Between all the planting, weeding, harvesting, washing, packing, delivery, 3 markets, 3 kids, working until dark; weekly farm news takes a back burner. We tried to fill in the gaps with the ease of social media, but feedback from some members who actually read our blog, that wasn't quite enough. We realize not everyone is on social media, or checks their emails daily, and this has created a roadblock in communication with our CSA members.
I'd usually be trying to compile thoughts to write a blog after a very late dinner (after the sun goes down in the summer is too late) or in the wee morning hours before anyone wakes. I chose to make my family a priority this past summer. Maybe it was the multiple setbacks of being short handed, having one of the coolest, wettest seasons in remembrance, or the multiple knee blowouts and a slipped disk, or a totaled delivery vehicle in the fall, but not spending the very little free time I find in front of a screen in the office was not an easy choice, but a necessary one for my sanity and family. There are many drafts saved on our site I never finished because after 4 years of writing them, I was bored, they were feeling deathly repetitive and when I was hearing from customers they didn't know because they didn't read them. It was very discouraging after taking the time write them to say the least.
This year I'm aiming to find more balance in our very full, often hectic schedule and get weekly newsletters out every Monday night once the CSA starts. One thing I have to remind myself (and our customers) is that almost every other farm I know hires someone to take on the tasks of newsletters/ social media and/or doesn't have young children to care for. While this thought has been thrown around by Travis and myself, I always come to the conclusion that who better to write the newsletters and connect with customers than the farmers themselves; putting that in some one else's hands did not make sense. The boots on the ground so to speak. We will continue using Facebook (and our newly created farm discussion group, where we encourage folks to share recipes, and other pertinent articles and info) and Instagram posts to share information.
Another setback we experienced this past season was the untimely loss of a great mentor and family member, my uncle John Mahardy. He was one of the first inspirations to me in the world of organic gardening from a young age. My uncle, along with my (grandfather until his passing) always maintained a beautiful organic garden that kept the root cellar stocked with squash, carrots, potatoes, onions, etc. and a plethora of canned goods on the 100 acres homestead my great grandparents founded in Cleveland NY, shortly after settling from Ireland at the turn of the 20th century. This garden fed the immediate family of 9 siblings and their kids with fresh veggies all summer long. As time passed, John opened offerings to neighbors and started a small CSA; which as a young adult was the first time I'd heard of the concept of a CSA. Every time I pull a fresh carrot from the good earth it brings me back to a sort of nostalgia from childhood when, if we were around, we'd get a treat of a sweet orange spear rinsed under the garden hose. There is nothing quite like that sweet earthy smell and taste to this day.
John was always an adept teacher of all things he knew, whether it was music, religious studies, or organic farming. When his health took a turn for the worse about 6 years ago and he could no longer garden, he turned to sharing all he knew with Travis and I, sharing books, tools, and knowledge. We in turn shared our produce with him, as he missed the fresh harvests dearly, and was always disappointed in the quality of what was available in the local grocery stores. In the spring the back room was always filled with seedlings under lights, in the summer it was shelling peas and picking the wild blueberries that surrounded the garden, and the fall was family get-togethers to harvest apples and press cider with an old hand press, winters were the warmth and sweetness of the sugar shack, and a pot of vegetable soup simmering on the old wood cook stove.
While it feels odd to not be getting the spring phone call from him "What varieties are you planting? are your fields drying out? try this or try that, I came across this book you might find useful..." we are honored to continue his tradition of feeding our friends and family the freshest healthy organic veggies. And if farming has taught us anything at all, it's to be in tune with the cycles of the seasons, of life and death and birth again. We dedicate this season in his memory, of all he shared, taught and most of all loved. And he loved his garden and family more than anything.
We are looking forward to another great season with you. This will be our 5th season in business, and while we've made some changes (i.e no longer offering spring shares, as the weather has become so fickle in the spring) adding a new greenhouse into production, and working on creating a community cooking space for classes and value added products; some things will not change, such as providing our members with great food and the opportunity to support their local small family farm. While many other farms have gone to a "subscription" box, like blue apron, sourcing food from other suppliers to offer more, we have tried developing a similar coordination in the past and found it put more work and responsibility on us, and takes away from the founding concept of what a CSA is supposed to be. While we do source asparagus, and blueberries from our neighbors at Grindstone Farm and eggs from our Amish neighbors Mannas and Lydia for our CSA, we don't seek to fill your boxes with stuff we don't grow.
That is one of the founding principles of a CSA; prepaying, or contracting to make payments with 1 small farm and receiving the bounty of the harvest through out the season. While we respect other farm's decisions to take on being middle man, it's not our path. The point of CSA, and direct marketing is to eat seasonally, and give the middle man the boot. Too many farms are struggling to stay afloat selling wholesale (ie the dairy industry and commodity farmers) and the middle man makes off with the profits while farmers struggle to stay out of the red and bigger and bigger corporate farms eat up valuable farm land. As costs increase to us, our profits don't. We have not changed the price of our CSA in the 5 years we've been doing this, because we know our customers have a budget too. While other farms are offering more options with less value, our box sizes and prices remain the same.
Another new thing we've started this year, inspired by a study we've been participating with Cornell Cooperative Extension, is developing a "cost offset" CSA for low income families. We are accepting donations to be applied to shares for low income members, and we match every dollar donated. So far we've raised, with matched funds $160. We firmly believe that all folks, regardless of income should have access to quality healthy fresh produce, and donate often to various local food pantries. Being able to include families who might otherwise not be able to afford a CSA hits home to us. We started farming as a way to feed our own family better on a limited budget. The Cornell study offset the CSA cost by half with grants for over 30 families over the 3 years, and is in it's last season this year. While some counties have money ear marked for such support the counties we serve do not, and are among 3 of the poorest in the state. Between the rural communities with limited access to grocery store options, and urban ones with lots of stores full of processed junk, we are aiming to provide a minimum of 5 families a cost offset CSA. If you share in our vision, and can spare, please consider a donation towards this worthy goal.
The greenhouse is filling up with happy seedlings, awaiting warmer weather, just like us!