Farm History


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.

CSA members harvesting their own basil.

CSA members harvesting their own basil.

The last half-century has witnessed a reawakening of the importance of our food; what it means to us and our communities. It started with authors and community activists; it started with all sorts of farmers, some maybe more passionate than productive. It started with a common devotion to something that had been lost, food focused on health, taste and a commitment to the earth that sustains us.

People and communities have responded. There are more and more CSA farms every year. There are farmer’s markets around every corner. Organic produce and product sections are in almost every store.  Stores that support organic food grow and expand. The desire to eat well crosses all boundaries, economic, geographic, social and political.

Health: the universal recommendation is Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. What a litany of woes would be solved if that happened! The reality is, what you get in you CSA box is just a healthy start on your vegetables. Some of us eat enough vegetables, but for most of us, the CSA box can be the learning box, the way to teach ourselves, the way to change our eating habits, in a fun, enjoyable and delicious way.

However, not only the vegetables have sprouted and grown over these many years. The notion of “local” is now THE marketing theme which has or will diminish its meaning to a non-meaning. The biggest corporate names in the food “industry” claim to be what we at Vermont Valley Community Farm are. The marketing companies are good at what they do, they know what you value. Lots of claims are made to dissuade and detract from the efforts and commitment of organic farmers.  The market has been invaded with entities looking to “cash in” on you; the people who care about what they eat. But, all the unsavory developments can readily be composted by simply continuing to get your CSA box and better yet, encouraging family and friends to join you.

Know your Farmer, Know your Food. Joining the farm gives you the opportunity to relate to a set of farmers, the land where your food comes from, and get a sense of how your food is grown. But, does it matter? From the industrial perspective of food as a commodity, it does not matter. How could it? You have scant idea where the food product came from. The industry is afraid of you knowing what is in it, let alone who grew it or how it was grown. The alternative perspective is what you have done by getting food from your CSA. You know exactly who grew the food, where it came from, and thru our stories a little better understanding of what goes into growing your food. We hope how much we care about what we are doing shows. The farm/world is in the internet age, but ultimately, contact with real people in real places is what matters, and in relation to your food, that is what CSA offers you.

Unlike the coming election where you could choose not to vote, you will vote a food choice every day.  So, what’s on your plate? Yes, it comes down to that; simple but quite powerful. You have made the choice to put your CSA on your plate; it most definitely matters. Thank you for allowing us to do what we believe in; and we hope you continue to join us.

David

It was in August of 1994 that David and I started this farm. Jesse, our oldest, was 13, now he has two kids. The passage of time is interesting. But right now I am looking back on this season and all that it brought us. It was in general a challenging growing season. Not that every season doesn’t come with challenges, they do. We accept what comes our way and do the best we can with it. This season was rainy. Rain is good, don’t get me wrong. We need it. We love it and too much of it can cause problems. One good rain will irrigate the whole farm and no rain means up to 40 hours of work for one person running irrigation. This year we got rain and humidity and hot weather all bundled up. Microorganisms love it and it is the perfect host for disease and fungus. We deal with plant disease every year. Mostly it is minor and has very little effect on the final product. When something shows up that we have never seen before we take our plant matter to the UW Plant Diagnostic Lab to find out what it is. We had a new one this year that infected our melons, squashes, cucumbers and pumpkins. Yikes! That’s acres of food. David was able to spray an organically approved material to stop the spread of this disease, although it had done a bit too much damage in a few crops already. We had a very small melon crop and lost our zucchini earlier than usual, thankfully our other summer squash did quite well.  The other effected crops fared well.

Then there are the animals that live all around the farm and love that we plant vegetables for them. Turkeys, Sandhill cranes and deer are a particular nuisance. Deer eat lettuce heads and beans so we put up 8 foot fencing around these crops. It kept the deer out of the lettuce but there were some high jumpers in our bean field. When we realized they were still getting in, we re-worked the fence. They still got in and ate beans. The turkeys pulled up oodles of small beet plants and were responsible for the lack of corn stalks at the pumpkin pick. Pulled up all of the young corn plants two times! And the Sandhill cranes love sweet corn. Their tall height is perfect for walking through sweet corn and pecking the tops of the ears of corn. I think there were three cranes living in our sweet corn this year, because they were always there!

The excess of rain was spectacular. We had a flood like none I or the neighbors had ever seen. It subsided quickly and our wetland did its job by holding water and raising up to look like a lake. Many of the fields were left saturated. The carrots had some tip rot because they didn’t like all of the water. There were times we couldn’t get into the fields with any vehicle but a tractor. This put an interesting twist to harvest since we usually use our 16 foot box trucks and one of our pickup trucks for harvest.  Again, we had to get creative.

The hot days and extended season allowed us to harvest some crops longer than usual. Our first frost didn’t come until last night, weeks later than usual. Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant just kept coming and we harvested nearly every fruit from these plants. The winter squash was possibly our best crop ever. Broccoli had some disease but just kept coming. The sweet potatoes were definitely our best ever.

Each season has its highs and lows, fantastic crop yields and some disappointments. That’s why we grow 50 different vegetables; if one isn’t as great as hoped another is. Thank you to all of you for supporting our farm and eating with the seasons. It’s a fun adventure and we all look forward to whatever next season brings.

Barb

The summer flood that brought a lot of rain to our valley.

The summer flood that brought a lot of rain to our valley.

The tractor in the broccoli field ready for harvest. We couldn’t drive the trucks into the field since they were too wet. Note the dark sky, looks like more rain on it’s way.

The tractor in the broccoli field ready for harvest. We couldn’t drive the trucks into the field since they were too wet. Note the dark sky, looks like more rain on it’s way.

Amazing eggplant!

Amazing eggplant!

Bountiful squash!

Bountiful squash!

Incredible sweet potatoes.

Incredible sweet potatoes.

 

We had a visitor come work on our farm last week. Jenny is a young woman I met at a farming conference last winter when I sat down at a table full of people I didn’t know. Come to find out she is a childhood friend of Jonnah’s and had been to our farm for Jesse and Jonnah’s wedding in 2010 (yes, small world). She writes a blog and I enjoyed reading about her three day visit to our farm. It’s great to get an outsiders perspective.

~Barb

Jenny on the brushwasher

Jenny on the brushwasher

“I, as a new landowner in the planning stages of a farm operation, came to Vermont Valley to garner any advice, strategies and know-how that the Perkins’ family has developed over the past two plus decades farming. A perfectly unpredictable reunion. What I learned from Jonnah, her mother-in-law Barb and the whole crew, I will take with me into all future endeavors. The biggest lesson being- if you invest in working your body, your body will work for you. We started our day at 6:30am sharp and by 8:00am we were finished harvesting more cucumber than I’ve ever seen in one place. We moved quickly on to tomatoes, finding the juiciest ripe little delicacies on the vine and brought them back to the pack shed. By 10:30am, we had washed hundreds of tomatoes, zucchini and cucumber and were ready to head out to the field again to harvest garlic until lunch time. The whole place is buoyed along by the fact that they will bring 1,000 families really good food this week and the next and the next. I consider myself a pretty fit person, but I was tired! It was hot, I shouldn’t have been wearing pants, and the fifty-pound crates of vegetables were feeling heavy in my arms as I carried them from truck to pallet. I looked at the two women working with me, guiding me through the day, both smaller than I, not really breaking a sweat, skinny muscles and energy happily carrying them along. Abby, a kind agronomist and Vermont Valley employee looked at me and said, “you have your farm muscles already.” I beamed with pride. At noon we took an hour lunch. Food had never tasted so good. By 1:00, I was ready for more work. It felt good to go to bed so physically tired that night. I imagine it’s how we’re all supposed to hit the pillow. It means eating a good dinner, passing on a second glass of wine, and sleeping by 9:00pm… or 10:00pm. A lot gets done when you live this way. I consider it really good news that our bodies are capable of so much if we treat them with love and respect.  I made a pact with myself to try always to live in a way that my muscles are tired at night.” Read the full essayGo To Bed Tired

Jenny harvesting tomatoes in the hoophouse

Jenny harvesting tomatoes in the hoophouse

On the packing - Jonnah, Barb, and Jenny

On the packing – Jonnah, Barb, and Jenny

What a perfectly lovely day. Hundreds of people came out to the farm to harvest basil and make pesto. It was such a perfect expression of community coming together around food. The event was captured by Julie Garrett. She produces a weekly segment called Five Minutes on the Farm. She was a Fairshare CSA Coalition staff person for several years and is now doing this work to show off CSA farms. Enjoy the piece. It’s only 5 minutes!

See photos and read more about Julie’s day with us at the Pesto Fest

 

As we load the trucks and head into Madison with 10,500 pounds of vegetables and 6,480 pounds of citrus, ice and snow aren’t on our mind. Not today, when it is predicted to be about 25 degrees warmer than average and close to the record for warmest day in recorded history (55 degrees in 1911). Somehow I’m having a hard time remembering that particular day. What I do remember is a blizzard in 2009 the day before the Storage Share delivery. We all spent that entire day plowing and shoveling so we could move the trucks to the loading dock, get them loaded and drive the trucks up the driveway; no small feat. Oh yea, then we had to drive around Madison.

This week’s non–blizzardy, warm weather has allowed us to work on a different job. We replaced the plastic on our greenhouse. Traditional greenhouse plastic has a finite life, about 5 years, and then light transmission becomes compromised. David discovered a new product that should never have to be replaced and is said to have exceptional light transmission. It looks like bubble wrap and comes in sheets that get slid into channels. Quite different from traditional plastic that gets pulled over the greenhouse in one big sheet.

We’ve enjoyed this week and the crew has one more week of work before they gets a 10 week break until we start planting seeds in the newly covered greenhouse.

Barb

Happy Winter and see you next season!

A 2009 storage share delivery preparation. We are thankful for 2015 weather!

A 2009 storage share delivery preparation. We are thankful for 2015 weather!

The old plastic is coming off.

The old plastic is coming off.

All off. Now David and his crew will attach the channels and make other modifications. There is always room for improvement and innovation.

All off. Now David and his crew will attach the channels and make other modifications. There is always room for improvement and innovation.

David talks with us as we prepare to pull on the first section of new bubble plastic. Notice the wooden 2x4s. This modification has to do with a roll down ventilation system we are adding.

David talks with us as we prepare to pull on the first section of new bubble plastic. Notice the wooden 2x4s. This modification has to do with a roll down ventilation system we are adding.

Eric and J-Mo hold the roll, Barb and Becca guide it through the channel and Jesse stands on a ladder pulling it up.

Eric and J-Mo hold the roll, Barb and Becca guide it through the channel and Jesse stands on a ladder pulling it up.

ection by section it goes on. Eric and Becca guiding it up. Now David is on the ladder.

Section by section it goes on. Eric and Becca guiding it up. Now David is on the ladder.

Tuesday’s lunch was very special. Sid, one of our Cambodian workers who has been with us for 8 years, treated us all to a fabulous meal. Rith, her son-in-law, told me she worked all day Sunday preparing the chicken and beef kabobs and eggrolls. Exactly at noon on Tuesday all 21 of us filled up the barn kitchen and shared a meal that we will remember for a long time. This will be Sid’s last year working with us and this meal was a thank you gift from her. We all have appreciated each other so much over the years. The Cambodian crew has become the backbone of the farm. We couldn’t do it without them. They are very hard workers and wonderful people.

Barb

What a special lunch! Look at that line-up of deliciousness. A feast that can’t be beat.

What a special lunch! Look at that line-up of deliciousness. A feast that can’t be beat.

This is fun and this is good!

This is fun and this is good!

A few of us on the other end of the table. Sid and Becky, our farm cook, are sitting next to each other. Since Becky didn’t have to cook on Tuesday she took the opportunity to freeze peppers for next season’s meals.

A few of us on the other end of the table. Sid and Becky, our farm cook, are sitting next to each other. Since Becky didn’t have to cook on Tuesday she took the opportunity to freeze peppers for next season’s meals.

Barb and Sid (she, with some help from a daughter, made all of the food!)

Barb and Sid (she, with some help from a daughter, made all of the food!)

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