As I recover from packing for our community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery, I realize how much of what goes on is not connected to actually growing the food. A member recently sent a letter addressed to our Accounting Dept and we all laughed at the dream of actually being big enough to have an accounting department! The truth is, as all small business owners know, CSA farmers wear all of the hats.
As we are a cooperative CSA, there are three farms to coordinate and standardize. The logistics of the whole thing are a bit frightening, quite frankly. Maintaining our member list, pickup sites, blog, website, and email is a job in itself, not to mention the myriad of online directories that we update. Then there are the marketing efforts, and the time that goes into planning the box for each week.
Here’s how the season goes: We take the plan from the year before, which contains a planting date for each crop and box contents for each week, and compare it against what actually went in the box, with notes from each of our respective farms. Then we adjust the schedule, varieties, box contents, weight and harvest standards, planting dates, and prices. This all happens during the months of December and January.
We all begin planting in late winter, and week-by-week execute “The Plan.” Seedlings thrive, crops fail, and weather, water, disease, and bugs all play their hand against ours. We win some, we lose some. Strangely, weather is quite different on each of our farms. I have had no real rain in 3 weeks, yet both of my partners have had plenty. We update each other weekly or even daily about what seeds we’ve planted, and we are always discussing varieties and practices.
Planning for the first box includes a forecast for the next few weeks. How fast are those turnips growing? Is the lettuce too small this week? Will it be too big next week? Is it going to rain for days so that harvesting carrots (normally a simple job) will become a muddy, sticky mess?
Phone calls fly back and forth as if we were a group of teenage girls. How big are your carrots? How many pounds do you think you have? My lettuce is bolting; can I trade you lettuce this week for next week? How many pounds of chard? Weren’t we going to do that next week?
Magically, the day before we pack the boxes, it all begins to come together. We show up, weigh everything, and begin to set up the line. We pack three different types of boxes, which adds to the chaos. But we are an organized bunch if nothing else, and as we pack we laugh and recount the news of the week.
The sound of boxes sliding along the table creates a hum. Onions…1,2,3. Beets…1,2,3. Lettuce…1,2,3. Push the flaps down and begin again, 1,2,3. As the weeks go by, the boxes fill and empty, seeds are planted, crops are weeded and harvested and washed…And this is the hum of our lives 1,2,3.
Andy Hazzard is a member of the Local Foods Work Group of the University of Illinois Extension in Winnebago County. She is is a full-time farmer at Hazzard Free Farm and a partner in First Hand Harvest CSA.