NEWS FROM MARIQUITA: A CSA Journal

Spring flowers bring me down ...
Andy's got the early season nerves. What if his overwintered carrots bolt before his CSA season starts in late March? Most of his neighbors start later, but he thinks it's worth the risk ... and the nerves.

By Andy Griffin

Farm-at-a-glance

Mariquita Farm

Location: Land 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 vegetable packer
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

February 22, 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.

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