Jonnah


Each week Mother Nature throws us a new curve ball and we’ve gotten pretty good at keeping our cool when things get wild on the farm. South Central Wisconsin has had it’s share of severe storms and large volumes of rain this summer but last night’s event set itself apart from the rest. At 9:30pm last night the power on the farm went out which was only a minor inconvenience as long as the vegetable coolers stayed shut, which we made sure they did. The grand challenge came when the crew arrived this morning at 6:30am to pack over 800 CSA shares and the box packing room and walk-in coolers were as dark as caves. Out came headlamps and flashlights and luckily the power flickered back on by 7:30 and do we were could now move through the morning at our electricity-supported pace. When the aftermath of the storm settled down we were all able share our stories of downed trees, flooded roads, flooded basements and our exciting nights at home without power. The only frustrating carryover from the eventful storm was the technology fallout. I spent the majority of my morning trying to restore service to our internet and email server. But that is all part of the monumental undertaking of running a business in a rural area. We didn’t become vegetable farmers to seek out a simple way of life, and we sure do take humor in making the most of the endless challenges that the farm life sends our way.

On a lighter note, we got off to a great start with the garlic harvest on Tuesday and Wednesday! Over the coming week we will fit in the rest of the job whenever we can, harvesting a total of about a half acre of garlic. The garlic will be cured and stored in the upstairs of the barn and we will deliver it throughout the rest of the delivery season, saving about 20% back to plant for next year.

~Jonnah

Garlic growing out of straw mulch. The garlic looks beautiful this year!

Jesse and Casey pull garlic out and shake off the dirt from the roots.

Ryna with her garlic. She has been one of the crew members who has spent a lot of time out in the hot sun harvesting!

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

We have been growing vegetables exclusively for our CSA program for over two decades. With the exception of our seed potato business, our connection with the Willy Street Co-op production kitchen and a few other local businesses, you will not find Vermont Valley produce on restaurant menus, at farmers markets or in stores. We choose to deliver all of our produce to our CSA members, putting all of our time and effort into being the best CSA possible. When we have less than perfect produce or more volume than can be worked into our CSA, we make our produce available to those who need it most.

We bring in thousands of pounds of produce in from the field each week of our growing season. After the vegetables have been washed and sorted, we end up with hundreds of pounds of imperfect produce. We have formed relationships with organizations that will gladly accept our less than perfect vegetables.

This is our 8th year working with the Goodman Community Center. Our produce is channeled through several different programs within the center, and this partnership has been the highlight of our donation activity for the past few years. Through our connection with the center, over 12,000 lbs of our produce has been served and distributed this year to date. Vermont Valley vegetables are incorporated into program meals each week through the Kid’s Cafe Program which connects Madison community centers and local farms, funded by Group Health Cooperative. Jon Lica, Goodman Community Center Fritz Food Pantry Coordinator/Corporate & Events Associate acknowledges our important relationship, Vermont Valley Community Farm has greatly improved our food programs at the Goodman Community Center over the past few years. Youth program participants now receive locally sourced, organic vegetables in their meals during the summer and after school. Even though our Food Pantry is small, it’s very popular because of the terrific assortment or fresh produce clients have to choose from each week. We’re also able to preserve over 3,000 pounds of fresh produce each summer that eventually gets distributed through the food pantry in the winter months. We’re so grateful for this partnership that enables us to provide healthy food options for thousands of children and families in our community.”

Food Procurement Manager, Amy Mach, and her team have processed thousands of pounds of our produce in Goodman’s certified preservation kitchen. We have been known to give the center less than 24 hours to make a plan to prepare, process, and distribute large quantities of vegetables. The staff is incredibly agile and creative with the variety and volume of produce we deliver.

The Goodman Community Center’s Seed to Table Program will be visiting the farm next week to harvest vegetables to bring back to the center. Youth in this program earn high school credit while learning valuable job skills. Over the past 8 years, our partnership with the center has proven to be an amazing outlet for our produce and a source of on-farm experience for Goodman Community Center program participants.

This year our produce also made its way to other events and organizations such as Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, FairShare CSA Coalition Bike the Barns, and AIDS Network AIDS Ride. 19 schools and organizations featured donated Vermont Valley CSA shares in their fundraising silent auction and raffle events.

In addition to in kind donations, we also make arrangements for CSA shares to be used to the fullest. When CSA members cannot pick up their share for the week, we deliver the excess produce to low income families or place it with local childcare centers. This effort ensures that no shares are wasted while passing along the extra vegetables to families and children.

Part of our community mission is to place as much excess produce into the local food system as possible. So far this year we have put over 24,000 lbs of produce into the greater Madison community. Our relationships with community centers, schools and food pantries continue to strengthen, stretching the reach of Vermont Valley produce further. We are fortunate to have developed partnerships with organizations that share our dedication to improving the local food system by making locally grown, organic produce available to those who otherwise may not have access to this food.

Thanks to all our CSA members who make our efforts possible.

Jonnah

Seed to Table students preparing peppers to make salsa at Goodman Community Center

Seed to Table students preparing peppers to make salsa at Goodman Community Center.

The Second Harvest Food Bank truck getting loaded up with potatoes. So far this year we have donated 12,300 pounds of potatoes to Second Harvest!

The Second Harvest Food Bank truck getting loaded up with potatoes. So far this year we have donated 12,300 pounds of potatoes to Second Harvest!

Stack of vegetable donations ready to be loaded on the delivery truck.

Stack of vegetable donations ready to be loaded on the delivery truck.

End of season gleaning. Jonnah (Vermont Valley Donations Coordinator), Amy Mach (Goodman Food Procurement/Processing Manager), and Keith Pollack (Goodman TEEN Works Manager) out in the field on a trip to the farm to harvest vegetables.

End of season gleaning. Jonnah (Vermont Valley Donations Coordinator), Amy Mach (Goodman Food Procurement/Processing Manager), and Keith Pollack (Goodman TEEN Works Manager) out in the field on a trip to the farm to harvest vegetables.

With the arrival of cool weather this week, there is a new energy on the farm. The crew heads out for harvest wearing a few more layers in the morning, which is an ebullient reminder that the growing season will be winding down in a few weeks. This time of year we are not only harvesting for the Main Season CSA shares, but we are also beginning to bring storage crops in from the fields. Our CSA members will see these late season vegetables in their shares throughout October and have the opportunity to keep their local, seasonal eating experience going strong through the winter months with the Storage Share.

The Storage Share is consists of two deliveries, November 10 and December 8. Most of the produce will store well into the winter months in a cool garage, basement, or cupboard. Storage vegetables are heavy and don’t take up much room. A few items will need space in your refrigerator. We provide detailed storage instructions, cooking ideas, and recipes for your late season bounty.

When the subject of seasonal eating comes up with my non-farmer friends, I am usually asked if I buy vegetables from the grocery store in the winter, and my answer is no. But don’t you ever just want to eat a salad? they ask. Well, we do eat salads – shredded celeriac, carrots, and winter radish with a vinaigrette is a refreshing way feed fresh produce to my family all winter long. Storage vegetables are just as versatile as summer favorites, it just takes a seasonal state of mind.

Jonnah

STORAGE SHARE Potatoes, carrot, onions, winter squash, garlic, cabbage, kale, leeks, daikon radish, beets, sweet potatoes, celeriac, rutabaga, turnips, Brussels sprouts, winter radish, pie pumpkin.

See our website for Storage Share details and purchasing options

Sophal showing off the his beautiful sweet potatoes.

Sophal showing off the his beautiful sweet potatoes.

Abigail and J-Mo (Eric) harvesting pie pumkins

Abigail and J-Mo (Eric) harvesting pie pumpkins

All three Perkins kids working together to harvest carrots: Eric, Becky, and Jesse.

All three Perkins siblings working together to harvest carrots: Eric, Becky, and Jesse.

This is the last potato harvest of the year!

This is the last potato harvest of the year!

August, ask any vegetable farmer how they feel at the end of August and you will either get dead-pan silence or a long winded saga. A mix of long days, heavy harvests, and hot weather can make even the heartiest farmer long for the first frost. One of our favorite things about August is having our CSA members come out to the farm to get down and do some harvesting of their own. We invite members to come out on 4 weekends to pick Roma tomatoes, basil, hot peppers, and tomatillos. Most people can or freeze the bounty to extend the local eating experience into the winter. Even though the temperatures are still warm, autumn is hanging in the air which makes putting food up for winter feel like the instinctively right way to spend the weekend. We have one more U-Pick event coming up this weekend – time to gather up your tomatoes and celebrate the end of August and the transition into fall! More info.

~Jonnah

If you are a member of our CSA and have already come out to a U Pick event but would like more tomatoes, email us to let us know you will be coming again.

Tomatoes dripping from the vine.

Tomatoes dripping from the vine.

Harvesting Roma's for a big canning project

Harvesting Roma’s for a big canning project.

Judith has been a CSA member since 1995 - our second season! She comes out to as many farm events as she can. Here she is with basil she harvested for her marinara sauce.

Judith has been a CSA member since 1995 – our second season! She comes out to as many farm events as she can. Here she is with basil she harvested for her marinara sauce.

Thousands of bed feet of Roma's.

Thousands of bed feet of Roma’s.

Everyone helps to fill heaping bags of tomatos!

Everyone helps to fill heaping bags of tomatoes!

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