Sunday, September 1, 2019

September Newsletter

Welcome to September
An amazing thing happened on the way to the Poultry Pavilion Saturday morning.  I realized that tomorrow would be September the first.  (Yes, I write the newsletter the day before it is posted.  Shocked, you are!)  Once I had that realization, I also remembered that Tammy and I had made some fairly important decisions about how we were going to go about business this year during our "official" farm retreat in February.  One of the things we agreed on was a time frame for making some decisions about how the Genuine Faux Farm would proceed (and whether it would proceed) in the future.  This installment of the Genuine Faux Farm newsletter will address this topic as well as many others, so hang on to your hats (and read on)!

Schedule Changes
Our schedule has been on the blog for a while and you can go to the original blog post here.  Once I am done with the newsletter I will update that post with the correct dates for a few things.  But, we'll get right down to it here as well!

  • Broiler flock #3 goes to "the Park" on September 9.  There are some nice big birds in this flock and they are looking VERY tasty.  See below for more on them.
  • The November 5 pickup in Waverly needs to be moved to November 6 (Wednesday) due to a scheduling conflict.
  • The August Summer Festival was cancelled due to lack of interest on the parts of the farmers as much as anything.  We simply did not have the energy to promote it and then set it up.  We may talk about that more in a bit as well!
  • Add in our first (and last?) Gathering at the Gateway to Autumn at the Genuine Faux Farm scheduled for September 22.  This will be a potluck that will also feature GFF turkey (we will roast a bird we have in our freezer from last year's flock).  The meal will be at 12:30pm and the event will start at 11:30am.  This is going to be a family friendly, low-key event and we would like all of our CSA members, past and present, to come share a meal with us.  The invitation includes all farm supporters, poultry purchasers, family and friends.
Broilers enjoy the apple trees for shade and the occasional windfall apple
Crop Roller-coaster
It certainly would not be September without a reference to how crops are doing so far this year.  Per the norm, some things are doing well and others are doing... uh... not as well.  Thus far, we have been pleased with the green beans and romano beans this season.  The beets have been good and the early lettuce was excellent.  The high tunnel melons have been a real treat as well.  We've had some gorgeous basil and the carrots are in pretty good shape (the earlier crops).

On the flip side, we are looking at poor vine crop production in general.  The late start, wet soils and likely exposure to other issues have done them no favors.  Add in some weed issues for some of the crops and there you are.  To be clear, the weed issues followed after many of the other issues.  They were already doing poorly and we just couldn't find the energy to spend to rescue things that were clearly doing poorly to begin with.  Evidence is provided by the summer squash and zucchini.  We've weeded, watered, etc etc... and the production is still way below what it should be.
Onions enjoy music, apparently...

After late starts and false starts, we've had some lovely broccoli and the cauliflower is coming along nicely for a mid-September crop.  The onions have been good, but not spectacular (we always hope for spectacular, but good is, well... good).  In fact, we still have 400 row feet of onions to pull in that are just now about ready.  The tomatoes in the high tunnels look very good and the peppers in the high tunnels have already been producing.  The field tomatoes and peppers... not so much.  And, the potatoes are always a mystery until we dig them all.  We're winding up for a batch of short season Fall/Winter crops in hopes that we can finish strong.

Broiler Chickens
We have about 300 broiler chickens in two flocks at the farm at this very moment.  Flock #3 goes to the park on September 9 (as you see above) but we still have a significant portion of flock #2 in our freezers right now.

Allow me to let you in on a secret.... shhh...  don't tell anyone.  We can't put flock #3 in our freezers if they are already full with flock #2.  So, we're putting the word out that we have lots of tasty chickens still available.  We have kept the price at $3.50 per pound for eight (or more?) years and we feel the quality has actually been improving as we continue to make advances in how we care for our flocks.  You actually have two opportunities here.  You could order some birds to pick up on September 9 so you could receive them unfrozen.  Or, you could opt for the already frozen birds.  They all taste good, so why not contact us and order some?

Farm Retreat Goal Check
Tammy and I set a number of fairly specific sign-posts for us to gauge how we were doing this year and to help us decide what we are doing going forward with the Genuine Faux Farm.  We agreed that we would assess where we were at during the August/September period of the season.  This is a dangerous time to assess because Tammy is starting the semester at Wartburg and Rob is now looking at a Fall work period with no other farm workers other than when Tammy is home.  But, it is also a realistic time for us to consider where we are at so we can balance it against the optimism that February often holds with respect to the farm.

One major theme was that we needed to make progress on projects that make our farm house a farm home.  The good news is that we now have a functioning, but not quite complete, kitchen in the farm house now.  We are now up to FOUR plugs in the upstairs floor (up from one) and the project to repair the stair to the basement and create a safer entry to the house is underway.  And, the solar array is now producing electricity!  In order to support all of these projects, we have (finally) completed the refinancing process of our mortgage - a project in and of itself.

The farm part of the Genuine Faux Farm has not been neglected either, with the creation of Casa Verde, among other things.  We increased the number of row feet we have using paper mulch and we re-introduced grass mulch to our repertoire (part of the reason for the green bean resurgence).  However, we have had some major setbacks this year as well.  The wet soils pushed us back four or more weeks for most of our planting.  An illness that prevented sleep in July (yes, it felt like all of July to me) set us back even further.  And, we are becoming more and more convinced that there is an accumulated buildup of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides in rural Iowa that are manifesting themselves on our farm.  That, in itself, is worth a future bit of blogging.

Potatoes and beans with some grass mulch to try and control the weeds

From a sales perspective, our CSA program is down again this year.  At its peak, the Genuine Faux Farm CSA delivered 120 shares per week.  We now deliver 40.  We attribute that, in part, to trends that have been obvious since 2016.   Some of the issue is likely our own fault for changing the program so dramatically this year.  But, we do not regret the changes because we do believe it made for a better product for our customers given the special conditions of this growing season after record precipitation levels.  Many people are warming to the 'credits' addition to our program and some have taken full advantage to stock up on their favorite veggies.  Also on the plus side, the simplification of our growing list has also helped us this season, which tells us that we might be moving in the right direction there.

On the other hand, we have increased sales to other entities (Jorgensen Plaza kitchens, East Bremer Diner, Farm Shed) - which was a part of our plan for the year.  However, we are still struggling to get more consistency with these and we need to add others.  In short, it is still unclear as to whether we can rely on these sales for the income needed to continue with the farm as it is right now.  Broiler chicken sales are also down this year - a year where we actually added a fourth flock of broilers because we anticipated a possible increase in demand.

To be perfectly blunt.  Our farm has not made any money the last couple of years.  My (Rob's) salary for his work on the farm consists of the amount that is our profit.  For that matter, Tammy also does not get paid for her work on the farm.  As unwise as it might sound, we do not pay a salary to myself and include it as an expense for a number of reasons that could ALSO be its own blog post.  The changes implemented this season have been, in part, an attempt to address the situation. 

So, what does all of this mean?  Well, we'll get to that.  But first..

Gathering at the Gateway to Autumn
September 22 starting at 11:30 am.
We would like to invite all CSA members, farm crew, poultry buyers and farm friends and family to join us for a potluck lunch at the farm where our contribution to the feast will be a roast turkey raised at the farm.  This gathering will be similar to our Summer Festival in that it brings us together to enjoy some food and each other's company.  It differs in that it focuses on the middle of the day rather than the end of the day.  At present, we are keeping the event low key so we can focus on making contact with those who are able to attend.

Why do this?
Well, did you know that this has been our FIFTEENTH season running a CSA at the Genuine Faux Farm?  It seems like a good time to request your presence to celebrate this with us and give us a chance to thank all of your for your support over the years that we have operated our farm share program.

Thanksgiving Turkeys Available Again This Year
Somehow the turkeys managed to avoid being mentioned until the bottom of the newsletter.  Don't tell them, they like to be first on the list for every VAP we create.

We will have turkeys available again this year and we will keep the price the same as it has been for several years now as well.  To make it up to the turkeys, we will create their OWN blog post to give details.  But, we want you to consider getting your Holiday turkey from the Genuine Faux Farm this year.

2020 Visions
Our vision for the Genuine Faux Farm in 2020 and beyond has to consider the realities of growing where we live and finding a market that will take what we grow.  We certainly have the right to change anything we say here as we learn more.  After all, Winter is usually the season for reflection and planning.  However, there are a few things that are now clear to us.
No such thing as a straight path forward, so let's just find what looks like a good one.

1. The CSA is dead.  Long live the CSA?
The 15th season of our CSA program will be our last with the CSA program as it has been.  Does that mean that we will not make produce, chickens, turkeys and eggs available to the fine people we have served in the past?  No.  We realize that the Genuine Faux Farm is unlikely to survive if we completely forsake sales direct to you, the consumer.  We value you and we NEED you for this farm to continue.  But, the burden of support has been falling to a smaller and smaller group for several years and we need to adjust.  It's a question of how we will do things more than anything.

We would like to know how YOU would like us to continue to serve you?  The only certain things are:

1. We will not continue as we have with the program.
2  We must change if the farm is to survive.
3. We know that the uncertainty and diminished reach of local farmers markets is not a solution either.
4. We still want to operate the farm in some fashion, continuing to use our certified organic, sustainable methods to grow quality food.

2. Increasing Other Direct Sales
We have always had some opportunities to sell to local entities such as restaurants, retirement villages, schools and daycare facilities.  However, the CSA has always gotten first priority for our growing lists and our harvests.  With the decline of the CSA, we have been pursuing more of these opportunities, but they carry their own uncertainties.  It's always safer for a farm business to have a diverse outlet for its product.

3. Re-assessing Poultry
It is still too early to determine what sort of adjustments should occur with the chickens and turkeys.  We make adjustments on the farm every season, so that is not earth-shattering.  The question is whether we make larger or smaller adjustments here.

4. Adjusting for Reduced Labor Hours
Neither of us has been allergic to hard work or long days.  However, it is clear to both of us that our tolerance for it has declined.  We have to find a way to control the number of hours we labor on the farm.  There are many ways to address this, of course, and we will explore them.  The good news is that we have improved in so many ways over fifteen years that we think this is certainly possible.  In fact, we have put many things in place over the years to improve our farm as a workplace for ourselves (and, likely, others).  We are, in particular, concerned with adjusting the work-load so Tammy doesn't have to essentially work two full-time jobs (teaching and farming).

5. Continuing to "Go Big" with Adjustments
One of the themes of our Farm Retreat in February was that we were at a point where some things needed to show significant progress or change.  In other words, it is still time for us to "Go Big or Go Home."  Since the farm IS our home, I guess we have to 'go big.'  If our farm is going to be our home, we need to continue to make repairs to that home so we aren't wasting so much time on emergency fixes or 'work-arounds' just to get our everyday living done.  And, if our farm business is going to continue, we have to make some major adjustments that will reduce stress and improve efficiency.  If we fail, so be it.  But, we intend to succeed.  We're just not always sure what that success will look like in the end.

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