This is our first year in the vegetable business. By most accounts it has been an unmitigated success. Highlights include:
- We are in the black! Who knew a farm could make money in the first year?? (Admittedly, not very much, but hey, it's still a good start).
- People love the farm share. We have a waiting list of over 20 people and we haven't even started advertising for next year.
- We sell out of popular items at ever market. (Much to my dismay! I hate not having enough delicious food for everyone!)
But here's the thing, it could be SO much better. And it WILL be so much better. As the season changes and I feel the coming of the end of the year, I'm suffering from a common entrepreneur syndrome: pre-emptive transition. We're only 75% of the way through this season and I'm mentally already on to next year. I'm frustrated that I can't do anything to change or boost the rest of this season (everything that can be planted has been, decisions that were made three months ago can't be changed now, etc.) and I'm ready to make next year AMAZING.
Don't get me wrong, there are still a lot of great things to come this year. We will have pumpkins, winter squash, fall broccoli and cauliflower, fall peppers, a final round of summer squash and cucumbers, and even a final round of green beans! I am pretty confident that we will have a robust fall with lots of happy costumers and lots of happy eaters. BUT there are still SO many things I can't wait to do better next year. For example:
- Why has the hoop house been basically empty for the last three months?? Poor decision making. I thought I needed to save the space for fall greens and I worried it would be too hot in there for most crops that weren't already slated for outdoor plantings. Then, I thought I was going to put summer squash in there but somehow that plan was derailed by bugs and concern for disease. SO, my precious real-estate is still empty and now it's too late to do anything about it... NEXT YEAR we will have two absolutely full houses from March through December. One house is going to have early tomatoes, peppers and basil and then fall greens. The other will have spring greens, then early cucurbits, then late tomatoes and peppers and basil. It will be magical :)
- What was I thinking with the potatoes?? How could I possibly have thought that 30 lbs. of seed potatoes (fingerlings no less!) would be enough to feed a fifty member CSA and a robust market schedule?? NEXT YEAR we're planting an entire field of potatoes. I'm purchasing a minimum of 150 lbs of all different kinds of seed potatoes, and our crop will be so bountiful!
- What happened to the peppers?? I LOVE peppers. I was so excited for our pepper crop. BUT (a) I didn't plant enough in the first succession, and (b) most of the first succession just died. They just turned yellow and died without pattern or clear cause. We did manage to plant a second succession in the hoop house that looks beautiful. But, it was late going in and now I'm stuck chewing my fingernails waiting, waiting, waiting for the peppers to be ready. I'm about to break down and sell green peppers. I know people love green bell peppers, but they're not as good as really ripe red peppers...I promise, they're really not as good. NEXT YEAR I am going to have many beautiful long successions of peppers and they will all be undercover and protected (hopefully!) from the disease/wet feet problems.
- We need more onions! I tried hard with the onions. The ones we got were actually really good. BUT onion maggots are a real problem in the south. If we had been able to keep all of the onions we grew we would have had plenty for this year. BUT we lost about 50% to the maggots :( NEXT YEAR we will have more onions. I will just keep planting more. Also, we did discover that two varieties (Ailsa Craig and Cabernet) were much stronger than the other two varieties we tried, so we will plant more of those!
There are many, many more things I want to change and do better for next year, but this list will hopefully address some of the late-summer/early-fall lull that we're feeling now.
Also, to end this post on a high note, I'm really, really excited about some of the bigger dreams I have for the farm next year (or maybe the following year...):
- FARM CAMP!! I know everyone thinks I'm crazy, but I'm really looking forward to spending a week next year teaching a bunch of bright-eyed kiddos how to hunt for eggs, pick cherry tomatoes, dig potatoes and so much more!
- Full-time help. Can you imagine? What luxury!
- Year-round greens! With two hoop houses and a full time staff member this is well within reach for next year. How great would it be to have a fresh, local greens in January??
- An on-farm store. We have a beautiful old cannery building on the front part of our property that I think is perfectly suited for an on-farm store.
- Farm dinners. I'd love to bring one of our chefs out to the farm and host a dinner (or several!) for farm share members. It would be so fun to have a professional highlight Thornfield Farm veggies and local meat from some of our favorite farmer friends. Maybe we could throw in some wine paring too? Sounds yummy :)
It must be admitted that dreaming about the future and the community we get to build here is really one my favorite parts of this job. I feel so lucky and excited to have the opportunity to carry out all of these big plans and watch as the farm evolves in to a vibrant, local hub of good food and good people.