Last year, a little experiment with veggie sales in a town 12 miles (19km) away didn’t go so well. I guess you could sum it up as No Quality Control. This year, in line with the tiny farming trick of thinking SMALLER, I had the sudden idea to put some veggies in at the convenience store three minutes down the road in the village. This is now the only store for quite a ways around, and it has the post office where everyone in the village picks up their mail. Since I’m always meaning to get the farm stand fully open, putting veggies out a couple of minutes away hadn’t quite made sense, but the way it came to mind now was a little different. If I could get a single shelf in one of the coolers, this would be an interesting, easy way to learn about veggies and refrigeration, and even be able to watch a mini version of the supermarket, convenience-shopping experience, by seeing what sells, the effects of labels and pricing, and…whatnot. All on the most casual level. Refrigeration is, of course, yet another of those many worrisome topics that come up along with Peak Oil and the generally somewhat alarming state of the world, BUT, fridges will likely be around as long as any number of other taken-for-granted things, I figure, so whatever’s learned from a little, low-impact experiment like this should be worth it. It’s an extremely simple set-up, with a small sign taped to the inside of the cooler door, hand-labeled bags, and an honor-system account book for inventory. I also like the idea of super-fresh garden veggies popping up in this most unlikely place, just below the shelf where a few supermarket-purchased veggies are kept for resale. Outpost 2, the Shelf, has been open for around three weeks now, stocked with ones and twos of mesclun and spinach, a few radishes, some herbs. I’m by there every day anyway, so I check the veggie condition often…and things are selling… Interesting enough…!
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The mildly ambitious veggie outpost experiment of earlier this year has returned in pieces. The stand came back today, courtesy of Conall, who took it apart and dropped it off (you can’t help but notice, he’s pretty thorough when it comes to taking things apart…). In any case, a nearby coffee shop wanted to sell a small, choice selection of organic veggies. They were buying upfront at normal prices and marking them up a bit. Our part was to harvest once or twice a week, and deliver (only 12 miles)â€”building the stand was basically a last-minute favor… Why it didn’t work came down to that simple consideration that supermarkets are built on: SHELF LIFE. The coffee shop couldn’t get a handle on how to keep the veggies perky and fresh. I heard about an attempt to revive baby eggplants, shriveling after a day in the sun, by misting them like salad greens. Yikes. I would’ve helped if I could’ve, but I have zero experience with storage in a store-type situation. I’d kinda assumed that, since they prepare and sell food, they were equipped to figure it out. Not so. At the farmers’ market, I start in the cool early morning, it’s only six hours, and the veggies move quickly, so it’s all fine, without refrigeration or cooling, even on the hottest summer days. But keeping displayed veggies perfectly presentable for even a couple of days is a whole other specialized thing. Anyhow, after six weeks or so, we stopped. There was no ill will or anything, and we continued to supply mesclun for their salads for the rest of the season. The bottom line is a lesson I learned long ago, but failed to act on in this case: when you’re involved in something NEW, if there’s no plan that clearly deals with the DETAILS, chances are there will be…TROUBLE. I look forward to tackling this particular puzzle—how to handle daily fresh veggie sales—next year, when we FINALLY open the farm stand. ;)
The veggie selection changes over the season, but it’s not necessarily reflected too dramatically on the stand at the farmers’ market this year. Compared to mid-August, the absence of snap beans and tomatoes is clear (with the mild weather, some vendors did have standard field tomatoes today). As for early June, well, more variety now is to be expected. Still, most of the cool-season crops for around here, like broccoli, cauliflower, and collards, also, winter squash, I have only enough of for CSA. On the stand, two types of radish (White Icicle, French Breakfast), three types of beet (Golden Detroit, Scarlet Supreme, Bull’s Blood, in smaller sizes here), two types of carrot (Nelson, Purple Haze), Red Russian kale, two types of bok choi (Mei Quing, Joi) and mesclun, plus Yukon Gold potatoes, Music garlic and Stuttgarter onions in baskets. The stand could be a lot bigger, offering more display space, and the harvest could be expanded (there are still herbs, summer squash, sweet and hot peppers, tomatillos, Brussels sprouts,…) but the marginal sales for many “secondary” veggies at this slowing down time of year don’t make it worthwhile. I’m still working on the balance between production planning, labor, harvest selection, post-harvest prep, and presentation… Sounds complicated, but it’s just…work! ;)
Finally, today, no more potatoes in the ground! After a near-pristine potato patch for much of the season, field priorities got switched around and pigweed had its turn with the taters. Eradicating the weeds before digging up the last 50′x50′ section seemed to take forever (but was actually a few hours spread over the last couple of weeks). Anyhow, this last haul is about 200 lbs (91 kg). It’s not much when you can buy a 50lb (22 kg) bag of great, unsprayed, unwashed potatoes for $14CDN at the farmers’ market. But in my crop mix, it makes sense. We harvested somewhere around 1,000 lbs (454 kg) this year. In the usual 1-2 lb bags, some sold at a by the pound (not bulk!) price, and the majority used for CSA shares, that works out just fine… Of the Yukon Gold, Norland and Gold Rush, YG performed the best, from small, early, supertasty new potatoes to a good amount of nicely big mature onesâ€”they’re not for storage, but who stores a pound!
Today, I assembled this rather simple mini-stand to sell veggies at a local coffee shop. The trays were put together on the farm, then we drove over with the cut pieces and screw-nailed it together on site. It’s part of the bit of expansion this year, a completely new side to this tiny farmâ€”we’ll see how it plays out! The shop is about 12 miles (19km) away, in a small village that swells in summer with cottage and boat traffic (it’s on a busy recreational waterway; we’re in lake as well as farm country around here). It serves salads, baked-on-premises pastries, fair trade coffee… I’ve known the owner, from the farm, for four years. She wanted to add veggies this year, and the overall…karmic vibe (!) seemed right, so here we are! The shop is actually buying all the veggies upfront at our regular price, and maintaining the stand themselves, so it’s not a BIG change, all in all. Still, a very cooperative, new thing to do. The stand itself is a work-in-progress, for one, it has to be bolted to the concrete pad, and it needs some sort of backboard built in. More as it happens! :)
This single printed sheet is the other farming thing on my mind this time of year. It’s the CSA sign-up form, filled in by new members and past shareholders renewing their stake in the harvest. I don’t do any advertising, just word of mouth and leaving off sheets at a handful of local spots. The goal is to have near 100% renewals, but we’re still expanding, aiming for 50 shareholders this season. I don’t think of this as the “business” end. Like the farm stand and farmers’ market stall, it’s another equal part of tiny farming, same as planting, cultivating, harvesting, sharing, eating. By buying into the whole season in advance, and picking up their weekly shares, CSA members become as much a part of growing veggies as if they were out weeding in the field (which some of them are planning to do as well this year). More »