Friday, October 23, 2009

Reflections on my first season of vegetables

I'm currently sitting in a Starbucks in Toronto's financial district, watching the rain come down, and wondering at the slower than expected speed of free wireless internet here. Maybe my frustrations with the speed of my dial-up connection at the farm have made my high-speed wireless expectations unrealistically high, and so anything other than instantaneous internet responses are a disappointment. I guess I could just blame the weather too. At the farm, when it rains a lot, my dial up speed has gone down to 14.6 kbps at times, which doesn't speak well for the integrity of the Bell line coming to my house. My latest update from the local wireless high-speed internet provider is that they're delayed in accessing provincial funding to put up more wireless towers in my area, so I'm looking at 2010 before any chance of improving my access. Surprise, surprise, promised provincial funding hasn't been released yet to get the work done. But this is not supposed to be a post about internet access (which is, surprisingly, a more important issue to me than I ever expected it to be!), but about this past season of vegetables.

Is it possible to label this first year as both a disappointment and a miracle? It was a disappointment in that I didn't have any truly saleable volume of vegetables until September (instead of June as I had planned for) and spent much of the summer praying each day that my vegetables would just grow! But it was a miracle in that by September, I actually had bountiful production from my field, and have managed to eke out close to $7000 gross (farm designation minimum) in vegetable sales to this point from, realistically, about 1/2 an acre of productive plants.

While my spinach, lettuces, sugar snap peas, pumpkins, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage, cucumber, radish, parsnips, ground cherries, tomatillos, eggplant, dill and fennel were pretty much utter failures, I am one of the few farmers in Ontario that actually had healthy tomato plants in the field until the end of the season. My pepper and hot pepper plants produced a good quantity of fruit (though time ran out for most of them to get to full size or ripeness), the summer squash produced plentiful and tasty squashes, and my Asian greens were a wonder in production and quality. The beets were my earliest and most plentiful staple vegetable, and chard turned out to be a great late season crop of greens for my deliveries. And my final big last carrot planting, seeded as a complete gamble on July 22 (yes, very late) given the lack of germination in previous plantings, yielded the tastiest and prettiest carrots ever. In fact, I sold 20 lbs of them to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) this week, where one of the chefs commented on how good they are. So, though this first season of vegetable growing has been hugely frustrating to me, it's certainly ended with a happy bang :)

One of my happy marketing successes this season has been selling my vegetables to the AGO for use in their restaurant and cafeteria. I've had a membership at the AGO for years, and am super happy and impressed with the redesign/expansion of the gallery. Their restaurants have a policy of trying to source produce from local farmers, so I wanted to sell to them, both as a local producer, and a fan of the AGO itself. When my condo finally sold earlier this year, I knew I wanted to celebrate with my family at FRANK, so when the sale closed at the end of July, that's where we went. I made my reservation on-line and left a note about the reason for the celebration, and also asking to meet the executive chef to talk about produce. I didn't get to meet the executive chef at my celebratory dinner (which was excellent!) as she was on vacation at the time, but I did get her business card and sent her an email. I didn't hear anything back from her and didn't push the contact since I was still waiting for my vegetables to actually grow. On my first delivery into Toronto at the beginning of September, I stopped by the AGO cafeteria for a snack (their pastry chef makes excellent treats!) and asked the cashier if the executive chef was in and would be available to chat with me about heirloom tomatoes. Surprisingly, she did come down to meet me, and the next week, I brought her an order of Bloody Butcher tomatoes. Since then, I've sold them more heirloom tomatoes (Black Krim and Bloody Butcher), and on today's final delivery, an assortment of root vegetables: Purple Haze and Rainbow carrots, Chiogga Guardsmark and Cylindra beets, and Milan turnips. While none of these orders were particularly large and who knows what will happen for next year, I was excited each time I pulled into the AGO loading dock and walked a package of vegetables to the kitchen. My favourite art gallery served my vegetables to FRANK patrons this season :)

To all those who bought vegetables from me this season...thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed every bite and have discovered or rediscovered a favourite vegetable. I will be inviting you to a survey some time in November/December to help me plan how my vegetable packages will work for next season. As I put my field to bed in the next few weeks, I will be doing all I can to improve its fertility for next year so that hopefully I'll have good vegetable production starting in June instead of September. Of course, the weather will have to cooperate too, so I'll just have to see what happens (what is the new weather norm in this era of climate change anyway?). Hopefully this winter I will be building a portable greenhouse or two for season extension next year and to mitigate against another cool summer.


victoria said...

What a blessing from God indeed! Who knew your connections to the AGO would spur you to become one of the farmers providing FRANK with food? So cool!!!

I haven't yet been, but you've given me a great reason to try their food... maybe next summer, when I'm done school.

Thanks for your reflections - I really appreciate your sharing!

ceci said...

That's awesome! CONGRATS on getting into FRANK! :D