Sixteen years ago, I raised my first crop of sweet corn to sell at the Berea Farmers Market. Corn led to tomatoes and a u-pick strawberry patch while I was in high school. When I went away to college, my dad kept things going, starting as many as 10,000 tomatoes to plant when I finished my final exams. After graduation, I came back to the farm dreaming of livestock: laying hens, broiler chickens, turkeys and cattle.
Through the years, many of my farming dreams have become reality…but always, reality has a say on how my dreams manifest. Birds and worms eat sweet corn, and late frost kills strawberries. We’ve thrown wheelbarrows full of tomatoes onto the compost pile when demand did not match our ambition; wheelbarrows full of eggs when a business deal fell through. Two falls, flocks of blackbirds have transmitted fowl cholera to our poultry. And as many of you know, this past year, after a devastating bovine virus outbreak, we decided to transition out of the feeder calf business for good. Farming has its risks, including the heartbreak that comes when you live into your dreams.
Farming also has its rewards: a steady supply of good food for our own table (and what is better than that?); a sense of belonging to and investment in our community; physical vitality; kinship with the natural world; the sense of purpose that comes with always learning and changing and growing. But even the risks turn into rewards: disappointment teaches patience and loss gives way to new life. As our cattle suffered in the dead of last winter, the CSA seed was planted and took hold.
As we began to plan for the season, CSA membership sprouted, and our optimism grew. By paying up front for a share of this year’s harvest, members gave us resources and motivation to farm in accordance with our experience and our values – distancing our farm from the commodity food system, supporting our community, growing healthy food, and taking care of our land.
As with all things, CSA has it’s challenges. The most obvious…filling the box with a variety of produce that members enjoy. We planted many crops that didn’t make it into the box, and thought you might like to know about a few:
- Sweet corn: Last year was one of the best for sweet corn, and this year one of the worst. With the warm spring came optimism, so we planted an early crop. When the frost came, we covered the field with blankets, only to watch the crop – and all those we planted, week after week, in succession – wither in the drought. Not a single crop reached knee height before tasseling out.
- Broccoli, Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower: We planted these spring crops right after plowing under a winter cover crop of rye, which seamed to suck up all the nitrogen. This stressed the plants, and they were soon plagued with bugs and 80 degree weather in March. We marked these as a total loss.
- Eggplant: We’ve tried eggplant for several years without much success, and it’s always the same culprit…flea beetles. Other people tell me you have to spray it every other day with a pesticide that I’m unwilling to use. Our second attempt this year succumbed to the hot, dry weather in June. Without rain, we couldn’t plant, so we watched the starts wither in the greenhouse. Next year, we will grow eggplant in the hoop house and cover with row crop to keep the bugs off.
- Watermelons: Last year, watermelons were in abundance. We picked heaping truckloads of melons from two small fields. We were excited to share watermelons with our CSA, planting all types from standard “crimson sweet” to very expensive hybrid seedless yellow and orange melons. June did us in. We never picking a single melon for market.
Here are a few crops we expect to do better with next year:
- Potatoes: We were happy with the La Ratte fingerling potatoes, but hope to have better baking potatoes next year. We learned that we need to plant potatoes on ground that was in sod the year before. With a few more good varieties, hopefully next year will be better. If you have any favorite varieties, let us know! Potatoes also give your share a longer shelf life, since you don’t have to use them right away.
- Garlic: We’ve never grown garlic before, so we’re trying to round up seed to plant this fall. Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of seed crop, as this spring’s unseasonable temperatures caused garlic crops to fail across the country. While we will have a limited amount next year, we hope to expand this crop in the future. We use it at home almost every day.
- Onions: We’re pulling out all the stops with onions next year. We’ve already direct seeded at least 30,000 in the field for spring harvest. We will also start some in the greenhouse and order spring transplants.
- Other crop we’ll be adding: a wider variety herbs, tomatillos, pumpkins, shell beans, southern peas, and lima beans. Further down the line, we hope to offer orchard fruits, raspberries, blackberries, asparagus, rhubarb, beef and lamb. Strawberries will make a return in 2014.
For CSA to work for us, it must also work for you. Your feedback is invaluable, good or bad. Share your thoughts and help us improve.
Next year we will be offering full shares, half shares (delivery every two weeks), egg shares, and poultry shares. We will also implement a “swap” so that you can trade any item in your box for something of equal value. When you just can’t eat another radish, you can take home sweet potatoes instead. We will also be looking at new pickup locations from London to Lexington, giving more folks access to our fresh, local produce.
Here we are ten months later, at the end of our first CSA season. Thanks to you our members, Liam and Valentina, and our interns Phil, Nina, Patrick, Hannah, Andy, Ariel, and Steven, for making this season a success.
Bryce & Anna