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.

We have visitors from around the world come to the Farm wanting to learn more about the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farming model. At these visits, we have as much fun learning about our visitor as they do about us. This week a local guy, Joe Parisi, our Dane County Executive, visited along with staff Scott and Claire. Joe is a member of Vermont Valley Community Farm and we learned a bit about his interest in good food related to his Italian ancestry; Joe is a big garlic fan. At the county level, several efforts exist to promote local food production, including extension staff dedicated to small scale vegetable growers. There are many vegetable farms that have benefited; meaning more great organic food options available to you. Setting priorities is what we do, whether it is government spending or our personal spending. The Farm is fortunate to be in a community that appreciates and supports local organic food; whether you are a bigwig politician or our neighbor down the road; thanks.

David

Joe Parisi and the farm crew

Barb tells Joe about our hot peppers and tomatoes

Each year, since the farm began in 1995, we have hosted a Corn Boil. The tradition goes back even further. In 1981, David and I were living on a farm in Helenville, Jefferson Co. We hosted a Corn Boil for all of our friends and neighbors during our 3 year duration on that farm. Then we had a 10 year stint living on the Isthmus so we were excited to bring back the Corn Boil. Our first years on this farm had fewer CSA members so the Corn Boil was a combination of members, neighbors, friends and family. Each year has its own special memories. But each year I have the chance to connect with and talk with our members, many whom I now consider friends.

Barb

Corn Boil 2017

Corn Boil 1995

Today Barb celebrated her 60th birthday by waking up at 4:30am to organize the weekly pack. She is taking the afternoon off to relax and go swimming. Twenty-three years ago, August 1st, 1994, our family moved to the farm that became Vermont Valley Community Farm. Barb celebrated her 37th birthday a week after moving to the farm and the next spring began growing vegetables for the CSA’s first season. The 37th birthday is meaningful to me since I am about to turn 37 this winter. For the past 23 years Barb and David have made Vermont Valley what it is today. If you see Barb, join me in wishing her a Happy Birthday.

Jesse

Barb and David dancing on the farm during a Farm-to-Table brunch. Photo: Stick People Productions and photographer Kelly Doering

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.

When we were asked by Madison Magazine to host a farm-to-table event on the farm we immediately responded with an enthusiastic YES! We work hard all week getting vegetables harvested, washed, packed, and delivered for the CSA, so when a super organized event planning production offers to throw a party on your farm and do all the work, we can’t just can’t say no. Madison Magazine teamed up with One Barrel Brewing Company, Liliana’s Restaurant, and several other sponsors, to put together a Beermosa Brunch, complete with beer pairings that complimented each coarse.

So after a long week at the end of July, all of the Vermont Valley farmers got to join nearly 200 guests to enjoy our food exquisitely prepared by Chef Dave Heide, listen to fabulous blues played by the Madtown Mannish Boys and taste several One Barrel beers under a big white tent in our yard. Other than cleaning up all of the sticks that fell out of the trees during the wild storms last week and leading a few farm tours, all we had to do was provide the vegetables.

Jonnah

Brunch in the orchard with a view of the valley

Touring the farm fields with Barb (you may not recognize her, she has on a black dress and isn’t wearing her farm cap)

A stacked list of sponsors were part of the Farm-to-Feast brunch!

Barb talking beer and farming with One Barrel owner, Peter Gentry, and his wife Jennifer.

 

 

Each week Mother Nature throws us a new curve ball and we’ve gotten pretty good at keeping our cool when things get wild on the farm. South Central Wisconsin has had it’s share of severe storms and large volumes of rain this summer but last night’s event set itself apart from the rest. At 9:30pm last night the power on the farm went out which was only a minor inconvenience as long as the vegetable coolers stayed shut, which we made sure they did. The grand challenge came when the crew arrived this morning at 6:30am to pack over 800 CSA shares and the box packing room and walk-in coolers were as dark as caves. Out came headlamps and flashlights and luckily the power flickered back on by 7:30 and do we were could now move through the morning at our electricity-supported pace. When the aftermath of the storm settled down we were all able share our stories of downed trees, flooded roads, flooded basements and our exciting nights at home without power. The only frustrating carryover from the eventful storm was the technology fallout. I spent the majority of my morning trying to restore service to our internet and email server. But that is all part of the monumental undertaking of running a business in a rural area. We didn’t become vegetable farmers to seek out a simple way of life, and we sure do take humor in making the most of the endless challenges that the farm life sends our way.

On a lighter note, we got off to a great start with the garlic harvest on Tuesday and Wednesday! Over the coming week we will fit in the rest of the job whenever we can, harvesting a total of about a half acre of garlic. The garlic will be cured and stored in the upstairs of the barn and we will deliver it throughout the rest of the delivery season, saving about 20% back to plant for next year.

~Jonnah

Garlic growing out of straw mulch. The garlic looks beautiful this year!

Jesse and Casey pull garlic out and shake off the dirt from the roots.

Ryna with her garlic. She has been one of the crew members who has spent a lot of time out in the hot sun harvesting!