Thursday, January 8, 2015

CSA Newsletter for January 8, 2015

Farm Update

Fred got quite a lot of pruning done in the
blueberry patch before the snow halted his work.
Hello and Happy New Year!  We hope you all had a great holiday season!  We have had a good time relaxing, spending time with family, and going on vacation.  Now that we are past the holiday season, we are getting started on the planning and prep work for next growing season.  It is a very different time for the farm and for the family at this time of year.  There is a lot more down time, and most of the farm work is actually done at home on the phone or the computer, rather than in the field.  The main concerns during this time of year are trying to negotiate the best prices on seeds and supplies, and in general finding ways to improve the farm.  Outside the snow stayed away for most of December, so Fred was able to put up most of the frame of the new greenhouse we’re constructing, as well as make it through almost half the pruning on the blueberries.   Now the ground is covered in a blanket of snow and the farm is resting as well.  Our chickens are still wintering at Fred’s parents and our farm dog, Josie, has moved back to our house for the winter.  The pigs are in the freezer and make a tasty appearance on our table almost every day.  We are also fortunately still able to eat mostly our own veggies, fruit, and meat since we have a lot preserved or in cold storage. We are also able to slow down and spend more time pursuing other personal interests and spending more time as a family. 

If you want to sign up for the 2015 season and haven’t done it yet, now is the time! In addition to our normal CSA program we will be piloting a home/office delivery option this year for our normal delivery routes through the following areas: Alma, Breckenridge, St. Louis, Ashley, Lansing, East Lansing, Okemos, Riverdale, Elwell, Ithaca, Mt. Pleasant, Winn, Midland, and Shepherd.  Discounts (sometimes deep discounts) can apply to deliveries where there are multiple customers, like at a workplace or neighborhood.  The more shares at a location, the greater the discount for everyone at that location.  Shares will come pre-bagged, and there will be a choice between two different selections of produce that will be the same as what is available at our normal CSA drop-offs. There is a premium price for this delivery service above the cost of a normal share but it depends on where you are located and how many shares are picked up at your location. The home delivery option will be one more way that we can make our high quality produce available to more people, especially for those who find it difficult to get to the normal drop-offs. If you are interested in finding out more about the home delivery option, email us with your location or address and any questions you have, or you can give us a call at 517-896-6884.  We’re excited to add this newest option for getting your veggies, so just let us know if you’re interested!

Choosing Seed Varieties to Bring You the Very Best Veggies

One of the varieties we'll be
growing this year is an heirloom
bean variety called Dragon's
As winter sets in it signals another season at the farm, the planning season.  One of the most important decisions we make this time of year is the choice of our veggie varieties, and Fred takes these decisions very seriously.  He spends many hours with his seed catalogues open around him, poring over them with as much enthusiasm as I displayed as a child poring over the toy section of my Grandma’s big Sears catalogue each December.  This year he has diligently chosen about 100 varieties, taking into account seed cost, yield, disease and insect resistance, appearance, and most of all the flavor, and ensuring that none of the seeds are GMO or chemically treated.  You can probably tell by the taste, but we focus a lot on the quality and flavor of our veggies, and we treat that as a top priority at the farm.  There are a lot of things that go into attaining better flavor, such as how and when we harvest, the fact that we harvest most things the same day you pick it up, that we use natural fertilizer and pay close attention to the needs of our soil, and of course the natural characteristics of the varieties we choose to grow. 

Every year new varieties come out that are promoted as being some type of improvement over other varieties that existed before.  Fortunately, unlike row crops, the vast majority of new varieties of veggies, fruit, and herbs are created using traditional breeding methods and are non-GMO.  While the new varieties came out using traditional hybridization breeding techniques they almost always focused on yield, ability to last longer during shipping, and disease resistance instead of flavor.  This meant that things like tomatoes got to be harder and blander as the focus was more on shipping it than eating it.  This led to the movement to grow heirloom varieties of vegetables as consumers, gardeners, chefs, and small farmers woke up to the superior taste of some of these old varieties. 

Another variety we'll be growing
for the first time this year is these
Nova grape tomatoes, which will
go into our cherry tomato mix.
However as great as some of these old varieties tasted there are very good reasons that larger producers chose not to grow these varieties. Most of those old varieties yield far less (most heirloom tomatoes we have grown yield only a 1/3 to ½ the yield of hybrids), and the disease resistance was much weaker, making the farmer more vulnerable to crop damage, highly variable vegetable quality, or more losses.  We, as many small diversified farms have, decided that our best bet was to sacrifice some reliability and total yield in favor of better taste and texture.  An example would be our new gold beet variety we grew last year that had superior taste to any other beet we know, but does not yield nearly as well as some of the red varieties that have had more breeding focus. However, we might not have to choose too much longer between ease of growing and quality for eating.  As consumers have become more educated and enthusiastic about their food over the last decade, modern breeders have finally started to recognize the economic benefits to be gained in having flavor being a selling point for their new offerings.  This year we will be growing some new hybrid varieties of tomatoes that are meant to replicate many different heirlooms in taste and texture but with much better disease resistance and yield potential.  For once, these new varieties were not bred to ship well but to taste great!  This is good news for us as farmers, especially because being organic, we do not have the same arsenal of sprays as conventional growers have to protect the weaker heirloom plants against disease.  It is also better for the consumer, because when the cost to produce these superior crops goes down, they will hopefully be less expensive and more widely available wherever people buy produce.  Fred has also been seeing more new varieties come out this year that tout flavor as one of their main attributes even from companies that usually are more production focused.  Also, going back to the gold beet example, even though this new variety still yields less than the equivalent red beet, last year’s gold beet introduction is about three to four times more productive than the gold variety that was available 12 years ago when Fred first started as a grower.

We are already excited about what we will be growing this next year, both the new tastes and flavors and the good old standbys.  This trend indicates a positive outlook for the future, as we as a society start to turn our attention not only to healthy eating, but also to truly good eating using high quality ingredients.  At this time of year, when we are better rested without the day to day craziness of running the farm, there is a lot of optimism and excitement as we look forward to the possibilities of what the next farm season holds.