Harmony Valley Farm
90 miles northwest of Madison and about 30 miles south
of La Crosse
Years farming: Since
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 predators
• 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.
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
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:
Cucumbers: They have
been in every box for several weeks in abundant quantity. Now the
plants and the quality of the fruits are declining.
Beans: Everybody 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
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 tops.
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.
Raspberries: 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 markets
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 include:
- 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 them
- Beginning a “gleaning” program for the hungry, (if
you pull this off, let me know how you did it; it is my fantasy.)
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 more.
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.
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.