Farm Update 10 September 2012: The CSA in practice explained (a bit).

We have arrived in the hardest part of the year at the very end of winter when fruit and vege are getting scarce and new direct sowings and young seedlings are still too small/young to harvest.  Luckily we do not live in the pre war years anymore where meals became boring and lacked fresh food; we have access to the convenience of electricity to keep fruit and vege stored (with or without the aid of biochemistry) and a greenhouse to trick plants into thinking we are further in the year than we actually are.  

Our earlier harvested storage crops,  like potatoes and pumpkins will have spent some time in storage without the aid of any risky chemicals and will start to show degeneration and needs to be graded hard meaning lots of it is only good enough for the compost heap.

Our best storage crop this year was the Jerusalem Artichoke. Besides the fact that it was one of our (unexpected) bumper crops and provided us with a good harvest, it also showed us that it keeps very well.  So well indeed, that in comparison to the potatoes which are getting soft and started to show signs of hidden rot inside, that we felt the Artichoke (can be used as a potato) was a safer item for our CSA shares.  Although an unusual crop, we hope you have enjoyed it.  As this is a seasonal crop you will not see it again until late Autumn next year. We are now in the process of keeping the last part of the harvest back for replanting later in spring. 

Our apples are our main other storage crop and although we had a great (read: large) harvest of especially our Braeburn apples, we learnt this year that the wet and cold summer had a negative impact on the storage capabilities of the fruit. It was much harder to pick at the right stage for storing. Although we have recently taken more crates of apples to the juicer to be transformed into juice, we have so much of the fruit in storage that we could easily give you more on a weekly basis and let you share more in the apples. We have learned however last year that by doing that you end up with too many apples and do not know where to go with it either; sending too much of something is not necessarily a good thing!

If, however, you are keen on more apples, just let us know and we send up extra bulk crates for saucing etc. and let you share in the harvest.

When winter finishes and spring starts there is a sudden flush of warmth and fresh air that makes the flowers come up, trees to bud and some veggies to bolt (transplanting vegetables in spring is a real art and science combined).  If you have ever grown your own you will have experienced that tricky time of year when everything just wants to go up! 

When we just arrived in New Zealand 20 years ago, I was astonished with the size and growth of plants and shrubs here in New Zealand. Shrubs like Rhododendrons and Camellia’s that hardly grow 1 to 2 meters high in the Netherlands grow easily into huge tree like specimens here. The vigourous growth in New Zealand is astonishing; this has positive and negative effects, bolting of vegetables being one of them.

Green leafy crops do not grow well outside over winter, but it so nice to have access to fresh greens. Luckily we have. During winter and up until now some of the leafy greens in your bags come from the greenhouse (spinach and rocket). The force in a greenhouse is at this point in the spring cycle even bigger than outside, and although the crops have grown nicely over winter (with the shorter daylight hours and sparse warmth), now that spring has sprung the plants grow so quickly that it stretches the cells of the plants to the max.  The crops are fresh and juicy, but if not managed correctly can wilt very quickly.  You can easily notice the difference between leafy greens grown outside (our Mizuna and 99% of the salad mix) and those grown inside.

We harvest our greens late on Tuesday or early Wednesday, wash and pack and cool them down. Chill it overnight, pack on Wednesday and then it goes out on a Thursday morning, after which you pick it up some time that same day.  If Thursday is a cold dark and/or rainy day the greens will be ok. If it is warm and sunny than these particular crops can wilt very fast.  Although the greens are almost finished coming from the greenhouse and are making room for summer crops like tomatoes and cucumbers we appreciate your feedback on how the crops are keeping up. We know in what condition they leave the farm gate, but cannot oversee or manage it from there onwards. 

Like everything we grow, it is finding the right balance between what fresh greens/storage crops to put into the weekly shares. Too much or too little of what we have a lots of?  Last week for example, our bought in fruit did not arrive on time and we had to fall back on our own apples to make up CSA fruit shares. 

Supermarkets and green grocers do not have to make these choices as things are shipped in from everywhere, there is an immense variety and grown with no ecological standards in mind.

Even at the farmer’s market stall we do not have the problem as customers make up their own basket and make their own decisions if they want to eat potatoes or Jerusalem Artichokes. They do not know that we have almost no potatoes left or that they have to come from somewhere else or that we have artichokes a plenty.

With regards to pricing there is a balancing act as well. To work out items and prices for the CSA we take into account the following information and then work out what we think is a fair price.

  • The actual cost of production. For our apples this is $1.50/kg
  • Wholesale organic prices. NZ Wholesaler charges $1.50/kg for its apples
  • Organic shop prices. They charge $3.99/kg
  • Quantity we have harvested, freshness etc.

For our apples this means we calculate with around 3.00/kg over the year, including the packing and shipping as this we feel is a fair price for both our CSA members and ourselves.  In some circumstances we go under this price as we are away from CSA practices and are part of the wider society in a situation where we have to deal with direct competition and apples is a one item we can offer to ‘lure’ people in.  

Preferably we would like to sell all our produce to our CSA members, and stay away from markets where we ourselves are lured into the consumerist behaviour of underselling our produce in this instance, to make it worth our while to spend a Saturday away from family, to empty the chiller a bit faster and to make sure we get something back for the effort of growing and harvesting the product. 

With more and more people coming to understand the impact of consumerism on our environment and our society, and seeing that our CSA is an answer to that, we are slowly getting there but we still have a way to go building up our numbers so that we can become a 100% CSA farm. 

We would love your feedback on how we can make this CSA better suit all your needs.

Egg Cartons: We are running short on both 6’s and 12’s, if you have spare, we love to get hold of them!

Bread: A local Wellingtonian and very artisan baker is interested in baking fresh organic loafs for the Wellington branches of the CSA. He made us some Wholemeal Sourdough and Ciabatta samples over the weekend which we are enjoying right now. The bread is baked in a woodfired oven and can be ready on a Thursday morning for delivery that same day.  Anyone keen? 

Farm Day: Coming up 30th of September. Love to see you there!

Josje, Frank and the farm team.