** This is a letter that we emailed to our CSA in the spirit of gratitude and full discloure **
Dear CSA, we need to talk to you about the drought.
Now that the weather has turned, we can take a breath and begin to reflect on this growing season.
We, and all the other farmers in our area, have been manically tossing around this word - drought. "The drought!", I've heard myself say in response to all varieties of questions - how's the farm, what's new, how are you ? It has felt like the right answer, considering how all-consuming the climate has been for us this season.
We are fortunate to live in the northeast, where water is not usually high on our list of worries. But this season was a major reality check, and it feels important to share some reflections on what the drought meant for us at Sidewalk Ends with our CSA community, since you are the ones who really rode it out with us. I'm not writing to you to fish for reassurance and compliments, or to make excuses or complain about a hard time. As we flesh out our ethics and our methods as business owners and farmers, open communication and sharing of the truth sit high on the list of priorities.
So if you have a moment to spare, please read on! And know that we have a deep, unwavering appreciation for you, our CSA members, and the support that you continue to offer us.
What does it mean that there's been a drought?
Perhaps most importantly, scarce water means that the crops we transplant are stressed. Coming from the nursery where we water the little seedlings in their cells twice a day, the roots in the dry soil of the field have to struggle to find water. Stressed plants are much more susceptible to diseases and to being attacked by pests. "Chemical free" means that we don't spray our crops with pesticides to fend off the inevitable attacks. We rely on the health of our soil to create healthy crops, which are able to hold their own and pull through bug pressure. This year, we didn't see much resilience in our crops... in many cases (kale, basil, arugula, turnips, radishes) the bugs won.
The crops that we seed directly into the soil had a hard time as well.. it was tough to get the soil consistently moist enough for the length of time needed to get the seeds to germinate. Once they sprouted, again there was a battle to keep the beds hospitable for the tiny seedlings.
Little water means that fruiting crops made fewer, and smaller fruits. We haven't calculated our final yield numbers yet, but our arms could tell the difference: every bucket of green beans was half as heavy coming up from the field as last year. Cucumbers lived hard and died young. Beets had to be watered constantly. The summer squash seemed like just a visitor in our field, here today gone tomorrow.
The drought means expensive water bills and the new responsibility of diligent, hourly attention to the irrigation lines and their many glitches and spontaneous leaks. [It should be noted that we are however SO LUCKY to have municipal water, as many of our friends' farm wells ran dry this summer.]
This season shined a spotlight on our relative inexperience as farmers. We can't blame everything on the drought. Sure, all farmers and all farms suffered this season, but we know a few farms that didn't seem to take much of a hit, and those farms are a testament to their smart farmers. They stayed alert and saw signs early enough to take action, and most importantly, they have spent years building resilient soil on their land. Our goal is to build our knowledge and instincts, and our soil, to become as hardy as those farms! They are our heroes and our mentors.
We take our commitment to our CSA very seriously, there is no less trite way to put it. By accepting your money in the spring, we make a promise to share the harvest with you each week, and we do that earnestly - you are our priority. In past seasons our income has come almost perfectly in thirds - 33% CSA, 33% wholesale to restaurants, 33% farmers markets. All sales are down this year, some weeks we've brought just a few crates of food to our Thursday market, but the CSA has already paid and we are committed to parceling out food to you, first and foremost. We considered buying in produce from other farms to fill out what we had to offer the CSA this year, a practice that some other CSAs employ, but to us, that isn't what a CSA is meant to be. CSA members sign up to ride out the season, feast or famine (hopefully never famine!), weather and human error all included. By joining the Sidewalk Ends CSA you support young farmers and avid learners, hopeful experimenters, sometimes overacheivers. We hope you went home happy most weeks this season, and enjoyed what bounty we could muster.
In what was, at moments, absurd hubris, we took this drought season as an opportunity to try a bunch of crazy new things! We bought piglets in the spring, cheerfully ignoring the fact that that meant we'd be occupied with slaughter and butchering and getting the pork sold in the heart of August mayhem. We designed and ran a week-long, intense farming camp for high school girls, also... in the heart of August mayhem. We added meat birds to the rotation of chores and responsibilities for the first time. And in that August mayhem, our fall carrots were seeded, then watered, then weeded, and then... fried by the sun. Re-seeded... and again, fried by the sun. Other mistakes were made. We literally just forgot to seed winter squash. The pigs, the chickens, and the camp all added to the life and vibrancy of our farm, and your support as CSA members (as well as many of your purchasing of meat) made it all possible.
Anyways, this is all to say, THANK YOU for being the community that believes in us come flea beetles or floods. Six seasons in, we are perpetually humbled by the vastness of knowledge required to be good stewards of the land and abundant producers of food. We haven't crunched all the numbers, but it looks like Sidewalk Ends Farm survived the drought of 2016— and we've already started spreading compost and manure on the field for next year. Here's to a nice cold winter (die pests, die!) and rain as regular as the mailman in 2017.
We have so many lessons and daydreams inspired by the challenges and joys of this season, and we hope to get them down on the blog on a more regular basis during the cold months. Stay tuned!