Thursday, March 30, 2017

The GFF CSA is a Good Value

I recently had a couple of people mention to me that they felt like they were saving money by purchasing one of our shares for the coming season.  All I can say is that I was immensely pleased to hear this.  After all, we want to provide a good product for a fair price.  Every year, I check on the value our CSA members are receiving in their shares.  But, one of the things I often neglect to do is point out how we are doing for others to see.  These comments have encouraged me to finish a post I started some time ago.

Most years, we acquit our selves quite well.  (notice how I got to use two "Q's" in that sentence - neat, eh?)  In fact, a typical season sees us providing much more value for a share than was paid to us.  We feel that additional value is a fair compensation for the investment provided by our members.

Experience Leads to Strong Shares Throughout the Season
The last three years have been slightly different from our earlier history in that we've added much stronger starts to our season, making it less critical to have super strong second halves to make up the difference.  That doesn't mean we don't still provide strong second half shares, but it does mean we've been able to give a more consistent value throughout the season.  An example of some of the things we have done to make our farm more consistently productive is our second high tunnel structure.  Every year we strive to do better than the one before and we keep building towards better.
Seeded trays ready to go to cold frames or high tunnels

We Think Hard About Fair Pricing
We take pricing very seriously.  We need to earn enough to pay us fairly while still keeping share prices reasonable for the many participants we know are working on a budget.  Each season, we spend significant planning hours reassessing our costs and determining what we should do to meet both of those goals.  A standard share cost $400 in 2016 (and the same share type will cost that same amount in 2017).  For a 20 week delivery season, that comes to $20 per delivery.  While this post is not about how our share costs compare to other Iowa CSA's, I think you will find that over time, we've kept our costs and prices under control.  It is not uncommon to find similar programs that cost between $400 and $600 in the state. 

White onions harvested and being taken in to be made ready for CSA members
Shareholders Get 30-40% More Value Than They Pay For
In 2015, we had only two weeks where the share value dipped below the $20 mark.  Weeks 1 and 2 had $15 values with asparagus and spinach providing the most value.  Since that point, every week met or exceeded the $20 value for a standard share.  Week 9, for example, exceeded $30 in value and week 3 was $25 in value (just to show you we could provide value early in the season too!).  So, by the end of August, we are sitting at a 25% value increase over the amount 'paid' through that point of the season.  With some high value crops at the tail end of the season, we provided 35% more value than was paid by our subscribers!
Young Australian Yellow Leaf lettuce plant
We Don't Ride on Only One Veggie
By the August checkpoint, we provided 28 different vegetable types to our subscribers.  While we realize we could get into an argument about how we split things up to get the count, we tried to stay conservative.  For example, we aren't counting snack/cherry tomatoes and slicing tomatoes separately.  Nor are we separating out sweet peppers and bell peppers, even though we usually give them separate trays at a distribution.  But, we are counting cabbage and napa cabbage separately, because they really are different things!  By the end of the season, we had provided 35 different vegetable types to our shareholders.
trays of lettuce ready for transplant

Why Does This Matter?
We get the feeling that the price tag of a CSA share scares many people away.  We certainly understand that a three-digit check can strain many budgets.  That's why we offer the option of setting a payment plan with us that fits you best.  But, the reality is that this is a very good buy for healthy veggies for your family.

Tomato harvest at dusk

How Many Meals Does $20 Buy in a Week?
Take your family to a 'cheap' fast food restaurant for dinner.  If you get meal packages in order to save money, your family of four will typically spend $25 for a SINGLE meal.  No leftovers.  Nothing to help build another meal.  Very little nutritional value.  And, you've already spent more than the $20 for a WEEK of CSA veggies from the Genuine Faux Farm.

We are not trying to tell you that our veggies fill each meal out entirely.  But, what you get from us will be a part of many meals during a week.  From a pure monetary perspective, the CSA is a better deal than many things you will find out there.

So, there must be other reasons why you feel it is too expensive.  Perhaps it is because...
Pepper transplants lined up to be put in

It's Okay If You Don't Eat it All
Certainly, we'll accept that as a reasonable premise.  After all, Rob grew up as one of the PICKIEST eaters in the world and is continuing to work on eating a wider variety of things.  We certainly get this issue - perhaps better than you know.

But, when you get over 30 types of veggies, you have a great number of chances to get things you will like.  And, when you receive nearly a third more produce than you pay for with a share, that essentially means you can FAIL TO EAT 1/3 of your share during a season and still have a good deal. And, don't forget, there are people who like some of the veggies you don't like.  Some of those people might be in the house right across the street from you!  Hmmmmm.
Why is this farmer smiling?
The Genuine Faux Farm CSA will work for you IF you want to make it work for you!
I think we have made a reasonable case that our farm has the experience, ability and drive to provide a good product.  But, the biggest variable here is YOU! 

Are you motivated to make this deal work for you?  If you are, please contact us and we'll get you set up with a share this season!

Friday, March 24, 2017

More of This

The problem with having a blog is... you have to write blog posts to actually have a blog.  As you can see, it has been a few days since our last post - and really, we need to be posting to promote our CSA program!  We still have openings!  (there it is, the obligatory promotional plug - you can now get to your blog reading)

As I've been doing work, I've been thinking about the things I want to see more of during the 2017 growing season on our farm.  Farmer Delusional Syndrome is still in force - though it is dwindling rapidly as the reality of the work we have to do begins to set in.

One thing I really believe we can have more of is THIS:

Does he mean the flowers, the tomatoes or the butterfly?
The answer to the question that is the caption of the picture above is an emphatic YES.  We are very much committed to growing even more flower strips in 2017 than we did in 2016.  In fact, we are getting better each year at doing this.  The rewards have been several.  First, we enjoy the flowers - as do those who work with us and those who visit us.  Second, our pollinator workers seem to agree that the flowers are a good thing.  While we still think our beneficial insect and animal numbers are lower than they should be, they are better than they have been.  And finally, we are convinced that any of our crops that need pollination services will be improved if we plant more flowers.  How cool is that?

More flowers seems to lead to more of this!
A fresh melon out of the fields - YUM
We have shown over the past two years that we can increase our production by improving pollinator habitat.  In fact, we reduced the number of melon plants we put in the ground to make room for the flowers.  As a result, you might think our overall melon production would decrease.  Nope, it actually went up.  I like it.

Even though he startles the farmer, we'd also like more of THIS:
Ah Cucumber Frog, the bane of my cucumber picking existence.
If we continue to work on the habitat, we expect to see more frogs and toads in our fields.  More frogs and toads means fewer of the pests that cause our crops problems.  It also means the farmer may be less likely to be started when they jump into his leg because it will be a common occurrence (or so we hope).

Maybe even more of THIS (or not):
Carrotman just can't get out of the kitchen, even if it is hot.
Ok, we do not purposely want to grow LOTS of odd shaped veggies.  But, we do enjoy seeing a few strange fruit once in a while.  We are actually hoping to feel (and maybe even be) a bit more creative this year.  The great thing about creativity is that I don't have to plan it all out.  A little creativity can help balance all of the planning I have to work with during the year.

Did we mention more of THIS?
Borage... we LOVE borage.
Yes, I think I mentioned the flower thing.  Notice the row of zinnias in the background?

And, we would really like more of THESE:
Nebraska Wedding
And, we don't mean we want just Nebraska Wedding tomatoes - though we do like them very much.  We felt like our production of tomatoes was pretty poor last season and we are taking steps to rectify the situation.  Some of the issues were weather related and some were of other origins.  There is only so much we can do about such things, but we sure are going to give it our best shot to build this crop back up to its former glory.

And, we've got the space in the field this year so we can have more of THIS:
Watermelons are hard to deliver with the CSA, but we sure will try anyway
We've had a couple of down years for watermelon because we were working on the melon field production in general.  Watermelons vine like crazy and take up a lot of space.  That made them a less than idea product to grow as we were working on our field design in the smaller plots of our farm.  This year, the melons move to one of the larger plots.  Here's hoping!

Here's to Peas and Prosperity!
Yes, yes.  those are peas. 
And, perhaps, we'll have more puns in the blog too this year?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ordering Plants 2017

We have decided to limit our plant sales in 2017. For more of an explanation, go to the bottom of this post.

If you want specific heirloom plants from us, you will need to ORDER THEM in advance and we will grow them specifically for you. They will be made available to you when they are ready and they could be picked up at the Waverly Farmers' Market or during one of our CSA pick up locations (see the calendar page).

Orders will need to be received in the month of March - the earlier, the better - so we can get your plants started and ready for optimal planting times.

If you do not order plants, you will take your chances that we will happen to have extras of the varieties you want.  For more explanation, see the end of the post.

$3.00 for 3-4" pots.
Smaller pots will be priced as appropriate.

Available Plants:
Tomatoes: Italian Heirloom, German Pink, Trophy, Speckled Roman, Amish Paste, Silvery Fir Tree, Nebraska Wedding, Moonglow, Black Krim, Green Zebra, Red Zebra, Tommy Toe, Hartmann's Gooseberry, Jaune Flamme, Wapsipinicon Peach, Black Cherry, Paul Robeson, Hungarian Heart, Gold Medal, Tasty Evergreen, Wisconsin 55, Rutgers, Cosmonaut Volkov, John Baer, Opalka
Peppers: Wisconsin Lakes, Jimmy Nardello's Frying Pepper, Tolli Sweet, Alma Papricka, Golden Treasure, Purple Beauty, Quadrato asti Giallo, Early Jalapeno, Wenk's Yellow Hot, Joe's Long Cayenne, King of the North, Napolean Sweet, Garden Sunshine, Marconi Red, Chervena Chushka
Eggplant: Pintung Long, Rosa Bianca, Casper, Diamond, Florida Highbush
Basil: Sweet Genovese, Thai, Mrs Burns' Lemon, Dark Opal and Lime
Cucumber: Marketmore 76, Boothby's Blonde, A and C Pickling, Green Finger, Lemon

Others: ask

Why Are We Scaling Back on Plant Sales?
We feel that our supportive customers deserve some explanation - so here it is.  For the past seven years, we have entered the season starting anywhere from 750 to 1500 ADDITIONAL plants (typically tomato, pepper, eggplant) beyond what we need for production on the farm.  We have had plant sales at the Saturday Waverly Farmers' Market, at Hansen's Outlet and other places.

Essentially, we tried to create a situation for success and growth each year and simply did not find it.  Sales have been largely static, with no growth in sales shown even last year when two growers at the Waverly Market stopped selling after the 2015 season.  It is no exaggeration to say that we regularly composted 500 plants each season.   The reality is, if we wanted to sell that many plants, we probably needed to go farther afield to find markets.  Our desire to sell direct to consumer locally did not apparently have a large enough pool of potential customers to support the endeavor.

The main reason we are no longer operating in this fashion is actually a function of labor.  The number of hours required to transplant all of these plants, sort them out, move them around, load them, unload them, etc etc put the labor cost at a point where we were not making money with the previous model.  Perhaps the most telling point was the fact that some of our Spring field work was sometimes delayed because we were too busy just trying to get a plant sale ready to go.

So, How Are We Addressing The Problem?
We will plant only as many of each variety as we need PLUS whatever orders we have for those plants.  Invariably, we will plan to seed only a few extra of each variety in case there is a problem with germination or some other issue.  That means we will likely have some extra plants, but not the numbers we've shown in prior years.

For example, we knew Italian Heirloom would be popular because we do talk them up.  We need 85 of these for our own growing operation and we would typically grow another 85 for sales.  Once transplanting occurred, we would often have about our 85 plants plus 100 more.  After all, if you have extra seedlings that look good, why would you kill them?  Now, we will target 85 Italian Heirlooms plus whatever is ordered plus maybe 5% extra to cover possible problems.  If they all do well, we would have maybe 5-8 extra plants that are not spoken for.  These will come to our Saturday Waverly Farmers' Markets.  And, once we get tired of hauling these around, we will simply stop doing so.

We will not be holding any additional plant sales beyond the Saturday markets this year.  We will, however, deliver pre-ordered plants during our CSA distributions as arranged.

What Do We Hope This Change Will Accomplish?
It's not just about money.  In fact, it isn't really as much about the money as it is about time.  Spring is packed full with activity on the farm and there is only so much of us to go around.  Most of our workers do not start on the farm until school is out, which occurs after most/all of the transplanting into pots is done.  If we do not spend so much time on plant sales, there are a number of things that can and will take the place of tasks centering around these sales.

We expect that we will have more seed starting space and transplant space so we can push more of our seed starting for the field up a couple of weeks.  As it was before, some of our plantings were pushed back until space was freed up.  This model was fine for a while, but we are increasing the numbers of things we transplant, so space is at a premium.  We are also noticing that our start dates for things like melons and squash are moving up with changing weather patterns - this allows us to make that adjustment.

We are hoping to get more of our annual flowering plants going in trays so they can begin producing flowers sooner in our fields.  The better we are at providing food for our pollinators for a longer season, the more effective their labor will be for us.  This change will free up seed starting space and seed starting time to do this.

Valhalla is scheduled to be moved in late April to early May.  That did not happen last year in large part because we were trying to keep plant sales going.  We would like to hit the schedule on that this season  and in future seasons.  This is only once example of farm growing tasks for April/May that we hope we can pay attention to instead of plant sales.

Will You Change Your Mind and Reintroduce Plant Sales?
Never say never.

However, there will need to be some major changes for us to accomplish this.  First, we would need to change our facilities so that we have a dedicated space for starting plants for sales.  We need to improve efficiency of the processes that lead to growing these plants.  Second, we would need to evaluate when and where the market is and then we would have to aggressively market the product so we could have sufficient sales.  In short, it will take a serious bit of work before we go back to what we were doing in previous years.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

It is NOT This Day

Tammy and I have been regular attendees of the Practical Farmers of Iowa Cooperators Meeting for the past several years.  The two-day meeting features discussion and presentations on how research and projects fared during the previous year and then on designing new projects for the upcoming season.

Tammy was asked to give the closing remarks for the 2016 Cooperator's Meeting and she was a bit uncertain as to whether she should agree to do so or not.  I strongly encouraged her to do this and I think she came up with a winner.  In fact, it was liked well enough that PFI put it out on YouTube.  That's a compliment.  And I will continue with the compliment by including the video here and the text she based her closing remarks on.

While this was all presented in a light-hearted fashion, there is a great deal of meat to what is being said here.  Take a moment and enjoy.

JRR Tolkein wrote a good story.  Is that an understatement, or what?!  For those of you who are not familiar with his work, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, is an author and linguistic scholar, best known for his high-fantasy novels The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is also known for his intense attention to detail. I have long loved Tolkein’s stories and grown to appreciate the importance he placed on detail and accuracy.  “Close enough” was just not good enough.  

I see a lot of Tolkein’s dedication to detail and knowledge in PFI farmers and our dedication to detailed research.  Rob has convinced me, despite my admitted preference for “I think” to move to “I know” on the farm.  Count it, measure it, record it, then plan it.  And, repeat - Count it, measure it, record it, then plan it.  

Tolkein’s writings offer so much timeless wisdom including this exchange early in the “Rings” journey:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

There are many things farmers struggle with including increasingly extreme weather and uncertain economics and changing policies.  What we CAN do is decide what WE want to do with what we have – not just “Go along”.

At one point, one of the HEROES in the Ring Trilogy, Aragon, inspires his troops before a seemingly hopeless battle:
"Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"

I hope our farming does not seem “hopeless”, though we certainly face challenges.  So, with thanks to Tolkein and assistance from Dick Thompson:
Hold your ground,  Protect your ground!  Farmers of Iowa, Row Crop, Grazer and Hort.  I see in your eyes that same passion for farm and soil that inspires me.  A day may come when the courage of farmers fails, when we forsake our passion for sustainable, well managed farms and break all bonds with our history of smart farming, but that is not this day.  An hour of weeds, pests and disease, a day of intense pressure to conform, to “go along”, when the age of “thinking farmers” on diverse farms come crashing down.  But, it is NOT this day!  This day we research!  By all the you hold dear for the good of this earth, I bid you, RESEARCH and LEARN, Farmers of the Land!

Friday, March 3, 2017

GFF March Newsletter

The month of March is here - and so is our monthly newsletter on the blog.  Without further ado - let's just get right to it!

March Calendar of Events

March 6: New Hampton Seed Starting Workshop (cancelled)
March 7: Practical Farmers of Iowa Farminar - Variety Selection
March 8: Seminar at Wartburg College
March 9: Cedar Falls Egg Delivery 5:00-5:30 Hansen's Outlet
March 14: Waverly Egg Delivery and CSA Signup 4:30-6:00
March 23: Cedar Falls Egg Delivery and CSA Signup 5:00-6:00
March 28: Waverly Egg Delivery

CSA Signup 2017

We are in the midst of our 2017 CSA sign up.  We have several CSA options this year.

Traditional 20produce> June-October (20 deliveries) $400
Traveler 20 produce> May-early Jun,late Aug-Dec (20 deliveries) $500
Whole Enchilada produce> May-December (28 deliveries) $600
Alternating Delivery produce> May - December (14 deliveries) $350
My Garden is Dead produce> October-December (8 deliveries) $250
Group Share produce> June-October (16 deliveries) $800
Moving On produce> Start or End of Season variable inquire
Poultry Share Small Bird meat> March - December (20 deliveries) $325
Poultry Share Large Bird meat> March - December (20 deliveries) $400

As of this post, we have plenty of spaces available in our programs.  Contact us if you have interest and we'll get you started.

Plant Sales 2017
We have decided to limit our plant sales in 2017. We are finding that we are losing money with our previous model. So, here is how it will be this season. If you want specific heirloom plants from us, you will need to ORDER THEM in advance and we will grow them specifically for you. They will be made available to you when they are ready and they could be picked up at the Waverly Farmers' Market or during one of our CSA pick up locations.
As always, there will be SOME extra plants, but it will not be the hundreds of plants we have brought to market in the past. We'll bring what we have and there will be no guarantee how much we will have or what varieties UNLESS you pre-order. Thank you for your understanding as we make this adjustment.
$3.00 for 3 1/2" pots.

Website Updated
Our website has been updated and everything should be current at this time.  Please feel free to visit.  If you see a problem, we appreciate notes that point such things out to us.  If you want to learn more about our CSA programs, our farm and how we do things there, this is a good resource.

Song of the Month
It's our (Tammy's and Rob's) anniversary month.  We can get a little sappy if we want to - so there.

Recipe of the Month
Spinach Frittata
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Saute 1 clove minced garlic and a
few chopped scallions. Add 1 pound washed spinach and cook until wilted. Remove veggies from pan; lightly beat 6 eggs and add to pan along with spinach mixture, 3/4 c parmesan or feta cheese, and some parsley. Stir all together and cook over low heat until frittata is set. Allow to cool slightly and cut into wedges to serve.

Planting Report
We have a couple of beds planted in Valhalla (the newer/larger high tunnel) with komatsuna, kale, tatsoi, lettuce and spinach.  Otherwise, things are really just getting started right now.  Soon we'll have a large number of trays to keep watered.

Picture of the Month
Look closely - do you see what I see?
Farm News Shorts
  • GFF will be involved in a few Practical Farmers of Iowa Cooperators projects this year.  One involves continued work with pollinators on the farm.
  • We will also be working with the Xerces Society to attempt to increase habitat on our farm with annual and perennial plantings.
  • We expect to have two returning workers this Summer (Caleb and Emma) and one new worker (Jocelyn).  We hope you will join us in welcoming them as their schedules on the farm begin in May/June.
Time to Have Pun
If a thesaurus were a dinosaur, it would have to eat.  And, if a thesaurus were to eat anything, I suspect it would be a synonym roll.