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Farmer Zaid Talks Shop At Length

Zaid had a lot of really enlightening things to say last week; my apologies for not getting this up sooner, and co-director Mary did send this out via email to members, but here it is for anyone else that's interested:

Week number 12 is already upon us...today I want to explain some of what goes on on the farm so members have a better understanding of how things work day-to day.

THE EMPLOYEES: Almost weekly we have to hire new people as some people don't show up, quit, get fired, etc. The staff that packs is constantly changing and even some of our more senior staff that have been with us for years are leaving. It is very difficult to find quality people that want to do this kind of work. Even if you pay well, people are not used to the long hours and physical nature of farm work. In addition, the seasonal nature of produce farming does not offer employees stability so they are always looking for another job. Winter CSAs have helped a little bit but only enough to keep 2-4 out of 25 or so employees.

THE WEATHER: Never predictable always changing which stresses the plants, animals, and humans on the farm. This year we have had many extremes...hot hot weather which caused otherwise staggered plantings to mature at once such as melons, greens, peppers, eggplants, and more...now we are in a cool wet spell which has caused late blight again and it is in our tomatoes and potatoes. Even though the hot dry weather was intially good for maturing things early it also destroyed some of  our more sensitive  crops and stressed the surrounding vegetation which caused all the wildlife to eat at the local smorgasbord (Norwich Meadows Oasis of course)..so we are battling the deer, raccoons,  woodchucks, rabbits, and bugs...

THE FARMERS: under constant pressure to keep an even keel on ship that has direction but cannot predict the seas and is at the mercy of all the circumstances that pop up unexpectedly. Agriculture is subject to biological functions that cannot be controlled easily. Unlike widget making  that is under a roof and can be produced in an industrial fashion, we are constantly guessing, praying, hoping, that things turn out OK.There are not a lot of people aspiring to be farmers and there is a shortage of trained people in agriculture. The price structure and the perishable nature of our product do not allow us to wait for a better price or store for later...

Example of what we deal with: Yesterday: we came back with half a truck load of produce because it rained both Sunday and Monday (less cash flow and more compost)..the same truck needed to be unloaded, washed, and loaded for Wed CSA. It took 3 people until 11PM to load truck and deal with the returned vegetables. This morning water line ruptured thus delaying chicken and vegetable processing...

The bright side...we love what we do and we have a great loyal following amongst our CSA members and farmers market customers. We have had a not so bad crop this year despite the losses and we are hoping for a good fall crop. One of our tomatoes placed second in a taste testing: http://nymag.com/restaurants/features/67495/

Other points that need to be conveyed to members: Good tasting heirloom tomatoes must be picked ripe which means they will have splits and can be soft (please have people look at article in link above). People must refrain from squeezing and over handling the produce especially these tomatoes as they will be damaged. For example, at the farmers market despite all our efforts we compost and or  sample  of each market day anywhere from 200-400 lbs of mostly heirloom tomatoes that are soft or bruised from handling.

The value of a share containing 3-4 lbs of heirloom tomatoes only is way more than what people pay and if we have a shortfall in produce due to a compressed season we will take the increased value into consideration.


Breakdowns, Woodland Creatures, and MORE HEAT!

Please take a moment to be grateful for all that the folks out at the farm are going through this year. They don't seem to be able to catch a break, yet are still getting delicious stuff to us week after week. Here's the latest report:

Writing you this from the side of the road, the van we rent in the summer to haul the tables, tents, and market setup gear broke down. This is the second breakdown in 3 weeks.....We are contemplating farming in the south if this weather keeps up, we hope this is not how summers are going to be. While the tomatoes are doing well, the peppers are showing signs of heat damage. The cool season crops are suffering, we have lost a lot of greens to the heat and to wildlife that prefers our relatively lush vegetation to the woodier wild stuff. We have not had good rains in a while so this causes the wild vegetation to become woody and thus not so desirable to the deer, woodchucks, etc. Overall, the summer crops such as squash are doing very well and that will be reflected in the share and the greens will be a little tougher due to the heat.