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Farmyard Favorites: Delightful Tales of Life on the CSA

June 26, 2024

Table of Contents

Farmyard Favorites: Delightful Tales of Life on the CSA

Remembering the Door

I received a new catalog in the mail yesterday. It’s titled “New Pig Leak and Spill Pigalog.” At first glance, I was a bit offended that they selected me to receive it. Without even opening it, I can tell they think I’m a messy sort of person. “Spill Kit Absorbent Sock,” “Spill Containment Pallet,” “Leak Diverter” are just some of what’s advertised on the front cover alone. Not a very flattering invitation to shop more.

Then again, maybe they saw me trip over the dog’s water dish that very morning, and they sent the catalog express. Or perhaps they know about the rootbeer incident. But that was over a year ago, and the only witnesses were another farmer, the truck driver, and again, the dog. I looked around the room. At the moment, only the dog was there, watching his innocent stare unsettling. Is he sending out for catalogs when I’m not around?

When I turned the catalog over, I saw it was addressed to “Old Plank Farm.” Well, of course, that’s okay because a farm would make the list for this sort of new catalog. It’s not personal, just business. The farm receives a lot of catalogs this time of year. Seed catalogs make up the bulk of these. Even though our seed orders have already arrived for the coming season, I still enjoy looking at the ads for delicious new varieties of vegetables being offered. We also get supply catalogs, which provide us with growing and harvest tools, irrigation parts, and packing supplies. The pictures in these aren’t as luscious as the seed catalogs, but they are practical and informative.

This week, I am working on our supply orders during the day and drooling over seed catalogs in the evening. The “pigalog” isn’t likely to make the cut. We aren’t waiting until a few days before we need supplies to put in an order, especially not in a year where supply chains and shipping may be a bit slower than usual. Nor do we ever wait until June to start farming. Vegetable farming has year-round planning, work, and expenses. In order to deliver onions to our members during the harvest season, we need to order the seeds in December, order the potting mix and planting trays in January, start the seeds in February, heat and water them in March, transplant them into the field in April, weed and water them in May and June, harvest them in July and August, dry the storage varieties in September, and continue to deliver them all through October. And that’s just one of our 35 crops. Farmers are always thinking ahead and doing work that won’t reap rewards until sometime in the future.

You don’t have to be a farmer to think ahead like one. I hope you’ll consider signing up early if you want to become a member of our farm this season. Don’t wait until June when the veggies are ready for harvest because they will already be spoken for. Sign up today, and your membership will help support all the work we do here to bring you boxes of veggies during the 20-week harvest season. Many of our returning members have already signed up, and it’s thanks to you that we are well prepared for the season ahead.

I guess I don’t blame the dog for the new “Pigalog” sent to us. Nor do I think he’ll blab about the rootbeer incident. But if we get a “Sheepalog” in the mail any time soon, this border collie is going to have some questions to answer.

Lifting the Veil

So many resources for vegetable farmers. Our favorites, Hillcrest Supply and FEDCO Seeds, are not pictured because they are also the most shared catalogs. Now that our season is right around the corner, and our seeds have arrived, and our field plans are nearly complete, it’s time to start spreading the word about our membership sign-up opportunities.

Our big news this year is that we’ve been awarded a USDA grant to help us expand our farm membership program. We’re honored and grateful for the support we’ll be getting from the USDA as we dig into an exciting new season here at the farm. One of the main components of our expansion project is to offer a home delivery option for the communities we currently serve. All of the brainstorming, planning, and grant writing for this project took place last winter before coronavirus was a household word and household burden. But here we are, a year later, and there is a greater need than ever to provide families with healthy local food and easy delivery options. And we are more prepared than ever to meet that need.

Many thanks goes to the USDA for the funds awarded to us that will help us grow and thrive. And just as importantly, many thanks goes to each of our farm members. Your annual commitment to eat our vegetables is why we’re able to farm using diversified organic and sustainable practices. The basics of our produce memberships will remain the same as last season. We continue to offer a Small Share (feeds 1-3) and a Large Share (feeds 2-5), with the same pricing as last season ($310/$485). Both of these shares provide you with 20 weeks of produce, a weekly mixed box of in-season vegetables June-October. We have the same great neighborhood pick-up locations (no additional charge) and the new home delivery options (one-time $50 charge covers all 20 weeks of delivery).

Our pick-up/delivery days are different from last season. Here is an updated list, also available on our website:

City of Plymouth – Wednesday or Friday
City of Sheboygan Falls – Wednesday
Kohler – Wednesday
Mequon 53092 – Friday
Bayside – Friday
Fox Point – Friday
Whitefish Bay – Friday
On-Farm Plymouth Pick-Up WEDNESDAY 1-8pm
On-Farm Plymouth Pick-Up FRIDAY 1-8pm
Goodside Grocery Sheboygan WEDNESDAY 12pm-close
Goodside Grocery Sheboygan FRIDAY 12 pm-close
Sports Core Kohler WEDNESDAY 11am-close
NOURISH Farms on Miley Rd Sheboygan Falls WEDNESDAY 11am-close
Mequon United Methodist Church on Oriole Ln FRIDAY 2pm-6pm
Port Washington residence near Wisconsin and W Walters St Residential FRIDAY 4pm-7pm
Fox Point residence near Lake Dr and Calumet Rd Residential FRIDAY 3pm-7pm
Shorewood residence near Larkin St and Olive St Residential FRIDAY 330pm-7pm

Residential addresses will be given after sign-up. We will also continue to do partially customized shares each week, with the same format as last season. Using an online form each week, you’ll have the option to choose 1-4 vegetables that will be included in your box. The remainder of your box will include 4-8 staple crops that are in-season that week. The staple crops in everyone’s boxes include most popular items like carrots, lettuce, and potatoes, while the items you choose each week will be among the more contentious vegetables like beets, eggplant, and fennel. For a complete list of the vegetables we grow (30 crops), visit our website’s Produce Page.

Ready to sign up for your share of Old Plank Farm’s produce? You can go to our website to become a member today. After submitting your sign-up form, we will get in touch via email to confirm your membership. Either Angelica or I personally email/invoice each one of you – this is not an automated confirmation, so please give us a day or two to respond. I hope that our vegetables will be a delightful and delicious part of your lives. Growing them is always the highlight of each year for me. I look forward to being your farmer.

Passing the Torch

There is little to mark the coming of the New Year at Old Plank Farm. It arrives quietly, as do most days in December and January. A blanket of snow hides the vegetable fields right now, adding to the stillness that surrounds me here. When I walk, or preferably ski, through the blanketed fields, it feels like being on an empty stage in a large and dark auditorium where the performers have left, but their energy still remains.

This was especially true when I skied up the snow-covered pathway that only months ago was the setting for our tomato patch, the busiest part of our farm. The five beds of last season’s tomato patch were split by a path wide enough to bring our tractor and harvest wagon through. There were three beds west of the path and two beds east of the path that I skied down. Along each bed were reminders of summer – wooden tomato stakes, trellis twine, and dead tomato vines poking out of the snow. This is one part of the field that we didn’t clean up last fall. It is easy work to do in the spring, so we left it for next year and focused on building our new seeding greenhouse instead.

Each tomato bed was 600 feet long. It’s not a very long way to go when traveling on skis, but it is a journey that takes many hours when traveling by cherry tomato pints, moving from one plant to the next. At the height of the season, the fruit ripens so fast that by the time we get to the end of a bed, there is already fruit back at the beginning that is ready to pick. Tomato picking, and especially cherry tomato picking, are among the most labor-intensive chores on our farm, and so this is where the largest crew convened the most often. It is center stage in our field, although its precise location changes from year to year as we rotate the crops.

As I skied along the snowy tomato path, I pictured the bright green plants, red ripe fruits, and the people who worked among them. First, I thought of Martin, crouched among the plants as clearly as if it was a hot July day. He was usually wearing a brightly colored long-sleeve shirt and khaki pants, and hustling through his row, filling tomato containers. He is a fast picker and an even faster talker. Chinese is his first language, but English is a close second. I love listening to Martin’s stories because they are usually about cooking and eating delicious food, a favorite topic and pastime among our crew. We have a rule here that there is to be no talking about food before 9am, which someone invariably breaks each morning. The excuses are always the same – we were talking about breakfast food, which doesn’t count, or we don’t know what time it is, or it’s 9 o’clock somewhere. Talking about food always makes me hungry, but at least sometimes there is something close by to snack on, like cherry tomatoes. There was nothing to eat under the snow, but homemade tomato soup awaited me after skiing. Tomato soup and chili are staples right now.

Further up the row, I imagined Mirianne and Kristin working opposite each other as they moved along, tomato containers in hand and lively discussion in mind. Mirianne often wore plaid flannel shirts, worn-out pants, and a large straw hat, nearly identical to my usual attire. Kristin often wore overalls and a plaid shirt. I ski in my winter overalls, and occasionally the September mornings are cold enough that I wear them in the field while picking the last of the summer fruit. In summer, at their peak, it is easiest to pick one side of a tomato plant at a time and leave the other side to another picker. The plants are so large and bushy that it’s impossible to reach around them, which is why we often work in pairs. It’s also a nice chance to partner up and solve the problems of the world, which I always imagined Mirianne and Kristin were doing as they plucked the fruit off the vines hour after hour.

While Mirianne and Kristin seemed bent toward deep and intelligent conversation, my usual picking buddy, Oscar, and I were more inclined to compete, argue, annoy, or challenge each other as endlessly as the endless tomato harvest. When we were occasionally more agreeable or simply bored with our usual chatter, we’d collaborate, making up pointless poems and songs. “Row, row, row your butt gently down the row” lilted through my head as I skied past the long-dead tomato plants that we would row through as we picked. I did not interrupt the quiet winter stage by singing aloud, as I would do while harvesting. Summer sounds in a winter scene contrast as sharply as a red tomato would in a winter snow.

Moving along, I imagined Mirianne’s son, Sunshine, who is our champion cherry tomato picker. He’d sit alongside the plants on the main path, picking and eating, and taking care to tightly close each container as he finished filling it. His movements were deliberate and careful when he snapped each container closed. He seemed to take pride in doing a good job. Sunshine is 30 years old now, but he has a mental disability, leaving him with the intellectual capabilities of a 4-6 year old. He can’t tie shoes, cook, or pronounce words very well, but he has incredible patience and the sunniest spirit I’ve ever met. And he loves to pick the tomatoes, a skill more special than the ability to tie shoes.

Several weeks after the last harvest was finished, Sunshine continued to ask about picking the tomatoes each day. One day, he saw some empty pint containers in the corner of the packing shed, and his face lit up, and he asked about when we were going to pick the tomatoes. It’s hard to explain the harvest timeline or any timeline to a man who salutes us after lunch each afternoon by saying “Bye. See you next year.” As I skied, I began looking forward to when next year’s crop will be ready for harvest, and Sunshine can once again get back to living his best life, which is the way his mom and sister often described his work on the farm.

Many other dedicated workers live in my memory of the busy harvest mornings of 2020. Sabrina, June, Tanya, Beth, Cindy, and Joy were also on my mind as I skied along in silence and solitude. Those cherry tomatoes certainly don’t pick themselves. Meanwhile, Angelica bounces in and out of the summer scene in the tomato patch. While she spent many hours picking tomatoes like me and everyone else, she also was most often the one to haul the harvest back to the packing shed. As our CSA manager, she’d juggle all the responsibilities of a harvest morning along with the daily grind of picking. She is now in her 7th season here at Old Plank Farm, and our CSA program couldn’t be in better hands. It is my responsibility to grow our crops, and it is her responsibility to get them harvested, packed, and distributed to all our members each week. The tracks her harvest tractor made back and forth out of the tomato patch are the same that I followed on my skis, hugging the south side of the field and heading back in along the path through the woods.

I look forward to when our fields come alive again with plants and people. With the new year officially here, it seems our new season is just around the corner. I hope it is a fruitful one for this farm, its workers, and you. Happy 2021!

The Night Before Christmas at Old Plank Farm

‘Twas the night before Christmas, all through the greenhouse,
Just one creature was stirring, it was a fat, pesky mouse.
A mouse trap was set by the veggies with care,
In hopes that the pest wouldn’t eat all that’s there.

The farmers were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of cabbages danced in their heads.
And Beetie in the root cellar, in his night cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.

When by the greenhouse, there arose such a clatter,
Beetie rushed outside to see what was the matter.
Through the deep snow, he did leap and then dash.
When he got to the greenhouse, he threw up the sash.

The moon through the plastic gave off a strange glow
To the carrots and salad that all lay below.
Beetie looked at the roof, and what should appear
But a big, heavy sleigh and eight grass-fed reindeer.

The little old driver was not very quick.
Soon the reindeer had poked holes in the rooftop plastic.
More rapid than rainstorms, Beetie called him by name,
And down from the roof they quickly all came.

“Now Dasher! now Dancer! now Beetie! now Vixen!
These holes in the greenhouse, oh, how can we fix ’em?
Get the poly-patch tape on the garden shed wall.
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

St. Nick looked for the tape by moonlight from the sky.
When at last it was found, a half-hour’d gone by.
The carrots were cold now, that much he knew.
“These farmers should get organized,” he realized too.

He gave the tape to Beetie, who jumped to the roof.
St. Nick watched from below, as if he needed some proof.
The legend of this beet had been told all around,
But seeing him there raised his faith by a bound.

A beet who was brave from his head to his foot,
Who protected Old Plank vegg

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