We would like to tell you how much we appreciate your support this season. Community Supported Agriculture has become our most important activity in farming. CSA membership distribution consumed well over 2/3 of all the produce we grew this year. Last year we were a produce farm that offered CSA shares along with our other endeavors, this year we crossed the threshold and we consider Walkers Fresh Veggies to be a CSA farm, with the majority of our time and consideration going to the production, packing & distribution of produce for our members. We consider our members as partners in the production of food crops, not as retail customers. This is why we use the word support. We thank you for your faith in us and trusting that we are doing everything we can to provide the best possible most healthful food crops to you at a reasonable cost. We plant enough ground to cover in the event of poor weather and put our membership ahead of our own shares as needed when times are tough.
A bit of reminiscing for this season past:
Every grower that I have spoke with or read about agrees this was the growing season most devastating in our memories. The last season I can remember that came close to being this bad was 1988 when we had a terrible drought - but with a drought you have some advantages in weed control, and usually less diseases. This season we had everything, we had cold wet conditions at planting, so wet we could not plow until May, this pushed back timing for everything. Then crops were planted later and the fall crops got hit with hot dry spell for about two weeks right when they were very young. This damaged our late corn, broccoli, cauliflower & cabbage.
I have never seen it wet so long in the summer, we had water standing in the tire tracks in the field that never dried up (being replenished with new rains) we couldn't cultivate some crops due to the wet soil and weeds were terrible.
Potatoes did very well and I am sure that some of you had more than you wanted, but others were happy to get them and would have taken more. Everyone needs to understand that just because you get an ample supply of any one item does not mean you are receiving that instead of another item. Everyone gets a split of what we have, we plant a balance of crops intended to provide a good mix that is satisfying to the majority of our membership. We stop growing crops that most people do not like, to better utilize our available time and energy to grow the crops everyone likes. When harvest time comes we pick what we have and divide it up the best we can. We figure we need to plant about an acre for every 10 members, with near normal conditions this will be too much of everything for 10 members, we also plant anywhere from half again to double the acres that we have membership for. This is for us to sell on the Stand out front of our house. This brings in some money we need to live and pay for the harvest packing and delivery of the shares. We also use this as a buffer to protect our members in the event there is a drought or like this year too much wet and cold. Most crops yielded less per acre this year than normal, we used a big part of our "extra" acres to make up for the shortage. Some small crops were a total loss and we had none for the stand or CSA. We lost all the onions, spinach, chard, lettuce and beets. We did not even get the carrots planted because we could see by then it would be a waste to try. Some crops grew fine to the point of setting fruits and then died of disease (proliferated by the rains) some squash and most of the pickling cucumbers fell to disease.
We did our best to make sure that our weekly shares provided the best possible quantity and quality available without buying someone else's crops. I feel that for the most part we did a good job, and we should probably be proud of the value in the combination of food and service we were able to provide relative to the very competitive investment. I also am confident based on the feedback from many members that almost everyone enjoyed what they received and are very positive about their CSA. CSA is not a one year event, every season is different, just like farming you have to stick with it to reap the rewards.
It is time again now to make decisions about what to grow and what to charge and how many members we will have for the coming year. There are always lessons learned in any endeavor worth continuing and this one is no different. So for better or worse here are my lessons learned, listed in no particular order:
1. There are a few crops we should not grow. (Celery is one of them)
2. My time is the single most valuable commodity I work with.
3. Grow staked tomatoes in 10 foot rows - this allows cultivation after the stakes are in, and eliminates weed control problems. An added benefit is better airflow and less disease.
4. Stake all tomatoes except the very early ones grown on sand
5. Grow less peppers - do a better job with fewer plants
6. Grow more butternut squash
7. Grow more broccoli -- & trap the groundhogs so they do not eat it
8. Grow disease resistant cucumbers - even if the seed costs more
9. Use bulk boxes to harvest crops into -handle with the tractor instead of small lugs that all have to be lifted by hand at least twice ---this saves the back
10. Do a better job of teaching the membership how Community Supported Agriculture works - we still have a few members that got involved by word of mouth and do not have the background understanding of what Community Supported Agriculture is and is not. I think the is not is very important. CSA is not a produce buying/delivery scheme.
11. Get all the plowing done as early as possible, before the first crops are planted if at all possible
12. Keep the plowed ground worked up, to conserve moisture for germination of late planted crops.
13. Do not try to start sweet corn in the greenhouse
14. Make sure the fall broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are all seeded in the greenhouse by May 1st
15. Transplant all fall crops by June 25th
16. Only plant late corn in soil with adequate moisture - you can't count on rain in July
Here is our plan for next year.
First of all subscription price will be the same as last year for returning members even though most everything we buy is going up. We will absorb the increased cost by being more efficient and having better yields. If we are not more efficient or we do not have better yields we will work for less income. I request that you get your subscription in early as possible, because new members are already subscribing --and at a higher subscription rate than I am offering you.
For returning members with subscription paid before April 15, 2012
½ bu share $220
¾ bu share $320
1 bu share $400
Mail payment to:
Walkers Fresh Veggies
41688 Paw Paw Rd
Paw Paw, MI 49079
ALL ½ share subscriptions after April 15 will be for the new price of $250.
Please include your correct e-mail address with your check so I can e-mail you a receipt.
We are increasing the subscription fee for new members wanting the ½ bu size share to $250 to better cover the true costs involved. It cost the same for us to pack and deliver each size share, and most CSA charge $300 for the ½ share without delivery.
Here is the list of crops we plan on planting this coming year, the selections are based on what we think we can handle growing given our soils and disease and animal pressures we have in our different fields.
Some white potatoes
Broccoli -- Spring
cabbage -- spring
Pati Pan & Flying Saucer squash
Broccoli - fall
Cabbage -- fall
Apples -If available
Sweet Potatoes - If available
This list provides 27 items and gives us a distribution season from the first week of July through the last week of October. These are the crops we feel we have an advantage in growing and can provide within the subscription fees as they are set up currently. Let me explain with one example:
Say we wanted to add carrots to the list. We need to plant enough carrots to make two or three distributions. Last year (2010) we had 4 rows 150 foot long and we dug one row each week for four weeks. We had just enough for 50 shares. We would need to plant around 12 rows for this coming year to have enough carrots. Carolyn and I cannot provide all the hand labor required to grow the 12 rows of carrots (remember we already have a 27 crop lineup to care for). We would have to hire labor to hand thin and weed the carrots. We also would need to hire labor to dig the carrots by hand (the potato lifter cuts them off). Without weed control provided by chemical means, the hand weeding is very expensive and our carrots would be way too costly to provide in our shares. Carrots grown on muck soils have a distinct advantage over our clay soils. Our sandy soils could compete if we had irrigation - but we do not. We could go to a local muck farmer (near Decatur) and buy carrots at harvest time much cheaper than we can grow them.
If we were a very small CSA (hobby farm size) and we just had a big garden and time to grow a small amount of every crop, we probably would not even understand what the true cost of production is for carrots. We also would not be involved in CSA - because if we were that small we could easily sell everything we grow on our Stand.
We understand that we all need and want carrots, celery, onions, lettuce, etc…. The harvest season for each of these is short and the problems associated (risks) are too great to include these crops in our lineup. We personally will find a supplier for these items for our own needs and also for the stand. We would encourage our members to find a good source for these food items such as a smaller local stand, or Farmers Market or even the supermarket (they have these items all year round).
Some CSA groups are not farms, they purchase and deliver items grown on many farms. Some CSA farms purchase items they do not grow to increase the variety of items they have available.
Walker's Fresh Veggies grows what we distribute. If we change that in any way, we need to consider this change an added enterprise and the costs associated with purchasing and packing and delivering have to be added into the share prices. If the majority of the membership strongly wants us to consider this activity we will consider it.
We are already putting our order together for seed for 2012 and will place our order in December. You may wonder why we do this so soon, the reason is to ensure we can get the variety of each crop that we want. A variety is a certain breed of crop that has it's own special characteristics, one of which is the relative time required to mature. Some have better taste, some have natural disease resistance. In order for us to obtain the best varieties we must order before the seed supply is all gone. We also need to have our tomato, pepper, eggplant, broccoli, and cabbage seed in time to start them in the green house in March. Seed and land rent (due in February) are our biggest cost items and we need the money for these as soon as possible. Everyone returning is requested to get your subscription fee in to us at the soonest possible time so that we can pay for the seed, land, greenhouse supplies, and LP Gas required to get the crop going.
Again we really do appreciate each of you and your support of Local Agriculture, your support for each other (we could not run this CSA Farm with only one or two members, we all need each other). Our size makes us more efficient. A few examples of how we have become more efficient with size; we are able to utilize a potato digger instead of using a fork to dig each plant by hand. We also use a tractor mounted transplanter to put our greenhouse grown plants and potatoes in the field, saving countless hours of labor hand transplanting. We also have the added benefit of getting our rows in straight and plants spaced accurately in the row too. We are able to buy much larger quantities of each variety of seed giving us a huge saving over the small packet price gardeners have to pay. We are able to start our own plants in greenhouses instead of buying plants in flats ready to plant (this also allows us to select the best kinds of plants to grow, greenhouses plant the cheapest seed available to keep cost down).
We trust you have had a great Thanksgiving holiday, and we wish everyone a Merry Christmas time, and a Happy New Year!
Looking forward to a great new season, serving you,
Mark & Carolyn Walker
Walkers Fresh Veggies