Sunday, December 11, 2011

The value of a share

I've been entering data bit by bit over the past few weeks, calculating the $ value of what went into each share over the past season. I estimate values every week, but like to crunch the numbers a little more carefully at the end of the year to see more precisely what the shares were worth, from a purely monetary perspective.

As weekly targets, I'm aiming for:
Small share - $375/season = avg of $19.74/wk of produce
Regulare share - $650/season = $34.21/wk

Turns out this was a great year to be a CSA member!

Small shareholders received an average of $21.38/wk of produce - an 8% bonus.
Regular shareholders received $39.08/wk of produce - a whopping 14% bonus!

This of course doesn't take into consideration any of the intangible benefits of CSA membership - the interactions with other community members, having a direct connection with your grower, opportunities for pick-your-own, wholesale pricing on bulk veggies for your freezer, building a vibrant & secure local food system, and access to the best quality veggies the farm is able to produce.

The beauty of CSAs is the way risk & bounty are shared so farmers don't carry such a heavy burden of risk alone. It's a pleasure to be able to share the bounty, knowing that in other years I may have to ask members to take smaller shares if factors beyond my control decrease yields significantly. Thanks so much to my incredible members for your faith, trust and support.

A sampling of some of the CSA beauty from 2011:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Organic farming is far superior to conventional systems when it comes to building, maintaining and replenishing the health of the soil. For soil health alone, organic agriculture is more sustainable than conventional. When one also considers yields, economic viability, energy usage, and human health, it’s clear that organic farming is sustainable, while current conventional practices are not."

Results from a 30 year side-by-side comparative study of organic vs conventional farming trials.
More productive. More profitable. More sustainable. Looks like organic IS the way to feed the world.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


It's garlic-planting time. Actually, it's getting on the late side to plant garlic already...but it's been awfully wet the past couple of weeks so we're a bit behind schedule. This year we're excited to trial a few types of heirloom garlic from Seeds of Diversity's Great Canadian Garlic Collection. Not sure yet which varieties we're going to get, but they're bound to be an interesting diversion from the standard 'Music' grown almost solely by most Canadian garlic producers.

You may have noticed that Ontario garlic is particularly expensive this year. The wet/drought combination were hard on the crop, and nematode damage was pervasive. (As point of reference, this fall organic seed garlic is priced at $9/lb!! Steep!) It's the nematode damage that's most concerning though - these little microscopic worm-like parasites overwinter on affected cloves & start back in with their eating come spring. We only experienced some mild nematode damage this year, but the problem can compound from year to year & become quite devasting.

There's a tricky heat treatment that's supposed to help, recommended by the Garlic Grower's Association of Ontario... but it involves treating the bulbs in a hot water bath at exactly 120F for 20 minutes - something I'm pretty skeptical of my ability to accomplish with a mere pot & stove element. The window between killing the nematode and killing the garlic cloves is awfully narrow!! Which is the worse risk...losing my 2012 crop to nematode damage, or losing it to death by cooking? Need to answer this internal debate soon or it'll be too late to plant.

In better news, other than nematode treatment, the garlic is cracked & ready to put in the ground, thanks to the help of our awesome members who tackled breaking apart most of 70lb of cloves at CSA pick-ups a couple of weeks ago!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Challenge & Gratitude

So far, every season has been quite different from the ones before: weather, staffing, CSA size and the particular challenges of growing have changed from year to year. It’s been quite the learning curve. This past year started with the familiar (but particularly extreme) cool/wet challenge, but then hit us hard with hot drought. I feel like all we did in July was harvest and wrestle with drip tape. We also struggled with operating short-handed for much of June & July after Sarah left her internship, and until Carrie came aboard to help us out.

Cool, wet weather tends to contribute to disease issues; whereas hot, dry conditions favour pests. This year was definitely the year of the worm. We had tomato hornworms, cabbage loopers and woolly bear caterpillars in quantities I’ve never seen before. The flea beetle was particularly aggressive as well. All the critters got under the row cover and in some cases (broccoli) ate so much greenery there were only leaf spines left! Distressing, to say the least. But not as distressing as our biggest problem this season: a chronic boron deficiency which has been liquefying many of our cabbage crops, reducing them to putrid goo. I’m still worried about the quality & quantity of our fall vegetables. The late season kale, cabbage, turnips, rutabaga, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, kohlrabi and asian greens have all been significantly affected by worm and boron damage. 
(An example of the boron damage goo-ifying the core of a turnip root.)

So yes. Challenges aplenty. But it makes me reflect again on how fortunate I am to be growing in the context of supportive community. We couldn’t have survived this season otherwise. We had an incredible squadron of committed volunteers show up to help through the really intense months of June & July, CSA members who stoically (even jovially!) spent hours removing rotting cabbages & squishing looper worms at our September work bee. People have dropped off meals on my doorstep and sent encouraging notes. And you – along with the fantastic market & Bailey’s customers – have continued to feed ME by providing our best year of sales yet.

Together, we’re doing something pretty incredible here. We’re creating a food system buffered from the vagaries of the world market. I ache for my neighbouring farmers whose stunted corn will have low yields, sold too cheaply at world commodity prices; whose poor hay crops will likely lead to smaller livestock sold too cheaply at the stockyards; and who will likely have to work more hours off-farm to inject income back into their farms this winter.

We are, instead, contributing to a healthy local food system. We’re building true food security by buffering risk and sharing labour over a broader base. You’re supporting me with a reasonable wage so I can continue to grow your food into the future. We’re building our community’s food-growing skills. We’re strengthening our resilience. A year like this one could have been a disaster, but instead it’s been our most profitable. I am encouraged and deeply grateful.  
(From the October CSA newsletter)

Volunteers from our Labour Day Work Bee - squishing cabbage loopers & culling the rotty cabbage heads...
... picking beans...
..trimming garlic...
...and rolling up the used drip tape.
A huge thank-you to all who have supported Fertile Ground by volunteering, purchasing shares, buying from us at market or Bailey's, sharing my excitement, or offering words of support, encouragement or advice.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pretty Food

Sometimes the food is just so pretty! Thought I'd post a few pics for you to enjoy.

This afternoon was the Foodlink Taste Local! Taste Fresh! event - we were paired with 7 Shores Cafe and they made some spectacularly pretty spring rolls with our beets, carrots, arugula, tatsoi, tomatillos & hot peppers.
Here's some of the gorgeous, big sweet peppers from our last CSA pick-up:
And the super-pretty Chinese 5 Colour hot peppers in the greenhouse - they look like multi-coloured Christmas lights growing right on the plants!
Oh - and this isn't food (for me at least) but I have to post a pic of this little guy I found hiding in a stack of greenhouse trays just outside the wash station. Maybe not exactly pretty, but awfully cute.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tomato Victory

As a follow-up to my previous post, thought I'd share a few pics of the luscious victory in the tomato patch this year. There's some blight out there, but so far it's under control & the fruits of this year's labour are absolutely spectacular!

And the biggest prize yet? Striped German weighing in at 2lb 9oz (yes, my friends, that is >2 1/2 lbs!)

I have been absolutely gorging myself on tasty heirlooms this year. Flavour winners in my books? Striped German (above), Brandywine, Oxheart, Black Krim, Persimmon.

Come find some at market while they last...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Taste Local! Taste Fresh!

Foodlink's 8th Annual Taste Local! Taste Fresh! event will be taking place Sunday, September 18, 2-5 pm in St. Jacobs on the banks of the Conestoga River.  
This event features a sampling of the region's best from local farmers and chefs. 

Local farms are paired with chefs from local restaurants & each team prepares a tasty food item for you to enjoy as you stroll the picturesque grounds while listening to the Tim Louis Jazz Trio and sampling some local wine & beer as well. Guests will be able to meet and chat with chefs about the art of cooking and farmers about the food they grow.

Fertile Ground has been paired with Seven Shores in Waterloo, and Sidney & I will be there to greet you as you sample the fare.

The early-bird price is $65 (includes all tastings and pottery dish) until September 1.  Last year they sold out in August!
 To purchase tickets online, click here
For details, check out the Foodlink event page, call 519-513-8998, or email 

Sunday, August 14, 2011


On Friday we lost 1/2 a hive at the farm. Sad day. That said, watching the swarm was one of the coolest things I've done in a long time. I was at the wash station when I heard a strange humming sound & thought maybe one of the volunteers had left their car running. Upon investigation, I discovered it was coming from the crazy swarm of bees leaving one of the hives. It looked like this when I stood in the middle of it:
(The blurry dots around the little walnut tree aren't pixels..they're swarming honeybees!)
Here's a bunch of them sitting on the tree leaves:

And here's what I saw forming when I looked up:

Called Sarah Hemingway to see about catching the swarm (since beekeeper Trina was on vacation) & she brought out an empty super to try to entice them, but sadly they had other ideas & got away while we were in the field weeding.

The other 1/2 of the colony will have remained in their hive with the original queen. They were likely overcrowded & decided to let a new queen hatch - a new queen which 1/2 the bees will have taken to a new home in the wild. As I understand it, this is sad for honey production on a number of levels:
1. 1/2 the population of the hive has been lost, depleting productive potential for the rest of the season.
2. The 1/2 that left will have gorged themselves on honey in preparation for their departure, depleting existing supplies as well.

Wish I could've caught them leaving & followed them to their new home - though I'm not sure anything could have beeen done to recapture them once they'd settled. Sad day for honey at Fertile Ground, but it was a pretty spectacular thing to witness.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tomatoes: that ubiquitous yet elusive fruit

As August unfolds, I am delighting in my first taste of summer's most luscious yet frustratingly short-lived fruit. For how ubiquitous they are, their harvest window is awfully short in this part of the world - 2 months of fresh tomatoes is a really exceptional season. Sometimes we just get 1. Amazing. I am going to enjoy every mouthful of this month.

They begin here, in April:
6-8 weeks later, depending on last frost, we plant them out:
We've had lots of trouble with blight in past years, so this year I decided to try a new approach. Fewer tomatoes & more infrastructure. We mulched them to keep the soil from being splashed up on their leaves.
(Johnny was carrying the last bale out just before this picture was taken..I swear!)

Then we set up some high-tensile trellising to support them up off the ground, and have been pruning them weekly to encourage lots of air flow and allow the leaves to dry out. Blight loves hot, damp conditions, so we're out to foil it. I bought high-tensile electrical wire, tensioners, and lots of T-bars. It started out well, with volunteer Thomas taking the lead on stake pounding:
However, the wire, which was only available in a 2500' roll, quickly sprang to disaster when unclipped. Imagine 2500' of stiff wire crossed and tangled like a 100lb ball of yarn. I swore a lot. Occasionally, Thomas & I found some good humour. I only took phots of the good-humoured moments. Don't be deceived...
 We did finally get the wire strung and pulled taught with the high tensile reels. 
The next task was to prune the tomatoes down to 2-4 main stems & clip them to the wires. Nobody tell me I don't have a green thumb.
We've been pruning them & clipping them to higher wires weekly ever since - here they are recently with their 1st fruits ripening!
And finally...their 1st CSA appearance last Friday!
Now...lest you mistakenly think we have won the battle this year, I need to point out that I'm pretty sure I've seen early signs of blight in the crop. We're diligently pruning out any affected leaves to try to stave it off. So far so good but Tuesday's rain may have worked against us. Also, we've had a brand new alien appear at the farm this year: Hornworms! These disgustingly large beasts are a nasty brute to squish and many of us have been seriously gooed in the process already.
Yes..that is a bucket of its companions in the background... here's a close-up. My intern Carrie & I had a squish-fest with these guys after an understandably queasy-stomached volunteer collected them while pruning...
Here's to plenty of blts, pastas, salads, salted slices, quiches, wraps, sauces, salsa and other tomato-y goodness. I'm just saying, these fruits are elusive at a farm scale...they better be GOOD.