A Season of Abundance

Greenhouse full of squashOur 2014 season is coming down to its final distributions now, with our last regular pick-up being November 4th. We’re enjoying the autumn reappearance of all the cool-weather greens — swiss chard, kale, tatsoi, the premium mix, etc. — along with a generous helping of the heavy fall storage crops — winter squash, potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, & friends. It has been an abundant year at Tinicum CSA and a very satisfying year for your farmers. We set out this year to boost the yield of a few specific crops that performed poorly last year: winter squash, sweet peppers, eggplant, cantaloupe, and cucumbers. We put a particular focus on these five crops this year, and each of them was a smashing success. How gratifying … and how yummy!

Moreover, the total harvest this year was fantastic. So far this year, we’ve harvested just under 46,500 lbs of produce. More than twenty-three tons, and we’ve still got 6 harvests to go — not bad for a couple of guys and a handful of wonderful volunteers! It’s a good thing we’ve got going. Everyone in the CSA has reaped the bounty of an excellent year of weather, combined with everything John and Stefan learned last year. It’s been a year of abundance. The shares have been bountiful, and for the first time, we experimented with distributing many items on a “No Limit” basis.

With this abundance, we would like to address one of the questions that naturally comes up in a bountiful year, namely: What do I do with all these vegetables?

Our answer has a few components. First off, we want to remind you that you never have to take everything that’s offered in the share. Many of you have noticed that our whiteboards for each share say, “For today’s share, please take up to:” before listing the amounts for each item. We’re not trying to saddle you with a “Can-You-Eat-All-These-Veggies?” challenge. Rather, we’re trying to offer you the widest possible selection. You’ve become a member of the farm, and that gives you access to our distributions of the harvest. We’d like you to be able to walk into our distributions and pick out as much of your favorite things as you like within the limits of the harvest, since we think that gives you the highest possible value for your membership. Therefore, when we have an abundant growing season, we’re going to work hard to harvest it all and lay it all out for you, so that you can choose what you’d like to take home.

This is one reason that we like to write “No Limit” when possible. If, for example, we have 2 lbs of spinach per person, we could write “2 lbs of Spinach” on the whiteboard, but then one is more likely to think, “Oh, I’m supposed to take 2 lbs of spinach.” We’d rather write “No Limit,” because then you’re free to think to yourself, “Oh, how much of that would I like?” And if you really want a lot, please don’t be shy. When we post “No Limit” for an item, we nearly always have extra.
This leads to another question — a question that several of you have asked us during pick-ups this year: Ok, so what happens to the stuff that no one takes?

A great question! The first thing that happens is that it all goes back into the cooler. Everything that’s left at the end of a pick-up goes straight back into the walk-in cooler, and based on a first-in, first-out stock rotation, that produce will be the first to be distributed at the next pick-up. Fortunately, we do have an adequately spacious and powerful cooler to keep all our goodies in excellent condition for many days after harvest. … and John and Stefan are constantly checking up on the table quality of what’s in the cooler … by transferring it to our tables.

When we commence each harvest cycle on Mondays and Thursdays, we begin by inventorying the leftovers from the previous distribution. Those amounts are factored in to our harvest goals, to make sure that we’re always harvesting an appropriate amount for each distribution.

If it happens that we know we have more of a particular crop than our members want, we will often offer it up for wholesale. We wholesale a small but steady amount of our surplus to the Schneiderwind farmstand, and we also sell extra veggies to a couple of local restaurants. In this regard, it has been nice for us to distribute some of the veggies on a No Limit basis this year: That way we know our members are getting as much as they want, and we feel no qualms about selling the extra wholesale.

If we have extra inventory that isn’t picked up by any of our wholesale outlets, we will sometimes donate it to Rolling Harvest Food Rescue. Rolling Harvest picks up our donations of produce, and takes them to local food pantries where they are distributed to people in need. Rolling Harvest is a great organization, and we really enjoy working with them. This year, though, we’ve had so little “extra” produce that we’ve only donated to them three or four times over the season.

Very occasionally, something slips through the cracks and begins to spoil in the cooler. Such specimens are added to the compost pile, which we’ll spread over next year’s fields in the spring. Over this 24-week harvest season, I would estimate that we’ve composted hardly more than a dozen cases of produce in this way — a miniscule sliver of the 23 tons that we’ve harvested so far this year.

Along the way, we’re paying attention to how popular each crop is and how much of each item is taken at each distribution. During the winter, we’ll adjust our crop plan here and there to hone in on an appropriate amount of each crop. And we keep track of your suggestions about what you’d like to see more of and what you wouldn’t mind seeing less of…
All this is a long-winded way of saying that there isn’t really any waste in this process, per se. The closest we come to having food waste at the farm is the little bit of produce that ends up in the compost pile, and even that isn’t really wasted. It just composts and contributes to next year’s fertility.

So when you’re going through the line at your next pick-up, please don’t feel any pressure to take anything that you don’t want. Take the items you want. Take the amounts you want. Take what you’ll use. We’ll take care of the rest. In the meantime, we’ll keep working hard to grow as much as we can, so that your membership in Tinicum CSA provides you with the best and most abundant selection possible.
We sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s bountiful harvest, and we hope you’ve squirrelled away a few winter squash and some potatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes so that you can continue enjoying the fruits of the 2014 season into the coming winter. John and Stefan have definitely enjoyed growing for you this year, and there’s great satisfaction bringing in a diverse and abundant harvest. We hope you’ll join us again next season, and we remind you that those who sign up for next year before November 22nd will be eligible for a bonus pick-up on that morning. Hope to see you all then!

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