Thursday, August 30, 2012

Once in a Blue Moon...

It's starting to feel like I only get a chance to write a blog once in a blue moon...which we'll actually have for real Friday night! Much has happened since my last, rather downtrodden, blog post. First off, there has been rain :) And the weather cooled down a bit, though the next few days are forecast to be scorchers. We're still irrigating regularly in the field, but after the big rainstorms from a few weeks ago, the field looks much perkier! Many crops have been set back by around 3-4 weeks, but hopefully September will be a month with lots of veggies to harvest.

I'm feeling much less stressed about this season, as the last couple weeks have had full vegetable packages, with extras to start making up for the lack in the drought weeks. The beans are starting to come into full production, the chard is getting lush, and the tomatoes are ripening nicely. At first, most of the tomatoes were really cracked and scarred, but the newer ones ripening now are looking much better. And of course, the Sun Sugar tomatoes are being the stars I've come to count on. We also haven't found any more tomato horn worms lately...knock on wood.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure the cucurbits (zucchinis, cucumbers, winter squash, pumpkins) will end up producing much at all this season, though I still have my fingers crossed. The potatoes so far have yielded about 1/4 of last year's, and the sweet corn might be a write off. The edamame is late to ripen, but the pods are set and filling right now so I hope they're harvestable this coming week or the next.

Fall salad, spinach & bok choy greens have been seeded so I hope they'll come in well for packages in late September and October. The various brassicas (kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, etc.) look to be recovering from flea beetle now, so I'll have to see if anything is harvestable from them by late September/October.

I had a cover crop seeding party with my neighbours last Friday that saw 7 people hand seed just over 2 acres with barley, oats & white clover in about half an hour. It rained a tiny bit on Monday which I hoped would be enough to germinate the seeding, but now I'm hoping that more rain will be coming soon...before various birds and rodents eat up the seeds ;P

Overall, things are looking up. Having more vegetables to harvest means more work, but having that work has definitely raised my energy levels and spirits! Just in time too as the farm's open house is this Sunday :)

This long weekend is going to be a crazy one as I'll be at the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic at Christie Lake on Saturday with a farmer's market stall. I'm mostly looking forward to the concert lineup (with Feist, Daniel Lanois, Emmylou Harris, Sarah Harmer, etc.), but if the event is anything like last year's, it will be really lovely and relaxing and many vegetables will be sold. I hope to get back to the farm after the event by around 2 am...and then finish prepping for the open house around 9/10 am. Since we knew that this weekend would be crazy, Jeremy and I have been slowly sprucing up various parts of the farm over the past couple weeks in preparation. Lots of mowing, thistle cutting and barn sweeping has been going on.

Now I just have to think of some appropriate Blue Moon activity for tomorrow...perhaps the fennel can finally get weeded ;P


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Feeling blue

Today is a low day for me. Probably not a good time to write a blog post, but if this blog is to be authentic, the lows have to be written about too. And hopefully the writing process will be cathartic.

Why is it a low day? Essentially, I'm exhausted. This season has been even harder work than usual, and in extreme heat, which I've never been good at tolerating. For every hour that I stay out of the most severe middle of the day hot sun, the list of field work that needs to be done just piles up and seems like an unachievable mountain peak. And then I stand at the farmers' market once a week with whatever vegetables I'm able to bring, and have to explain how our prices for bok choy aren't as low as Chinatown's, because we grow all the vegetables organically, with almost no machine power, and just the manual labour of two people. Two people who once all the numbers are in, are probably paid less than $2/hour for their work.

I live below the poverty line, work long daylight hours outside in a hot field, spend evening hours on the computer recording data and performing customer service tasks, and then sell the vegetables produced at a cost that's essentially subsidized by my savings from 10+ years working in the financial industry. And I'm told on many fronts that my vegetables are too expensive, as the person walks away to buy a $4 iced latte from a coffee shop down the street. I have no issue with the iced latte being $4, but I don't appreciate that in people's minds a bag of ultra fresh bok choy, harvested from the field the day before, is not worth that much.

Some days I really really hate the fact that we North Americans expect food to be cheap. We absolutely do not want to understand that the global food system runs on unjust labour practices and environmental degradation. We have access to and excesses of whatever kinds of food we can dream of in North America because we exploit the labour of people in developing countries with much lower wage costs and unfair labour laws, and environmental laws that don't match our own (not much better) regulations. The labour exploitation happens in Canada too, with agricultural migrant worker programs that are often severely abused. And yet, without those migrant worker programs, there wouldn't be enough willing labour in Canada to do the work to grow the food. So...we don't want to do the hard work of producing the food, and we don't want to pay a fair price for the food that others work hard to produce.

Of course, this problem isn't exclusive to farming...it exists in many areas. But I'm in farming, so that's the field that I know best right now, and I'm choosing to do the hard manual labour, and I'm trying my best to charge a reasonable price for the vegetables that are produced. The majority of my clients understand this and appreciate all the work that goes into growing vegetables for them, but there's still a small percentage that complains that they're not getting enough vegetables for their money. Normally, I take these complaints in stride and try to explain why my vegetable prices can't be compared with the grocery store, hoping that one more person is educated about the unjustness of food prices, but in this gruelling season, I just end up crying. Not a helpful reaction :(

Yesterday at market, while I was away for a couple hours helping a friend move, Jeremy ended up in a half hour conversation with a Mandarin-speaking woman who complained about our vegetable prices being too high. Jeremy managed, even through the language barrier, to explain that we don't farm the same way as the farms that export cheap vegetables and what that means. By the end of the conversation, this woman wasn't talking about prices anymore but said she was interested in visiting the farm. I don't know if she'll make it out here for that visit, but she's certainly welcome if she does!

It's especially great to me to hear that Jeremy was able to wax eloquent on this subject, because over the past couple seasons, we've had many an argument over vegetable prices, because it's just so ingrained in both of us that vegetables should be cheap. But then we look at the overall farm budget and the labour hours we put in and the little bit of net cash that remains at the end of the season, and we have to admit that we just can't sell the vegetables for any cheaper. The response of our farmers' market neighbour (refers to himself as a truck farmer as he buys Ontario grown produce from the Food Terminal and resells it at the market) is that we just have to get more mechanized (i.e. tractor), specialize more (i.e. monocropping) and buy crop insurance. Exactly the route I'm trying to avoid. Another response is that we need to get more volunteer labour. Volunteer labour = unpaid labour. Great, what a fair solution to our problems ;P

Outside the 'solvable' labour shortage problem, there are environmental issues. This year, that means drought and extreme pest pressure. I pray for rain every moment of every day...it's a constant litany at the back of my head. And I'm feeling cursed by flea beetles, grasshoppers, earwigs and cucumber beetles. A couple weeks ago, I opened the row cover on the napa cabbage bed to weed it and see how it was doing. It looked like some heads would be ready for harvest soon, so I left the row cover off for harvest in the next few days thinking that the flea beetle population was pretty low at the time. Well, it seems that the flea beetle population cycled up to extremely high within that time and while I was able to harvest 40+ mostly undamaged napa heads, the same won't be said for all the rest (300+) as flea beetles have moved in. And there's no way to get them out to put the row cover back on. And the cucumber beetle...Jeremy and I waged war diligently against them for weeks, spending at least an hour first thing each morning crushing them on each plant (15 x 125' long beds of cucumbers, zucchinis, squashes & pumpkin), but then we had to get into the routine of vegetable harvest and delivery and just couldn't spend that time any more. So cucumber beetle is just everywhere and the plants are all struggling to survive both the bug damage and drought. We have had to resort to laying irrigation lines for them (something I've never had to do for squashes before) in hopes that they can then survive the cucumber beetle.

Irrigation itself is not as simple as I would have liked. The amount of water pressure that gets to the field allows for 20 lines to be on, which is about 10 beds of vegetables at a time. The lines are left on for 8 hours, from 4 pm to 12 am. Either Jeremy or I have to stay up to go turn off the water at midnight as we haven't had a chance to get a water timer yet (everywhere around here is essentially a 1 hour round trip and the last place I went was out of stock). Then we wait a day and irrigate the next round of beds. I wait a day to give my well a chance to recharge from all the water coming out of it. That's perhaps unnecessary, but I have no idea how much water is in my well and am quite afraid of running it dry. And we've run out of lines for all the beds because in previous years I haven't needed to lay drip line for everything. So it's past time to order more irrigation equipment, a cost which wasn't originally budgeted for this year.

These days, along with prayers for rain, I'm also asking for a very cold and snowy winter so that pests can be killed off and the water table can be recharged ;P We're only 1/4 of the way through our delivery weeks and I'm already looking forward to winter :(

I certainly didn't get into organic farming looking for an easy ride. Or to turn into a pessimist or whiner (as much as it may seem that way from this post!). So hopefully this will act as a steam release valve and I can move on and just keep plugging away at the work without feeling so sensitive to the slightest criticisms. I need to remind myself of all the positive comments and support we get from clients. It always kills me that a single criticism seems to wipe out the many more positive comments. Clearly, I need to grow a thicker skin.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Biodiversity


This week, Jeremy and I started our vegetable deliveries into the GTA. We harvested and packaged bok choy, spinach, leeks and salad greens all Monday and most of Tuesday, and then packed up the van to drive in to Toronto. The roads were clear sailing until we reached the 401, where we slowed to a crawl all the way to the 427 and down to the Gardiner. Doesn't bode well for Toronto traffic this year :(

We made some Tuesday night deliveries before settling in at a friend's for the night, and spent Wednesday morning walking around the downtown core with our carts of vegetables. After lunch, we arrived at the Scadding-Kensington Farmers' Market (Dundas & Bathurst) to set up our market stand. I left Jeremy there to tend the market while I made some last vegetable deliveries before returning. At 7 pm, we packed up our market materials and then spent the next hour in traffic, trying to get out of Toronto to return to the farm. We got home around 10:30 pm.

A rather gruelling start to the week, but on the ride home, from 9-10 pm, we listened to IDEAS on CBC with the topic 'Buying Into Biodiversity'. I found this to be an inspiring episode as it was a panel discussion moderated by IDEAS host Paul Kennedy of various environmental scientists who were at the 2012 Muskoka Environmental Summit. From the Summit's communique: “Biodiversity refers to the variety of life on Earth. It emcompasses all living things and their relationships to each other, and unites species, ecosystems, and ecological functions. Biodiversity is about being connected – all species, including humans, depend on each other to survive...There are multiple threats to biodiversity, globally and locally. The threats include population growth, climate change, unsustainable use of the Earth's resources (including water and air), invasive species, and pollution. Together, these fragment or destroy ecosystems, endanger species and cause ecosystem services to deteriorate...We need an economy in sync with ecological limits, which means market signals and economic incentives that direct us towards ecological sustainability.”

Two main points that really struck me from the panel discussion were these. One, that the public needs to be informed enough to care enough to pressure our politicians, our society, to change. This means that the science needs to be easily understood and it has to touch people deeply enough to motivate people to action. One scientist on the panel discussed how butterflies, so loved by many for their beauty and grace, could be used as a touchstone of sorts to explain how things are changing in our environment and the consequences to them, as a micro example of what's happening with most other species too. Second, that though the scientific message of climate change, environmental degradation, etc., may seem like doom and gloom that any of us as individuals are powerless to change, that this is simply not the case. While we should certainly look at the global picture, it's individual, local changes, adding up all over the world, that will actually make the difference.

Listening to this program reminded me of what is at the heart of the way I farm. I didn't leave a financially stable life in Toronto to grow gourmet vegetables on a picturesque farm...I followed my calling to grow food in an environmentally sustainable way. This may mean my vegetables are smaller, or yield less, or have holes in them where bugs have taken bites. This means that I use green manure cover crops and compost to bring fertility to my field. This means that I manage weeds by hand or hoe or mower, that I fight pest insects with my squashing fingers or row cover to keep them off. I choose to do most of my field preparation with a rototiller and limit tractor work on my field, for various compaction and gas guzzling reasons. I also try to avoid rototilling too much to preserve the life that is under the surface of the soil. These are all things that I've chosen to do at my farm because I want to prioritize enhancing biodiversity. I grow many types of vegetables, each with many varieties. And I love seeing all the different kinds of plants, insects and animals that are at my farm. This is my local change. What I do is a drop in the bucket of what's needed to mitigate climate change or to increase biodiversity, but it's more than nothing. And if all of us did something that was more than nothing, the world would change.

Currently, the federal Conservative government is trying to pass a budget bill that would make it easier for us to all ignore the science, to put our heads in the sand, to reduce the measuring of our human impact on our environment so that we can make more money. I make almost no money now, but I hope that what I do is saving for the environment. Because we all live in it, and the next generation has to live in it. I have a niece, and my friends have children, and I may have children myself one day. If we continue to extract money from the environment now with no resources put back into it for the future, then our children should be cursing us for our greed.

My hope is that we all do something, no matter how small, because everything starts somewhere. First, we need to be informed. Frankly, anyone who's still in denial about the reality of climate change and environmental degradation from human activity just doesn't want to feel any responsibility for it. Because we don't want to feel guilty. Who cares about feelings of guilt? Or our inadequacy in the face of such enormous problems? No matter what you do, someone out there's doing more or doing less than you. So we all need to just pick something to do, and do it. Maybe the something is actually participating in democracy by voting or telling your MP or MPP or city counsellor how you feel about issues, and holding them accountable to what you voted for them to do. Maybe it's going out to a protest or writing a letter, making a phone call, signing a petition or donating money to a cause. Maybe it's entering into public service yourself. Maybe it's paying more attention to the things you buy, where they come from, how they're produced, and choosing to buy or not to buy things as a result. Maybe it's showing your children where food is actually grown, or teaching them how to cook. Maybe it's learning how to cook yourself. Clearly, the list of 'something' is very long.

I just quickly checked the news headlines and it appears that the Conservatives have managed to keep their budget bill intact. I've found the past few years of Canadian politics very depressing. Harper winning a majority government is probably the only thing I've cried about since coming to the farm. Apparently, my fellow Canadians believe that less government, lower taxes, and more natural resource extraction are the way to go. I believe in a cooperative government that takes the long view, taxes that are well spent towards long-term goals, and the protection of our natural resources. I can't say how my view will ever be reality, but in the meantime, I'll steward my little piece of land as best I can.

Friday, May 25, 2012

To have or not to have chickens...

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of field preparation (rock picking, compost spreading, rototilling, mowing), seedling starting, direct seeding and sheep pen moving. Last week, the farm suffered the loss of 3 of the 4 chickens I had kept over winter at the farm. Over the winter, the chickens had become completely free ranging, even choosing to roost very high up in my drive shed. And no predators came. But last week, that changed. One night, the little silkie rooster (Yeti) was taken. Jeremy and I followed his feather trail up the ridge and found his carcass. The next day, 2 hens were taken, one from the little nest she was sitting on, brooding an egg (I was looking forward to a chick) and the other from the barnyard, in broad daylight, right where Jeremy and I walk back and forth to the field throughout the day. That night, I put a large dog crate into my enclosed front porch, caught my last remaining hen, and put her in there for the night.

Her new overnight roosting spot on my porch keeps her safe, but each day when I let her out, I worry that something will get her. That something is most likely a raccoon, but I can't be sure. My last remaining hen is a smart one though, and tends to stick closer to the house and hangs around underfoot when Jeremy or I are around. The other day, I potted up garden plants with the hen hanging out right beside me. And after a couple nights of being put in the front porch, she now comes in on her own, usually around 7:30 pm.

So now I'm debating if I will get any more laying hens this year. They couldn't all stay in my front porch, and there would still be the risk of predation when they're let out during the day. A predator proof outdoor area for the chickens would involve purchasing enough electrified poultry fencing to give them a large enough area to roam (likely a few hundred dollars in cost). Getting a farm dog to keep away predators would incur the cost of the dog, vet fees, and a whole lot of discipline on my part to train it properly not to eat the chickens or run out onto the road. And I would still probably have to trap and kill any predators that came sniffing around.

Last year I lost 7 chickens to a raccoon after many different attempts to secure the chickens' environment. Jeremy and I managed to tree it one day when it attempted to take another chicken, and spent hours trying to shoot it out of the tree with a slingshot. It eventually got away, but we saw a raccoon as roadkill just up the road from the farm that afternoon, and didn't have any more chicken killing attempts after that. I'm considering borrowing a live trap from farmer friends, but then if a raccoon was trapped, I'd have to figure out how to kill it humanely. Not an easy thing without a gun :(

Right now, I'm inclined towards not having chickens. Last year, since so many were killed, I actually lost money on them. But I so very much enjoy eating eggs from my own farm where the chickens free range for snacks. The egg yolks are brilliantly orange, rich and tasty! So I'm torn right now. If I do want to keep laying hens, I would have to invest in a few rolls of electric poultry fencing, a cost which could not be recouped with a flock of only 20 chickens. Selling the eggs really only covers the cost of their feed. And I'd still have to trap the predator...and any new ones that come after the first one's removed. Sigh...how much is it worth to me to eat eggs produced at my own farm? I'll have to decide soon as the farm I usually get my second year layers from will likely be selling off that flock at the beginning of June.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

First lamb born at Black Sheep Farm!

Sunday morning, I woke up to a wonderful surprise...a little black lamb! I had been looking at Agnes closely all winter and especially in February/March, looking for signs of pregnancy. By mid-March, I had concluded that she definitely wasn't pregnant from the rams in her flock before coming to my farm at the beginning of November. And since I hadn't seen anything resembling mating between Agnes and Ramses (not that I ever watched them all day ;P), I just assumed that all chances for a spring lamb were gone.

Now I understand first-hand why sheep farmers get surprise lambs. It really is impossible to see when a first-time ewe is actually pregnant. Saturday morning, before I left for an all-day hike at Lion's Head (gorgeous!), I had given Agnes and Ramses their grain as usual and saw absolutely no change in behaviour or body form for Agnes. No loss of appetite, no jutting hip bones, no udder filling. Just the same fleecy sheep that I'd been looking at for months! Back when I had been on lamb watch in Feb/March, I had checked her back end regularly for any swelling, redness, mucous, etc. I wonder if any of those signs would have been present Saturday morning if I had checked.

I got home from the hike after dark and headed straight into the house for the night. If I had gotten a flashlight and gone to check on the sheep, I bet there would have been a lamb there for me to see. Jeremy brought the sheep their grain on Sunday morning and was flabbergasted to see a little black lamb following Agnes. He couldn't believe his eyes and wondered if maybe I had bought a lamb on Saturday when he wasn't around. I certainly woke up in a hurry Sunday morning with Jeremy's cries of 'Agnes gave birth!'.

First look at ewe & lamb Sunday morning

Agnes is a wonderful natural mother. Clearly, she gave birth on her own, with no difficulty, and has great mothering instincts. She's always checking on her lamb and he seems to have no trouble feeding from her even though I still can't see her udder. If I get her sheared in early June, I hope I'll be able to see it then. The lamb would still be suckling from her so milk production should continue. Agnes is a meat breed though, so chances are her teats are very small and not particularly conducive to hand milking ;P

I was in a bit of a panic Sunday after the discovery of the lamb, as I didn't have any selenium on hand to inject him with (since I wasn't expecting him and didn't want to buy a supply that might expire before I had made the slightest dent in it). White muscle disease is common in this area as the soil (and therefore the grass/hay) might be deficient in selenium, so to avoid any chance of losing ruminants (calves/lambs/goat kids are all susceptible) they get injected with selenium as close to birth as possible. Sometimes the mothers are treated over their pregnancies as well (I provided the sheep with free choice minerals to eat that included the mineral).

I went to the farm co-op store in Chesley on Monday morning, only to discover that they were completely out of selenium and that there seemed to be shortage for re-ordering! They called the local vet for me to see if they had any, and luckily they did. But I had to buy a 100 ml bottle. Given that a newborn lamb gets a sub-cutaneous/ intramuscular injection of 0.25 ml, clearly I have a lot of it left ;P

I was a bit nervous about doing the injection, but it turned out to be a cinch. The last time I had spent any times with needles and injections was for my 4th year thesis project in university! Now I feel much relieved as I've warded off the main threat to little lamb's health. But being a first-time lamb farmer, I definitely check up on him and Agnes regularly. Any time he's lying down, I worry that he's dead until I can see him breathe. I guess this isn't much different about how I feel around human newborns either ;P They just seem like such fragile new creatures that I certainly won't stop feeling nervous until he's at least a month or so old. And it's not even as if he seems at all delicate. In fact, he looks like a wonderfully sturdy and energetic little lamb. So I should probably not worry so much.


 Me holding the lamb

Ewe & lamb after Agnes had her grain treat
 
Yvonne holding the lamb
 
Jeremy holding the lamb
 
Agnes & the lamb among the daffodils

Next step is to come up with a name for this little ram. I'll have to see what personality emerges in the next few days. And I'll stop watching him, Agnes and Ramses so much. After all, there's lots of farm work to be done! Jeremy and I (with Yvonne's help while she's been visiting) have been adding compost to vegetable beds and rototilling in preparation for our first seedings scheduled for tomorrow (weather permitting). We'll also be starting our first seedlings in soil blocks tomorrow, so this season's work has started in earnest!

Friday, March 9, 2012

2012 Vegetable Subscriptions now available!

After allowing last year's vegetable subscribers the first chance to resubscribe, I'm opening up to new subscribers! The set up is essentially the same as previous years, with the major change being more pick up locations as opposed to individual home deliveries. This mostly just affects suburban neighbourhoods as they will have to stop at another home to pick up their vegetables when they might have had direct home delivery in the past. With continuously rising gas costs and the insanity of last year's suburban delivery run, we need to cut down on the number of individual stops we make.

The subscription has also been simplified in that it's a straight 10 deliveries over 20 weeks, for a total cost of $400, instead of having to wait to confirm a start date, and therefore how long the season will be in the end. And the amount of vegetables in packages from week to week may vary more, depending on what's available each week, averaging out to a value of $35 in vegetables per week over the season. So if one week's package has less vegetables, that will be made up in another week.

We're also not growing any eggplant, peppers or melons this year. They just haven't produced at all reliably in the last three seasons, so very few people even got to eat any of them anyway. Jeremy will grow some different varieties of each in his own plantings, so hopefully we'll have some to bring to farmers' markets with us if they turn out.

My sister has again put together a beautiful brochure for me this year (see below), which I will be distributing in select neighbourhoods over the next little while. Hopefully that will drum up some interest in those areas so our delivery route can become more concentrated.

Fingers crossed that word of mouth, email forwarding, brochure/postcard papering and coffee shop posters will get us enough subscribers for this year!


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Article published about Ramses & Agnes!

One of the things I've been inspired to do this winter is to submit an essay about my experiences with Ramses and Agnes to the Globe & Mail's Facts & Arguments section. I wrote it at the end of January and hit submit on the email to the editor with fingers crossed that my little story about sheep might be amusing enough to be accepted. A few weeks later, I got a reply and as of now, my essay's been published!

As you can imagine, I'm pretty excited about this. And have been shamelessly self-promoting as a result ;P I just had a lot of fun writing the piece and thinking about all the great things about having Ramses and Agnes around, that it was just such a thrill to be accepted. Definitely a good energy boost for a rather lackluster 'winter' so far. There hasn't been enough snow for any snow shoeing yet this year :(

The article can be reached as a link in the title above, or here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/the-essay/my-birthday-gift-to-myself-a-little-black-sheep/article2342595/

Enjoy!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Reflection on the 2011 growing season

I can't believe how long it's been since I last updated this blog! After having finally, but not quite, caught up on sleep from the frenzied activity of last year, I can reflect on what went right and what went wrong with the farm in 2011.

In case it wasn't evident from last year's few blog posts, 2011 was a crazy busy season for the farm. More delicious vegetables were harvested from the field than ever before and their overall taste and quality were a joy.

The season didn't start off that way...it started off rather frighteningly cold and wet, making me wonder if there would ever be enough vegetables to fulfill sold subscriptions. Then came weeks of sun (a near drought for much of southern Ontario) that necessitated the use of irrigation. But that heat and sun produced lots of vegetables, definitely more summer squash than anyone really wanted ;P

So that's the first thing I'm thankful for, the field produced lots of vegetables! Of course, there were some crop losses (onions, leeks, most brassicas), but overall, it was a relatively bumper year for the farm. And those vegetables were tasty. Now that it's deep winter, I've had to buy a few staples from the grocery store, like organic carrots. These store-bought carrots lack anything resembling flavour or sweetness compared to the carrots that were grown at the farm! I've been dipping into the few frozen vegetables I managed to have time to put away for the winter, and their deliciousness reminds me of how lucky I am. So, for 2011...yay for great vegetables!

The other major thing I'm thankful for: that I survived having my first farm intern. I had no idea what I was getting into, having another person at the farm, spending almost every waking hour working with me. We're lucky we didn't kill each other by the end of the season. While it was much more challenging than I had anticipated (in terms of planning, explaining myself, just expending the energy of communicating with another person all day), things worked out well enough that Jeremy will be returning this year for another season at the farm.

I am also hugely thankful for all the new and returning clients I had last year. The one highlight of making deliveries into Toronto every week, was the chance to see and talk with clients on deliveries. Their enthusiasm for the vegetables and interest in how the farm was doing were a huge encouragement to me. Having this farm/eater connection is one of the major reasons why I started farming in the first place! The yearly open house in September brought out lots of visitors and I was pleased to serve snacks made mostly from farm produce. And overall, I had tons of visitors throughout the year, which was wonderful! Looking over my calendar, there were over 35 different visits to the farm throughout the year, from day trips to week long visits, not even counting open house visitors. In addition to driving into Toronto to deliver vegetables over 20 weeks, I certainly didn't lack in social interaction this past year ;p

The major negative lesson I learned in 2011...30+ delivery locations in one day is just insane! That definitely has to change for this year. I will have to have more drop off locations for people to pick up from and fewer, if any, individual drop offs. Unfortunately, this may lead to losing some clients, but I'm hoping most of them will be ok with going somewhere close to their work/home to pick up their vegetables, because if I have to make as many deliveries as last year, I will not last at farming.

And that lesson goes hand in hand with "doubling production/clients isn't only double the work".  Realistically, more than double the amount of vegetables were planted/harvested than in previous years, as any of you who were vegetable clients would know. You definitely got more vegetables in your packages than in 2010! I went from a 1 person, 0.75 acre vegetable field, with about 20 vegetable packages per week operation, to 2 people, 2 acres and 40 packages a week. To try and make sure that there were more than enough vegetables each week for 40 packages, I planted an additional 20%. Add to that working with a new person (thankfully who works super hard!), and you can imagine how busy things were.

For 2012, the farm is going to stay about the same size, 40 clients per week, with 2 acres of planted vegetables. We're also going to try adding a Toronto area weekly farmers' market. Jeremy and I have some new production ideas which will hopefully make things more efficient and vegetable growth a bit more predictable. That said, we'll have to keep our fingers crossed for the weather. In my three growing seasons at this farm, each one has been completely different from the last, as have the winters! So there's really no telling what the weather will be like this year...the new norm in our climate change reality.

This winter so far has been somewhat busier than I expected. I need to deal with more wood chores since I'm not leaving the farm at all this winter (no Christmas One-of-a-Kind show with my sister, or other random short trips). This is because I now have two sheep, Ramses and Agnes, to look after. I'm quite excited (and scared!) at the prospect of lambing in February, though that's in no way guaranteed as I still can't tell if Agnes is actually pregnant or not. Taxes need to be filed, budgets finalized, seed orders placed, fields planned, tools bought (this year's major tool purchase will be a 20-block step-in soil block maker, to save time compared with the hand held 4-block maker!) and various winter home and barn fixing jobs need to be completed. And of course, marketing for this year's vegetable subscriptions needs to start in the next few weeks. I can't believe how quickly time flies by!

In a nutshell, 2011 was really crazy because there were tons of great vegetables and lots of socializing. Who can really ask for better reasons to be so tired? Here's to 2012, still with tons of vegetables (but more efficient production techniques!) and even more social interaction. Book your farm visits soon as I'd love to see you all here :D