Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Delivery woes

I'm writing this blog as Jeremy drives our vegetable packages into the GTA this week. Our 'suburban' run is a mammoth delivery route, with over 30 stops going from Brampton to Mississauga to Oakville to east Toronto to uptown Toronto to North York. From 7 am departure from the farm to last delivery in North York, the whole run takes almost 12 hours, non-stop. Then we stay overnight in the GTA before making the 2+ hour drive back to the farm the next morning. It's brutal.

Traffic in the GTA this year is worse than the past two seasons. Then, I could drive from central Mississauga to Victoria Park & 401 in about 20 minutes in the 11:30 am to 1 pm window. We tried a similar drive (from western Oakville, which I've regularly driven in the past in 30 min.) twice this year in the same time period and took an hour each time, stuck in traffic on the 401. After the first 2 deliveries with Jeremy to teach him the initial route, I made 3 solo trips, trying alternate highways each time, before settling on our current route, accepting that it couldn't be done by 1 person much under 12 hours. The route changed to using the QEW/427 and then crossing Toronto on deliveries. It's probably not any faster, but feels less soul sucking than sitting in stop and go traffic on the 401, about the ugliest road I've ever seen. I sent Jeremy on his first solo run for delivery #7, after bringing him on #6 to show him the final route. Today, at #8, both of us dread the suburban delivery day.

One new thing we're trying out this week is an off-road break. Whenever I'm on the road, I don't want to take breaks because I'm hoping (foolishly) to beat traffic if I just keep on trucking, and just generally wanting to get the whole thing done with so I can then rest without deliveries hanging over my head. But 12 hours straight without a break just isn't any good. Taking one could make the entire delivery day longer by an hour or 2, but our hope is that the time spent outside of the van and off the road will help rejuvenate for the last deliveries. I'll find out from Jeremy later tonight if it was any help at all.

I'm scheduled to do delivery #9 solo, and both of us will go on the final 10th delivery Nov. 2. We will certainly have a celebratory dinner after that! And next season, a delivery run of 30+ stops just won't happen at all. I don't have the time right now to fully plan out how things will change, but it will involve changing the delivery method from individual home deliveries to drop off points where multiple families come to pick up when they can, and very likely, cutting down on the number of subscribers.

Next season clearly isn't set yet, but even if Jeremy comes back next year, we'll likely have to cut down our subscription base from 40 packages/week to 30-35. Right now, I don't know if that will work out at all financially (this year doesn't quite do so even at 40 subscribers/week), but there's just been too much work this season for 2 people to do without feeling completely burnt out. I went from being a 1 person operation, with 20 packages a week, on a field just under an acre in size, to 2 people with 40, on a new, larger field, producing probably 2.5 times as many vegetables as last season. The packages this year have had more produce in them than previously due to the vegetable bounty, which meant more harvesting than the 2 of us could do without long hours. We both work probably an average of 10 hours/day/6 days a week for 7+ months, much of that quite physical, totalling about 3720 hours for the season. All for a gross income of $30K, maybe netting $15K after business expenses, not including labour costs. I definitely won't have netted enough income after all expenses (max. about $8500) to pay for living costs this year, even trying to be as frugal as possible. So I'll either have to just accept an increase in debt or try to find a temporary job over this winter.

It is quite a dilemma trying to figure out how to farm sustainably. While I certainly don't expect to have a solid answer figured out this early in my farming career, I do know that this year has taught me a lot about how much work is too much work. And how even so-called 'expensive' vegetables don't generate enough revenue to cover the minimum costs of living. I certainly haven't given up on my quest for a farming business that is actually economically, environmentally and physically sustainable, but I'm definitely a long way from that yet. Hopefully as the season ends in November, I'll have a chance to review these past few seasons, looking at things that worked and didn't work and hopefully coming up with ways to be more productive and to generate more income. It has to be possible for farming to actually pay the bills, or how can any new farmers be encouraged to go into farming? Because if we don't get new farmers in the next few years, how are we going to have food to eat? There are definitely days where I really wish I had a partner with an off-farm income so I wouldn't have to shoulder all the costs of owning and maintaining a property on my own, but then I have to remind myself that God led me on this path, and He will truly provide for me. I have no lack of that evidence in my life so far! I just need to remind myself to have faith...and ask everyone to pray for me ;P