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.

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