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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 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.

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

 

When you go to work outside every day, it’s understood and expected that every day will be a bit different, weather-wise. But…I did not expect to wake up Wednesday morning to see that our entire wetland had become a lake and the road to our field was now a river. I grabbed my tea and drove up the road expecting to see the water over the bridge, but instead I saw that the wetland was channeling water over Hwy F and up Cedar Hill Lane. I stood there watching water rushing over the road, not sure how deep it was.  As I stood there in total awe, our Cambodian crew came driving up the road on their way to work and without hesitation drove through the river. I watched their van, filled with eight people get pushed sideways with the force of the water but they made it. Then we all stood there looking at the phenomena. I talked with the neighbor, who was born and raised here, and he had never seen this happen. The county came and officially closed the road sometime mid-morning. We needed to get through to harvest broccoli. We waited until after lunch. The water had receded enough to see the lines in the road, so we knew the road wasn’t washed out. And then off to harvest broccoli.

Our fields were not negatively affected by the 3.5 inches of rain. Yes, they were very wet, but there was no standing water except in a small area of one field. I love our wetland. The water knows to go there. And the wetland knows what to do with it. As I write this exactly 24 hours later, the water has totally receded. No more lake or river. It was pretty exciting. Not just another day on the farm.

Barb

The water is flowing over Hwy F and using Cedar Hill Lane as a river route. Cedar Hill is the road we drive down to access 13 acres of vegetable fields. It’s the road you drive down to go to the Pumpkin Pick.

The water is flowing over Hwy F and using Cedar Hill Lane as a river route. Cedar Hill is the road we drive down to access 13 acres of vegetable fields. It’s the road you drive down to go to the Pumpkin Pick.

This is our marsh which never has standing water. Yesterday it looked like Lake Vermont.

This is our marsh which never has standing water. Yesterday it looked like Lake Vermont.

Peeking at the new Lake Vermont from the greenhouse.

Peeking at the new Lake Vermont from the greenhouse.

On the way to harvest broccoli.

On the way to harvest broccoli.

The broccoli fields were high and dry.

The broccoli fields were high and dry.

Lettuce head harvest on Tuesday, before the rains.

Lettuce head harvest on Tuesday, before the rains.

Scallion harvest. Notice the fence, it’s to keep deer out of the lettuce.

Scallion harvest. Notice the fence, it’s to keep deer out of the lettuce.

The first delivery of the 2016 season is exciting. We’ve been planning, planting and working towards this day since last fall! The fields are growing lush with a wide variety of vegetables. Quite a beautiful tapestry. The weather has been a bit like a bouncing ball, kind of all over the place, but we have learned to roll with it. Irrigate when we need to, plant when the conditions are good, and always watch the weather forecast and radar. All of the food is brought to you by a wonderful and dedicated crew of people. We have a combination of Perkins family, 6 of us; our dedicated seasonal Cambodian crew, 10 of them; our full time farm crew, 5 of them; and worker shares who put in four hours a week; 28 of them.

This week was varied as we harvested vegetables, transplanted, washed vegetables, weeded, bagged and banded vegetables, started seeds in the greenhouse, took floating row cover off 1000’s of row feet of squash and put it onto freshly planted cucumbers and melons (in the effort to keep hungry insects from eating your food). The week culminates this morning when 7 of us will pack your shares, load them into delivery trucks and bring them to you. What a great week.

Thanks for your support! Enjoy your first share!

Barb

Thursday morning packing line crew, each of us holding the item we placed into the share box. (sitting) Abby, Becca, Georgia, J-Mo, (standing)Barb Ken , Tom

Thursday morning packing line crew, each of us holding the item we placed into the share box. (sitting) Abby, Becca, Georgia, J-Mo, (standing)Barb, Ken , Tom

Early morning salad mix harvest. Thanks for the big smile, Tonny.

Early morning salad mix harvest. Thanks for the big smile, Tonny.

Rhubarb harvest, featuring Matt and Vicki, two worker shares. We were hard at this harvest for 4 hours and we kept adding people to the crew as they became freed up from other tasks, until there were 16 of us.

Rhubarb harvest, featuring Matt and Vicki, two worker shares. We were hard at this harvest for 4 hours and we kept adding people to the crew as they became freed up from other tasks, until there were 16 of us.

Eric and Tom riding the transplanter and laying out the pepper plants.

Eric and Tom riding the transplanter and laying out the pepper plants.

Rith and Pharo planting peppers two weeks ago.

Rith and Pharo planting peppers two weeks ago.

Vermont Valley crew 2015

A common question I get this time of year. Most notably in 2015, we had particularly pleasant weather to work in, mild temperatures, sunny days, breezes; with only a few hot and nasty days, and seldom working in the rain. The fall has been unbelievable, with summer-like weather continuing right into our last week and no frost until just last week. After 21 CSA years, we have experienced it all; droughts, floods, extreme continuous heat, working in mud, working in the cold… The work we do for you involves a tremendous amount of hand labor, in the fields and in the packing shed. Our worker-share members get a taste of it, but it is hard to imagine what it means in the abstract; bending, stooping, and lifting 9 to 10 hours a day. Although we usually talk about the weather in terms of the plants, it’s the people that take the brunt of the bad; the plants seem to have their way to cope without complaining. So please wish us 2015 weather for 2016.

For the most part, the vegetables felt the same way about the weather and responded with excellent harvests. They needed a little extra water now and then because we did have periods of droughty weather; we irrigate regularly to keep the plants healthy. Most vegetables are very water sensitive and responsive to adequate moisture, affecting both the quality and quantity of produce you receive. The number one field management issue we deal with is moisture. Because of the mild temperatures, the dry periods were easy to adjust for because there was no extreme heat to further exacerbate the lack of moisture; so a smaller quantity or irrigation water did the job. The dryer weather also made preparing the fields easier because the tractor work needed to be done when the soil isn’t too wet. We put a lot of organic mulch on our fields which we grow and harvest from our marginal ground. The mulch is harvested and made into large round bales and you need to make hay while the sun shines (the hay needs to be dry to bale it). With the great weather, we had a good mulch harvest for use on the fields in 2016. Lots of reasons we liked the season’s weather.

We are very pleased with the 2015 harvests and can hope for a similar harvest next year. Some of the highlights (from our perspective) were plentiful red peppers, lots of broccoli, great corn, an abundance of tomatoes, a steady supply of cucumbers and summer squash, and beautiful winter squash. Eggplant was the big disappointment. We planted beautiful plants into the fields, covered the plants with row cover to keep out the insects and within a week they had developed lesions midway up their stem and were dying. I spent hours at the UW plant diagnostic lab looking under a microscope and multiple tests were run. Nothing conclusive. Hmm. Our melon crop was also perplexing. The two varieties we have grown to love performed totally different this year. We did not get the harvest we had hoped for. Each season is different with its ups and downs; but we certainly had more ups than downs. The survey you receive is your chance to tell us what you think, so please do.

We hope you’ve enjoyed being part of the Farm this season; and we hope you rejoin us for 2016! Please spread the word about your farm; it is very helpful to us. You are the reason we are able to keep farming, so thanks much.

David and Barb

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