Staff


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

Fall equinox tomorrow. Ninety degrees, warmer than any day in August. It’s a unique time of year on the farm when summer collides with fall, meaning the summer crops are winding down and the fall crops are ramping up and we are delivering both. But this year’s collision seems more extreme than most. August was such a cool month that some of the crops slowed down, now many of them are picking back up again. Peppers reddening like crazy, summer squash still going strong, broccoli growing before our very eyes, all of the fall greens getting super big and beautiful.

We harvested more summer squash this week than last while also delivering winter squash, our eggplant harvest was much bigger than the last one, outside tomatoes are still producing (they were finished by this time last year). It’s dark at 6:30am but warmer than some August mornings when we were already outside harvesting. Until last evening’s brief rain, it has been so dry that we have been irrigating. Believe it or not, it is not unusual to get our first frost right about now. What can I say, we take what we get and make the most of it. Think I’ll go swimming after work.

Barb

On Wednesday Dream Lens Media spent the morning on the farm gathering film and photography for various projects. They did a great job capturing the energy of our morning!

Last sweet corn harvest of the season. photo: Dream Lens Media

The harvest crew putting corn on the conveyor. (Jesse, Yun, J-Mo) photo: Dream Lens Media

Jonnah and Sophal counting corn as it drops into the corn wagon. Photo: Dream Lens Media

The scary eyes leaving the field. These giant balls were successful in keeping the birds from pecking at our corn. Photo: Dream Lens Media

Cooling down the broccoli after bringing it in from the field. photo: Dream Lens Media

A crate of delicata squash as it was packed in the field. photo: Eric Friedricks

We have a pattern and routine this time of year. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning we start out harvesting tomatoes in the hoophouse, harvesting zucchini and yellow squashes, followed by cucumbers and outside tomatoes. There is also a crew that heads out to broccoli on those mornings. The same people harvest the same crops. This allows each person to get to know the crops and observe the changes in size and quality each time they harvest. We wish each harvest could be totally straight forward, but that’s not possible. There are variables like how hot it is, how much rain has fallen, what the temperatures will be between now and the next harvest, is tomorrow a delivery day or is it a Friday when there will be two days between harvests, etc. Harvesting vegetables is a combination of art and science. When someone is new to a crop they will ask, how long should the zucchini be? and I follow up with a whole explanation of it depends on…

We are ever so grateful for our dedicated crew. Bending over for hours in scratchy plants isn’t exactly the definition of fun, but it is rewarding.

Barb

Cucumber harvest. A new patch with lush foliage.

Zucchini Harvest. The plants are getting old and tired, but still keep producing.

First pepper harvest.

Part of our crew heading back to the farm after a harvest. (Neing, Ryna, Phearo, Tonny, Tom, Sophal). They are in the back of a box truck. We use our box trucks for harvest and delivery.

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.

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 the crew bags garlic in the packing shed for the final delivery of 2016, I am in the office compiling harvest data from this season so next season’s planning can begin. The planning for 2017 begins by looking closely at what we planted and harvested and delivered this season. That will be a basis for next year’s plans. Enough? Too much? Earlier? Later? Some things we have control of, other things we don’t, so we need to be in control where we can be. I will have the seed order placed by the end of the year. That means all varieties and quantities decided. Along with figuring how many seeds of each variety we need, I also lay out the greenhouse, transplanting and direct seeding plan.

There are 7 of us working through next week. Then we go down to a skeleton crew of everyone whose last name is Perkins! (Barb, David, Jesse, Eric, Jonnah) These Perkins’ keep the farm running over the winter. Jonnah is in the office managing 2017 sign ups, Jesse is busy with the seed potato business, Eric does odd (and necessary) jobs, Barb and David prepare for next season. And all of us get to go on vacation!  Thanks for all of the support you give to the farm. This farm only exists because of you! Happy winter time and see you next season.

Barb

Here are the folks that grew your vegetables. Jonnah, Jesse, David, Barb, J-Mo (Eric), and Nasta just sent off the last delivery of the year!

Here are the folks that grew your vegetables. Jonnah, Jesse, David, Barb, J-Mo (Eric), and Nasta just sent off the last delivery of the year!

Becky and Abigail washing crates in the cold, wet packing shed. Thousands of crates and containers get washed and sanitized at the end of the season. All the little details that are part of farming.

Becky and Abigail washing crates in the cold, wet packing shed. Thousands of crates and containers get washed and sanitized at the end of the season. All the little details that are part of farming.

The calendar says that it is November 10. We are sending out the first Storage Share today. The temperature will get near 60. This is exactly how it was last year at this time. It’s not quite normal, but it does helps us get our work done. When we got flooded this summer, it wasn’t quite right either, but we made the most of it. We take what we get and make the most of it. It’s a treat to work outside without freezing fingers and toes.

As we packed up the Storage Share we could see the ups and downs of the season. We had a bumper crop of winter squash, probably our very best sweet potato crop ever and a fabulous garlic crop. We are able to deliver more of these vegetables than planned. We are delivering collard greens for the first time ever in a Storage Share because the fall temperatures have been so mild. A few crops suffered from the flooding rains we got early in the season. Fewer onions and Brussels sprouts. They both had disease issues. Not bad for all the rain we got.

We thank all of you for plunging into seasonal and local eating. It’s satisfying for us to grow vegetables for you and for us to know who’s eating what we grow. We appreciate the ability to tell you details about specific crops.

Enjoy the bounty of the Farm.

Barb

An end of year celebration. A great big mix of Perkins family, employees and worker shares celebrating another good season.

An end of year celebration. A great big mix of Perkins family, employees and worker shares celebrating another good season.

And what better way to celebrate than to fry food. A fun twist on healthy eating. We did have lots of healthy non fried food too.

And what better way to celebrate than to fry food. A fun twist on healthy eating. We did have lots of healthy non fried food too.

Harvesting collards. Becky Perkins, Michelle Riel (worker share), Barb Perkins

Harvesting collards. Becky Perkins, Michelle Riel (worker share), Barb Perkins

 

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