Farm History


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

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

We get asked that question every year and the answer is always the same: oh, just farming. The truth is that the farm doesn’t stop for national holidays. If we have a CSA delivery to get out, we work – so that would be 20 straight weeks June through October. Vegetables don’t take a vacation day so neither do we. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a little extra fun and show our patriotism in our own farmy way. While most of our CSA members were off  having cookouts and sipping cold beverages on boats, the farm crew was going about our average Tuesday business of harvest, planting, and packing shed work. At the end of the day the crew cracked open a few beers and set off some fireworks to celebrate along with the rest of our compatriots. On the flip side of the no-days-off coin are the winter months. While most of the world is going to work 5 days a week, we have discretion with our schedules. Winter means that the Perkins family holds down the farm in between multi-week vacations while the rest of the farm crew gets 2 months off. Although the vegetable farming schedule is polarized to the extreme, it’s a lifestyle we have come to love.

Jonnah

Sophal and Neing harvesting fennel before the heat sets in.

Tonny, Sophal, worker-share Matt, and Jesse harvesting Swiss Chard.

Yun, Tom, J-Mo, Eric, and Tonny toasting with Budweiser’s “America”  to celebrate the 4th of July (after work!).

Tom setting off some fireworks to celebrate the holiday!

 

As CSA farmers, we could go on and on about the value and importance of the CSA model of farming. Ultimately, our love for community supported agriculture isn’t complete without the community support. The connection with our members is at the foundation of the farm itself. Back in 1994 when Barb and David started this farm, CSA was a relatively new concept. They pounded the pavement with grassroots marketing efforts to educate their members about CSA. They have gained the trust of thousands of families over the years while paving a path for younger farmers to join the movement.

The CSA model is such a brilliant one that national brands have caught on and are borrowing from the wholesome, authentic values and qualities of local family farms. CSA-style box-scheme distribution systems and subscription-based meal services are popping up in every media channel telling us that we can be healthier, save money, be environmentally sustainable, learn how to cook better, and contribute to building a better food system. This marketing language may be appealing to many, but as a farmer, I shudder at the notion that a national distribution of perishable food, packaged into individual servings, from farms coast-to-coast (and internationally!), could be improving our food system.

Last year we invited our CSA members to participate in a survey conducted by FairShare CSA Coalition with researchers from UW-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Extension, funded by a USDA grant. This survey helped us to understand the values and behaviors of our current CSA members. Over 80% of participants indicated that they will continue membership. Members went on to say that the top 5 reasons to do CSA were to eat local, eat fresh, eat healthy, support local farmers, and eat seasonally. These values have a striking resemblance to the mission statements of box-scheme services striving to connect with their potential customers.

One of the leading meal service providers, Blue Apron, makes a powerful statement: We’re eliminating the middleman to deliver fresher food. Actually, that is what CSA is doing, not box-scheme distributors. In fact, their statement is a bold contradiction – they are the middleman. If this is the message that food-conscious consumers what to hear, then CSA farmers need to remind our own communities that CSA is truly the absence of a middleman, farm-to-table at its purest.

Although the CSA movement is going strong, many farms are experiencing a drop in membership across the country. With increasing amounts of purchasing options that seem parallel to CSA, consumers are experimenting with other delivery services for their vegetables. The impact is felt on a community level. If national brands replace local farms, the personal connection to our food production is lost. In the FairShare CSA Coalition network, lower-income families can receive subsidized CSA shares, making it possible to afford organic, locally grown produce. National brands are driven by their bottom line, disregarding socioeconomic disadvantages that local farms care so much about.

Our purchasing choices speak louder than our voices. In the evolving healthy-eating marketplace, we need to have a heightened awareness of what our spending ultimately means. CSA continues to be the most direct line between the farm to the consumer. So long as we care about the food that we put into our bodies, knowing our farmers, and can embrace the joy and challenge of eating seasonally, CSA will thrive in our dedicated communities.

Jonnah

Vermont Valley Community Farm Crew

Over the course of the past 23 years we’ve work hard to develop Vermont Valley Community Farm into a thriving certified organic vegetable farm and CSA. We have learned and grown and changed and consequently have a lot to share. We had the opportunity Wednesday to share our knowledge and experiences with a group of international farmers, representing six countries. Their areas of specialty were diverse and they had many interests and questions in common. We talked about business practices, community building, connecting with CSA members, nutrition, marketing, sustainability, family business, efficiency practices, equipment, financial sustainability, and much more. It was a little over an hour, but could have been a day. This was such a vibrant group of interesting and interested farmers. It was fun and rewarding to pull myself out of my daily grind and share what I do and what I know with this like-minded global community of farmers.

Barb

The Nuffield Scholars from Australia, Ireland, UK, Brazil, New Zealand, Netherlands

Garlic scape harvest. A scape gets snapped off of each garlic plant. This helps the plant put more energy into the bulb and gives us another edible part from the plant.

Kohlrabi harvest. The plant is pulled, the root snipped, the leaves removed. Then we take them to the packing shed to wash.

Salad mix, fennel and kohlrabi. Everything is so lush and beautiful with all of the rain we have had.

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