Water beds: This summer's
evening ritual, our son, Ari, just finished turning
on this unit for an overnight watering.
90 miles northwest of Madison and about 30 miles
south of La Crosse
Total acres: 75
(approx. one acre per crop)
Over 60 berries and vegetables, from wild leeks
and celery root to raspberries and pumpkins.
harvesting in April, finish in early November.
CSA deliveries start the first Saturday in May,
and extend into December.
• Extensive cover cropping
• Annual applications of
compost, permanent hedgerows as habitats for insect
• No-till vegetable production
to reduce erosion and improve soil structure
• Detailed record-keeping
CSAs, farmers markets, wholesale distribution,
restaurants, farm stand, local retail stories
August 22 , 2003: Everything is a little
late here in the upper Midwest. Normally we have picked a
few watermelons, corn and tomatoes by now. This year, the
first full week of August finds us just on the cusp of those
revered symbols of summer. Over all even the hot days are
a bit below normal. Nights have often been unusually good
“sleeping weather,” rather than ripening weather.
Besides being just a bit cool, it has been more than a bit
dry. Moisture has been very spotty, with some areas getting
floods while others nearby are parched. We have had only ¼
inch of rain in the past 20 days. We have two crew members
dedicated to full-time irrigation. Except for the 3 acres
on raised beds with plastic mulch and drip tape, we use two
movable aluminum pipe systems with sprinklers on risers to
cover the farm. At this point we have 50 acres in production
or slated for planting within a few weeks.
alternate markets upgrades the contents of our box. It evens
out the boom and bust character of farming. It allows us a
depth of variety to draw upon.”
Extended periods of dry weather are the exception in Wisconsin,
and we consider it a mixed blessing; leaf diseases are lessened,
weeds are much easier to control. However, yields are never
as good as they could be with a natural, steady source of
moisture. And, because we plant successions of many crops
to have a steady supply for our CSA, every week finds us planting
some crop or another, right through August. That means germination
can quickly become an issue. At what point do you switch priorities
from irrigating the existing crops to pre-moistening the fallow
fields in preparation for stale bedding or getting your seeds
to sprout? If we had a crystal ball, it would be much easier.
Nevertheless, all the crops are primed to burst forth and
there is no doubt that we’ll be inundated soon enough.
We’ll have to make decisions about what to put in the
CSA boxes and what to leave out.
What we put in our box this week
Our goal is to supply our members a varied box with a value
close to the average $20 per weekly share cost. Spring boxes
are less, late summer boxes have a greater value. We also
strive for one that is appropriate in its amount for a small
family for a week. Single person households can either share
a weekly box or receive one every other week.
This week’s (Aug. 9th’s) box includes:
• 1.5 pounds carrots
• 10 ears bicolor sweet corn
• 2 slicing tomatoes
• 1 pint cherry tomatoes
• 1/2 pound edamame soybeans
• 4 zucchini
• 1 pound sweet Spanish onions
• 1 bulb Italian garlic
• 1 pound broccoli or 1 head of cauliflower
• 6 ounces mesclun mix
• 1 Yellow watermelon
• 1 Butterscotch cantaloupe
• and an option to add one of the following herbs, delivered
in bulk on the side: cilantro, parsley, savory
What we did not put in the box:
They have been in every box for several weeks in abundant
quantity. Now the plants and the quality of the fruits are
loves beans but they have been in the CSA box 3 weeks in a
row and there are many more good bean crops to come. We opted
to include edamame instead because this is the first edamame
harvest of the season. Also, beans and edamame must be pre-packaged
before packing into the share box. We only have so much crew
time for packaging. There are two other pre-packaged items
already planned for the box this week in addition to edamame
– cherry tomatoes and mesclun mix.
More than 4 zucchini or summer squash: Yes,
we could give more, but, ask yourself, “Would it be
an asset?” We believe that 4 nice sized zucchini are
all a family wants to handle in a week. Overloading, just
because we have plenty here on the farm, just creates food
guilt when it ends up going unused and gets thrown away.
More than 1 bulb of garlic: Why not 3 or 4?
They may already be cleaned and ready to go, but we like to
spread them out for the length of the season, especially when
there is already such variety. When the yield allows it, we
include up to 3 bulbs in a November or December box.
Fresh cipollini onions: We still have some
of the fresh crop on hand but decided to switch to the large,
sweet Spanish simply for variety. Cipollini have graced the
box for three weeks. Members are ready for a change and, besides,
the cipollini are in demand by our wholesale accounts, while
they seem to already have a source for Sweet Spanish.
We mix, wash and pack young Asian greens and chards for an
easy stir-fry. It’s a convenient and tasty addition
to any CSA share box, however, it gets bagged by our crew
and we have to take labor into account. Sometimes we opt to
deliver it through the “choice box” system, in
bulk as an option for members to add to what they get in their
box. Since last week’s box included sauté mix,
we are choosing to skip Sauté altogether.
Bunched chard or kale: The bunched greens
that require some cooking are great additions to the diet
and, ideally, each share would include a cooking green, however,
this week we are skipping this item. Because of their nature,
kales and chards are long term crops that can be picked over
and over for many weeks. As such, they could be included in
the box nearly every week. But, few of our members want one
or the other every week so when the box is full and varied,
we take a pass on the greens. We include them perhaps 1 out
of every 4 weeks, either in the share box or as an optional
“choice” item. We resist the urge to use these
bulky, ever available, cheap-to-grow crops as “box fillers.”
Beets: We plant successive crops of beets
all season long, so they are almost always available to include.
Another root crop, carrots, already is on the list. Carrots
are an easy choice over beets since they won’t keep
their sweetness as long either in the field or in the cooler.
Also, this week the beet greens just aren’t as nice
as we’d like them to be so we harvested them as bulk
beets. Bulk beets don’t look nearly as pretty in the
box and don’t have delicious greens as a bonus. We’ll
wait on the beets until the next crop comes in with fresh
Basil: Basil is a perennial at our market
stand during the warm weeks. However, with basil making its
way into the CSA share for many weeks now, we think cilantro,
parsley or savory will be a welcome break. Basil will be back
for many more weeks.
The first fall variety is just beginning its production. As
with many beginnings, it is still sparse. It won’t yield
even ½ pint per share so we’ll pick what’s
there and take them to market.
To avoid waste, and guilt, cultivate alternative
Ah, that is the key to deciding what goes in the box –
having alternative markets. If you have no other markets you
may be forced to decide what goes in the box by virtue of
what is ripe and can not wait. That could mean a glut of cucumbers
or zucchini. As you know from farming experience, annual summer
crops start small, go crazy with production, then taper off,
like an imperfect bell curve. To have enough to supply your
CSA you have to plant an amount that invariably inundates
you at the peak and provides too little at the margins of
production. Without alternate markets, your range of options
- Just picking enough zucchini for your members to get a
comfortable amount, but it will surely cause the production
of the crop to taper off abnormally soon, with all the overgrown
fruits telling the plant to shut down the blossoms and speed
up the seed maturation.
- Giving your members loads and loads, risking that members
will waste them and forever be burdened with food guilt,
eventually dropping their membership to cleanse themselves
of their sins.
- Cutting them off and leaving them in the field or giving
- Beginning a “gleaning” program for the hungry,
(if you pull this off, let me know how you did it; it is
A better option would be selling the excess.
We sell through several different venues, none by accident,
all by very intentional cultivation of relationships. We have
long-time relationships with regional distributors, local
stores, and a couple of seasonal cuisine restaurants. We know
which crops can be profitably sold to them and, in fact, plant
in sufficient quantities so we have some to sell to them regularly.
Then, when we have excess because we’ve decided the
box didn’t need it, those accounts can often absorb
Then there is the weekly farmers’ market. We’d
never just count on making “CSA cast-offs” the
basis of our market stand. It would be difficult to cultivate
a devoted customer base. We cater to customer needs, keep
an eye on trends and plant varieties that aren’t widely
represented at other farmers’ stands. But, we also can
include, at a smaller volume and more irregularly, some crops
that we really grow especially for the CSA. This week, the
small amount of raspberries and the excess amount of zucchini
are two good examples of that.
Having alternate markets upgrades the contents of our box.
It evens out the boom and bust character of farming. It allows
us a depth of variety to draw upon because we grow crops for
those other markets. It would probably not be worth our while
to grow parsley or ground cherries or jalapenos for our CSA
if we didn’t have a good outlet for them elsewhere.
You could argue that few would notice if such items were missing,
but our members tell us time and again that the variety astounds
them and keeps them coming back. Not only do they get freshness
that they can’t find any where else, they can’t
find the variety, either.
we could give more, but, ask yourself, “Would it be
an asset?” Overloading, just because we have plenty
here on the farm, just creates food guilt when it goes unused.
Yes, we know Community Supported Agriculture, as it was first
envisioned, is supposed to be about sharing the abundance
or scarcity of one farm, but our 10 years of experience says
many, especially new members, are not ready for the realities
of food production. We consciously insulate them from the
most dramatic shortages or production peaks that are a normal
part of growing produce. We routinely plant twice as much
as would be needed for the CSA boxes. If we only get ½
a crop of broccoli because the heat came on early and strong,
our CSA members are still satisfied. If all the varieties
produce nice heads, we sell half the crop.
You get the picture? We find our members need a regular supply
of basic favorites, sprinkled with some new and exciting varieties
or crops, accompanied by recipes and uses for them. We don’t
want to spend our winters recruiting new members so we do
what we can to please our current members and bring them back.