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