Thursday, January 31, 2019

What's New at the Farm for 2019?

Farm Update

The spinach in the coldframe is insulated by
three layers of protection:  the perforated low
tunnels that act as a blanket for the plants, the
coldframe above, and the layer of snow outside
the coldframe, which helps keep the wind out
of the structure.
Hi everyone!  Wow, is it cold out there!  We hope you are all staying safe and warm in this crazy polar vortex we've been having.  Since there isn't much growing at the farm right now, we've mostly been hunkered down inside by the fire for the last few days, working on the many indoor farm tasks that abound this time of year.  This is the time of year when we research and order seeds, put all of our records in order for our organic certification, submit the many tax forms that come due for businesses around this time, and get all of our 2018 business records together in preparation for tax time.  We've also been making our 2019 financial plans, trying to get the word out about the CSA, and talking with the buyers from the restaurants, stores, and food hubs we work with to make plans for the upcoming season.  Until a few days ago when it just got too cold, Fred had also been spending plenty of time at the farm fixing equipment and trying to improve upon our existing farm tools to make everything even more efficient in 2019.  Even though it's ridiculously cold out there right now, we're definitely glad to have the snow.  It's counterintuitive, to be sure, but having a thick blanket of snow on the fields actually helps to protect last year's plantings of strawberries, garlic, asparagus, and overwintering spinach from the wind.  This will help them be in much better shape once spring finally arrives.  So let the snow fall, and in a few months, it will give way to a new green, growing world.

What's New at the Farm for 2019?

It's no secret that during the main growing season, it gets pretty crazy around the farm.  We are always going, always running, and always doing, and there is very little time to stop and think about much of anything except what needs to happen at that particular moment.  The winter, however, is just the opposite.  It is our time to reflect, contemplate, project, strategize, and make plans for the upcoming season.  Each year we tweak a few things and make a few changes to help the farm and the CSA be even better than they were in the past.  This year is no different.  So without further ado, here are some of the changes you can expect for the 2019 season!

We're adding a third choice to the prepacked shares!  For those of you who pick up a prepacked share at the Lansing, Okemos, St. Johns, or Midland hospital drop-offs, or who have it delivered to you, we are adding a C share to the tried-and-true A and B share choices.  So now you can choose one of three prepacked bags for a half share, or two out of the three for a full share!  The C share will usually be just a different combination of the items in the A and B shares, and it will make it even easier to get exactly what you want!

We're excited to add Honeynut squash to the lineup this year!
Not only is it really delicious, it is also really cute!
As always, we're adding plenty of new veggie varieties this year.  The one we are most excited about is Honeynut squash, which is a really sweet winter squash that looks like a Butternut squash, but smaller.  We've wanted to grow Honeynuts for a while, but the seed always sold out before we could get any, and this year, we were able to get the seed!  To find out more about this fantastic squash, check out this article from Bon Appetit about its development, history, and uses.

Speaking of changes to the veggie roster, we're making plans to decrease the amount of kale in the shares (so to the kale haters among you, you're welcome!), and we're going to increase the amount of bell peppers, beets, broccoli, cabbage and squash we're growing.  We're really excited to bring more of these favorites to the CSA this year!  After taking a year off from growing garlic, we're going to be adding that back into the roster this year as well.

We're also increasing our greenhouse capacity this year.  Fred has been working on constructing a new heated greenhouse so we'll have additional space to grow microgreens and start our seeds, and we're also going to be putting up another coldframe as soon as the weather allows.  All in all, we're going to be adding 2700 square feet of covered growing space, so we can have more veggies earlier in the spring and later in the fall.

Another thing that will make our season a little bit crazier, but a lot more financially advantageous, is that we're adding a weekly route to Ann Arbor for this year.  We're not actually expanding our CSA out that way, but we're going to be making weekly deliveries to Argus Farm Stop, which is a store that sources entirely from local farms for the locavores in the Ann Arbor area.  We're also going to be contributing to a group CSA in that area that is made up of produce from several local farms.

Here is the new (old) potato digger right after Fred picked it up.
It's old and rusty, but it's effective.  The picture also
shows how gray and gloomy everything is at the farm in the
winter... I can't wait until everything becomes green again!
Fred also has plans to modify several pieces of farm equipment to increase our labor efficiency, particularly in the fall when most of our employees go back to school and we don't have as many helpers.  He recently bought a new (old) potato digger (yup, that's a thing!) on Craigslist, which he informs me is an improvement on our old potato digger because it's PTO-driven rather than ground-driven.  This means that the speed with which the digger operates is independent of how fast the tractor is moving, so if we need to slow the tractor down in heavy clay soil, the digger can continue to work effectively.  So he's planning to modify our old potato digger to be a sweet potato digger, which actually requires a different set of characteristics.  Sweet potatoes require a much gentler machine because they are prone to scuffing and breaking, so the jostling that is beneficial to potatoes (because it helps shake the dirt off) would just damage the sweet potatoes.  He also acquired a barrel washer to help clean the root vegetables.  Basically imagine a large barrel laying horizontally and rotating on a central axis.  Now imagine that there are jets of water shooting out of the central axis that help wash dirt off of carrots, potatoes, beets, and other root veggies.  That's basically what a barrel washer is.  These small improvements at the farm will help us save so much time this fall, because all of these tasks are things we've traditionally done by hand.

So that's it!  We're really excited about the upcoming changes, big and small, at the farm this season!  And we're especially excited to see you all again this summer!  Now's the time to sign up for the CSA, so just let me know if you want to sign up for the 2019 season!

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