We are coming to the end of another growing season and we have had mixed results. I did not order a cultivator in time so weeds ate up the half acre of corn I planted. We got very little corn because of that, which means we spent money on seed and overhead only to get no return on the investment.
Lessons learned, from this year, included having the tools ready for the season before the season begins. Our newest flock of Rhode Island Reds is laying, so we opened up the nesting boxes and placed golf balls in each one. This helps the bird to know where to lay their egg. I know it sounds strange but I read that is what you are supposed to do. That or place a wooden egg in the nest. All I can say is that it works; now we do find eggs outside the nest sometimes but I have not been able to figure out why. The largest stash I found had thirty eggs and they were inside Coadee’s igloo doghouse. I really need to research laying out of the nest and make sure it is not a management issue.
Strawberries started strong and ended strong, a much-needed boost for us. We were flush in squash, so much so we could not sell it all. A note of caution, we had arranged to sell our produce to a local market, they were a startup so we expected some problems, but we did not expect to be taken advantage of and gouged on our prices. We were lowering our prices by fifty percent and the store was jacking up the cost to the customer fifty percent. Their making a fifty percent return and we were losing money. On top of that, when we took a load down it was rejected for being too small. The small ones are the ones that sell out first at the farmers markets. You learn these things as you go along. When dealing with markets, sometimes you get people that get it and sometimes you get people that are there for a paycheck.
I was taught to keep the intermediary (the middleman) out as much as possible and that is advice I pass on to other folks. The best markets we deal with pay us what we need to make a small profit. They then turn around and only charge five percent more to their customer. Therefore, they talk about helping local farmers and they do by paying a higher rate. When you find someone or an entity that gets it, hold them close and pay special attention to their needs. They will help you succeed. You will have to kiss many frogs; but when you find the one that gets it, be grateful, responsive and flexible. There will always be rough spots but patience will smooth the course.
We have given squash to the food banks, there is a restaurant in town that has a monthly “Pay as You Can” dinner on the third Sunday of the month and we gave them forty pounds along with herbs. However, the lion’s share of leftovers (one thousand pounds and counting) has gone to a local dairy farmer for his pigs. These are the biggest of the big, we could not keep up with harvesting and these things were huge. It is just amazing how fast squash goes from being a flower to four-pound behemoth. Our estimate is that it takes less then five days to get to the point of “to big”. Because we do not have the ability to harvest, everyday we were put in the glut we are in now.
We met three new farmers who are starting out growing. That was exciting to see, young growers getting into producing healthy fresh vegetables. Some we will help get certified others we have pointed to state and federal resources. To hear them speak they have the right attitude and understanding of the path they chose. Pretty much the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is “this is hard,” but it is rewarding. Making it economically sustainable is another function that needs conquering.