Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture

Notes from the Farm - March 1997
By Elizabeth Henderson

This has been a mild seesaw of a winter. For the January 12 ski party, we took a bracing walk through the woods. We are grateful, at least, to have an inch of snow mulch on the garlic. With all the water in the ground from last fall, we should not have to worry about a dry spring.  Looking back over the 1996 season, it’s interesting to compare the year’s work with previous seasons. In 1996, for the first time, the GVOCSA was our primary market. Elizabeth did not have to spend several hours a week on the phone selling vegetables to produce managers. There are no contracts in fresh market vegetables, so there is always the nagging worry that one week no one will want what you have to sell. Our farm team did not have to pick hundreds of bunches of greens and herbs on a tight schedule. No one from the farm had to load the pick-up truck, rain  or shine, with heavy boxes and bags of vegetables and drive the hour or hour and a half to deliver to stores in Rochester and Ithaca. There were no emergency phone calls from apprentices asking how to change a flat tire or what to do about a truck break down out in the middle of nowhere.

Growing food for the GVOCSA has a more relaxed rhythm to it. On Tuesday and Saturday mornings, we walk the farm to see what is ready to put in the packets for the next day. We assemble the bulk order, fill out the instructions for the distribution folks and make plans for the work crews. Many Wednesdays and Sundays we start picking at seven to be sure to get the tender greens in the cooler before the sun cooks too hot. As CSA members arrive, we slow down to a more social pace. Those mornings are an intense mixture of leisurely personal encounters and goal-oriented work. Our sense of responsibility is matched by the remarkable, conscientiousness of you members.

Selling our vegetables directly to people whom we know harbors Rose Valley from the ruthless battering of the global marketplace. For a supermarket produce manager, a penny saved on a head of lettuce is more important than any personal relationship with a local grower. While we need to make a living, we really do not want to play this kind of hard ball, exploiting other people’s labor, calculating every penny and being obsessed with squeezing out maximum production for the holy bottom line. What we want is a dynamic balance in our lives and on the farm. Growing for the GVOCSA offers us a path in this balance.

In past years, David and Elizabeth have worked whatever hours were necessary to get the work done, sometimes as many as 14, even 16 hours a day, seven days a week. This is not sustainable. Besides, we both have other things we want to do outside of farming. When we sat down with Greg to make plans for the ‘97 season, each of us laid out the hours we would prefer. Greg would like two full days off in a row to spend time with his family and get some of their ground ready to grow crops. David will mediate, continue working in jail, serve as a volunteer fireman/EMT, and attend garlic festivals. Elizabeth wants to take two hours a day, five days a week to write. Based on past experience, these hours would not be adequate to squeeze maximum production out of Rose Valley, but, with the addition of one apprentice, should be enough to grow the food for the GVOCSA.

We are asking GVOCSA to stretch to 200 shares this season. 140 shares are just not enough to enable the three of us to make a decent living. We can probably find 10 families who live near the farm to sign up for weekly packets. That leaves 190 shares for Rochester, an increase or 50 from last season. We realize that presents a challenge, figuring out how to grow that much while retaining the qualities of community that members enjoy. The GVOCSA started as an experiment. Let's consider this coming season as another step in our adventure together. If we don't like the results—then back to the drawing board!

Meanwhile, we are planning for 200 shares for 1997. This will mean a somewhat different mixture of crops than we have done in the past when the CSA accounted for only half of our production. We used to be a regular supplier of collards, mustards, and other greens for Greenstar in Ithaca. We will have to grow more summer squash and tomatoes and fewer greens. We will try once again to get more early varieties. Most of the blueberries and all of the asparagus will probably go into shares
and bulk orders.

We have ordered our seeds. Prices of seed continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation. C. R. Lawn of FEDCO grows some of the seed they sell and contracts with local growers for some. Most, however, is purchased from the major seed companies. Untreated seed often costs more than chemically treated seed of the same variety. Favorite varieties disappear at the whim of a distant corporation. Jet Star, our most reliable tomato variety, is no longer available untreated. We cannot get
Mayfair peas because the company which owns the patent will not allow FEDCO to grow out and market their stock.

C. R. Lawn, by the way, is an old friend of Elizabeth's from Yale graduate school where he was in the same law class with one of the Clintons. He was first in his class, while publishing a counterculture newspaper called "View From The Bottom." He is working with Elizabeth on a book about starting and maintaining a CSA. Very sadly, Robyn Van En, founder of the first CSA in this country, and co-author of the book, died suddenly and shockingly of asthma in January. Elizabeth and C. R. hope to dedicate the book to her memory.

In doing research for the CSA book, Elizabeth unearthed a study done in Vermont last year on why people do or do not join a CSA. The authors did some shopping which led to the discovery that sharers were saving from $300 to $1200 by purchasing from a CSA rather than from supermarkets. They also found that "word of mouth is the most successful form of
advertising." That has proven to be true in past years for the GVOCSA. We hope those of you who are satisfied members will help us again by reaching out to your friends with invitations to join.

The Wayne County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board, which Elizabeth chairs, has completed its plan for protecting farming and farmland in the county. The centerpiece of this plan is a series of interconnected projects to improve the profitability of local farms: hiring an agricultural development specialist to help establish farm-based enterprises; increasing promotion for local farms and farm products through a video, agriculture in the classroom and ag. tourism;  providing information for farmers; starting a new farmer program. The plan also includes a Purchase of Development Rights program for the towns towards Rochester where heavy development pressure is turning farmland into housing tracts. The next steps involve getting the approval of the county Board of Supervisors and the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

In case anyone worries that Elizabeth works all the time, she also took a lovely vacation—ten days in California visiting her son Andy. A culture orgy to balance the usual diet of agriculture. They enjoyed a dazzling performance of Chinese opera, many fine meals with friends, and, perhaps most exciting, a new film, Follow Me Home. A young Native American film maker created this emotion filled story of four west coast artists of color who decide to drive across the country to paint the images from their cultures on the White House. Independently produced for $210,.000, this film will only come to Rochester if we help make the
connection. Any volunteers?

David listened in class, practiced, often studied at his desk at 5 AM,  and spend time in the Emergency Room and Ambulance; he passed his NYS practical and written examinations to become an EMT-D. The GVOCSA season begins on Wednesday, May 28. Thanksgiving is late again, so the shares will end a week and a half before the holiday. Although it did not happen in 1996, we hope to have pre-season asparagus before the end of May. We look forward to spring and sharing the bounty of Rose Valley with you all for another year!


Copyright © GVOCSA 1997. All rights reserved.