Our farm is filling in nicely and we are picking our first round of zucchinis and cucumbers. Heirloom and cherry tomato plants are looking fabulous whereas our beefsteaks are on the mend from a slight overwatering issue. We are picking lettuce, baby greens, beets, kales and chard. Sunflowers, green beans, sweet onions, eggplant and cherry tomatoes are all just around the corner. Sadly, one of our farm managers just put in his two weeks notice after receiving an offer he couldn’t refuse for something less seasonal. We wish him luck. So just like other businesses we are feeling the pressure of having to do more with less, but farming as with life teaches you to roll with the punches and adapt. Our current farm crew seems confident and ready to step up to the challenge.
On our farm and beyond we are feeling squeezed by increased input costs such as fertilizer, tractor diesel, as well as labor. This sentiment is being echoed by all the other farms we work with too. We are finding it more necessary to calculate fuel expense and to limit our trips to those that can justify the expense. So even though they have just started picking tunnel corn on the eastern shore of Maryland and blackberries on the northern neck of Virginia, we had to make the conscious decision to hold off until local melons and cherry tomatoes are also available. Other farmers are facing the same difficult decisions. Typically we would have no problem sourcing South Carolina peaches or Georgia melons during mid-June. But this year our southern growers are unable to absorb the risk of increased input costs and freight as they send their crops to market in our neck of the woods with uncertainty on what price they will bring. So what we are finding through our farmer to farmer network, already delayed by weather, is even more limited for economic reasons. The result is decreased supply and higher demand which is also driving up prices. First hand we are witnessing inflation. I’ve never taken an economics course, nor a business class if I’m being honest, but I’ve always believed everything could be taught through the lens of the farm stand. Farm Marketing 101.
So with this realization coming to light and noticing our reserves taking a hit we are facing some difficult decisions. Where can we tighten our belts without giving up too much. We want our CSA members and customers to have lots of choices. We want everyone to be satisfied, to tell their friends and to come back next year, but also realizing we are going to have to budget more strictly than we have in the past. For those that are critical about not everything being local and don’t mind the limited selection of what’s currently in season, perhaps we can come up with an All Local option. We are realizing the advantage of supplying as much as we can from our own farm where we are already invested. However, we realize most of us want more selection than greens, squash and cucumbers which is all that’s ready to pick at the moment. We will need to be more selective of which drives we can justify. This may mean relying more on some distributors or waiting a bit longer for local harvests to become abundant enough to fill our truck. I’m also looking for other markets and restaurants that are willing to work together on justifying drives to Pennsylvania, the eastern shore or northern neck.
So if you’d like to help us sustain there are a few things you might consider while picking up your CSA shares:
First, please fill your baskets but try not to overfill them. In normal times the rule is if you can take three steps without anything falling out its yours. Now we may need to ask you to take what you think is fair. We realize not everything fits perfectly in our red baskets.They should represent about three portions of fruit or vegetables. We really like the current formula and don’t want to change it.
Second, please favor the produce grown on our farm. This helps us cut down on transport and fuel costs. It also helps us reserve the funds we need to pay our crew. Feel free to ask what’s coming in if you’re not sure. Currently that’s herbs, lettuce, kale, chard, baby greens, beets, squash and cucumbers. Soon there will be lots more.
Third, please be understanding. The other day I realized that our selection has expanded dramatically. Perhaps too much. Some of these items, particularly the ones we are bringing in from distributors, served a purpose when local items were more limited but as things open up it might be time to bid adieu. We may need to keep non-local tree fruit on the tables a bit longer until we can replace them with local, however it might be time to say goodbye to sweet potatoes, delicata squash, citrus and a few others. In some cases portion sizes don’t fit the budget as they once did. Berries from other farms are incredibly expensive this year. Over the next few weeks we may need to adjust portion sizes. I just wanted to be up front about that.
Thanks to everyone for your understanding. It is in these times of economic uncertainty that community is particularly important. I’m looking forward to doing all that we can to make this a great summer and be your source for good things to come.