I find myself thinking about how peaceful it is this time of year at the farm while overlooking the patchwork of finished vegetable beds and rolling hills.  The cover crop is sown and the forest’s leaves are about to start changing colors. Most of the harvesting is done and the cleanup nearly complete with tomato stakes in stacks and piles of plastic mulch and drip tape awaiting their turn in the dumpster.  Even the bees have been transferred to their winter home. The only crops still in the field are the ones we are still picking, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and greens.  There is a resurgence of sunflowers ever since the sun re-emerged in October. Their cheerful blooms, accompanied by swooping finches and lingering monarchs, the fresh vibrant green growth of winter rye, and the crisp autumn air find me dreaming up plans for next season.

To be honest, a couple months ago I didn’t think I would get to this point. I wouldn’t have believed I would feel a sense of rejuvenation or the luxury of looking forward. I’ve heard of other farms throwing in the towel as a direct result of the hardships they’ve faced this season.  I’ll admit we’ve had to dig deep and ask ourselves where do we go from here? Do we accept our shortcomings, downsize, and take a step back? Do we cut costs and simplify our operation? Keep things status quo and hope for better weather? Or do we find solutions and move forward?

This year was challenging to say the least. In some ways it feels like we’ve hit our stride in regards to our vegetable production. We’ve had several seasons to fine tune how much to plant, which varieties do the best, and how far apart to space our plantings in regards to both time (days) and distance (feet). For the first time we are managing the entire farm and no longer leasing out acreage. Every square foot was cultivated either in vegetables, cover crop, or Kentucky Bluegrass to prevent erosion of our tractor aisles and parking areas.

Our biggest woes stemmed from two main factors, the weather and the deer pressure. While out walking the farm I feebly butcher the serenity prayer, the part about accepting the things I can’t change, and changing the things I can and the ability to know the difference. For us this year the thing we couldn’t change was the weather.  All the rain and lack of sun really made it a difficult growing season. Seeds either struggled to germinate, or got washed away or it was too muddy to plant. If the plants made it to maturity then there were blights, molds, and mildews to contend with and they often rotted in the fields. We made the most of it and did the best we could to keep the market tables full and our chins up but behind the scenes we struggled. I keep hearing this year was an anomaly, and we are hoping the next one will be drier. If DC becomes the new Seattle we may have to consider constructing high tunnels and greenhouses.

On the other hand, the thing we can impact is deer pressure. After great consideration we are planning on installing almost a mile of 8′ fencing to surround our 40 acre production area. Advice from other farms have made us feel this is the only solution. When I add up the value of all the damage they caused not to mention the hours of labor spent ineffectively attempting to protect our crops, the fencing will be well worth it. It is a one time expense that we believe will be justified in about three to four years. I have to say finding a peaceful remedy for the heartache and frustration the deer cause is priceless. They are welcome to enjoy the forests, pasture, and streams of the farm to their heart’s content. We just need them out of our crops.

With the deer pressure under control and our current production running smoothly we will be able to add new items. I am excited to announce plans for planting our first couple acres of berry orchards: blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries in the spring of 2019. These will be ready for picking in the 2020 season. We have a perfect location picked out on a hillside and are currently consulting with experts and expect to be planting in April while trellising in the fall.

To implement the two initiatives of deer fencing and a berry orchard we need to invest about $50,000. We are currently researching grants and financing options, however wanted to offer our members the opportunity to reap the rewards and the literal fruits of our labors through our new 3 Year Adopt-a-Row Membership. 3 Year Members will lock in this season’s CSA Pricing and enjoy a 20% Discount every time they shop at our markets. Our current 5 Year, Founding Members, have nearly completed their third season and may wish to replenish their membership by adding the 3 Year.  Members will also be invited out to the farm for special events, behind the scenes tours and exclusive Pick Your Owns.

We are looking into new and innovative ways to grow and diversify our farm business as well.  We are developing relationships and synergy with other like-minded businesses such as farm breweries and wineries. We are considering progressive strategies such as collecting wind and solar energy, hosting events, offering “Glamping” sites for those interested in getting back to nature and In The Field Dinners.

So thanks to everyone that stuck it through this season. For those that needed to take a break, we hope you consider coming back and rejoining us. For others interested in becoming first timers, we are welcoming new members with open arms. We are about to launch our 2019 CSA Membership Campaign on November 2nd and are offering great early bird incentives.  Returning members will receive 5% Off their membership if they sign up by 12/31/18. New members will receive 1 Free Week. We are revamping our referral program so that both the referrer and referree will receive market bucks so be sure to help us spread the word.

Bundle up and join us on the farm on November 10th from 3 to 5 for S’mores and Tours.  We will toast the end of the season and talk about our plans for the next one. Bring your friends and family and enjoy the  changing leaves and country air. We will provide hot beverages, s’mores, and a hayride around the farm.  Hope to see everyone there.

It is through our member’s support that we have been able to accomplish so much. It is what drives us to keep dreaming up new ideas, bringing them to fruition and fulfilling our mission of being your connection to the source.  Thank you.

27 Comments

  1. Virtual hug! I marveled over the season how you were able to keep providing full tables and variety during this tough year. Please post further information on the 3 year adopt a row program. Thank you.

    • Thanks Lisa

  2. John: You and your team do an amazing job. Besides the CSA option how else can we financially support your operation?

    • Thanks Steve. We are brainstorming ideas for crowdsourcing and would appreciate any suggestions. In the meantime we have gift cards available for purchase both virtually and physically which help provide funds which we can utilize more immediately while providing the goods next season.

  3. Thank you, John, for all your efforts and the heart you and your team put into your work! You are good stewards of the farm and a source of great joy to those of us who get to enjoy the fruits of your labors. So grateful to you and looking forward to great things in the future. Keep up the good work, run without fear the race that is set before you, and above all, hang in there. Peace and all good, Anne-Louise from DC

    • Thanks Anne-Louise

  4. Thank you for all that you do to bring us fresh crops.

    I would like to join you on November 10, but I cannot drive. Is there anyone who could give me a ride?

  5. Dear John and Iris,
    Thank you for such a heartfelt and clear understanding of your progress and challenges. While we can’t change the weather we can help build a fence. The 3 year rentarow is a great idea.
    You’ve built a great community. We’d be happy to support it again with another 3 year membership.

    • Thank you for your comment and continued support. Very much appreciated.

  6. Wonderful letter, John. Thank you.
    I love your resilience and perseverance.
    We will certainly contribute to your undertakings, this deer fence and berries of the future.

    • Thank you Ellen and Michael for the encouragement and your continued support.

  7. Pleas dont throw in the towel. I love everything about what you are doing !

    • Thanks Martha.

  8. How about a crowdsourcing campaign for non CSA customers who want to support you but can’t commit to the CSA thing. I’d love to give to support of your farm.

    • Thank you Carol. Great idea. We will research that

  9. Keep on rockin John, Eris & Team Norman’s Farm Market! It’s not an easy road farming, but you’re bringing soul back to the soil, and every community needs the food that you are growing. Investing in your farm is a step in securing the future of good, healthy, nutritious food for generations to come.

    • Thanks for your comments Oren. Looking forward to a sandwich at FarmBoy

  10. John, part of the bargain for CSA members is that we “share” the both harvest and the hardships of the farmer. I have been amazed at the quantity and quality of the produce this season, given the never-ending rains and the poorly scheduled high temperatures. We suffered too (laundry that seemed never to dry, pills that turned to mush, mold trying to get a foothold), because, as the Good Book says of the heavenly Father, “his sun rises on the bad and the good, he rains on the just and the unjust.” Thank you for carrying on, and know that we are grateful to you and all at Norman’s Farm.

    • Mary Ann,

      Thanks for your comment. It means a lot and looking forward to continuing to serve as your farmer.

  11. I think your plan to plant berries, asparagus, and rhubarb over the next year(s) is brilliant. I’m into assisting with the deer fencing and the new plants as I think they are great additions to your already formidable varieties of produce.

    • Thanks mom.

  12. We love our Norman’s Farm Market on Jones Mill. Couldn’t live without it !

    • Thanks Vivi

  13. John,
    Thanks for sharing. Although I was aware of all the rain, you did not let us feel in any way that you were suffering this year. I too will support your fence with 3 year row. Each time I must buy some fruits in groceries and bring them home to find them never ripping it rotting in few days I say my “thank you”for the CSA and your amazing work!

  14. Do you have a general donation option for this fund? Or a crowdsourcing campaign that we might contribute to? Thanks!

  15. Thank you for this letter. We’ll will miss the stand till next season with your delicious evening basket specials and watermelons! Keep looking forward, great work and cannot wait for next season of healthy food that you share. Congratutalitions on this season close!

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