Today is the first Spring Share delivery and as I sit down to write this there are flakes of snow falling from the sky. I rub my eyes and look again, yup. OK, April in Wisconsin. The trucks have left the farm with an amazing assortment of greens. We do our best to work around Mother Nature in April, hence our hoophuses.  We have two lovely structures where we plant directly into the ground, so if it snows or freezes or rains like crazy outside, the crops are protected and happily growing. We don’t worry too much about cold weather, the tender spring greens can easily take temperatures down to 20 degrees and will make it through with only minor setback at even colder temps. They look fragile but are some of the toughest vegetables when it comes to withstanding cold.

We have also had some fantastic spring weather and have been able to transplant (plant the plants that we have grown in the greenhouse) onions, lettuce, scallions, peas and leeks outside. We have also seeded carrots outside. We haven’t had much rain, but have irrigated each time we have planted. Many times we have very different weather from Madison and other surrounding areas. Less rain can be better because we have the ability to irrigate. Too much rain can keep us out of the fields.

April is full of new life and is a super busy time on the farm. Let the season begin! Hey, it stopped snowing.

Barb

Harvesting salad mix. Yun carrying his full crate down the aisle between two beds of spinach. The isles are very narrow and we really have to be careful when harvesting. Note, we balance our crates on waste baskets because the rows are even too narrow to set down a crate. We maximize the valuable space in hoophouse.

Radish harvest. The largest radishes are pulled and set in the isles in bunches of 10. They can be easily counted this way. We harvest many things to a specific count.

Transplanting onions. A machine laid the plastic and another machine poked the holes marking where the onions should go. Two people walk ahead and lay down the onion transplants and the others follow and plant them.

Barb has a new role this season, driving the tractor for transplanting. I needed to watch the front wheel to keep it in the tire track as I sped along .1 mph. Not easy driving that slow.

Tonny and Phearo riding the transplanter and planting lettuce.

Now we’re waiting for the lamb! Not complaining, only waiting. March has been a particularly cloudy month. This is the month we begin planting in the greenhouse and have already filled two hoophouses with spring share vegetables. Those vegetables are green and beautiful but could sure use some sun! This is March, I have not forgotten where I live. I know the sun is up there somewhere.

The rhubarb, chives and sorrel out in the fields are looking beautiful. The rhubarb was weeded yesterday, the chives and sorrel raked. Yesterday David and Jesse were driving tractors back and forth for ten hours, spreading rock minerals on the fields.

We hear new birds every day and our resident Sandhill Cranes are noisy as ever as they stake out their territory.

The farm is relatively quiet and peaceful as we gear up. We find indoor jobs on these rainy days and look forward to the promise of sun on Saturday, no April fools I hope.

Barb

Lettuce and onions in the greenhouse.

Tomatoes in the greenhouse. In two weeks it will get planted into the hoophouse alongside the Spring Share vegetables.

Little spinach in the hoophouse.

Spring Share in the hoophouse. As soon as the sun shines these plants will grow very quickly.

 

Wow, we’ve been growing food for the community for a generation. Our kids are now in their 30’s – we were in our 30’s when we started this farm. Members used to bring their kids out, now their kids bring out their kids! We (David and Barb) started growing organic food when it was a new concept, now organic food can be found in a wide variety of places. This farm has been an integral part of the CSA movement and we have witnessed its growth and acceptance into thousands of households. Twenty three years ago CSA needed lots of explaining, today it is nearly a household word. When we started our farm people would ask us if we thought CSA was a fad. We always emphatically and without hesitation said ‘no’. How can a concept that connects people with the source of their food, the land that it is grown on and the farmer that grows it be a fad?? It all makes too much sense and over the years we have seen how much people have embraced the connection with their food and the land. The C in CSA stands for community and that C becomes more and more important in our fast-paced world. So thanks for embracing Community Supported Agriculture and everything it stands for. We love growing your food and hope to see you on the farm this season!

Barb

First tractor

1994 was a big year for our family. We moved from Madison’s near east side to our farm. Our first tractor and three proud farm kids. Becky, age 9; Jesse, age 13; Eric, age 11.

All in the family: Eric, Jesse, Jonnah (Jesse's wife), Becky, Felix, David and Barb Perkins

The entire family now farming together: Eric, Jesse, Jonnah (Jesse’s wife), Becky, Felix, David and Barb Perkins. Jesse and Jonnah’s children, Paavo and Mischa, are not pictured.

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

 

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.