CSA NOTEBOOK: Harmony Valley Farm, Wisconsin

Community Comes to the Farm
OCTOBER: Even if your farm is nowhere near your customers, you can still cement the relationship and sense of shared community with a few low-key events each year on your farm.

By Linda Halley, Harmony Valley Farm


Harmony Valley Farm
Viroqua, Wisconsin

Location: About 90 miles northwest of Madison and about 30 miles south of La Crosse

Years farming: Since 1973

Total acres: 75 (approx. one acre per crop)

Crops: Over 60 berries and vegetables, from wild leeks and celery root to raspberries and pumpkins.

Season: Start harvesting in April, finish in early November. CSA deliveries start the first Saturday in May, and extend into December.

Regenerative practices:
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

Marketing: CSAs, farmers markets, wholesale distribution, restaurants, farm stand, local retail stories


Editor's NOTE

Visit Richard DeWilde and Linda Halley's first CSA Notebook installment: Two veteran CSA farmers share their insights


Check out their website at www.harmonyvalleyfarm.com


















October 27, 2003: For CSA members, part of the experience is coming out to the farm to see where it all happens. Most of our members live a couple hours from the farm and receive a box delivered to their neighborhood, so few have occasion to just casually stop by. We make sure all of our members feel invited and welcome to visit any time, but especially roll out the red carpet for two annual open house events. In the spring we have a strawberry fest with members picking for free, feasting with friends --new and old, and touring the farm. In the fall it’s the Pumpkin Pick Harvest Party.

Both events are held on our one day off per week, so, by necessity, we make them fairly simple affairs. But, we have found the farm, in all its bountiful splendor, provides enough entertainment without much more fuss than mowing the field roads and hosing off the harvest (tour) wagons.

We do put our best face forward, making sure the packing shed where we potluck has gotten a little extra attention the day before. We park some clean tractors, with their emergency brakes set and their keys removed, along the drive, inviting climbing and some “let’s pretend.” But, we keep our farm pretty neat and tidy as a general practice, so getting ready for visitors doesn’t require too much extra effort.

As you are getting ready for your CSA event, remember to step back and take a look from a newcomer’s perspective. Does it evoke a sense of organization and know-how that says, “These farmers are skilled professionals, I can trust them to grow my food.” Most members want to hitch their wagon to a successful enterprise – so look the part!

Finally, think seriously about safety. Are machines with moving parts unplugged? Are potentially unsafe areas closed off and marked with a sign? Are walkways cleared? Are electric fences turned off for the day or marked with a warning? It is easy to show off your farm and have fun when you know things are safe.

I have included an article that my husband, Richard de Wilde, and I co-wrote for our CSA newsletter after September’s Harvest Party. We hope it conveys why we go to the effort of opening our farm to our CSA membership at least a couple times each year.

Kids on the Farm:
A Harvest Party Report

We consider last Sunday’s Harvest party and Pumpkin Pick to be a resounding success! Yes, it drizzled a bit, but it didn’t dampen the spirits of the 80 or so folks who showed up to enjoy great potluck food and tour the farm. The two harvest wagons were full, but not dangerously so, until we loaded them with pumpkins. But that’s getting ahead of the story!

First stop on the farm tour was in the sweet potatoes field. Not many Midwesterners have seen sweet potatoes growing, much less have experienced pulling them right out of the soil. But, before you can pull, you have to cut and remove the tropical-looking vines. Then tear away the plastic covering the bed and carefully dig with a garden fork, keeping it well away from where you can see the tips of the potatoes poking up through the dirt. As I pry gently, exposing the bunch of tubers, oohs and aahs can be heard all around from the kids.

The striking similarity between a bunch of bananas and a bunch of sweet potatoes is commented on. Indeed, in banana-like fashion, they grow in a cluster, down into the soil under the main stem of the vine. They come in all sizes and even some weird shapes, but every one of them gets snatched out of the moist soil by eager little hands. When every child, and several adults, have a couple to take home, we move on to the carrots.

Carrots generally can’t be coaxed out of the ground without the aid of a garden fork, but the broad shouldered, stubby yellow ones, with the thick thatch of lacy tops, cooperated! Kids were pulling them right and left, surprised at the new color and mild, sweet flavor. That’s right, what’s a little dirt when you can pick and enjoy right on the spot. More than one child was spotted with a smudge of dirt by their lips, munching happily away!

It was here in the carrot field that the kids captured my attention. In our modern world of electronic video games, fast-paced TV and general sensory overload, how amazing to see pure joy and a sense of accomplishment come over the young faces when a carrot lets go its grip on the earth, revealing shape and size. How can a simple carrot become a prized jewel, a bringer of joy? I like to think it is some ancient bond with the earth and growing things that has awakened in the children.

The tour continues. On we go to the beets--gold beets, chioggia beets, red beets--more jewels, and even easier to pull. Before we board the wagons someone mentions the lemongrass. Now, that’s a challenge! Even though it grows above ground, it is more likely to release its heavenly aroma than release its roots. After a wrestling match, a few lucky souls tote lush, fragrant bundles back to the wagon.

Aboard the covered harvest wagons, out of the misty air, we wind our way past fields of broccoli, kale and parsley, and stop in the tomato patch. Now, after weeks of picking, the tidy aisles of straw are littered with tomatoes that will never become a BLT or a rich sauce. A little sunburn, a water-induced crack or some other blemish relegated them to eventually become compost. Nevertheless, there are lots of delicious tomatoes still left on the newest vines. Green zebras, Georgia streaks, grape tomatoes and even a row of the tomato cousin, cape gooseberries, are hits. Though we never plant a full row, and they never produce many fruits, we keep growing cape gooseberries, which resemble overgrown ground cherries. Maybe we grow them just for the fun of seeing folks peel back their papery “capes” and taste their exotic, citrusy tang for the first time!

Finally we trek to the pumpkin patch. There are hundreds of pumpkins to pick from. One after another they are chosen, cut from the vine and set next to the road. As the wagon passes, the pumpkins are handed up. Soon the wagons can hold no more and the supply boxes on the front of the tractors and the back of the wagons are heaping, as well.

We trundle home to the greenhouse where all hoses are employed to wash the pumpkins clean. Hoses are nearly as much fun as picking vegetables. Though there were some very wet kids, the washing didn’t stop until all the future jack o’ lanterns were shiny and beautiful.

Cars and families head out, loaded with various veggies and, of course, the perfect pumpkins. Little Vivian, however, wasn’t quite ready. She wanted to see the horses. We conducted an impromptu windfall apple hunt, nearly as much fun as an Easter Egg hunt, and went to feed the greedy beasts. Tiny hands, held flat and balancing apples, stretched up to the giant, soft noses and lips. Just as the horse reached out, the hand pulled back! Kinda scary! “Try again and, this time don’t flinch.” Eventually, the kids got so good at it that the horses were drooling apple cider. Neither the kids, nor the horses, wanted to quit!

So, when we flop into chairs at the end of the long, visitor-filled Sunday, are we wondering why we take our one day off in an 80 hour work week to hold the Harvest Party? Not at all! It’s the kids! (okay, the adult kids, too!) We like to think that eating out of the box, seeing it grow in the field, and pulling it out of the ground or off the vine, forever changes how a person thinks about food. CSA kids eat healthier foods, maybe, we believe, with habits ingrained for a lifetime.

-- Richard and Linda