Saturday, February 23, 2013

Winter flying by!

I apologize for the extreme gap in blog posting...it's a testament to the craziness that was 2012. I went from a tough, but ultimately successful, vegetable season, to a 2.5 month dream project that's just wrapping up now.

First, last season. I think I've written enough about its difficulties, so I'll just say that many lessons have been learned (will be using a lot more row cover and mulching this year, and trying out a sticky bug trap called Tanglefoot), and in the end, we were able to provide our clients with enough vegetables for the season. Our best crops were tomatoes (many given to clients, and lots sauced and in my freezer) and surprisingly, carrots! I didn't expect the carrots to be so productive given the conditions and Jeremy and I were surprised by a final harvest of almost 400 lbs, instead of the 100 lbs that I was hoping for. I still have a few pounds left in my fridge today.

After our last vegetable delivery on Oct. 31, I spent the next few days sending the laying hens for processing and dealing with animal chores and general farm cleanup. My friend Kristine (a fellow vegetable farmer a bit further north than my farm) contacted me about partnering with her to apply for a project. For over a year now, she and I and a few others have been talking about how it would be great if we could use our academic skills to do research in sustainable agriculture and food systems, the very field in which we work as 'on the ground' farmers. Well, after a couple of weeks of proposal writing and re-writing, we submitted it and crossed our fingers. The week or so leading up to our proposal acceptance was nerve-wracking, with constant email checks to see if there was any news. And then we got the contract and hit the ground running to get all the work done in around 10 weeks.

The project itself was to set up connections between public sector buyers (daycares, homes for the aged, hospitals, schools, universities/colleges) and local producers, to increase the volume of local food purchased by these institutions. In the process, we spoke to many institutions and producers, learning about their needs and capacities, reading many papers on somewhat similar projects in Canada and the U.S., and thinking creatively about ways to address the various gaps we saw. It is certainly no easy task to increase local food purchasing at the city level, as there are many buying and cooking processes to change, and farmers will need to grow more food and invest in new processes themselves, but the city we were working for and its farmers, seem quite keen to make things work. This city has a food charter and an environmental action plan, so there's political will on the one hand and producer willingness on the other - where there's a will, there's a way! I'm definitely rooting for all parties involved as progress with them would be a great example for the rest of Ontario to follow...including my own municipality :)

Right after we wrapped up the project (at least the written part...I'm making a presentation to city council in the next few days as the final piece), I got right onto vegetable planning for this season. I felt it was a bit symbolic for me to place my seed orders for the year on Valentine's Day...a gift for this farm that I love. Next, I need to plan my field layout and schedule in the various plantings that will happen throughout the season. At the same time, marketing material needs updating. I'm aiming for a finalized subscription brochure for send out by the end of February. Then, it's tax time, which should be fairly simple as I've already reconciled all my receipts for the past year (done right after the seed orders were placed).

One thing there hasn't been much time for this winter...a few days for energy recharge after a tough season. Last season, I gave my brain and body a rest with a January of puzzle building and number crunching (I know, spreadsheet work isn't what most people consider to be restful ;P). The excitement generated from working on a project that connects farmers and institutional buyers may do the trick this year instead :)