2016 Season Wrapup Newsletter!
Read to the end for our 2016 Share Value Analysis!
Another great year: This was our first year on our new farm in Masham, Quebec. I wouldn’t say we had no idea of how the year would go, but there were a lot of unknowns. What we did bet on was the experience of our core team, Danny, Kielan, Robin and I, and the natural fertility of our new fields, which was far more than we had to bet on when we first started this adventure seven years ago! Still, this winter and spring were spent frantically putting up greenhouses and building new infrastructure. We were joined by a bright new team that included Aidan, Bianka, Cecilia, Derek and Malissa. Heather also joined us to help me with flowers. This was a god-sent, because turns out the spring also brought news that I was pregnant, which was, and is, very exciting, but certainly made me less effective as I snuck away to vomit behind greenhouses and nap during the day. Needless to say, this year started out as busy and chaotic as any other, if not more so, in Roots and Shoots’ history.
The natural fertility of these fields was evident right from the start!
Thankfully, our new team were quick studies and we quickly filled the fields with neat rows of tiny seedlings and covered them in clean white sheets to protect from frost and bugs. The spring was a tad later than we would have liked, and our first shares in June-July were small. This was probably due to a combination of our soil being heavier here (so it takes longer to dry out) and it being slightly colder north of the city (when compared to Manotick). In no time, however, the summer abundance started rolling in and we quickly switched from planting and weeding to harvesting all day, everyday. During those summer months, July and August, we are always faced with the challenge of finding time between harvests to get things like weeding, crop maintenance and planting done. We managed and from looking at the summary of CSA items, we are quite pleased with the variety and abundance we sent out after the leaner spring days. As you will see in the CSA content summary, the value in the rest of the season made up for those first four weeks.
Danny and the crew, wading through the carrot and scallion patch.
The Good: The feedback on the quality of the veggies this year has been very good. We too were pleased with how crops grew. The squash crop, in particular, was astounding! Without much coaching, those plants took off, shading out most weeds, and produced copious amounts of fruits. We also were quite pleased with our lettuce crop- in 2015 we lost many plantings of lettuce to rot. This year any loss was minimal and we consistently sent out nice heads to the share members.
Our onions were also amazing. We took a risk and planted them at a closer spacing this year. The gamble worked out as the onions were all a nice size and we increased our yield per square foot by a lot. They dried beautifully in the big barn and our onion stock for the winter is bigger than ever. We are even scratching our head as to where to store them–we’ve already filled our new cold rooms to the brim!
Derek and the Carrots (good band name).
It was a total coincidence that the vegetable of our logo became our signature crop, but so it is- carrots are probably our most known and loved crop. We were worried, moving to a different soil, about whether our carrots would still be sweet and delicious. We were pleased to find that this new soil makes yummy carrots. They are not as easy to harvest or clean, but they seem to be healthier and even sweeter than the ones from our old farm.
The Bad: Potatoes were a tad disappointing. The crop was, for the most part, healthy and the spuds delicious but the yield was quite a bit smaller than previous years. This was the case with many of our farmer friends across both Quebec and Ontario and we are guessing it is due to the drought. Never-mind though, we had plenty for the summer and fall shares and there’s always next year!
Robin hopes to be allowed to harvest more than just head lettuce in 2017. . .
The Ugly: The cucumbers were the most disappointing crop for us this year. We planted a patch of the field that had been compacted by machinery we had used to setup some farm infrastructure. Due to the hectic spring, we didn’t have time to properly repair the soil and made a gamble that we squarely lost. In previous years, the cucumber harvest has been almost overwhelming, but this year it was very meagre and we had a difficult time finding enough for our CSA distributions.
Record breaking drought! The drought was a bit of a challenge, but nothing like 2012 when we farmed in lighter soil! The heavier soil on this new farm retains water well. The biggest challenge in the drought is making sure newly seeded and transplanted crops get enough water. We did lose one planting of fall cabbages, but that’s probably for the best as there seems to be a glut of cabbage on the market this year and we’re having a hard time moving the ones we have :). Robin set up a great irrigation system this spring and we had plenty of water all season long. Despite our lack of problems with the drought this year, we are thinking about investing in rain tanks and digging a pond to collect the grey water created from washing veggies.
After ploughing, disking, and tining and cover crop, this field is finally ready for our 2017 crops.
On Sustainability: This fall we bit the bullet (we’ve been on a steady diet of bullets these last two years), and invested in another 12 acres of tile drainage. We will likely have to drain another 20 next year. We are really hoping to increase our rotation from two years to three years. This means we will farm one plot for one year in veggies and then put it into green manure for two years. This will give the soil more time to build fertility naturally, which will decrease the amount of fertility we need to ship in.
Animal, vegetable, mineral: The ultimate goal on an organic farm is to have a “closed loop” of nutrients, where the animals on the farm build the soil fertility and organic matter to the point where you don’t need to import any fertility. This is very difficult on a smaller farm, where you need to plant vegetables in the same soil each year or even every second year like we did in Manotick. But here in Masham we have enough land to create a lush grassland on top of our old veggie crops, where we can graze sheep or cattle as well as chickens. This, along with the wonders of soil organisms could bring us much closer to our sustainability goals.
The CSA – our raison d’etre: The CSA is key to our success here at Roots and Shoots farm. We are so, so grateful to each and everyone of you for supporting us. We try to make your experience as convenient and fulfilling as possible and are always brainstorming ways to improve our systems. We know it’s not always convenient to scoot out of your way after work to pick up veggies and we aim to make it as painless and worthwhile as possible. This is why it is so important to us to hear your feed back – we’ll be sending the link for the 2016 survey shortly! It is also why we love to have on farm events. We are always so busy in the summer that it’s hard to take the time to plan events. We are hoping to make the farm a more welcoming place in the future (within reason of course :)). Any ideas you have to make your experience more fulfilling, please let us know!
We do aim to give the best veggies to the CSA first. In fact, we grow many crops only for the share members. Things like brussel sprouts, fennel, celery and parsnips are, to be quite honest, a pain for us to grow. We only do it to increase the variety of the share. Any crops you see at market that may not be in your share are there because there were not enough good quality items to distribute to share members. This is another reason why filling out the survey is so important– our field plan depends on what you want in your share!
The 2016 Farm Team – Danny, Kielan, Bianka, Derek, Aidan, Cecilia, Malissa, Robin and Jess (behind the camera!)
A great staff: A special thank you to our team this year that included Aidan, Bianka, Cecilia, Derek, Malissa, Tessa, Josh, Heather and Tim. This was a super keen and energetic group that made these 2016 veggies possible. Of course, Danny and Kielan, our farm managers, get an extra extra thank you. They are the captains of harvest and distribution and an integral part of many of your CSA experience! We definitely could not run this farm without these two!
Awesome co-ordination: Also thank you to our CSA Coodinators – Jessica, Amber, Penny, Anastazia, Kasia, Ryan and Brennan all made sure that the pickups went as smoothly as possible!
A little one on the way. . . Like I said at the beginning, Robin and I are expecting a little cabbage patch kid in February. We will be spending December and January combing through our files, making budgets, and visioning for the future. We don’t expect the farm to look too different than it does this year, but we will be making strides to refine our systems and implement new “lifestyle” goals while increasing the quality, efficiency and sustainability of our production. Danny and Kielan will be a big part of these goal-setting sessions as the health of their families is one of the most important considerations of our farm vision.
Once again, thank you so much for your support and for reading through this entire newsletter!!
2016 Share Value Analysis:
Full Share Members: This year, the Full Share members received $710 worth of veggies at our regular market prices! That equals an extra value of $116 compared to buying the same produce at the Farmers Market, or a 20% extra value!
Half Share Members: This year the Half Share members received approximately $355 worth of veggies, which is an extra value of $31 compared to the same produce at our Farmers Market stand, or an extra value of 10%.