January Delight

Hallelujah, it’s January, the most optimistic month of the year! Okay, maybe not everyone shares the sentiment (January is rather cold), but as part of the New Year package, the month has more to offer than just frozen toes.

January is when we transfer CSA money from the business savings account to the checking account. The CSA model of collecting money months ahead of harvest, when growers need it most, is the envy many a contractor who’s had to chase down payment long after the job is done. Nevertheless, it is possible to get paid too far in advance. To ensure we don’t overspend at the end of the year, we deposit all CSA renewals collected in the fall into a savings account and keep them there until the New Year. This practice was borne of general sense of fiscal responsibility, and also of a commitment to zero debt. In 2007, Dan and I launched the farm with a combined $50,000 in savings—$45,000 from Dan and $5,000 from myself. Since then, the farm’s operating budget has been funded almost

entirely through vegetable sales. We’re often asked why we don’t take advantage of the low-interest loans, grants, or fundraisers that subsidize many other farms. Our simple answer is that easy money always comes with a price. Like politicians beholden to corporate donors, farmers beholden to outside funding must balance the needs of the farm with the demands of the funders. Ideally, the two would be aligned, but we can recall plenty of instances when they are not. So we hold onto our independence, attending to vegetable sales like the bottom line that it is, tightening our belts when the checking account dips low, and relishing that moment in January when the money rolls over and we feel flush with cash.

This year we’re spending a lot of that cash on the babies—the seedlings, that is. A strong, vigorous seedling stands a fighting chance against pests and disease, but a plant that struggles in the greenhouse will rarely do well in the field. Investing in seedlings is basic common sense that promises a high rate of return. To that end, this year we’re replacing our supply of styrofoam flats with Winstrips, a new type of flat that is fast growing in popularity. In standard flats, as a seedling’s roots grow, they quickly run into the cell wall, at which point they change direction, eventually circling the cell. When the seedling is pulled from the cell for transplanting, the disturbance to these long roots can be traumatic. In fact, “transplant shock” is a well-known condition that can last a week or more. It’s a treacherous time for the plants, when there’s not much margin for error or bad luck. Winstrips, however, dramatically reduce transplant shock, thanks to a unique design that features large drainage holes and narrow slits along the sides of each cell. These openings promote air