Spring Update

After a real nice cruising start to spring, we’ve had to hit the pause button to let some rain pass. It really looked like we’d be able to cruise a bit longer and plant some delicious leaf broccoli which is apparently all the rage. It seemed so promising–Wednesday we checked the fields for dryness and actually found 7 beds just dry enough to lightly till and bed shape. And our multiple weather apps all seemed to be saying that rain would come in Thursday afternoon. Perfect! Unfortunately it rained overnight Wednesday, just enough to make planting by tractor impossible. No worries– we’d plant by hand! But after planting one bed by hand, the rain really settled in we had to abandon that plan. Since then we’ve gotten about 2 inches of rain, further delaying planting, so now we not only have the rest of the leaf broccoli to plant, but another round of lettuce and spinach are ready to plant, as well as Swiss chard and kohlrabi! Yikes! We just have to cross our fingers that this week’s predicted thunderstorms miss us so that we can maybe squeak in another round of planting!

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one bed planted and covered–5 more to go!
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Back in the greenhouse waiting for the next chance to plant

While it’s easy to stress about not knowing when the next time we’ll be able to plant will happen, I should trick my brain into being happy about all the planting we HAVE gotten done. We’ve planted an acre of potatoes (Kennebec, Harvest Moon, Desiree and Nicola), which will happily feed our CSA and market customers from the end of July to December, and several beds of onions which, if customers cook anything like I do, will serve as the start of many a meal. We’ve also planted cold-hardy springtime goodies like beets, spinach, sugar snap peas, scallions, fennel, dill, parsley, head lettuce, escarole, bok choi, cabbage, broccoli, kale and salad mix. Wow, that is a lot! And typing it out just now actually did help calm my nerves!

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Ben checks the weather app before planting peas
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Inaugural run with our third unit planter. Just had to make a few adjustments. Now we can plant 3 rows of certain crops!

However, the rain not only interrupts planting, but it also keeps us from weeding all the crops I mentioned above. We did get one round of cultivating in before this wet period, so that’s great. But we were awfully close to not even getting that round of weeding in. That’s because our very old cultivating tractor, an Allis Chalmers G, wouldn’t start. This is typical for this aged tractor, after sitting in the barn all winter, but whereas in the past Ben’s always been able to fix it with a new spark plug or a gas tank, this time when he started to investigate, it became clear the G now needs a complete engine overhaul. Ben can do this–but not in April! As soon as the prognosis became clear, Ben spent several hours on tractor websites, crowd sourcing farms on Instagram and calling friends to track down a working cultivating tractor fast. The good news about these tractors is that they are very small, so when we found one Ben traveled north in our market truck and was able to bring a working tractor home the same day. After some hammering and tweaking, we took our new G out to work the very next day.

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Dan cultivates beets and spinach

We have a few additional crew members starting up work this week and next,  so once the fields dry out, we’ll have enough people to do all the work at once–planting, cultivating, and getting the next round of beds ready. That would be for summer crops like zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes, all with planting dates that are just around the corner! While I know we are all eager for that first taste of fresh veggies, I’m glad we haven’t added “harvest” to the to-do list yet.  We’ve got plenty to do before that happens! Hang tight and the start of CSA will be here before we know it! (P.S. We’ll start going to 2nd Street Market with our garden starts May 11 and hopefully add fresh veggies to the offerings by Memorial Day)

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Spring fields

Survey Says……

Over the years we’ve conducted a few customer surveys about our CSA program to help tell us how we’re doing: what customers like about the program and where we can improve. We had over 100 responses this year and they were overwhelmingly positive. My biggest takeaway was we should keep doing what we’re doing! But I’ll break down the results in more detail in this post.

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An August CSA Box

For this survey, customers rated us for overall satisfaction, vegetable quality/quantity/selection, convenience, customer support, value. For each category, respondents chose among very satisfied, satisfied, neutral, unsatisfied, very unsatisfied. They could elaborate on their responses and we also asked what we should and shouldn’t change. 

Here’s how we did:

Overall satisfaction: 98% rating of “very satisfied” or “satisfied”

Quality of vegetables: 100% rating of “very satisfied” or “satisfied”

Quantity of vegetables: 99% rating of “very satisfied” or “satisfied”

Selection of vegetables: 91% rating of “very satisfied” or “satisfied”

Convenience: 94% rating of “very satisfied” or “satisfied”

Customer service: 100% rating of “very satisfied” or “satisfied”

Value: 98% rating of “very satisfied” or “satisfied”

Given the unconventional nature of CSA, I’m not surprised the lowest-rated categories are selection of vegetables and convenience—but I’m super happy they still scored in the 90s! In a lot of ways, CSAs ask a lot from their customers. No tomatoes until August and none after the fall frost! No broccoli or cauliflower during the hot summer months! Don’t like kale? Too bad! And those garlic scapes you didn’t know what to do with the first week but learned to love the second week—those are gone until next year!

In a food landscape where it is easy to get whatever fresh vegetable you’d like whenever you’d like, the single-farm-sourced and strictly seasonal nature of CSA requires a complete retraining of how people consume food. It’s our hope that we counter this unusual way of getting vegetables with superior quality—and according to our survey results it looks like we’re doing that!

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Scouting the fields for CSA harvest

With a 100% very satisfied or satisfied rating for quality of vegetables, we feel there’s no question that our vegetables are top notch! One explanation for this good rating is that seasonal local eating lends itself to a fresher and therefore better tasting product. But I’d venture to guess that our high quality has more to do with a concerted effort to give our customers only the best! It’s great that our survey confirms what we hoped—that only high quality vegetables are leaving the farm.  

I was pleased that customer service got a 100% rating. We recognize that we’re retraining consumers, so we try to provide ample support. Survey respondents pointed to our CSA blog and CSA Private Facebook Group as resources that help them use the less common vegetables. Another customer favorite that was mentioned repeatedly on the survey was our “swap box” where CSA members can swap something from their box with something in our swap box. We’ll continue to offer the swap box and whenever possible fill it with even more extra vegetables for folks to choose from.

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Advice from the Mile Creek Farm CSA private Facebook group

Of the 114 respondents, only one didn’t care for the CSA and they rather apologetically admitted that they are a picky vegetable eater. For some, our produce is never going to win them over. But we feel that’s the exception and that, more often than not, we have successfully turned reluctant vegetable consumers into veggie lovers. We’ve turned the feeling — when opening the CSA box and stuffing everything into the fridge — from “overwhelmed” to “over-the-moon”.  

I have a farmer friend who says it takes a few years of getting a CSA box to become a master CSA member. One respondent to our survey said, “Still learning how to use some of the vegetables, but gets less overwhelming each year” and I see this person as on the path towards CSA mastery. Once proficient, suddenly the “inconvenient” nature of CSA is thrown on its head and being given a box of vegetables hand-selected by someone other than yourself couldn’t be more convenient. When asked what we can do to improve the CSA experience, one member for whom this rings true responded: “Help with making going back to grocery stores at the end of the season so much of a chore?” Well, we can’t help there, but we can take the results of the survey and our 10 years of CSA experience and strive to make the 2019 CSA experience the best yet! If you want to sign up for our CSA do so here! And many thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to our survey!

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The Farm in February

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Clearing brush (mostly Honeysuckle) from the field edges

When folks ask what we do in the winter, I joke that winter is when we work normal 9 to 5 hours instead of the not uncommon 80 – hour work weeks that the growing season brings. Yep, we have plenty to do in the winter, so even though the fields are bare and coolers are pretty much empty, we’re busy! We need to get the fields, barns, and equipment in working order so when it’s time to hit the ground running in the spring, we are ready. Tires are changed, chains are fixed, routine maintenance completed. Some years we have extra special projects that get done in the winter and this year we are completely renovating and reorganizing our packing shed (where produce comes to be washed/processed after harvest). Over the years we have added concrete floors to sections of the barn and this winter brought a final installation. Now that the entire barn is outfitted with concrete, we can organize an efficient and roomy wash space. I’m looking forward to putting it all together in the coming weeks!

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Clearing out the barn contents
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All smiles as we install the new floor drain
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Filbrun Concrete did a fantastic job!
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Wall to wall concrete!

We have also started seeding for the year and the greenhouse is fired up. February 12 was the start date for seeding — a task that will now be done weekly for 25 weeks straight. By April our greenhouse will be filled to the brim with future food! Things are really shaping up and we are setting ourselves up to successfully produce more food than ever! We’ll update you with our late winter/early spring progress in the coming weeks!

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Onions are the first thing on the seeding chart
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Onion seedlings enjoying a sunny day

 

Thoughts on Family Farm Finances and the Role of CSA

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At Mile Creek Farm we explain that we grow our produce sustainably, but is the farm financially sustainable? One of our winter jobs is running the farm’s financial reports from income to expenses. We enter in all of our receipts from the year and categorize expenses. We review half a year’s worth of harvest data to better understand the farm’s output crop by crop. It takes a lot of money to grow a lot of food and profit margins are super slim. We grow a little more food and bring in a little more money each year, and are continuously working towards a goal of long term farm stability.

Efficiency is crucial to a farm’s strong financial footing, therefore we are constantly reinvesting in the farm to increase efficiency. The past few years we’ve focused on efficiencies in the field and have purchased a newer tractor, pallet bins, and various tractor implements.

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2017 came with a tractor upgrade- newer and more horsepower! First Day on the Farm!
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In 2017 we added a potato digger to our fleet of implements and sweet potato and potato harvest efficiency has improved greatly
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In 2018 we acquired a dozen large macro-bins for harvesting larger quantities of vegetables. These worked great for our onion, winter squash, sweet potato and rutabaga harvests.

While we’ve made steady improvements to our field operations over the years,  we’ve run a pretty bootleg and inexpensive packing shed (where the vegetables come in after harvest to be washed and stored). Years ago we got tables and a stainless steel sink from a school auction, we’ve added concrete floors to the barn in several installations section by section (whatever we could pay for at the time), we’ve built coolers from scratch and walls with recycled roofing material.

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Our functional but not super efficient wash area

This year we are making huge improvements to the pack shed. We are getting a conveyer rinse line that has the ability to serve many functions from to spraying carrots with a high pressure spray to washing lettuce with a low pressure spray.  We are also finally getting the entire pack barn concreted. This winter brings the third and final concrete installment. The entire barn is now a functional space and we can design a wash area exactly how we want to with efficiency in mind and no space limitations getting in our way.  Last but not least we are adding a 53 foot refrigerated trailer to our cold storage. Our small 8 x 8 and 6 x 10 coolers have been filled to brim the past 2 years and have limited how much we can grow, especially in relation to fall vegetables and winter storage crops like cabbage, carrots, and other roots.  The trailer has been purchased and will be delivered this week!

So what does all this have to do with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)? Everything! We can’t invest in the farm without CSA member support. CSA members typically commit to buying from the farm before the season starts and their support is guaranteed for the entire season so we know we can count on it and plan accordingly. Our early bird CSA membership campaign is especially important to the large winter purchases and farm infrastructure improvements I mentioned above. Without CSA funds coming into the farm we can’t make these necessary upgrades.

Our CSA subscriptions are about 60% of the farm’s total income, so in other words, a big deal! This year we had the most early bird CSA sign ups ever! Thanks to everyone who has committed to our farm again or who is giving us a try for the first time! The early bird campaign was wonderful, but we aren’t close to full so we’ve got to keep those memberships rolling in! Hopefully a CSA membership works for you this year! And if you need more information about CSAs, I encourage you to check out the Five Rivers MetroPark CSA Fair, this Friday Feb. 22 from 5:30 to 7:30 at 2nd Street Market! We’ll be there talking about our CSA program, serving delicious veggie-centric snacks, and handing out some sweet potato samples!  More info here Hope you can make it! And if you can’t and have questions about our CSA, send me an email at emily@milecreekfarm.com!

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Why We Do What We Do

 

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What we do is simple and easy to explain in just three words. We grow vegetables! Simple can mean inconsequential and trivial. But growing vegetables, and particularly the way we do it, couldn’t be more essential and timely. We find ourselves as a world grappling with climate change and as a nation struggling with an obesity epidemic. Organic farming is gentle on the earth. Our 30 acre farm is teaming with microbes, wildlife, and healthy soil. The fact that our vegetables stay in state (mostly traveling less than 30 miles away) produces a food system that significantly reduces its carbon footprint. Furthermore, a vegetarian diet can reduce one’s carbon footprint by half! Imagine if you increased your veggie intake and decreased your meat intake just a little bit! As if the health of our environment weren’t incentive enough, these vegetables are wonderful for our own health too, providing us with essential nutrients and vitamins!

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Celebrating the life and work of Martin Luther King this weekend had me thinking of his call to action: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” So what is Mile Creek Farm doing for others? Cultivating health!! The way we see it, organic farming is not just our answer to Martin Luther King’s “persistent and urgent question”, it is an answer to a “persistent and urgent” problem!

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Reflections on the 2018 CSA Season

After finishing up our 10th year (!!!!) offering a CSA, we are pleased to announce that our 2019 CSA Season enrollment is open! For info about our program (which is, in a nut shell, food from our farm delivered to you) click here

Here’s what folks had to say about 2018:

  • “The produce quality is stunning, the selections are beautiful and varied, and pickup has been easy and reliable.”
  • “I think your CSA is wonderful! I absolutely LOVE the blog and the recipes you’ve shared.”
  • “Great quality and super delicious veggies. Ben and Emily pour their hearts into this CSA and it shows!!!!”
  • “Best experience ever. . .can’t wait for another year”

Some of the highlights for me were our organic sweet corn crop (soooo sweet with the bonus of being worm free!), trialing the best cucumber variety I’ve ever tasted (a sweet little yellow cucumber that goes by the name Salt and Pepper), finally growing enough edamame to have 2 weeks worth for our members,  introducing the “swap box” where members could swap out an item from their box for something else, a stellar sweet potato and potato crop- both taste and yield wise, and beating our CSA membership enrollment goal!

Here are 20 of the boxes that the farm produced in 2018:

For 2019 we are looking forward to building on our successes and correcting our mistakes. We are still waiting for the year that every single seed we start makes it to the harvest stage! (spoiler alert – that’s probably never going to happen) Each season brings its own set of challenges, but what you can count on for sure is a varied assortment of the most nutritious food possible! And it doesn’t hurt that our veggies taste great too!

Ready to sign up! Do so HERE

-Oh and Save 5% if you sign up by January 31 (pay in full or one of 3 installments required for discount)

CSA Season Extension Week 3

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This Week’s Harvest

Kossak Kohlrabi

Potatoes

Butternut Squash

January King Cabbage

Red Cabbage

Sweet Potatoes

Onions

Kale

Purple Daikon Radish

Purple Top Turnips

Beets

Rainbow Carrots

Hakurei Salad Turnips

Apple Shares

Golden Delicious and Winesap

Farm News

In the last blog I wrote about the ways we learn from other farmers- farm visits, conferences, etc. We like to give as well as receive and have lead several workshops over the years at Ohio’s largest sustainable farming conference. This year is no different and we’ll each present at OEFFA’s 40th Annual Conference, here in Dayton Feb 15-16. I’ll be presenting with The Young Farmers Coalition on my experience getting the the farm GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified, a certification that farms earn if they are food safety compliant. The workshop will also discuss how we’ve built up our packing shed over the years with budget, increased efficiency, and food safety in mind as well as improvements we are still looking to make.

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Ben will be presenting with our fertilizer supplier, Sustane. We ran a trail this past season with compost tea from Sustane on one of our summer squash plantings.  Some beds did not receive any compost tea, some got a weekly dose of regular compost tea, and some got a weekly dose of enriched compost tea. We weighed the yields off these beds nearly daily for nearly a month. Ben and Brain will be discussing the results of the study and our experience with using compost tea as a fertilizer for the first time.  For those of you interested, the study results can be found here: SustaneCompostTeaResearchMileCreek2018 (1)

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The nutrients are brewed over night

 

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Using the forklift, the compost tea is brought out to the field and hooked up to the fertigation system. This allows the tea to be sucked up through the irrigation, getting applied directly to the plants roots
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Checking on the squash plant’s growth
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A single day’s harvest

By the way, picking all that summer squash was one of the many tiring things we did this season. We are looking forward to resting up in January and doing it all over again next year! Thanks for your support this season!

Recipes

Vegan Potato, Bean, Kale Soup 

Roasted Veggie Chips (beets, potatoes, daikon radish, kohlrabi, turnips, sweet potatoes, and any other roots work great)

Turnip and Sweet Potato Gratin

Roasted Beets, Carrots and Turnips

Winter Veggie Slaw