CSA distribution #20 & newsletter

Our next CSA distribution will be Monday August 13 and Thursday August 16. Despite widespread storms moving through the region on Wednesday, we received only 0.02″ of rain and remain in a desperate drought. The temporarily cooler temperatures have been quite welcome, though you know it’s been a hot year when “normal” August temperatures feel like a dramatic cool down. It’s been delightful to finally sleep with the windows open and the A/C off. And in other good news, our most recent monthly water bill wasn’t as bad as we feared, only in the $450 range instead of the $600+ we feared; a nice reprieve though still expensive. Read on for more farm news and product updates.

What a long, strange year it’s been. Our pre-season CSA literature forecast around 24 shares from May-October; it’s mid-August and we’re already at 20, just starting to seed and plant all the fall crops that will likely last well into November the way this year is going. We developed a very conservative plan for the first year of CSA, to ensure a good customer experience we could build on, and ended up with the best growing season we’ve ever had, at least in terms of produce quality and quantity. The CSA could probably be double its current size this year given our production success, which along with the personally debilitating heat and very early spring has definitely been a mixed blessing from our perspective. Our members are getting a very generous inaugural season, which we’re basically considering a thank-you for taking a chance on us.

Consider this the opposite pole to the year we feared and planned for, in which hailstorms, pest outbreaks, injuries, and any number of other disasters could have meant a less-than-ideal experience for members. Those fears are why we developed the customization system, defined the CSA as a full-year membership, and continued our focus on significant on-farm diversity, to give us the best chance to give full value in the face of adversity. Instead it’s been us taking the hit as we do the extra work to deliver abundant value in an excellent growing year. Farming is never what you expect it to be, which also means it’s rarely boring.

THIS WEEK’S PRODUCE

Cured sweet onions Same combination as last week.
Hot peppers:
mix of Anaheim, Jalapeno, and Cayenne. See last week for descriptions.
Sweet peppers
  We’ll likely offer these in bulk-extra quantities this week, as the plants are producing heavily and we’ve had no wholesale orders. Try drying some for a winter treat on pizzas or pasta, or ground into spice mixes. Roasting & freezing also works.
Cherry tomato mix We visited the farmers market last weekend and observed some cherry tomatoes being offered only half-ripe. We pick ours fully ripe the day before delivery for highest quality.
Mid-sized slicer tomatoes These, too, may be offered in bulk. The varieties aren’t great for canning, but are excellent for freezing via roasting or cooked sauces. Drying will also work well with these.
Big ugly heirloom tomatoes
Amish Salad tomatoes These small, pinkish fruits look like large cherry tomatoes, and are best for roasting or grilling; their raw flavor isn’t that special.
Okra Try the interesting recipes/ideas suggested by reader Joshua on last week’s newsletter.
Cucumbers Mostly yellow cukes from the second planting.
Summer squash Small amounts of young squash from the just-starting second planting.
Cured garlic This week’s varieties will be Bogatyr (a general-purpose hardneck; the stalk will be cut long for ID) and Lorz (a mild general-purpose softneck). As with all of the softnecks we grew this year, the quality on Lorz may be below our usual standards. If you end up with a head of garlic of any variety that isn’t usable once you open it up, we’re happy to give a replacement; just leave a note in the produce comment section of your next survey.

HERBS
We’ll stick with 4 herb bundles/full share and 2/part share this week. The chives are a little less perky than we thought, so they’re going back off the list for now, but the garlic chives are doing okay. The Kentucky colonel mint is flowering heavily in areas, and it has swarms of some kind of wasp-like insect on it. We don’t know if this insect stings, nor do we care to find out, so we’ll take it temporarily off the list.

Thyme
Sage
Tarragon

Garlic chives
Orange mint

Basil

Parsley
Shiso
Coriander
Dill heads

ON-FARM FOOD THIS WEEK
We enjoy sharing what we eat, both as inspiration to CSA members and as documentation of the diversity and quality possible through local foods. These photos are from the last two weeks, as we skipped this in the previous newsletter. On-farm ingredients listed in italics.

Above, diverse pizzas on homemade crusts. From left to right: Potato & goat mozzarella; tomato, peppers, basil pesto, goat mozzarella; potato, sweet onion, goat mozzarella; cherry tomato, basil, & goat mozzarella.

Above left, breakfast of fried potatoes & eggs with roasted tomatillo salsa. Above right, fermented mixed spring vegetables (cabbage, beets, garlic scapes, turnips, etc).

Above left, baked homemade tortillas topped with tomatoes, basil pesto, home-cured ham, goat cheese; side of sweet corn. Above right, Greek Salad of sweet onion, cucumber, tomato, sweet pepper, scallion, fresh goat cheese, olives & dates from World Harvest.

Above left, homemade flatbread topped with potatoes fried in lard, roasted tomato sauce, fresh goat cheese. Above right, potatoes fried in lard topped with fresh salsa (raw tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onion, sweet corn).

Above left, “Mexican lasagna” or pseudo-enchilada of homemade tortillas layered & baked with tomatoes, scallions, roasted peppers, fresh goat cheese; fresh tomatoes on the side. Above right, simple caprese salad of goat mozzarella, tomatoes (White Tomesol and Cour di Bue), basil.Above left, homemade bread topped with fresh goat cheese, tomatoes, freshly-butchered chicken breast fried in cornmeal & lard. Side of roasted jalapenos stuffed with goat cheese. Above right, roasted Anaheims stuffed with goat cheese.

3 thoughts on “CSA distribution #20 & newsletter

  1. Not sure if it’s possible the way your market runs, but with the excess produce, would you ever consider going to market with extra produce? Even just once or twice a month might be an opportunity to sell produce that otherwise risks going to waste.

    Around here (Toronto) I’m surprised how many farmers do both a CSA *and* market(s). I suppose it minimizes risk / maximizes sales opportunities, but seems like it would be difficult to manage/balance.

  2. Going to market with extra CSA produce only makes sense if you’re already there every week as a fundamental part of your business structure. Otherwise it’s a significant waste of time and resources, in our opinion. You might review why we left market in the first place, but I’ll try to answer quickly again.

    A random market trip to sell extra produce would cost something like $40 in daily fee, 8-12 hours of my time (get up at 5:30-6am, get home between 1-2pm, plus extra prep beforehand and cleanup afterward), an extra trip to town (Sa) since we currently deliver M & Th thus the fuel & wear costs of vehicle use, etc. It takes more time to pack, wash, and arrange produce for retail sale than to pack it for CSA distribution, and more materials too (bags, containers, etc). So basically, trying to dump extras at market would cost us $150-$200 a day in labor & cash, plus the inherent but hard-to-value cost of NOT getting done whatever else I would have achieved on that now completely-blown day.

    Specifically around here, the market is so overcrowded with vendors that there’s little likelihood we’d be able to make a meaningful dent in our surplus at fair prices; the only way to attract attention would be to slash prices (as many others do) and we refuse to do that. We’d rather feed extras to our existing members or even the pigs/chickens than perpetuate the downward spiral of local food prices fed by overproduction and intense competition in the area. Plus there’s less likelihood of actually selling the produce because someone who shows up occasionally at a market (as opposed to a regular vendor) isn’t going to have as much customer connection.

    In this post’s original analysis, I somehow managed to leave out a major factor in our surplus this year: significantly lower restaurant sales than expected. The closure of Red & Moe this spring really threw a wrench in our plans, as they were a major customer for us and we’d already ordered seed, planted, and planned for a lot of dedicated crops which couldn’t magically be undone, and which other locations often already had sources for. In addition, most of our other restaurants have been ordering a lot less than expected throughout the summer, again leading to surplus on our end. I think this is due in part to a slow year (many have told us business has been down) and to increased supply & competition among the growing number of similar farms all trying to break into the limited restaurant market.

    We’ve always found that successful restaurant sales required a lot of time spent on email and phone chasing down chefs repeatedly to secure orders (we send out a weekly availability email, just like the last few years, but few accounts respond without followup work). This summer we haven’t had the time or energy to put in as much effort as we have in past years, and coincidentally or not sales have suffered. If we’d been able to maintain our restaurant sales at previous years’ pace, I don’t think we’d be feeling nearly as much surplus pinch.

  3. That certainly makes sense, and I do remember why you left the market in the first place, but I guess it was actually because of the lower restaurant sales (I had picked up on that from following he blog) that made me wonder if you had another reasonable outlet you could turn to. As self-sufficient as you are, and as nice as it is to provide a bountiful CSA, there are plenty of bills that don’t accept farm products as legal tender!

    I suppose that’s the downside to a Columbia being your big market vs. us in Toronto. Whatever effort is put into going to a Toronto market (and of course there are MANY markets), typically it will pay off (especially if you’re as high a quality as you are). Or at least it appears to pay off. $1/ear of organic corn isn’t going to work just everywhere…