News


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

We have visitors from around the world come to the Farm wanting to learn more about the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farming model. At these visits, we have as much fun learning about our visitor as they do about us. This week a local guy, Joe Parisi, our Dane County Executive, visited along with staff Scott and Claire. Joe is a member of Vermont Valley Community Farm and we learned a bit about his interest in good food related to his Italian ancestry; Joe is a big garlic fan. At the county level, several efforts exist to promote local food production, including extension staff dedicated to small scale vegetable growers. There are many vegetable farms that have benefited; meaning more great organic food options available to you. Setting priorities is what we do, whether it is government spending or our personal spending. The Farm is fortunate to be in a community that appreciates and supports local organic food; whether you are a bigwig politician or our neighbor down the road; thanks.

David

Joe Parisi and the farm crew

Barb tells Joe about our hot peppers and tomatoes

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!

Yes, it has been a very rainy season. And vegetables are happy and thriving! The rain pattern has been a bit unusual. Small isolated storms have been passing through and popping up. Where they hit and how much rain they drop is extremely variable in a relatively small area. We did not get the 4+ inches of rain Sunday night, as the west side of Madison did. We got less than 2 inches. For that we were thankful. We did get more rain Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Vegetables love water. They need water to grow and thrive. We have deep, rich soils on this farm that can absorb lots of water. We have a lovely wetland and stream where excess water finds it way. It is very, very unusual to have standing water in our fields. While the vegetables and weeds are happily growing, the people and mostly the vehicles have a difficult time getting into the fields to work. We do more walking and use vehicles that hopefully won’t get stuck, like tractors. When we aren’t harvesting vegetables we are pulling weeds! Rubber boots and rain pants get lots of use.

Barb

Looking down at my boots as my feet slowly sink into the wet soil; harvesting salad mix.

Salad mix harvest. We waited until Tuesday morning so the ground could firm up a bit. Not only is it hard to walk in such muddy conditions, it is not good for the beds of vegetables.

After lettuce head harvest we turned to next week’s bed to rid it of weeds. Weeds will out-compete the lettuce heads and cause the lettuce to stretch towards the light. Weeds also inhibit air flow, causing rotting leaves at the bottom of the plant. And weeding is so satisfying!

Cabbage harvest. We were able to use the tractor to transport the bins of cabbage. The tractor could easily get through the field after the rains.

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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