt different, a passage of time I had not been here to witness.

So it is with a life. Where does 85 years go? My dad was here at the corn boil, enjoying himself as he always does. He was supportive and encouraging when David and I announced that we were moving from Madison to start an organic vegetable farm. Dad was curious and proud of all we accomplished. He rode our first transplanter and loved to remember that experience. He wore his Vermont Valley t-shirt and cap with pride and somehow always found the opportunity to tell others about our farm.  He taught me that hard work and perseverance is important and pays off.

Dad, your spirit will live on, on this farm. Your positive attitude, dedication to those you love and care for, disciplined lifestyle, calm approach to whatever presents itself in life and love of a good beer will be held close in my heart forever. Thanks dad.

Barb

My dad, focusing very hard on getting those transplants into the little cups. He talked about this activity for the next 20 years. 1997

A bit of history. David driving our first tractor. My dad on our first transplanter.

My dad and David enjoying time together at this year’s Corn Boil. August 12, 2017

Dad and Barb enjoying a picnic at Concerts on the Square. Two rhubarb pies transported in a farm crate.  Probably around the year 2000

Dad proudly wearing his Vermont Valley t-shirt and cutting into his annual rhubarb pie, lovingly made by me. Father’s Day, Devil’s Lake, 2010.

Grandpa and grandson, Jesse out in the farm fields. 1997

Each year, since the farm began in 1995, we have hosted a Corn Boil. The tradition goes back even further. In 1981, David and I were living on a farm in Helenville, Jefferson Co. We hosted a Corn Boil for all of our friends and neighbors during our 3 year duration on that farm. Then we had a 10 year stint living on the Isthmus so we were excited to bring back the Corn Boil. Our first years on this farm had fewer CSA members so the Corn Boil was a combination of members, neighbors, friends and family. Each year has its own special memories. But each year I have the chance to connect with and talk with our members, many whom I now consider friends.

Barb

Corn Boil 2017

Corn Boil 1995

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