(From our yearly CSA Orientation Email!) Here are 5 things your farmers are thinking and talking a lot about this year. Thanks for the idea Broadfork Farm!:
- Weather Conditions! When doesn’t a farmer talk about weather conditions? We’ve been having a wild spring- heavy rains and more intense winds than we’ve ever experienced. We’ve been constructing wind-breaks and are being creative to manage the over-saturation of the soil. We are a bit off-target on our planting schedule and are doing everything we can to keep our summer schedule on track. Each season we are becoming more resilient to shifting weather conditions, and some weeks the conditions are truly challenging to manage! Having our greenhouses is incredibly helpful for our resilience for non-field-crops. We need more wind-breaks; if you have any ambition to take on any tree-planting projects, email us!
- Organic Certification! As most of you know- this winter our farm did a lot of advocacy work around a pelleted lettuce seed called Salanova. Read this story for more details: http://www.organiccouncil.ca/
news/zocalo). We are trying a year without certification, and monitoring how it impacts our business. We are committed to communicate if we deviate from the organic standards at any point. In 2017 all our inputs (seeds, compost, building materials, amendments, wash-station cleaners, etc.) are the same ones we used last year under the standard. There is one practice we have chosen to trial that does not align with the the standards; we will be trialing the Paper Pot Transplanter. On the blog above we write more about this and why it is not allowed by all certifiers. We will limit our use of this tool to a particular field on the farm. This tool will be used for only specific crops to speed up our transplanting- primarily spinach, salanova lettuce, and beets. The reason we are trying this tool is because we need to increase our income (see #3) through some more efficient growing methods.
- Money money money! Our sliding-scale CSA has allowed us to accommodate members of varying incomes for the third season in a row, and this is amazing! Now we are looking to more graciously accommodate ourselves in a related way. We don’t want to “survive” as farmers, we want to thrive. We want our staff to thrive. This is a tough feat to accomplish on a small farm, and we want to take a creative approach to this that involves increasing efficiency, slight price increases, a wider “sliding scale”, and value-adding.Our farm income falls short in 2 big ways:a) For the Seb and Bethany contingent of the farm, We have been surviving and even thriving as a couple, and yet we can’t seem to make enough to enable us to have a family, which we intend to do. We need to make 10K more per year to enable us to pay for some additional hired labour around the farm, and allow us to afford some health-supports not currently in the budget. We’re huge into being realistic about what it is going to mean to raise kids on our farm. We’ve talked extensively to farmer friends about starting a family while juggling a busy farm business. We acknowledge our privilege in having the advice from farmer peers and planning ahead.b) Our staff are no properly valued. Our labourers, with the exception of our market manager, are paid less than minimum wage. Yes, they are recieving farm-education as they work with us. But this does not align with our values. It is very common for small ecological farms to rely on unpaid labour. Our belief is that ecological farming should not require a person to sacrifice all of their non-farming desires and needs in order to learn how to farm, to start a farm, and to sustain a farm. Hiring an intern at minimum wage for our season would cost 11-15 K. This income increase is a massive feat on a small farm like ours so stay tuned and read our newsletters where we will discuss the various strategies we are using to try to accomplish these new income goals.
Bottom line, if you don’t already, we want you to value your farmers, farm-interns, farm-staff, and all farm labourers in general! Looking for the cheapest food options to accommodate oneself is how many of us are programmed (myself included, it’s like the Dutch motto!). Let’s re-learn together and create a story that is bigger than the bright orange price-tag on an object or food.
- The Guelph Farmer’s Market. We’re back at the market for a full season as one of the ways of increasing our income. We have hired our wonderful former intern, Fan-Ling Suen, as our market manager. She is going to rock the market! If ever you are thinking, “I’d rather buy from Zocalo at the market rather than CSA, I have a couple things to say about that.” First, it’s going to cost you more. Second, the Guelph market is a place of drama. Just this week I arrived to find someone in my spot, and had to advocate for my spot under high-stress conditions. The market hasn’t changed much since I wrote this blog: https://zocaloorganics.ca/
guelph-farmers-market-buyers- beware/. To us, we see the market as a place of poor-management, not enough respect for growers, too many “re-sellers” (non-farmers bringing in produce from the food terminal). And lately I’ve been feeling really down about the amount of single-use plastic consumption, which we ourselves contribute to. For us the market is a place to move excess produce after we meet the CSA and restaurant needs. The customers who find us there are lovely, but likely they won’t volunteer on the farm nor show up in an emergency if we ever need them to. And farming in this day and age, that is what we desire most- real connection through the challenges of farming. So please be a CSA member if you can, and stock up on things you run out of from Fan-Ling on Saturdays!
- Learning to farm flexibly and compassionately. I’m going to write a few newsletters and blogs this season about this. It’s a broad category that encompasses some of the nuanced learning we’ve been doing over the first 3 years on our own farm. I want to share stories about how we are figuring out how we can sustain this career for the “long-game”. This relates to learning about how to take care of our bodies and minds, respecting those we work with, figuring out what we want from our life as farmers, and advocating for the supports we need around us to make this happen. Flexible and compassionate farmers, and the community that surround them, are integral during a time when the climate is highly erratic and frankly, very scary. I love telling our stories, and I hope our CSA members enjoy the paper newsletters you will receive with your shares each week!