Jonnah


Bikers gathering around to each lunch at Vermont Valley during a previous bike tour.

Some would say that September is the best month for local vegetables in Wisconsin. And it’s undeniable that September is the the best month for being outside enjoying the cooler temperatures and high likelihood of dry, sunny weather. This time of year we are still getting mountains of tomatoes and other summer vegetables and are welcoming in the fall crops that warm our bellies like winter squash and leafy greens.

This month we are donating our vegetables to two great events that will tie together local food with outdoor recreation in a community adventure setting. FairShare CSA Coalition’s 11th Annual Bike the Barns event and Ice Age Trail Alliance Hike and Farm-to-Table Dinner are coming up on back-to-back weekends. Both events feature locally produced food prepared by top Madison Chefs in a beautiful natural settings.

Bike the Barns – September 17
Registration/Tickets and Information
All ages welcome
This is an opportunity to tour several Dane County Farms (not Vermont Valley this year) on your bike while sampling the best that the season has to offer. The best part is that the proceeds go to the Partner Shares Program, which subsidizes CSA shares for lower-income families. In addition to the bike tour, FairShare has also organized a bus tour. So you can participate in the entire experience without committing to the miles on the bike.

Bike Tour:

  • Short Route: ~28 miles; Short route riders start at 11 AM
  • Medium Route: ~58 miles; Medium route riders start at 10 AM
  • Long Route: ~78 miles; Long route riders start at 9 AM
  • Bus Option: Depart Lake Farm Park at 10 AM & return ~ 4 PM

Bus Tour:
Join us for this unique, first-time event! Registration for this interactive bus tour includes all meals, farm tours and activities at three farms, and bus transportation. Tour Itinerary (*exact farm times subject to change, but start and end times are finalized)

  • 9:30 am: Meet at Lake Farm Park in Madison
  • 10 am: Depart for bus tour!
  • 10:30 am: Winterfell Acres – Local snack, farm tour & demo
  • 12 pm: Raleigh’s Hillside Farm – Farm to table lunch, interactive activities & tour
  • 2:15 pm: Vitruvian Farms – Local snack, tour & foodie activities
  • 3:30 pm: Enjoy the After Party at Lake Farm Park

Both bike and bus tours include fun food & farm-related workshops and activities.

  • A crash course in making farm-fresh cocktails with J. Henry & Sons Bourbon
  • Cider press demonstration, courtesy of Brix Cider, at Winterfell Acres
  • Smoothie-making with a bike blender
  • Veggie-themed mural painting at Raleigh’s Hillside Farm
  • Taste of organic presentation by Purple Cow Organics
  • Behind-the-scenes tours of several community supported agriculture (CSA) farms

Beautiful wooded trails and wide open prairie will be the backdrop for a lovely September farm-to-table dinner

Ice Age Trail Alliance Hike and Farm-to-Table Dinner – September 23
Women and girls of all ages welcome
Ice Age Trail Alliance teamed up with REI to present a series for events throughout the year focused on empowering women on the trail through the REI Force of Nature campaign. The kick-off dinner, on September 23rd, will be a great time to learn about the Ice Age Trail and meet other women who are passionate about outdoor recreation. The group of women and girls will hike a 2 mile section of the Ice Age Trail Table Bluff Segment in Cross Plains to get to the beautiful event location. Executive sous chef, Jamie Hoang of Sujeo, will be preparing a post-hike dinner with produce from Vermont Valley and meat sourced from StoneHaus Farm.
  • 3:00 p.m. Arrive & Check-in
  • 3:30 p.m. Hike beautiful Table Bluff Segment (guided hike)
  • 5:00 p.m. Welcome and introduction of Chef and farm-to-table partners
  • 5:30 p.m. Dinner
  • 6:00 p.m. A brief introduction to the Ice Age Trail & upcoming Trailtessa events
  • 7:30 p.m. Evening wraps up
We hope you come out to celebrate these wonderful events alongside the local producers and national partners that make them possible. September is a time for soaking in all that season has to offer before the growing season tapers off while experiencing our farms and natural areas in one of the best times of the year.
Jonnah

August into September is all about tomatoes. I look forward to the tomato rush all year, which is good because we can’t escape it. Our workdays, weekends, and meals are based on tomatoes. To be honest, there are some vegetables I grow tired of, but tomatoes are not one of them. With the broad spectrum of colors and textures of tomatoes we grow, I am fully engaged from first blush until the first frost takes them down. Then I am left with a bit of sadness in my tomato loving heart.

Tomatoes are harvested Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we wash and count tomatoes two ways a week, and we hold tomato u-pick events for our CSA members on the weekend. That’s five days a week of tomatoes! To further our passion for tomatoes, we work with a seed breeder from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Emily Haga a former employee, to trial new varieties in development. Our CSA members get to try new varieties that will hit the seed market in future seasons.

Being the end of August, we are up to our necks in tomatoes, and we are perfectly happy with it.

Jonnah

CSA members: Tomato U-Pick info!

Emily Haga, from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, visiting from Maine to sample some tomato trials we grew for her research.

Currently being harvested, from top row, left to right: Chef’s Choice, Red Zebra, Pink Beauty, Garden Peach, Estiva. Damsel, Japanese Trifele Black, Wisconsin 55, Martha Washington. Orange Banana, Arbason, Be Orange, Pink Boar.

Cherry tomatoes are pouring in by the crateful!

Crates of tomatoes stacked up in the back of the truck. All varieties are separated until we bag them for the CSA delivery.

When we were asked by Madison Magazine to host a farm-to-table event on the farm we immediately responded with an enthusiastic YES! We work hard all week getting vegetables harvested, washed, packed, and delivered for the CSA, so when a super organized event planning production offers to throw a party on your farm and do all the work, we can’t just can’t say no. Madison Magazine teamed up with One Barrel Brewing Company, Liliana’s Restaurant, and several other sponsors, to put together a Beermosa Brunch, complete with beer pairings that complimented each coarse.

So after a long week at the end of July, all of the Vermont Valley farmers got to join nearly 200 guests to enjoy our food exquisitely prepared by Chef Dave Heide, listen to fabulous blues played by the Madtown Mannish Boys and taste several One Barrel beers under a big white tent in our yard. Other than cleaning up all of the sticks that fell out of the trees during the wild storms last week and leading a few farm tours, all we had to do was provide the vegetables.

Jonnah

Brunch in the orchard with a view of the valley

Touring the farm fields with Barb (you may not recognize her, she has on a black dress and isn’t wearing her farm cap)

A stacked list of sponsors were part of the Farm-to-Feast brunch!

Barb talking beer and farming with One Barrel owner, Peter Gentry, and his wife Jennifer.

 

 

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.

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