Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture

Notes from the Farm - Jannuary 1997
By Elizabeth Henderson

"I think that my gratitude for the bounty of this year's harvest must be similar to that of the first Pilgrims. With every bite of my dinner, I am reminded of the soil, the sun and the rain that grew this food and of the hard work involved in cultivating it. I imagine that, like me, the Pilgrims were not only thankful for the fruits of their labor, but were spiritually uplifted by their connection to the Earth. An organic farming project maxim says it all. When you help grow the food that nourishes you, 'on the way to your stomach, something happens to the soul.'"

I can't think of any better way to sum up my feelings at the end of this season than to quote Nancy Allinger's eloquent conclusion to her Thanksgiving column for "Speaking Out" in the Democrat and Chronicle, Nov 28, 1996.

If I could have described my highest hopes for members' experience in the GVOCSA, I could not have written anything better than Nancy's lovely piece. On the farming end of food, we tend to get bogged down in the day to day details of waxed boxes, broken disks, weeds, rubber bands and flat tires. Instead of seeing all we have accomplished at the farm, we see all the jobs that remain to be done. One complaint that there wasn't enough corn in the shares or some onions were rotten rings louder in our ears than all the praise for our hard work. As David said at the end-of-the-season harvest dinner, we may spend a lot of time with our knees in the mud weeding carrots, but what matters is not where our knees are, but where our heads are. Bright voices like Nancy's help us keep in touch with the deeper meaning of our work.

Pouring over the Year End Survey is always a fascinating experience. 95% of those who take the time to fill out the survey say that participating in the GVOCSA was worthwhile and that they plan to sign up again next season. There are useful suggestions for improving our operations - fewer payments combined with a billing system, better childcare at orientation. Some of the ideas point at nagging problems that the CORE has considered over and over, such as how to extend the pick-up time. Most respondents think we are functioning well. Most also like the farm work. Every year there is someone who does not like either David or me. I figure they ran into us on one of our less brilliant days, since most members seem to appreciate our supervision. This year, one person complained of spending 3 1/2 hours on the knees weeding. We farmers wish we could get that much weeding help! In fact, there has never been a morning when CSAers weeded for more than 2 hours. An eternity. We do try hard to vary jobs.

Not on the survey, but through the grapevine came a complaint of the work being too strenuous for some of the senior members. We apologize if we gave anyone charlie horses. We are always prepared to offer less athletic jobs. The problem is that if you appear to be youthful and spry, we have no way of knowing you are hurting, unless you tell us. We cannot control the mosquito population (it was estimated at 400 times greater than usual this year), but we can adjust for many other factors. Several members said they did not like it when other members did not show up or were late for distribution work. One suggestion at the harvest dinner was to make reminder calls a job for a member who is house bound. The Core group decided that members who did not complete their work for this season will be asked to make up that time over the winter by helping with outreach, or early in the spring by working on the farm. If you have not made up the work by sign-up time for 1997, you will not be welcome to join again.

Reading the answers to what vegetables should be dropped or added is always a hoot. If one survey says too much lettuce or greens or beets, the next one is guaranteed to ask for more. We will take the hint to remove a few items from the regular shares and restrict them to the bulk order list: burdock, tomatillos, Brussels sprouts. Daikon and kohlrabi got some negative reviews too - but I think we will keep these for one more year and provide more recipes. The gooseberries are history. We pulled them out because of uncontrollable fungal diseases and sharp thorns. One person complained of rotten onions. Please do not wait until the season is over if you receive defective vegetables. We will be happy to replace them, if we can, or give you your money back on a bulk item.

We need to improve the bulk order system. We are thinking of purchasing a xerox machine (anybody know of a good sale?) so that we can provide more regular information on what's available. We could also do weekly reports on growing conditions and supply more recipes. The Squirrel bulk worked well on the ordering end - we will improve the delivery end for next year.

Quite a few people responded favorably to the idea of winter distribution of root crops. We will have to think that through carefully. It would really only work well if we could find a space in Rochester that has controlled atmospheric storage and it rodent proof.

The summer camp proposal stirred up a lot of offers of help. Sometime in January we will arrange a special meeting of all those interested in designing and staffing a camping experience.

There were enough positive responses that we will definitely offer plants from our greenhouse for sale. See the order sheet elsewhere in the newsletter. We will offer a discount for prepaid orders and grow a little extra on speculation.

In the March issue of the GVOCSA newsletter, we published a CSA budget for 1996. I think it may be interesting to compare those projections with what actually happened.
 Projections Actual hours or expense
my hours 1440 1321
Greg's hours 1360 1338
David's 100 383
local youngsters 115
Labor $26,280 $28,387
Insurance/taxes $3000 $3208
Utilities $1800 $1291
Seed $750 $816
Organic certification $475 $650
Supplies $1000 $1256
Fertilizer $500 $226
Repairs/Maintenance $2000 $3550
Fuel/propane $500 $600
 ---- ----
 $36,305 $39,984
David did more and I did less work than projected. We made many fewer phone calls than in years with more elaborate marketing. Seed prices are rising at a rate faster than the rate of inflation. CSA members chipped in over $400 to help cover the cost of certification. As I mentioned in a previous "Notes from the Farm," we had an unpredictable (and high) repair bill for the Belarus tractor.

In share payments, the GVOCSA has paid Rose Valley a total of $40,015 to date. The original projection was for 121 shares at an average payment of $12 a week. The final number was 135 shares, though some people joined during the last few weeks. There were also four local shares. Bulk sales amounted to almost $3000.

CSA members often ask us what we do over the winter. We are grateful to have the fields buried in snow so that we can shift gears for a while. We have cascading piles of unread periodicals and unanswered mail. Even before the growing season ended, the meeting-conference rounds began for me. By mid-March, I will have helped plan or made presentations at 8 or 9 conferences in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Vermont. I especially look forward to making a keynote presentation at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference where Melissa Carlson and I will also do a workshop on CSAs. I am pleased with the design for the NOFA-NY March Conference. Farmers and gardeners, beginning or advanced, will have the chance to learn more about an essential element of organic growing - soils.

A publisher has expressed a serious interest in the CSA handbook I have been working on with Robyn Van En and C.R. Lawn. I would love to have it in print by spring. Lately, I am getting embarrassed to list all the committees I serve on. Two efforts excite me the most. NY Farms!, the creation of a network of farming and other groups to run an educational campaign about the need to support farming in this state if we want to have farms in the future. And the Wayne County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board planning process to improve conditions for farming in our county.

Last spring, David joined the Rose Volunteer Fire Department and began helping out with the ambulance as well. In January, he will complete a very intensive and demanding course in Emergency Medical Training. He continues to counsel in the local jail two nights a week, does mediations, and mediation trainings for the local schools. He also stewards the Garlic Seed Foundation and its newsletter "The Garlic Press".

During the winter months, Greg spends more time on his own home and farm in South Butler, cutting fire wood, tearing out closets. His charming daughter Helen is 2 1/2 and has a great deal to say these days. Ammie, his wife, gets swept up in preparations for the NOFA-NY conference, and appreciates Greg's fathering skills. He will also do some tutoring for other children.

We are sad to report that Greg's faithful companion, Abby, died of cancer in November. Each day she joined us in all that we did with love and great spirit. Some of us hold dogs is a special place in our hearts and lives, and she is missed by all of the 2 and 4-leggeds on this farm.

All three of us will be interviewing candidates for an apprentice position for the 1997 season. If any of you knows someone who wants to learn to do commercial scale organic vegetable production, please let us know.

We hope you will join us for a cross-country ski party Sunday, January 12 from 1-5. There will be skiing on the trails in the Rose Valley and adjacent woods and a pot luck snack with socializing around the stove in the packing shed. If there is a blizzard that day and roads are impassable, we will reschedule for Sunday, January 19. Feel free to call the farm to check on conditions before coming. Even if you can't ski, come anyway!

Well, have a good winter everyone!

Copyright GVOCSA 1997. All rights reserved.