Mid Summer Report – 2014
The Mid-Summer Report:
It is hard to believe that the end of July is upon us and though we have achieved a lot so far this season, what is most exciting is how much we have to look forward to. The hard work of the crew, led by our diligent manager, Jed Borken (5th year at the farm), and the “core four “– Jason Depecol (4th year), Dana Jackson (5th or 6th), Will O’Meara (4th year), and John Charles (2nd year)– have truly brought the farm into the best shape in our twenty-five year history. With Patrick and Quincy overseeing the business and the crew running the fields, the season so far is off to a fine start.
Let us back up a minute and recap the spring before proceeding with the harvest to come. It was a cold, damp, and rather grim start to the growing season after a winter of heavy snow and as such we got off to a slower start in the fields then we had hoped for. However, the field tunnel we got last year meant that we were selling greens at market earlier then we ever have. And, as in previous years, we had great support from our Taft School program getting the early seedlings planted. We also changed up the out-sourced propagation program from previous years. We worked with Gilberties in Easton (CT) with our tomato transplants. They replaced Couch Brook Farm (Mass). We once again retained the services of Full Bloom (MASS) for all our early greens transplants. Our new greenhouses (curtsy of a grant from NCRS and coming later this year) should put an end to the out-sourcing in the future years.
By May the crew had been assembled for the season and we also took on several part time crewmembers that work between 10-20 hours per week with us. They are employed mainly on harvesting days. One who is back for a second year is Lindsay Jenkinson, and she has taken on a role somewhere in between full and part time. She is a valuable asset to the farm, we are glad to have her back. Our core group handles the part timer management, freeing up Jed and Q to focus on the larger daily decisions. As with any entity that swells during certain periods of the year, we have to stay focused on how many people we are using and make sure to be as efficient as possible. So far it’s working well.
Happily, since the end of May the weather has been very good for growing. When it has rained, it has done so mainly at night, and that has been lucky for us since our irrigation system is pretty draconian. There have been some issues with pests, and certainly some crop loss due to disease and infestation over the past three months. However, with rigorous planting and a rotation schedule we have managed to trick many of said pests. Our inputs have also been minimal so far this season. Always a good thing.
The CSA program remains a major focus for us here at the farm. This year we grew the membership by nearly twenty percent, and we will continue such robust growth over the next five years. The goal is 300 CSAs by 2018. The feedback has been really excellent so far and that has much to do with the execution and variety. In fact, in the twenty-five years since we first started the CSA we have never had such positive feedback. Congrats to the crew for this, it is all due to their hard work and planning.
Farmers markets have been a little trickier this season then in years past. Our main market, Wooster Square in New Haven, continues to grow and we are one of the most popular stalls there. Patrick runs this market, and even though it has taken years of cultivation to get to where it is now, it is safe to say that our tent brings in the crowd with our great produce and great deals. Several of the crew have stood in when P is away and the results have always been strong. Sandy Hook/Newtown is also fairly strong, once again, and Jason Depecol is the primary reason for the fine results so far. Back after a year out west, he brings his charm, and increasingly superior knowledge of cooking and farming to his market each week. The four other markets, Kent, Weston, New Haven (on the Green), and our new one in Brooklyn, have been a little sluggish. However, they have been steady and historically finish far better then they start off. Kent is run by a revolving group of the crew and gives some of the new blood valuable market experience without overwhelming them. Under the training of Will O’Meara, the new group will be primed for markets in the future. The Downtown New Haven market is being ably worked by Dana “Noosh” Jackson, who is a master of the set up, and even better at the sell. However, his amazing work has not been rewarded with big crowds so far. This will change in August when Yale gets back into full swing. Weston is once again led by Quincy and remains a steady earner, and Q has a long-standing relationship with many of his customers. We will look to improve sales there and increase the CSA presence in the future but Weston is in a very farmers market heavy area of Fairfield County. If anyone can improve it, it’s Q! It is a fact that all over the state the sales at markets are down. There are several reasons, notably that there are far too many now. The state has focused on getting as many started as possible but perhaps its time now to scale back. We will continue to find new markets (like the new Brooklyn market, but even that market has been less then stellar).
Jed has executed the 2014 crop planning, and field plantings, flawlessly and it would be a miscarriage of justice to say that we have ever had the diversity in the fields that we have today. The crew respond to his leadership, his diligence, and dedication to getting the job done, and getting it done right. The farm is in fine hands with JB in the mix.
The new barn located in the upper orchard has also brought a more centralized feel to the entire operation. No longer do the Horan’s (owners John and Damaris, or Mom and Pop to P & Q), have to deal with tractors, semi-nude farm hands, and trucks, etc., rolling through their front yard. The new shop has given us a place to work on machinery, and soon the new farm office will be in place in the upper level. The crew love it and it serves as inspiration for the next 25 years, and the amazing potential the business has.
So there we have it. We look forward to seeing as many of our friends in the second half of the season as we did in the first, and sharing in the mighty harvest to come. From Arugula to Zucchini, we are growing as much as we can and hopefully it will end up on your dinner tables. Till next time, be well, buy local, and support your neighborhood farmers!