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End of Season Letter, October 2019

If someone had asked me, back in February, to predict the upcoming season, I never would have anticipated the journey that is now drawing to a close. Eight months ago, I had high hopes in the paperpot transplanter and finger weeders, big-ticket purchases with a learning curve to match; I was excited to try new methods of harvesting garlic; I was looking forward to expanding our use of cover crops. While I was somewhat concerned about our ratio of experienced-to-inexperienced staff, I had faith that Steve and I would show the new crew the ropes.

Needless to say, Steve’s cancer threw a big wrench into everything. The transplanter and finger weeders have been gathering dust since May. We managed to follow through on the garlic plan, but only because Dan purchased a new (and very expensive) mower. We hired extra help and put out an S.O.S. for volunteers. We skipped vacations, beach days, and family gatherings to keep up with the harvests that threatened to overwhelm us. Far from receiving a methodical introduction to farming, our crew was baptized by fire.

The most obvious of this year’s many lessons was how much hinges on our tiny labor force—we’re just one car accident, one heart attack, or one cancer away from disaster. In that regard, we’re hardly unique; many small businesses and households are in the same boat. Having come so close to the edge, however, we’re determined build up our defenses for the future. In practical terms, this means taking a critical look at which of our components can still be mechanized. It’s taken us years to build our fleet of tractors, implements, and other machines because we’ve always followed a pay-as-you-go approach. This year, however, we dipped into our personal savings mid-season to purchase a flail mower and potato digger, two machines we hadn’t counted on needing last winter, but which made up the labor short-fall when things got hairy. If nothing else, this season has taught us that while there’s a time and a place for thrift, sometimes you need to spend money to make money. Now it’s our goal to identify the remaining areas where additional mechanization is wise. Of course, there’s no machine that will do all the mulching, harvesting, and washing that goes with this farm. We will always need employees, and even if we didn’t, we wouldn't want to work exclusively with machines. Finding the right balance of human and machine labor, therefore, is now a top priority.

CSA Renewals

Submit renewal by Nov. 15 to qualify

for the bonus Thanksgiving pickup.

cash & check payments receive 3% discount

We’re not out of the woods yet. With two weeks of regular harvests, plus the winter share still ahead, we still have several hurdles to clear.  But it’s October, which means it’s time for CSA renewals and the end-of-the season reflection that we hope will inspire you to throw your chips in with us again…despite (or perhaps because of) all the drama. So here goes.

End of Season Dates

Friday, Nov. 8

Thanksgiving turkey orders due

Friday, Nov. 15

Renewal deadline for

Thanksgiving pickup

Saturday, Nov. 23

Thanksgiving pickup, 9am-2pm

Tuesday, Nov. 26

Thanksgiving pickup, 2–6pm

Of course, the news wasn’t all doom and gloom this season. As a counterweight to our labor woes, the fields delivered a rock star performance. Virtually everything, from the peas, to the zucchini, to the tomatoes, to the greens, was so abundant, you’d think there's something in the water, or the soil, and perhaps there is. Perhaps we got lucky, perhaps a greater being took pity on us, and perhaps we’re reaping the rewards of twelve years spent caring as much for the soil as for the crops. With so many variables at play—sunlight, water, minerals, microbes—any attempt to pinpoint the exact source of one season’s abundance would futile. That said, if harvests continue on this track, I’ll take it as a sign that whatever we’re doing is working, and that we should keep doing it. 

The other bright point in a difficult season was the many ways in which our community came to our aid. I’ve expressed our gratitude in previous newsletters, but it certainly bears repeating. To the family members who chauffeured, fed, and cared for our kids, so Dan and I could work overtime in the fields—thank you!  To the volunteers who heeded the call for help, whether it was weeding winter squash or harvesting potatoes—thank you!  To Lisa and Michael, who never complained about the season’s many challenges—thank you!  To Papa, Judy, Glenn, Donna, Peter, and Anthony, who pitched in however they could, whenever we asked—thank you!  To all our CSA members, who supported us with their words, actions, and goodwill—thank you!  There is no doubt in my mind, we wouldn’t have survived this season without you.

And thank goodness we survived, because 2019 feels like a particularly auspicious time to be a farmer. After decades of languishing on the sidelines, climate change has finally moved to the front and center of what world leaders are talking about. There is the palpable sense that big changes are coming, and agriculture has a leading role to play. To the extent that people must eat, we must grow food, but most farmers are beholden to global markets that only reward the cheapest (i.e. most destructive) forms of production. These markets don’t reward the extra work that make farms sustainable—the cover cropping, mulching, composting, etc. Policy makers who are serious about climate change, therefore, must find a way to support the farmers who have chosen to operate outside these markets—farmers who are already feeding people in a way that is regenerative, but who, like Dan and myself, are one disaster away from ruin. Since the 1980s, when the country’s very first CSAs were formed, small-scale organic farms have survived thanks to principled consumers who accepted the higher prices because they believed in the higher value. These consumers blazed the trail, and now it’s time for our elected officials to take the baton and translate those principles into sweeping policies worthy of the moment. Carbon credits and tax incentives are two simple examples of how farmers can be freed from dependence on market forces. Complicated measures are possible, too. If it can be done for the auto industry and the energy industry, it can be done for the farm industry. Farmers, consumers, and the Earth deserve it, and should demand it.

 

Grandstanding aside, change takes time, and for now, selling CSA shares is how we keep the lights on. Dan and I are grateful to have survived the season, and we’re looking forward to the next round. We hope you’ll experience it with us in 2020.

                                                                                                                            —Caroline

©2007-2019 by Restoration Farmers, LLC. All rights reserved.

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