Dear Mountain Bounty Farm Members,
The farm is in full spring swing. The fields are beautifully lush and green with thriving cover crops. The greenhouses are bursting with baby transplants and the large tunnels that cover and protect the earliest plantings are full of baby carrots, beets, and tomatoes. Peas and onions are loving the spring weather. This week we have been working hard to prepare the fields and plant our first waves of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, chard, scallions, napa cabbage, and lettuce. As I write this the crew is scurrying to get this all done ahead of what looks to be a solid rainstorm in the next week. It’s very exciting time to be farming.
For a couple of months now I’ve been meaning to update you on a bunch of important farm news:
– Summary of last summer’s survey & our responses
– Our plans to deal with the drough
– And a quick mention about 2014 pricing
2013 Summer Veggies Survey:
Thanks to everyone who filled out the survey! We got 276 responses which is a great survey response rate – 48% of members filled out a survey, so we feel confident that we are getting a clear message about what people want. Our goal for the survey is to continue to improve the farm. We want to make sure that we are giving you what you want as much as possible within the constraints of what is possible for our farm. I’ll give some highlights and then discuss crop by crop what people wanted, and what we are going to do about it.
Overall it looks like we are doing pretty well. In answer to the question about your overall satisfaction, 95.5% responded with a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1-5 (1 is very dissatisfied, and 5 is very satisfied). And on the question as to whether you would sign up again, 90% picked either a 4 or 5. When asked whether you would recommend Mountain Bounty to a friend, 98.8% said yes! To say the least, this is very nice to hear. THANK YOU! My favorite comments in the general section were from three different members who all said, when asked why they might not sign up next year said, “If I die.”
We also got hundreds of very helpful comments and criticisms about everything from how the pickup sites are run to requests for more or less of a particular vegetable. Many of these comments identify problems we already knew about (some onions at the end of the season had rot in the middle) and others were more of a surprise (so many people disliked the sweet corn). I can’t give detailed responses here to all of the comments, but please know that every comment has been taken to heart and changes are being made, where possible and practical, to improve your Mountain Bounty experience. If you would like more information about any aspect of our farming, decision making, or just want a direct answer to a comment, please send an email any time.
Here are some highlights from the particular vegetable want more of/want less of section. It is amazing how diverse people’s tastes are. By its nature, Community Supported Agriculture is an imperfect system where to some extent everyone will be getting more of something they don’t want or less of something they want. I encourage everyone to remember that most of every box is going to make you happy!
Beans: people wanted more. Although beans are very easy to grow, they are also our most laborious crop (along with peas) to pick and at this point we cannot do more than we do. Each season we do 3 bean plantings and aim to pick each planting for two weeks. Last season we were able to give out beans 6 times.
Broccoli and Kale: I’m grouping these together because we plant them together and people wanted more of both. Last year our spring plantings did very well and we gave out tons of broccoli and kale through July. So I’m assuming that people are responding to the fall crops here. The dry hot fall (remember 2013 was the driest year ever recorded in California) caused a lot of problems (mostly aphids) for these cool/moist loving crops. We planted plenty, but in the fall we only were able to harvest about half of what we would have liked.
Cabbage: people want less. We gave out cabbage 6x in 2013. This year we plan to give a similar amount but we will make sure that we don’t give it out in consecutive weeks which can be overwhelming.
Carrots: equal numbers wanted more and less. For now we’ll continue to give out lots of carrots. In 2013 you got carrots 19 out of 24 weeks.
Corn: Many people want less corn. This was a big surprise as past surveys have gone the other way. It sounds like a lot of people are put off by the worms in the tips. Here’s our plan: We are going to plant a little less – 5 instead of 6 plantings. This also helps with our concerns about the drought because corn takes up a lot of space and thus water (it uses about the same amount of water as other veggies, but yields less per area cultivated). AND we are going to try a radical new approach. We are going to attempt to cut the tips off of all the ears for you. For my whole farming career I have stubbornly resisted doing as the grocery stores do because I viewed it as reducing the quality of the rest of the ear by allowing it to dry out quicker. But it’s finally time to try it. It’s going to take a lot of work, but we so badly want everyone to love our tasty sweet corn!
Eggplant and Fennel: people want less. This breaks the crew’s heart. We gave out eggplant 6x and fennel 3x in 2013. Our plan is to try harder to win you over to these veggies we love! Our plan is to do a better job of sharing easy and tasty recipes for these crops.
Onions and Garlic: people want more. 2013 was our best year for garlic in a while and an average onion year; we gave garlic out 11x and onions 9x. This year we planted more of the garlic varieties that have been doing better for us and we have a better garlic curing plan so hopefully there will be even more garlic this year. We are planting more onions this year.
Peppers and Potatoes: people want more. We had an excellent year for both of these crops and gave out a lot of them, peppers 9x (2-4 peppers ea. time) and potatoes 8x (average 2.75 lbs. ea. time). We can’t see how we could give out more of these crops because it’s almost impossible to make the season longer than it already is. Hopefully we’ll have another good year of these crops.
Tomatoes: people want more. This was also a bit of a surprise since we had such a great tomato season. In 2013 we gave out tomatoes for 16 out of 24 weeks. For 7 peak weeks we gave out 3 lbs. each time! Our guess is that when filling out the survey at the end of the season people may be remembering the last few tomato weeks as they tapered down to just a couple of small tomatoes in the boxes. Our only hope to increase the tomato bounty is to extend the peak season later into the fall (we are already going to extreme measures to get tomatoes as early as possible – the first planting gets seeded on new year’s day!). So we have added a later tomato planting, some of which will be in a greenhouse, to see if we can extend the period where we put 3 lbs. in each box.
Impact of the Droughton Mountain Bounty:
Everyone has been asking me about the drought. So far I think we will be ok because we have worked hard to adapt and make changes that will help us to continue to provide you with great food this year.
2013 was a bountiful but very dry year. Weather scientists are saying that the calendar year 2013 was the driest in California since sometime in the 1400’s. And 2014 got off to a scary dry start. Since then we have gotten some good rains, thank goodness. Despite the wonderful spring rains, we are still anticipating that we will get about half of average rainfall for the year. As of February 1, we had only received 5.5 inches of rain since September, but since then we have gotten about 18 inches. Our cover crops looked like they would die in January, but many of them then grew to chest high and are already mowed down in preparation for planting. We have been working hard and scheming hard all winter to figure out how to survive and thrive despite the drought.
Here are a few things we’ve done or plan to do:
- Invested in new more efficient sprinkler heads for our main fields.
- Plan to buy more drip irrigation and convert more of our crops to drip irrigation – currently about 2/3 of our crops are on drip.
- Cleaned out one of our ponds to increase its storage capacity.
- Worked to make sure that the main reservoir that serves our farm has enough water by working with the water district to carefully manage the water coming in, plugging leaks, and working to convince state regulators to let us fill the reservoir. Two years ago they mandated that we keep the level below a certain point and are making it very difficult for us to raise the level again.
- We have also made changes to our planting plan, where we have a list of crops that we may choose to either reduce or not plant if the drought gets worse. And we are considering mulching certain crops, which is a very expensive option at the farm scale.
The biggest unknown right now is how our wells will hold up in the later part of the season. At this point I am optimistic that with careful farming we will make it through this year about like we did last year.
2014 CSA Pricing:
This year we have again decided to raise our summer veggie share prices by $1/box to a total of $26.75 per box (Truckee/Tahoe folks pay an additional $3 for delivery). No one likes this, but here are our reasons:
- We continue to strive to pay our small crew a living wage. It’s the right thing to do and we hope that as a result they will continue to stick with us and sustain the farm. They get paid much better than most farms, but we hope to do even better.
- Everything we have to buy to farm keeps costing us more every year, from seeds to organic fertilizers to drip irrigation parts.
- In our price comparison studies over the past 4 years our boxes averaged $31-$35 value over the season. We want to continue to give you a good and generous deal, and we also want to receive fair compensation for our top quality produce.
Thank you all for supporting Mountain Bounty!