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

Winter squash, sweet potatoes, pie pumpkins, ruby heart radishes, carrots, celeriac, beets, cooking greens, potatoes all define how we eat in the fall. And what do all of these foods have in common? They keep very well. Think about it, before Wisconsinites had grocery stores, they had gardens and root cellars. The food that was harvested in the fall had to keep all winter and be enjoyed for many months. This time of year is our opportunity to do just that.

When we started this farm 23 years ago we made the big leap into full-on seasonal eating. If we aren’t growing it, we’re not eating it. We make it through the winter with a handful of vegetables which we have learned to love and be creative with, or not, sometimes it’s the same old, same old. Truly, it’s really easy and fun. Easy because I know what I have to cook with and that’s that. No fancy recipes using all kinds of imported vegetables. The ultimate CSA experience.

These last few deliveries have been getting heavier and heavier with storage produce. And then there is the Storage Share in November and December. If you haven’t signed up yet, this is a good time to think about what it means to eat seasonally in Wisconsin and have some fun with it.

Barb

Acorn squash harvest. Clipping, gathering and counting the squash into bins.

Swiss chard harvest. Lots of hands cutting the chard; then bringing it back to the packing shed where we band it, dip it into tubs of cold water and put it into a 32 degree cooler.

Carnival squash bounty. Jesse is bringing the bins of harvested squash to the packing shed to be stored until we wash it and deliver it.

What happens when it is really hot in September? The vegetables just keep growing as if it’s still summer. Planning for a balanced CSA box is a skill that we have been perfecting for many years. We keep accurate records of yields and varieties and weather and use that information as we plan for the next season. We do pretty well. And then we get a September like this one and get results we didn’t plan for. Not that it’s a bad thing, it just isn’t the balance we had planned for, and there’s barely room in the share box for it all. For example, broccoli. We plant all of our fall broccoli in one big broccoli patch. When cool fall weather occurs, as it does most Septembers, the broccoli slowly matures and holds well in the field. When summer weather happens, the broccoli all matures at once and we have to harvest it because it won’t hold in the field in the heat. Last Friday we harvested over 2000 heads of broccoli. And that was after harvesting on Monday and Wednesday also. Hence, you will get lots of broccoli in your box this week. We really didn’t plan for or expect this hot weather. Another example, tomatoes. We are harvesting field tomatoes two weeks past any other year and experiencing a huge yield with very little disease. Tomatoes like hot weather. Disease thrives in wet weather and it has been very dry. So if you like tomatoes, this is your year. Enjoy the bounty of this week’s share. It has been a busy week on the farm!

Barb

Bringing in a load of broccoli, the most prolific crop on the farm this week! In addition to all of the broccoli we put into your CSA boxes, we also donated about 250 heads to Goodman Community Center.

Kale harvest. The crew harvests and bands the kale stems; then Barb packs the bunches into crates in the truck.

Bringing in the Carnival squash. We harvest into bins and Jesse drives the bins to the packing shed.

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

I was gone from the farm for two full delivery weeks, the longest I’ve ever been gone from my farm in 23 years. My dad passed away and I went to Milwaukee to be with him before he died and for the days afterwards. I drove back home last Friday late afternoon and as I got into the hills and close to the farm I noticed that fall had come to the valley in the 11 days I had been gone. It felt different, a passage of time I had not been here to witness.

So it is with a life. Where does 85 years go? My dad was here at the corn boil, enjoying himself as he always does. He was supportive and encouraging when David and I announced that we were moving from Madison to start an organic vegetable farm. Dad was curious and proud of all we accomplished. He rode our first transplanter and loved to remember that experience. He wore his Vermont Valley t-shirt and cap with pride and somehow always found the opportunity to tell others about our farm.  He taught me that hard work and perseverance is important and pays off.

Dad, your spirit will live on, on this farm. Your positive attitude, dedication to those you love and care for, disciplined lifestyle, calm approach to whatever presents itself in life and love of a good beer will be held close in my heart forever. Thanks dad.

Barb

My dad, focusing very hard on getting those transplants into the little cups. He talked about this activity for the next 20 years. 1997

A bit of history. David driving our first tractor. My dad on our first transplanter.

My dad and David enjoying time together at this year’s Corn Boil. August 12, 2017

Dad and Barb enjoying a picnic at Concerts on the Square. Two rhubarb pies transported in a farm crate.  Probably around the year 2000

Dad proudly wearing his Vermont Valley t-shirt and cutting into his annual rhubarb pie, lovingly made by me. Father’s Day, Devil’s Lake, 2010.

Grandpa and grandson, Jesse out in the farm fields. 1997

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.