This has been my motto over the past year. After starting four farms from scratch in four years, and moving seven times in the last ten, it has been really satisfying to just. stay. put. We are finally getting past the seemingly insurmountable start-up hurdles, and into a new stage of finding better and (sometimes) easier ways to do things.
Some of our improvements have been through infrastructure. After our first winter when our water line froze, we drilled a second well at the barn. An insulated line and a heated wash station keep water running all winter, and on mild days we can even irrigate the greenhouses. Much better than hauling dirty veggies to the house to wash them in our mudroom, and hauling water from the house to water greenhouses by hand! The second well is also keeping our crops alive during this summer’s drought… more on that later.
We also invested in a mechanized root vegetable washer. This beauty spins veggies in a large drum while high-pressure sprinklers clean them. It helped us to increased our winter CSA from 75 members in 2014 to 125 in 2015.
Many other improvements are in our systems and processes. Sometimes you just have to do things poorly for awhile before a better way appears, through trial and error or the occasional lightbulb moment. Whether it’s a more efficient way to pack CSA boxes, automating spreadsheets for record-keeping, or figuring out how to get the seeder to space the seeds properly, we’re making slow but steady progress on many fronts.
Of course, we’ve also made our share of new mistakes. In some cases we didn’t realize how well we’d (accidentally) done something our first year until we did it differently the second year, and suffered the consequences. Some crops were planted too early this time around, others too late. A late fall made us less careful about protecting greenhouse crops, until a sudden frost killed many of them. And, as we learned time and time again, even an insulated water line will freeze if you forget to turn your heaters on when it goes to -20. (Doh!) But it’s all part of the learning process.
As we get a handle on our core operations, we’re continuously looking for ways to grow the business. As time and resources allow, we’re increasing our staff, investing in better equipment, and adding new products and customers. This spring we expanded our wholesale salad production, selling to new restaurants and food stores as well as to organic food box delivery programs. Brad mustered his confidence and knocked on a lot of restaurant doors with samples in hand. We had to hire a part-time delivery person and rent a van twice a week, but we exceeded our spring sales target and saw the potential to scale up even more.
We get so caught up in the next challenges and goals that it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come in a relatively short time. This month, we mark our two-year anniversary of living at this farm. It’s hard to believe that just two years ago, there were no greenhouses, no cold storage, no heating system, no winter CSA members; no idea whether this would actually work.
Looking back helps to inspire me when I feel overwhelmed by the next step: having our second baby in October, with our son starting kindergarten, the winter CSA ramping up, the fields full of crops to harvest and greenhouse production in full swing. (Wait… whose idea was this again???) But then I think about everything that has happened here so far, and all the amazing support and help we’ve had and continue to receive. Like 15 volunteers showing up on a hot Saturday in June to hand-weed onions, plant seeds and shovel gravel in 30+ heat. Those are true friends, and we are eternally grateful for them.
If we were able to get this far in two years, and learn so much along the way, imagine what can happen in the next two years. Starting from such chaos has created a million opportunities to do things better, and I’m confident that our team will keep finding new ways to grow, in all senses of the word.