Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A farmer's winter life

I get asked a lot what I do with myself in the winter. The short answer is a glorious "a lot less than in the summer!!" but even seasonal vegetable farming is at least 1/2 time work all winter long. Here's some of what I spend my time at:

Crop Planning
  • SO MANY SPREADSHEETS - CSA share plans, greenhouse seeding plans, field planting plans, crop rotation plans....
Fertility and Soil Health Management
  • analysing fall soil tests
  • researching soil health techniques & strategies
  • calculating amounts for each soil and plant amendment
  • ordering & sourcing amendments such as compost, micro-nutrients, and other foods for plants and microbes

Sales & Marketing
  • strategizing revenue streams for the upcoming season
  • developing CSA registration forms and managing registrations
  • flyer design & delivery and other promotions
  • responding to queries from members & potential members
  • website overhauls, facebook posting etc
  • selling any remaining storage crops...bit by bit...

  • advertising, interviewing & hiring interns & staff
  • coordinating volunteers
  • budgeting, budgeting & re-budgeting
  • taxes & bookkeeping clean-up from the previous season...ugh
  • you might be shocked how much time it takes to track & deposit CSA payments from >200 members!!
Tools, Equipment & Supplies
  • researching & purchasing new equipment & tools (BIG JOB!! It's shockingly hard to find appropriate equipment for a small-scale farm)
  • maintenance and repair of existing tools & equipment
  • ordering field supplies like row cover, bins, irrigation bits, seedling trays etc
Continuing Education & Dreaming....
  •  this year, 4 organic sector/eco-farming conferences, various workshops and a heap of books
  • dreaming, scheming, strategizing, re-focusing, re-conceiving... all that great energizing stuff!
  • takin' care of the ladies!
  • managing the cooler so the storage veg don't freeze, dry out or overheat!
  • keeping a 700' laneway cleared of snow!!

 And, of course, a part-time job off farm & - thankfully - still lots of blessed, blessed rest.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why members join & stay with CSAs

As usual, we sent out member surveys this year. One of the things I try to get a sense of is what drives members to join CSAs, and what keeps them around. Here's some insight from this year's member surveys (50% response rate). Note that I removed the "Not Particularly" and "N/A" categories to keep the chart a little simpler to read:

How important are the following to you in motivating your choice to join a CSA?
Tuesday members (Kitchener pick-up):

Friday members (on farm pick-up):

As usual, eating locally outweighs eating organically. I remained concerned that people don't fully understand the difference... I was extremely pleased to see how important supporting a farmer's livelihood seems to be! What awesome members I've got!

How important are the following to you in your CSA experience?

Tuesday members (Kitchener pick-up):

Friday members (on farm pick-up):

"Involving my children" is a bit skewed, since it had a much higher N/A response rate than any other categories.

Look at how important having some choice is!! This is an option our CSA offers that is beyond the classic CSA model. I, too, like feeling more confident that members are ending up with food they'll actually eat, rather than worrying that I'm just growing food for their compost piles.

Not surprisingly, quality and organics rank high. As does being connected to the food story - awesome!

Monday, October 14, 2013


Thanksgiving Monday. Looking out my window over the fields as the neighbour bales hay and the goofy chickens wander by, I am grateful for:
  • Gorgeous, warm sunny days to work in this fall
  • An incredible crew of workers this year: staff, interns and volunteers. Truly a spectacular group - I've been really, really blessed.
  • A season of living at the farm
  • The joy of ridiculous chickens
  • Wild apples, pears, grapes and cranberries just a short bike ride away
  • Bountiful harvests
  • Supportive and actively appreciative CSA members
  • Solid market sales every single week - even in the rain!
  • Gracious, supportive family & friends
  • Sufficient pollinators in a year of decreasing populations
  • Good health
  • Laughter in the fields
  • Exuberant, vegetable-eating children
  • Being surrounded by beauty
  • The taste of GOOD FOOD
  • The good bread, beer and healthcare I'm able to trade vegetables for!
  • The pleasure inherent in this work


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

We've got a serious case of leafcutter bees! The good news is, they're native pollinators that seem to have moved into the greenhouse en masse. The bad news is, right now they're cutting the leaves of the pak choy in the greenhouse. Totally worth it.

Last year we certified as a Bee Friendly Farm and hosted a Pollinator Party where we planted native flowering plants for forage, and made a number of nest boxes for native bees.  We also made some changes to the way we mow and till, trying to better provide habitat and work around bees' needs a little better.
(Here's a recent newspaper article about our efforts!)

This spring, I was cursing the mouse eating our pak choy. Huge chomps it appeared to be taking from the asian greens we'd just planted in the greenhouse floor.

However, around the same time we noticed some impressive bee activity around the beds - many dozens of active bees. At 1st we thought they were honeybees from the hive not too far off, but on closer inspection they appeared more greyish in colour. I had our beekeeper take a look and she confirmed that they are leafcutter bees! No mouse here! The bees look like this:

Although they are solitary bees and generally nest in holes in wood (like the nesting box I made - photo below), I'm pretty sure it's crawling into hole in the greenhouse bed. Not quite sure what to make of that. Leafcutters are very efficient pollinators because they're not actually very good at nectar-gathering so have to spend a long time doing it! They're particularly good at pollinating legume and berry blossoms because of the way they buzz around and shake pollen loose, but given that there are over 20 species in Ontario, their preferences are wide and varied.

A little pak choy leaf loss for future crop pollination efforts -seems like a great investment!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Day of Action to Stop GM Alfalfa

Next Tuesday, April 9th, there will be an action outside Peter Braid's office to help stop GM alfalfa from being released in Ontario. This is an incredibly important and urgent issue - companies may be trying to introduce Roundup Ready alfalfa to Ontario markets as soon as this spring. Since it is an insect-pollinated crop, the risk of contamination from GM to non-GM alfalfa is very high, and the effect on pollinator  health is yet unknown. Alfalfa is one of the main crops in hay and is used to feed many animals. It is also an important soil builder in organic crop rotations. The release of GM alfalfa would have a massive impact on organic farmers: because of cross-contamination, we may no longer be able to use alfalfa as feed or as a nitrogen-fixer in our cover crop rotations. The release would also increase herbicide use (alfalfa is not currently a herbicide-sprayed crop), and make it even more difficult for eaters to keep GM food out of their bodies. Once released, genetic material can't be taken back so we only get one chance at this.

Fertile Ground will be at the action on April 9th - please come out and join us! Children are oh so welcome. I would love to have a huge presence from the CSA and farm supporters to send a strong signal that this is an issue that matters to EVERYONE concerned about both personal and environmental health, not just farmers:

Tuesday April 9, 2013
12 noon to 1 pm
22 King St South, Uptown Waterloo.
Outside MP Peter Braid's constituency office.

Click here for more information about GM Alfalfa and these cross-Canada rallies
 Spread the word! Please post widely, and pass this around to friends, family, colleagues and anyone else you think may be interested!
Flyers and posters can be found here.  

I hope to see many of you out on the 9th!!