Spring is such a beautiful and magical time on the farm. Different hues of green everywhere are soft and varied and brilliant. Rains come hard and the wetland turns into a pond, only to recede the next day. Sandhill cranes are vying for nesting territory. Fog rolls through the valley in the early mornings, muting the colors and bringing with it a mystique. Dew hangs so heavily on the tall grass that you feel as if you are swimming when walking into the fields. Planted crops are thriving, despite all of the crazy weather.

Through it all we work hard. Bodies ache and grow weary. But then we look up at the beauty all around us and are reminded how lucky we are to work in such a magical place. At times we work silently and at other times we chatter and laugh. The days pass and we accomplish much.

Enjoy the spring magic in your box this week!

~Barb

Rhubarb harvest Tuesday morning. If you have never used a rhubarb leaf as a hat, give it a try. It cools your head an looks quite fashionable!

Heavy rains caused our wetland to turn into a pond. Our stream is that straight line of water in the middle. The spring vegetables are planted in far the field. The following day the waters receded and the vegetable fields are in great condition!

Last Friday we were working in the hoophouse during a downpour. The water decided to come under the edge and start flowing like a river. David is doing some water re-directing. All is well with the plants!

Harvesting salad mix Monday morning. Heavy fog and mist outside.

I stepped out through the open side wall of the hoophouse to capture this picture of our leeks, onions and garlic in the mist. They are enjoying the spring and growing well.

The sun sets on the stream behind our big field.

Yea, spring finally came, and along with it the needed warmth for vegetables to grow. We’ve had a lot of fun harvesting greens from the hoophouses. This year we are growing more than twice as much food in those hoophouses and needed to be creative about how to squeeze it all in. We decided to make the paths between the beds of greens a bit narrower. Weeding and harvesting and maneuvering in a 12 inch row is not the easiest thing to do, and all without stepping on the crop that’s flowing into the row. For the past three days, with sore backs and lots of laughs, we harvested our way through beds and beds of greens. The sunshine makes the houses warm and when it’s raining outside somehow the rain manages to leak in, creating a slick muddy walkway. A balancing act all around.

Welcome to the Spring Season!

Barb

Sauté Mix harvest in those 12 inch rows! Note how we need to balance the crates on a bucket since there is not enough room in the row to place the crate. Casey and Yun harvesting arugula. Sophon, Ryna and Neing harvesting different beds of kale and mustard greens.

Ryna, Yun, Casey harvesting spinach. We pinch off one leaf at a time. This way we can leave the smaller leaves on the plant to grow bigger for next week.

The hoophouse a couple of weeks ago. The red lettuce in the foreground is what was delivered this week. It even looked like this when there were piles of snow outside. A lovely place to be.

Wednesday night after all of the employees had gone home Eric, Barb, Jonnah, Jesse and David (all with the last name Perkins) rallied for another hour to get every little bit done. We were all on our 11th hour, ready to be done yet still having fun! Balancing a phone on a sawhorse was the only way to capture the moment. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to grow your food.

The thermometer reads 70 degrees Tuesday and there are still a few piles of snow strategically distributed around the farm, lest we forget we had a blizzard only a few days ago.

The crew is planting onions this week; the onions that were diligently cared for as they patiently waited to be planted. For the past 2 weeks, on each day that was above freezing, we would carry them into an unheated plastic structure to get hardened off (toughened up) and then carry them back into the heated greenhouse each night. This went on until last Friday when we decided they could stay out all night, along with their friends spinach, lettuce, dandelion greens, sauté mix and scallions: 36,800 cells total. That night the temperature dropped lower than expected. At 10 pm it was 32 degrees and I knew I wouldn’t sleep until we somehow protected those plants. David and I decided to double row cover them and put a space heater below the draped row cover. It looked so cozy when we were finished I thought I could just crawl under and fall asleep. I resisted and slept well in my own bed, knowing the plants were going to make it through the low evening temperatures. They did.

The other vegetables that made it through less than ideal conditions were the lettuce heads and spinach transplants which were planted into the field just days before the first snow fall. We studied the weather predictions and figured they would be protected under a blanket of snow until it melted. We also knew if we didn’t plant them before the snow came, it would be way too many days before we could get them out into the fields. We weren’t too crazy about the ice that accumulated prior to the snow storm, but plants are tough. The snow from the first storm hadn’t even melted off before the next storm hit. Now they were really covered, and hopefully as cozy as a lettuce plant under a blanket of snow can be. The snow has melted and the plants look fine! They didn’t do too much growing under the snow, but now they can get serious about that. Happy Spring!

Barb

Planting onions on Tuesday, that gorgeous 70 degree day. Sophon and Ryna in foreground.

Walking down to the greenhouse on April 19. Yes, the greenhouse is bursting with life inside.

Here we are inside the greenhouse. Quite a contrast from the snowy day outside.

All of the plants that were moved into an unheated structure to ‘harden off’ or get tough and strong before being transplanted into the field.

At 11pm last Friday night David and I were out in that hardening off area double row covering the plants and placing a space heater beneath the covered plants. The temperatures were dipping more quickly than expected.

The survivors. Here are the lettuce and spinach plants that weathered 2 snow storms! We knew they could do it!

Here comes the garlic! Planted last October. So much to look forward to!

Spring Season plants growing happily in the hoophouse. If you haven’t signed up for the Spring Season yet, you still have time.

Planning and planting are underway! Yes, I did say planting. Last Monday Eric and I planted 7,872 seeds and they are already poking their little green heads above the surface of the soil. Winter is an exciting time on the farm and not as long as most people imagine it is for us. The same week that we finally got snow and I can do what I love most in winter, cross country ski, was the same week that we started planting seeds for our upcoming season. Now, that is a short winter. The lucky thing is I still get to squeeze in skiing between my other winter farm tasks, a pure joy.

Jesse and Jonnah spend a lot of time in the barn office. Jonnah signs up new members, works on our marketing plan, organizes our winter conference schedule and handles member communications. Jesse keeps busy with the farm’s seed potato business. They and their kids squeezed in a vacation to California to visit friends, play on the beach and run.

David has just finished taxes and compiling greenhouse plans and field plans. He and I had a fantastic vacation to the Galapagos Islands in January.

The seeds have finished pouring into the farm via UPS and are all nestled into their bins and files.

Winter is a wonderful combination of work and play for us. March 1 marks the return of employees and some serious work as the greenhouse gets fired up and many tens of thousands of seed potatoes get bagged. Soon, in about 8 weeks, we will be planting outside. We better get in as much winter play as we can in the next few weeks.

See you all soon!
Barb

Eric, in the greenhouse potting shed, filling flats with potting soil.

Barb operating the seeding machine. Note we are all dressed very warm. This building is about the same cold temperature as outside.

The flats of seeds are germinating in one of our walk-in coolers, turned germination room for a few weeks.

Our Storage Share week ended on a mild note, making it easy for us to get out and harvest the kale and Brussels sprouts. We’ve been harvesting, washing and bagging for this share for the past two weeks. We wait until a day or two before the delivery to harvest the kale and Brussels sprouts and always hope for warm temperatures (actually unfrozen is all we really need). It gets kind of tricky this time of year working around and with the weather. It wasn’t snowing or raining as it often does but last week there were ice pellets sprinkling down on us as we harvested the cabbage.

The crews are smaller, the work days are shorter and the outside work will not end for about five more weeks. David spent the better part of yesterday chisel plowing the fields, incorporating the plant debris into the ground. The fields across the valley are now a beautiful patchwork of brown.

As we prepare the farm for winter, we look back on the wonderful season of bounty and community we shared with all of our members. We will spend our winter preparing for next season and look forward to sharing it with you.

Barb

Jesse rolling a bin of cabbages into the cooler so they don’t freeze.

J-Mo (Eric Friedricks), cleaning daikon and ruby heart radishes.

A chilly, sunny morning for Brussels Sprouts harvest.

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.