in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed for
the last 20 years in various capacities from farmworker
to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and rave king;
Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf, etc.; España,
foreman, tractor driver, all around repairman; Jose
España, head harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head
Range of crops: greens, root crops,
tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes, garlic,
melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1 farmers
market, with a small number of carefully selected restaurants
that pick up at the farmers market
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover cropping,
crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year
2005: I’m not always happy to see spring flowers;
carrot blossoms, for example, make me feel especially depressed.
Carrots do have a lovely bloom. Queen Anne’s Lace is popular
with florists everywhere for their unusual, white, umbrella shaped
flowers and Queen Anne’s Lace is just Daucus carota, or common
carrot. But when an edible carrot goes to flower its crunchy, sweet
root gets long and woody. Any sugar reserves the carrot has are
burned up as the plant sends a fibrous flower stalk six or seven
feet into the air. If you grow carrots for the vegetable market,
like me, a flowering crop is a lost crop. I haven’t seen any
carrots flowering yet, but I’m checking the field every day.
It’s important that we have nice carrots at the beginning
of the third week in March when we start our 2005 CSA deliveries.
Put yourself in my muddy rain boots; CSA stands for community
supported agriculture. Hundreds of families have advanced me money
to support my farm. I’ve spent the money wisely, on rent,
seeds, tools, fuel, and payrolls, but I’ve spent it. Soon
I’ll have to repay my farm’s supporters for their trust
and cash with weekly vegetable deliveries. The first harvest share
boxes of this year’s delivery season will be filled with the
crops that were planted last fall for overwintering. We had rain
storms coming one after another so we’ve been able to do very
little spring planting. If all my overwintered carrots go to flower
before I can harvest them, I’m going to sound like a fool.
“Here you go, folks, a nice, attractive bunch of carrot blossoms
you can smell when you come home from buying your week’s carrots
at the super market.”
The first month and a half of every season’s delivery program
is always nerve wracking as we struggle to patch together a balanced
mix of fruits and vegetables by combining harvests of overwintered
crops with what we’re able to successfully sow in the middle
of winter. Other farm’s CSA programs in our area don’t
start until May, when good harvests are assured. A May kick-off
for weekly harvest deliveries is safe and reasonable but I’ve
got my reasons for starting in March.
People are hungry for fresh vegetables in early March when we’re
signing up our subscribers. November and December are all about
parties and getting together with friends. Like bears plumping up
for hibernation folks treat themselves to sweet indulgences. But
by March people are jaded and uneasy with excess. Experience tells
me people make ambitious resolutions in the early spring to cook
more at home, eat more vegetables, and lose weight ; I want my farm
to be there for them before their interest flags and they're distracted
from their healthy ambitions by summer activities. If we can get
folks to sign up early for our program we can keep their interest
through the whole season, but we need to make our pitch to them
when they’re hungry.
March is a hard time for the farm to put out a quality pack but
it’s definitely the best time to show off what we can do.
By March almost all the produce in the supermarkets has traveled
a great distance, from the deserts of Southern California and Arizona,
or from Florida, or from even farther. Supermarket shoppers typically
encounter the oldest, and most expensive produce of the year in
March. A farm like ours that makes a big point of selling very fresh,
locally produced food for a reasonable price has the market conditions
in its favor for a brief period in early spring.
We offer people signing up for the first time with our CSA a special
four week trial share. A month’s worth of deliveries is enough
time for people to learn whether a weekly vegetable box is going
to work for them or not. If they like what we do then we ask them
to sign up for ten weeks of deliveries at a time. Once people make
the leap of faith and try our service out, we can use the weekly
newsletter that we send with each box to explain the harvests. We’ve
discovered that our newsletter is our best tool for educating our
supporters about what we do and why we do it. Lots of people who
signed up for our delivery program for the vegetables stay on because
they find they really appreciate knowing more about how their food
was grown for them and they love being surprised by new vegetables
they never heard of before.
When I write the newsletter columns I try to be as honest, informative
and funny as I can because honesty and humor are in chronic short
supply. Consumers can get all the soft focus, vaseline-smeared-on-the-lens,
warm fuzzy hoo-hah they need from watching bacon, ham and orange
juice ads on TV. But, I cannot tell a lie, sometimes don't tell
my customers the whole truth. I want CSA customers to have faith
in my farm’s productive capacity so I never tell them how
nervous I am at this time of year. And my farm’s supporters
want to think that they’re supporting someone who has endearing
human qualities so I never tell them spring flowers bring me down.