The posters announcing the 2012 Ironwood CSA season were printed this week, so it seems fitting that our Blog provide some information about how it all works. By spring we should have our own website, but here are a few details for starters.
The CSA (stands for Community Supported Agriculture) was given a trial run in 2011 with 23 members. The logistics of payments, drop-offs and pick-ups worked well, and the supply of produce was adequate despite a lousy growing season. That no major glitches occurred was largely due to Al, Helen and Vicki carrying the load here at the farm, while the good folks at the Halifax Independent School, Ecology Action Centre and Vroege residence kept the food boxes moving at the Halifax end. The plan is to expand to 75 shares in the coming season.
We expect the 2012 season to unfold much like last year. Deliveries will begin in the first two weeks of June and most probably continue for 20 weeks (early November). The cost will stay unchanged: $25 + $3 delivery for a full share (total $560) and $15 per half share (total $300). There may be a limit on the number of half shares until we can find a smaller stackable container (to save space in the truck). Ideally, 2 members with half shares will share a regular size box. Payment must be made in advance, by cash or cheque by May 15, or in a split payment by May 15 and June 30.
This is a good point to clarify that CSA does not imply weekly home delivery of a predetermined amount of vegetables. The whole point of CSAs is that members share some of the risk farmers take in growing their crops. Providing payment in advance is one way this is done. Still, there is no absolute certainty the farmer can always deliver a full box of food. In 2011, for example, the cold, wet spring (and summer!) meant that in the early part of the season boxes were a little meagre. By all accounts, however, the shortfall was more than made up later in the season. In extreme cases, differences can be made up by extended U-pick privileges, frozen berries and, in some cases, beef or lamb.
Fortunately, Ironwood Farm has one 100 foot heated greenhouse and a 200 foot tunnel house to buffer against inclement weather. Last year we managed to harvest potatoes and carrots in June right on schedule. We were not forced to buy produce from other farms. The exceptions were strawberries (no spray), purchased from a neighbour as planned, and a few dozen bunches of organic carrots to make up for a late summer lapse in production. More greenhouse or tunnel space may be constructed depending on the demand for produce.
A typical food box will usually contain strawberries, raspberries or highbush blueberries and any of more than 20 varieties of vegetables. Staples such as tomatoes, potatoes, onion or leek, lettuce and carrots appear most often whereas other vegetables like chinese cabbage and eggplant are sent less often. We try not to repeat the same vegetables too often, but I confess to sending along swiss chard three weeks running this past spring, simply out of necessity. One problem I foresee for 2012 is growing enough potatoes. They were very popular last year, but weekly harvesting was a lot of work. The harvest is by no means mechanized and Al does not like the sounds of digging 200 lbs by hand each week!
Some members find the range of vegetables a little overwhelming at first, but most reported that they enjoyed the challenge of finding ways to prepare foods like fennel, red russian kale, bok choi, parsnips and kohlrabi. There are exceptions. One over-taxed soul came home one Friday evening fully expecting to dine out that evening. Nothing doing, said her husband. We have to finish eating up these vegetables. The couple is renewing their membership this year. ~RJ