Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What do the farmers do over the winter?

By Nina Berryman

As the days become shorter and the nights become colder, many of the shareholders have been asking us what we do over the winter. The change of seasons is bringing a reality check- the growing season is over, so if we are not growing food, what do we do as farmers? First, let it be known, as I’m sure you all already know, Nicole and I are not in typical farming positions. Most farmers work for themselves, their income is completely tied to their production and they have to pick up a second job in the winter to stay afloat, and as it is most are still in debt. Nicole and I don’t work for ourselves; we work for Weavers Way Cooperative. Our income is only sort of connected to our production. For now, Weavers Way pays us independently of what our sales are. However, the CSA can not be a long term financial drain on the co-op, so our goal is to break even by year three. This year, the CSA did better financially than expected; we opened a few half season shares part way through the season. However, we are still far from breaking even. This is expected when starting a new project, and the co-op has agreed to support the CSA for a second year. After a few years the sales from the CSA will need to cover costs though. Regarding getting second jobs in the winter, Nicole and I may work part time in the Weavers Way store to help offset the farm’s costs during the winter when we aren’t bringing in any money from vegetable sales. All in all, we consider ourselves to be in a very fortunate farming position.

Because of our unique situation as employed, year-round farmers, part of our job is to do everything we can during the winter to make the next season as successful as possible. In other words, agood portion of what we will do this winter is planning, reorganizing, record keeping and outreach. Nicole and I actually just sat down last Saturday to make a comprehensive list of “things to do” before next season. The first thing we are planning around is a little vacation! A typical work week for each of us during the CSA is 60 hours, and since taking time off during the spring/summer/fall is nearly impossible, we will both be taking a one month vacation this winter.

After that, we will get going on our list of things to do. One of the largest tasks before us crop planning. We need to calculate the number of seeds to buy according to the number of new shares we open, as well as adjust for the feedback we got from shareholders about which crops are more popular than others. We need to research different varieties of vegetables to keep the share interesting and reliable. We also need to map out where crops will be planted (a crop rotation) to reduce pest problems and overtaxing the soil. We also need to adjust our planting methods; for instance our lettuce was planted too close together this year and so next year we need to spread it out and allocate a larger area in the field for it. All of this work translates into a lot of number crunching and then a massive seed order. This needs to be done by early January so we can get our seeds and start seeding in the greenhouse by mid February.

There are also some large projects that are under way and need to be finished by next spring. These include a new hoop house, a new wash station and the worm compost bin. The students and ourselves have been involved with the design process so far and will continue to help with the construction of these projects.

Another task that takes much of our time is record keeping. One of our shareholders has graciously volunteered to help with this monstrous project! We need to keep track of how much we are producing and sales to shareholders, farmers markets, restaurants, as well as donations. To do this we have to enter the numbers we have been keeping track of all season long into a data base.

Over the winter, we also need to recruit new members. We are planning on expanding next year and we need to contact the people on our waiting list and get all the payments in by the spring time.

Lastly, some harvesting and sales will continue as the plants in our hoop houses mature. These will mostly be sold to Weavers Way Co-op.

Given that farming is considered a “seasonal” job, there sure is a lot to do in the winter time!

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