This past week has been another week of putting the fields to rest for the winter. Rounding up, sorting, and bagging row covers was one of our tasks this week. Last year, we stored the row cover in bags on the ground in our drive shed and the mice really enjoyed making complex nests and tunnels in them. So this year I had find a creative solution for foiling the rodents. So now the row covers are bagged in empty grain bags, tied with twine, and hung from rafters of the drive shed. If the mice can get into these they deserve the covers!
As I type this, Rob is power ploughing the rows we plan to use for early brassicas (turnip, radish, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) next year as well as the rows where the peas will be planted. These will be the first crops planted next spring so we try to prep as much as possible in the fall so that we are not delayed in the spring. Once power ploughed, the bare soil in these rows will be covered in giant sileage tarps to protect them from high winter winds and to help warm the soil earlier in the spring.
We also had a dry day this week to pick all the beans we grew for dried beans. We don't include dried beans in the shares (primarily because they aren't typically fully dry by the end of the shares) but we grow them for our own use through the winter. Due to our wet summer, the beans are not fully dried or cured yet, so we spread them out on drying racks that Ian assembled in the drive shed. I hope in a couple weeks they will be ready to be shelled. Hand shelling 600 - 800' of dried beans can be monotonous and time consuming, but we try to do this task whenever we sit down to watch a movie during the winter months. I am excited to try all the varieties this year; we've grown black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, broad beans, and calypso beans. We also tried chickpeas and lentils but the chickpeas germinated very poorly and the lentils didn't produce enough to bother harvesting.
I've had some members ask about reserving shares for next year so I thought I'd provide a few details here. The cost of the shares will remain the same: the small share is $400 and the large is $550. If you reserve and pay in full prior to February 1st, you will save 10%. The egg shares will increase to $110 for one dozen eggs and $65 for 1/2 dozen eggs. Both the egg and vegetable shares will be for 20 weeks, as they were this year. We did have several share members request more eggs available for purchase next year. At this time, we won't increase the number of egg shares, even though we love being able to provide fresh, pastured eggs to customers. For us, eggs are very much a 'lost leader' and it does not make financial sense to increase production until we can figure out a way to decrease our costs.
The cost of the add-on items I mentioned in a previous post has not been finalized yet. I plan to calculate the actual costs in November and have our website updated with 2015 information by December. I will write a blog at that time to let people know that registration is open.
For members that would like to reserve a share now so that they don't have to worry about it in the new year, can simply send me an email specifying the size and provide a post-dated cheque for early January. Those that prefer to pay via email transfer can let me know the share size they want and I will send a reminder email regarding payment in early January.
If you have any further questions about next year, don't hesitate to speak to me at the pickup or send me an email.
Weekly Share Contents:
Kale OR Cabbage
Our squash harvest has been plentiful this year and I know some share members are looking for interesting ways to use up the squash they have been receiving. I thought I'd take the time to outline the benefits and uses of each type of squash.
Delicata (sometimes called Sweet Potato squash) are a mild, sweet squash that I use primarily in mixed vegetable dishes such as curries, stews, mixed roasted vegetables, and stir fries. The skin on these squash is thin and tender so no peeling is required. Generally, I slice in half length wise, scoop out the seeds, and slice in half moon pieces. As a dessert treat, I have also tossed these half moons with cinnamon, coconut sugar or cane sugar, oil or butter, and a pinch of salt, Then I roast at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or so.
Red Kuri Hubbard
These are my favourite squash and they have thick, flavourful flesh and edible skin. No need to peel - I simply cut into chunks and cook. I think the flavour of this squash shines brightest when used in soups or pureed into a side dish. To make a pureed side dish, I cut in half and scoop out the seed and then roast, cut side down, until tender. Then I break into pieces and put in my food processor along with coconut oil, cinnamon, maple syrup, and salt. Once pureed I scrape into a casserole dish and bake for another 10 minutes or so.
Acorn squash are the one squash I use exclusively as a side vegetable. Simply cut in half, scoop out seeds, and roast, cut side down, until tender. I add a few tablespoons of water to the pan to help steam them and keep them moist. Since acorn squash skin is not edible and is ridiculous to try and peel, I don't use them in any dish that requires this. I enjoy drizzling them with a mixture of coconut oil or butter, maple syrup, garlic, cayenne pepper, and salt.
Commonly used in soup and stews, butternut squash has a mild and slightly watery flavour. Since its flavour is watered down, I find butternut squash needs more spices and rich flavours added during cooking than the red kuris. The skin is not edible, but does peel easily. I cut a thin slice off the top and bottom so that it sit upright on my cutting board. Then I use a chef's knife to peel the skin off in long strips, rotating around as I go. While all squash improve in flavour when left to sit before using, butternut benefits the most. A butternut will keep for up to 6 months and the flavour will improve with age.
Other than for pie, I enjoy pie pumpkins in soup and other baking such as muffins, scones, and cookies. Since pie pumpkins don't store for as long as some squash, I roast several at one time, scoop out the flesh and puree in large batches. I then freeze the puree in ziplock bags for quick use in baking throughout the year. Recently, I discovered this recipe for a Pumpkin Latte and it is delicious! And certainly healthier than certain unnamed coffee chain lattes. You can use coffee, black tea, or dandelion tea to make the latte.
Thank-you to all the share members who have completed our survey and provided us with valuable feedback! This information is important to us and helps us make future plans and tweak our processes. For those that have not yet completed the survey, it's not too late! The survey can be found here and can be completed at any time. I'm going to share the results we have received so far, but first I thought I'd update you on the happenings around here.
Between the rainy days, we were able to get our garlic for next year planted last week. We have doubled the amount of garlic planted from this year, so we can look forward to more garlic in shares next year. I also hope to save garlic for seed next year as well, since buying in organic seed garlic can be quite expensive (for example, I paid $20/lb for certified organic seed garlic this year versus $8/lb for non-organic seed garlic!). Ian has also been busy scything down alfalfa in our hay field and spreading it on empty beds. This will break down over the winter and will add nitrogen and other nutrients back into the soil. This is the time of year when there are lots of clean-up tasks to complete: irrigation and hoses to drain and put away, row covers to pack up, and the last crops to harvest. I also spent a rainy afternoon completing our seed inventory, which involved weighing any remaining seeds and recording amounts to ensure I order appropriate amounts next year.
Now, on to the survey responses. All in all, I was pleased the survey results and was not surprised by most of the suggestions for changes. So it looks like we are on the right track! I won't go into detail for every question but summarize the most relevant information. For the questions regarding your satisfaction with the share overall, our customer service, and the quality of produce, share members were either satisfied or very satisfied 90%, 95%, and 100% of the time, respectively. Yeah! In regards to customer service, a concern was raised that I was not friendly enough or promoting a sense of community among share members. These are priorities for me, so I will be sure to make improvements in this area.
The responses to the questions regarding the quantity of produce in each share, indicate that 80% of share members thought it was just right, 15% thought it was too little, and 5% thought it was too much. While the majority felt the share quantity was just right, I would prefer to see it in the 90% range. Of most importance are those that felt they received too little. I think some of this may be remedied by removing herbs from the calculated total value of the share, which leaves more space for additional vegetables. I will also pay close attention to the $ value I assign to each vegetable when planning share contents to ensure share members are getting good value. Our intention next year is to provide a 20% surplus of vegetables in each share compared to the 15% we provided this year. As mentioned in a previous post, this surplus is a 'thank-you' for paying in advance.
I must admit the that the responses regarding which vegetables people would like to see in greater or lesser quantities make me laugh. Often, for every person that wants to see more of a particular vegetable, someone else wants less of it! This just demonstrates our diverse food preferences and eating habits. It also highlights the importance of continuing with the trade-in bin and choice items to allow everyone some customization. This 50/50 split is most evident with lettuce and leafy greens. They are the item that share members either want very little of or in greater quantities. My plan for next year is to include some type of lettuce (baby leaf, head, spinach, arugula, or spicy baby brassica mix) in the majority of share weeks. Leafy greens (kale, collards, swiss chard, chinese cabbage, cabbage, and others) will also be included in the majority of share weeks. I plan to include more regular variety and choice with these items so that share members can choose their favourites and will not likely receive the exact same greens from week to week. For those that can't use weekly greens, the trade-in bin will provide different options. I also found there to be a nearly 50/50 split between those that would like more squash and those that would like less. Again, I think the trade-in bin will resolve this.
Now, for the vegetables that share members are in agreement about... Tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, and onions are items that share members would like to receive in greater quantities and/or more frequently. I plan to double both the carrot and onion quantities that we planted this year. This will allow for great amount of onions in each week and more weeks of carrots over the entire season. For tomatoes, we will just do our best to avoid disease and choose resistant varieties! For potatoes, I will most likely not include any more weeks of potatoes (we actually had more than I planned this year), but I will increase the quantity received at each share, to allow share members to make larger batches of certain dishes.
When it comes to vegetables to grow less of I find there to be little agreement. I guess everyone has their one or two disliked vegetables! Rather than use this list to eliminate offering certain vegetables, I am more likely to make these vegetables one of the choice items, so share members aren't stuck with something they can't use.
All share members indicated they were pleased with the pickup location as it was convenient with ample parking. We too are very pleased so will not be changing the location or day of pickup. Several share members did indicate that it was tight timing for them to pickup their share by 6pm, so we will be extending our pickup time to 6:30pm next year (4pm start will remain the same). We will also be expanding our layout so that share members have more space to chat with each other, browse the produce, and weigh their items without feeling like they are holding up others. I also plan to have an additional helper at most pickups so that I can better balance my time between re-stocking vegetables, chatting with share members, and handing out egg shares or honey.
85% of share members indicated that organic certification was not important, whereas 10% felt it was somewhat important and 5% felt it was very important. We plan to pursue certification in the future (when following all the rules it only makes sense to be formally recognized for this) but wanted to assess how quickly we needed to move on this. Our primary reason for waiting is the additional paperwork and administrative time that is required to pursue certification - I feel like I can only bite off so much at one time! Some share members did express concern about certification raising our share prices. While it's true that organic agriculture is more costly than non-organic, the increased costs have less to do with certification costs and more to do with the higher costs of organic inputs. For example, organic seed costs are often 20% more than non-organic, organic seed potatoes and garlic can be 50 - 150% more, and inputs like organic manure, compost, and other amendments are also more expensive. Organic feed for animals can be as much as 3 x's the cost of non-organic! So, in essence, share members are already paying for organic agriculture. The cost of certification for our scale of production would be between $500 -$1000 annually, which would increase share prices only very minimally (<$15/share). All that said, based on your responses, we will make certification part of our 2 - 4 year plan, but not an immediate necessity.
Thank-you to everyone for your kind words, encouragement, and great ideas! We are already excited for next season :)
Weekly Share Contents:
Kale OR Cabbage
*Since we have a large quantity of potatoes and winter squash remaining, for the last 3 weeks of the share I will be increasing the quantity of each of these. For share members who bike or walk, you may wish to bring an extra bag or backpack to accommodate. Potato quantities will double and every share will receive an extra squash.
Here are some fun tips for using up veggies in your share! http://greatist.com/health/csa-vegetables-tips-recipes
We have 4 weeks remaining in our vegetable shares (including this week), and I thought this would be an appropriate time to send out our year end survey. Sending it out now allows me to collect and analyze responses prior to the end of the season. I can address any relevant issues this year and report back to share members with the general results. We have also been busy planning some new features for next year and I'm excited to share them with you below! Here is the link to the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SJLGFL7
Before I get into our plans for next year, I'd like to share my thoughts on this current season. Overall, I was pleased with this season. Many crops did particularly well with the cool, wet weather. In particular, leafy greens, potatoes, onions, garlic, eggplants, beets, carrots, cucumbers, and winter squash all did fabulously. I was disappointed in the tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli. The tomatoes and peppers are normally a crop we have great success with, so I am confident they will improve again in future years. It was just a really bad year for tomatoes for many growers. As for broccoli, it can be a tricky crop to grow and I haven't worked out all the kinks yet. I plan to try some new varieties of broccoli and cauliflower next year and we'll see how these go. We also tried sweet potatoes this year but they didn't mature fully (they were mostly the size of a baby carrot!). I think with a few minor changes and more heat, we can enjoy sweet potatoes next year. It's been a great year for honey (and we have lots available for purchase these last few shares) and the bees are healthy going into winter. I've felt more relaxed this season, as we get into the groove of growing and providing food on a large scale. I think farming will always keep me on my toes, but it's nice to feel like things are under control (mostly)!
So what can you expect next year? Here are is a breakdown of what will stay the same and what may be different.
Same as This Year
New for Next Year
As mentioned above, we will be introducing a Fall Harvest Box, Vegetable Add-Ons, and a Vacation Option. Here are the details of these new features:
Fall Harvest Box
This will be an optional pre-packaged box available on the last regular pickup. This box will include a bulk selection of fall storage crops. We haven't solidified the details of the contents and price, but it would likely include something like this: 5 kg potatoes, 2 kg carrots, 2 kg beets, 4 squash, 5 kg onions, 4 garlic, 2 rutabaga. The cost would be in the $40-50 range and would be reserved at the same time as purchasing the full season share.
Potato Lover's Add-On
For those that love lots of potatoes, this add-on would provide you with an extra 1kg of potatoes for every week that regularly includes potatoes. For example, if potatoes are included for 12 weeks, you would receive the amount designated for your share size PLUS an extra 1kg. The cost would be in the $25-35 range.
Carrot Lover's Add-On
For those that love carrots, this add-on would provide you with an extra bunch of carrots for every week that regularly includes carrots. For example, if carrots are included for 12 weeks, you would receive the amount designated for your share size PLUS an extra bunch. The cost would be in the $25-$35 range.
Lettuce Lover's Add-On
For those that love lettuce, this add-on would provide you with an extra head or bag of lettuce for every week that regularly includes lettuce. For example, if lettuce is included for 20 weeks, you would receive the amount designated for your share size PLUS an extra head or bag. The cost would be in the $35-$45 range.
Every share member can take 1 week during the season as vacation and receive a double share the following week. A minimum of 1 week's notice is required and this does not apply to missed or forgotten shares. Subsequent vacation weeks can be picked up by friends or family or donated to the food bank, as we have done this year.
Pastured Chickens and Turkeys
We will be raising pastured chickens and turkeys that will be available for purchase. The cost will be approximately $5/lb and the birds will be sold as whole roasters. For chickens, there will be a 2 chicken minimum order. Mostly likely, there will be 1 bulk delivery date in late summer/early fall for the chickens and 1 near Thanksgiving for the turkeys.
We are excited for this additions and think they will offer another layer of customization that share members will appreciate. Feel free to let us know what you think of these ideas in the comments section of the survey.
Weekly Share Contents:
Leeks OR ..... (not yet decided)
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I would share a little bit about why I love farming and how it makes me thankful.
A few weeks ago, in conversation with my Mom, she said that had someone asked her when I was a teenager what I would do when I was grown up, farming would not have been on her radar. And it's true, it wasn't on my radar either. But it's not such a great leap, when you consider that I have always had an interest in the ethics of raising animals and healthy eating, a love of vegetables and nature, and a desire to shape my own future and work in an independent manner. So I am thankful to have found farming, through a circuitous route of studying English and Anthropology at university, working in the social services field, and always living in towns or cities.
Prior to farming, I loved my other employment. But I felt like there was something more fulfilling and impactful than what I was doing. And I am so glad I made the leap. Here is my 'top ten' list of why I love farming:
1. Ability to follow food production every step of the way: from planning, to planting, to harvesting, and to providing directly to customers.
2. Working outside. This one surprises me most of all. While I've always loved the outdoors and have no qualms about dirt, rain, or bugs, I have also always loved warm hands and feet, warm drinks, to be clean, and to get dressed up. And none of these mesh well with farming! But I find I actually itch to be outside and feel so healthy, vital, and strong when I work steadily outside.
3. Control. Yes, control is not often a word associated with farming, but I feel I have far more control over my life as a farmer than in any other occupation I have pursued.
4. Variety. Every day is different. My typical week will include: field work such as weeding, planting, and harvesting; administrative work such as responding to emails, budgeting and financial planning, and preparing pay stubs; creative work such as writing blog posts, taking pictures, marketing products, and cooking; customer service work at the CSA and farmer's market; and, organizational work such as field and crop planning.
5. Constant learning. I am very much a life long learner. I love attending workshops, reading books and manuals, and interacting with other ecological farmers. I feel like my knowledge base has exploded in a the few short years I've been farming and know that it will only continue to grow.
6. Greater self-confidence. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoy getting dressed up. I like wearing make-up and trying to tame my curls into some aesthetically pleasing shape. But there was always a part of me that felt slightly un-authentic when always groomed. For some reason, farming has increased my self-confidence. My body is strong and productive and I don't worry a bit about wild hair or bare skin.
7. Time with my children. Balancing children and home-based self-employment can be crazy at times. But the schedule of our farm allows me to homeschool Terran and Rowan during the off-season and just generally be more involved in their day-to-day lives. And the benefits of farming for them is innumerable.
8. Shared goal with Rob. Like balancing children and employment, managing a business with my husband can be crazy too! But there is something very meaningful to work jointly with your partner towards a goal and shared passion. Our debates are loud and long and our work can seem endless but our farm is a result of our shared ideas and work, and that is a special thing.
9. Concrete positive impact of the environment. I think the state of our environment is the most pressing issue for humanity and I am glad to live in a way that feels sustainable and ecological.
10. Meeting you! At the risk of sounding melodramatic, connecting and interacting with share members and community supporters is one of my favourite (and most fulfilling) aspects of farming.
Weekly Share Contents:
Celery OR Leeks
* We will have a limited supply of organic Macintosh apples available for purchase this week. The cost will be $2/lb and share members can weigh out the quantity they desire.
Looking for new ways to use the winter squash and pumpkin in your share? Try these recipes out! http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes_menus/collections/healthy_squash_recipes