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Monday, July 12, 2010

The Joys of Farming

I was going to post a bunch of pictures of the farm but have decided that I need to vent instead about various things having to do with my profession-market farming.

First off our season is pretty sucky. The weather has been either too wet or too dry and always too hot and humid so we can get less done in a day than is needed. This means getting weeds under control has been herculean task. Even the crops planted on mulch need to be weeded. Today i pulled about 200 pounds of crab grass and purslain from 2 beds of peppers. Still have another 7 or 8 to go. Eugene has been using the wheel hoe to weed the beds that are not cover with landscape fabric whenever it is dry enough to use a hoe but before the ground resembles concrete. I believe we have 4 days with those conditions in the past 6 weeks but, of course it was very hot and humid on those day with highs in the upper 90's.

Because of the hot humid conditions we have loads of Japanese beetles eating and copulating. I have become Ms Coitus Interruptus as I kill any mating JB's I come across and can get my hands (AKA deadly weapons, as far as the past bugs are concerned). We also are getting hit with various soil born diseases on the tomatoes. I did hit them with grapefruit seed extract a week ago and that really did a number on the various fungii attacking the maters but the rain early this morning made whatever was not destroyed by the GSE bloom abundantly so now there are many yellowing mater plants where yesterday there were 3. By many I mean around 50 to 75. At least most the plants have fruit on them so we should get a lot of maters in another 2 to 4 weeks. And I am not too worried about this as we get this blighty ick that is neither early or late blight but still kills the plants by September problem every year.

On top of that our tillage equipment is broken and Eugene so far cannot figure out what is wrong and the BCS manual is of little help other than the fascinating photos of various parts exploded so you can see the individual parts but absolutely no explanation of what they are, do or where they should actually go in order to make the machine run. I would say this is the polar opposite of a Chilton's Manual. Maybe this is Italy's revenge for losing WWII and any other complaints they have towards us Merkins.

So for the past month we have been using hand tools to keep beds weeded and prepped for planting. At some point Eugene will give up on trying to figure the problem(s) out himself and push the 450 pound 2 wheeled tractor up a hill and into the van and take it to the Arcanum Hardware store where they have a guy who works on BCS equipment. Hopefully that person can figure out what is wrong and order the parts needed and than we will wait 2 to 4 weeks for the parts to come in as they come from Italy and it always takes a while for them to send the parts to us.

Betty has been good for a dog her age which means she has not destroyed all the market garden but she is trying. She did in a lot of green beans killing a young raccoon who was doing a huge number on the Latham raspberries the past week. Since the bean patch was the first one of the year and old and we have 5 others just about ready to bear fruit this was not a big deal. And we would rather lose 20% of a green bean bed than 50% of our raspberry canes (and God knows what else) to a coon. But than again the raspberries have been a bit of a disappointment. various things are killing them and we have lost 100' this year to borers, fusarium and perhaps pythium. so that means the raspberry harvest is way down. but it turns out that is not such a bad thing because our sales, despite having the only raspberries in the region and dropping our price 33% are way down this over the past 5 to to years. I guess people just don't want poison free red raspberries anymore, I don't know. But I do know that in the past, the raspberries were one of our main revenue generators for this time of year.

And that bring me to our marketing. our sales are down across the board. we don't get a lot of people coming into the store and more and more the ones who do come buy nothing because the think the prices are too high (and generally are pretty damned rude about it too). If we lower them any more we will be back to making around $2 a hour and will no longer be able to pay the mortgage, gas and electric and will have to get rid of the farm. the CSA is beginning to get more members and it seems that most seem interested in doing it again next year but we have less than half the members we had at this point last year. I really think the fake CSA-companies that buy and resell food, claim to offer local food but rarely do and even when they do it is less than 15% of what the sell-have taken a large share of our market. And the sad thing is I personally know people who have joined them and have told me proudly the are CSA members. Sorry folks, but if you buy food from one of those fake CSA you are not participating in a CSA that grows all of it's food, and the members share in the risk and bounty of their CSA farm. It distresses me that people who should "get it" do not. Some of the people I know who use these services work closely with farmers markets and local farmers. Just makes me shake my head. Such disconnect. But I guess price and convenience always trumps the real deal of picking up food freshly harvested at the farm and getting to talk to the people that grow the food you will eat.

The positive thing about this season's CSA is our members. I really like all of them and I really enjoy puytting together the shares and news letter for them every week. Oh and despite issues with weather and the garden we have had some really great shares this year (pretty much all of them)

The farmers market in Oxford is taking a turn for the worst. Overall our sales are way down despite the fact we were able to harvest 1/2 of our asparagus full and the other half 30% this year meaning we had about double the asparagus we have ever had in the past. We also grew and sold a lot of lettuce which made May a good month for us. But June and July have not been so good. I think there are several factors going on. 1) there are 2x or 3x as many farmers and no increase in customers walking through the market, because 2) they banned dogs from market which has lead to a marked decrease in customer traffic the past 3 weeks (a lot of people were royally pissed off over this decision by the market board which I agreed with at the time, and I believe are boycotting the market.) 3) The market is getting too crafty/artsy and the farmers are losing importance. It seem that the Oxford Farmers Market Uptown is more of a social event than a place to buy locally raised foods. 4)There are more and more people selling prepared foods at market which is great for the customers but I do not believe many, if any, are sourcing the ingredients locally from us growers so that too is cutting into our bottom line. And finally, 5) we seem to be in an economic depression and people percieve farmers markets as places where food is very expensive. And This is true for some things (usually things you cannot get normally at Kroger's or Wal-Mart, like 45 different kinds of heirloom tomatoes, or other heirloom fruits and veggies that cannot take the handling to be sold at any chain. But for most things the prices are the same or even less for food that is a whole lot better.

These are just some of the joys of farming.


Kate Cook said...

I am right there with you, Lucy. I found out recently that my neighborhood farmer's market has plenty of room for re-sellers, crafters and prepared foods, but does not have room for produce grown less than 5 miles from the market site, even though I am growing some unique varieties not found on the other farmers' tables.
I'm learning that the educative part (ie, farmer educating >potential< market) of being a farmer is much more integral to the success of the business than I had originally imagined. Good thing I'm not shy!

Thanks, Lucy, for your perspective. I am certainly grateful for the education you've afforded me from your experiences.



My Edible Yard said...


Is it possible to petition the Board of the OFM to require the sellers of homemade food to use locally-sourced ingredients? I think that would be important to the integrity of the market.

Also, has the Board noticed that traffic is down due to the no dogs rule? They may want to re-think that.

I'm glad you air all this stuff on your blog. People need to know.


Anonymous said...

Lucy, Stay strong. Almost everyone I have talked to say that this is one of (or the) most challenging years in the past decade. The weather is AWFUL, although members see the warm temps as "good." Bugs are out of control (at least for us) I will see your Japenese Beetles and raise you Cucumber bettles and flea beetles!

We are seeing the same "Third party" CSA thing here in the Cleveland area. It is SO frusterating. I want to yell, IF YOU DON'T KNOW YOUR FARMER YOU ARE NOT IN A CSA.