It’s been snowing hard all day. Looking out the window of the camper-trailer here at the farm, we guess we’ve gotten 8 inches so far … and it’s still coming down.
Despite the snow, though, John and Stefan have spent the whole morning thinking about Marigolds! and Cherry Tomatoes! and Sweet Potatoes! We’ve been working on our seed order for the past couple days, and just before lunchtime, we finally placed our order. It’s a fun diversion from the snow and cold to imagine the colorful harvest of the growing season. In addition to all the tried-and-true vegetable varieties, this year we’re excited about taking a shot at a few new things: a variety of purple basil (that’s the catalog photo on the left), just a wee bit of sweet corn, and some blue cornflowers in the flower patch, for some examples.
So even though the prodigious prognosticator Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday and our world is buried in snow today, we wanted to get you thinking about the upcoming growing season and its delicious rewards! We also wanted to take the chance to let you know a little bit about what we’ve been up to this winter, both personally and professionally.
In personal news, Stefan and Meave tied the knot only a couple of weeks ago! They married each other in the middle of January at the Quaker meetinghouse in Quakertown, NJ, with a reception afterward at the Golden Pheasant. They both enjoyed the day immensely and were grateful to have a large and loving crowd of supporters join them for their wedding. Plus, they were lucky enough to miss most of Polar Vortex Part 2 by escaping to the Caribbean on honeymoon for a week. Both of them feel truly blessed for all their good fortune!
For his part, John dodged the original Polar Vortex by volunteering in Costa Rica for a week with Discovery Service Projects. He joined a group of more than 30 volunteers — mostly from Bucks County — building a community center, practicing Spanish, and taking in the vast natural beauty of Costa Rica. Beyond the physical work of mixing concrete, tying rebar together, and digging foundations, John really enjoyed the chance to share meals and conversations with the local community.
And a little closer to home, John and Stefan will both be spending this coming weekend attending the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s (PASA’s) Farming for the Future Conference at PennState. PASA’s annual winter conference is renowned as one of the premier sustainable farming events in the country each year, and it should be a good chance for your farmers to learn a bit about the current trends and best practices in sustainable farming, while getting to know some of the other small farmers in the region.
In addition to this year’s seed order, we’ve also been going over the results of our end-of-year survey last year, and we would like to tell you about some things that we’re doing a bit differently this year, based on the feedback we received in your surveys.
Several folks commented about the congestion in our distribution area, especially toward the beginning of Tuesday’s distribution. We’d like to make picking up your vegetables as smooth and pleasant as possible for you, and we’ve done a couple of things to try to improve the flow. We know the produce scales were often in high demand, so we bought two more hanging scales over the course of last year. (We started with one; now we have three.) And since the end of the 2013 season, we’ve made some adjustments to the positioning/mounting of the scales and the roll-bag dispensers that we think will help. We’ve also installed two dispensers for t-shirt-style plastic shopping bags at either side of the entrance of the distribution space. If you have extra shopping bags that you’d like to share with others, just stuff them in the top of these dispensers … and anybody needing a bag can pull one out the bottom.
Our biggest shift, though, is that we’ve modified the pick-up times for both Tuesday and Saturday. The new time for Tuesday is 4pm to 6:30pm. We figure that beginning the Tuesday pick-up half an hour earlier will help to ease the “opening rush.” The new time for Saturday’s distribution is 9am – 11:30am. We moved Saturday’s distribution a bit later in the morning because it seemed like the latter half of that distribution was more popular than the first hour.
We also looked at what vegetables you said you wanted more of (and less of), and we’ve made several changes to our crop plan based on those responses. For example, we’re pleased to tell you that we’ll be planting more bell peppers, cantaloupe, and eggplant this year than we did last year, in the hopes that we’ll be able to get more of those items into your hands.
Beyond that, we’re anticipating higher yields for several crops this year based on improved cultivation. At the end of last year, we made two major equipment purchases that will combine to give us a serious step-up in cultivation speed this year. The first was a Cub tractor which many of you met at our final distributions last year, and the second item is a Buddingh basket weeder (shown to the right). The basket weeder will be mounted under the belly of the Cub to give us an efficient and fairly thorough tool for primary cultivation in all our beds. What this means for us is that we’ll need to spend less time pushing around wheel hoes by hand and will be able to spend more time doing the fine-detail weeding that leads to beautifully clean rows. Super exciting!
These two purchases make great examples, too, of how our sliding price scale works for all of us: If we had gone through our first season with all of our members paying at the low end of our price scale, everything would have been O.K. We would’ve been able to grow everything that we grew, and we would’ve gotten by. But! Since many of you paid above the minimum on our price scale last year, we were able to close out our first season with these two extremely important investments. With the Cub and the Buddingh, we now have the main cultivation tool that ties our whole bed system together. This is a huge step forward for us as growers, and it will undoubtedly translate to better yields for many of the crops that had weed troubles last year. A big win for all of us! In many respects, our sliding price scale makes the difference between maintaining the farm at the status quo and being able to vibrantly grow and improve the farm year after year.
As we look forward to the coming season, we have high hopes for a season even better than last year’s — and plenty of reasons to expect a great year. We hope you’ll join us, and we look forward to sharing some great vegetables, fruits, and flowers with you!