State of the Farm 2015
You probably clicked on this because a certain type of food really matters to you. You know that normal American grocery stores offer the kind of variety and efficiency and convenience (strawberries when it’s minus twenty!) that farms like ours can't compete with at all. Yet here you are, pulling for small farmers, for real food, for us.
When you choose to value this type of food, you give it a chance to exist. The rare heritage pigs that live out their lives in family groups, the farming practices that improve rather than impoverish the soil, the chickens that eat bugs and grass, none of it could be if you didn’t choose to buy it. Nor would our own human family be able to work through the year together on this project that we love.
Below you’ll find a pretty detailed look at where we were in 2014, and where we mean to go in the year ahead.
And thank you. Thank you so much for choosing to support good food and small farms.
Our summer CSA program
- We were proud of the quantity and quality of the vegetables we offered. The weekly average value of summer CSA shares exceeded the higher end of the value we promised.
- We offered a great quantity of preservation crops, free to our members, in the form of bulk tomatoes, cabbage, kale, chard, cucumbers, and basil.
- We offered a lot of seasonal recipes. During the summer, there were weekly recipe postcards as well as newsletters.
- If you were with us in 2013, you probably remember our success with chicken was very uneven. We did much better this year! Members got a higher value than we promised, and we were happy with the size and quality of the chicken.
- It was a great year for pigs. Our herd grew, births were safe, and now 100% of the pork we sell was born and raised on Bluestem Farm.
- We love our members and enjoy going to CSA pick-ups and hope many of you also enjoy your relationship with us.
- More than $2,000 was donated to local families in need through the Help Others Eat Well Fund, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of so many of you.
- Our work is being recognized. We were asked to present on our CSA program at the 2015 Small Farm Conference, and last year our farm was written about in two national publications and several local newspapers.
- We hosted no fewer than 23 free or cheap community events on and off the farm, including food preservation parties (free for our members) public hayrides and potlucks, a great barn concert, public talks on the positive impact of this type of farming, two school field trips at no charge to anybody, and one children’s book reading at a local library.
Weather events & winter food
Going into November, we were feeling pretty great about how the farm was positioned for winter. Then in early November, there were record-breaking snows when half the average YEARLY snowfall fell in the first three weeks of the month. Then a warm rain came one early December weekend and melted all the snow. Right on the heels of the melt were zero-degree temperatures and strong, damaging winds.
It was a tragic combination. We experienced a total loss of crops like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, and kale. Others were severely damaged. We’ve never experienced anything like it before.
Our response was to put an immediate stop to the winter sales we planned to make to grocery stores, and to drastically restrict the vegetables we brought with us to the farmers market. By doing this, we were able to curb the impact the losses had on our winter CSA members. Because we grew a diverse array of vegetables, we were able to compensate for the lack of some crops in the share boxes by adding additional amounts of others, such as carrots, beets, and radishes. If you are a CSA member, whether you knew it or not, you experienced the effects of this loss each time you looked inside your share box and found another heaping helping of carrots, beets, and radishes.
If you are a winter veggie share-holder of ours, we hoped and sought and planned to give you a much greater variety this winter. We are sick and sorry for any root vegetable weariness you might be experiencing. While we can’t make all that beautiful winter cabbage come back again and be food, we want to offer you a couple bonus packages to help make up for the lack of diversity. This week or next when you pick up your last vegetable share, you’ll feel your box is heavier because we’ve included a couple additional going-away pounds of roots. And as winter backs off and the snow clears, we will be in contact about delivering a further bonus of spring vegetables, including greens, to your regular pick-up location. We expect this to happen in late April or early May.
We had many difficulties with egg-laying hens this year. Thankfully, we didn't have to short CSA members, but we did inflict bad shortages on Grain Train at times, and basically stopped selling eggs at the farmers market altogether.
The weather will always have a tremendous impact on our work as farmers. But as we mature as a farm, we are working hard to anticipate and respond to the elements by investing in systems that are better, stronger, and smarter.
- This year we will be installing a better irrigation system to mitigate the drought that often comes to our region in midsummer. Better access to water will help crops mature and thrive within the bounds of a reasonable growing season.
- We are developing the granary building in our barnyard into a multi-function space with employee housing upstairs and a commercial kitchen on the ground floor.
- We’re increasing our flock of laying chickens and investing in infrastructure so that we can offer more eggs to our CSA members, farmers market customers, and friends at local stores.
This winter, we stopped having off-farm jobs and hired our own first full-time employee. We were astonished by the high caliber of applicants from all over the country who reached out to us about the job. Joel will live on the farm and help us pull for better yields and more consistent successes. We will be delighted to introduce him to you when he arrives, probably sometime in April.
Goals for 2015
- We aim to offer two fresh herb choices to regular vegetable share-holders each week (and one choice to members who have small shares).
- We want to encourage more CSA members to take better advantage of preservation crops.
- Weather allowing, we intend to offer more heat-loving crops like peppers, field tomatoes, green beans and melons. Last summer, these crops didn’t do so well because we had a coolish growing season. Next summer, both of our high tunnels as well as some smaller low tunnels will be put to work in support of these crops.
- It’s a big challenge in our climate, but we aim to offer more greens to our CSA members later into the winter season.
- We bought a combine last year and are going to use it to harvest various types of dry beans this summer.
- This summer we're also going to experiment with growing oats and wheat, on a small scale, for human consumption.
- The Bluestem Ferments project is going quite well. We are excited to increase the variety of ferments available in both summer and wintertime, and would be interested in CSA member feedback about including naturally cultured vegetable options as a portion of your share beginning next winter.
- Yoga in the Barn, taught by yoga teacher Carla Brazell, will take place twice a week at the farm throughout the warm months. One class coincides with Thursday evening pickups so members can combine yoga with share pick-ups if they so choose.
- More food preservation parties, hayrides, and potlucks are in the works for 2015.
- And last but certainly not least. we’re very pleased to be able to offer Bear Creek Organic Farm honey as an option in our summer 2015 CSA shares.
Last year was a time of incredible growth. It's impossible to imagine what that would have been like without your warmth and enthusiasm and friendship. We just couldn't exist without you.
Thank you for forging ahead with us in this project, for pulling for local farmers!
Mary & Aaron