Thursday, July 7, 2011

Farm Update - June 29, 2011

Pete's Musings It has been an interesting several months since our barn burned on Jan 12. We've experienced incredible support from the community. We did not realize that what we do is so important to so many people and this knowledge will inform and inspire our work as we go forward. 

We have planned and mostly built a new barn. One that is much more appropriate for storing, washing and packing produce and that will also contain our offices and commercial kitchen. Our old barn was a big old dairy barn with low ceilings. The lower floor, built into the bank, housed all our vegetable washing and cooling space. The second floor was our supply and equipment storage. And we were halfway through building a large much needed addition to the main barn. Our new building is actually only slightly larger in footprint than the combined area of all the old spaces. But the new barn has something the old didn't - height. We can store things vertically where before we didn't even have a full 8 ft of height in our working areas. The combination of a well planned and designed workspace, with the ability to use shelving to stack vertically is going to greatly enhance both efficiency and usable space. We are excited about the potential of this new building to expand access to local food throughout Vermont.

The support we received from our community has been vital to getting us operational again. Along with the insurance we received from the barn, the donations of $150K have helped to carry us through a long 6 months of tiny sales, supporting our staff and allowing us to plan and begin building when other funds were not yet available. Because this money was so critical and was given with such generosity and love, we decided we wanted it to do good work again, helping other farms in need of financial assistance. So we are treating these donations as a loan. In a couple years, when we are on solid financial footing we will pay the money back into the newly created Vermont Farm Fund, whose mission is to support other Vermont farms who are in crises or who need funding for a sustainable local food project.

We are estimating that our new barn will cost $750K. The tractors and equipment and supplies we need to replace add significantly to that figure. Since the insurance money and donations we received fell short of what we needed to rebuild, we secured two loans for $600K total. Having a large debt load is new to us, but we are committed to our mission and confident in the future of good healthy food.

In addition to planning for an efficient barn, we have been working hard to develop our crew for the future. One that is better trained in food safety, organization and general farm operations. We are excited about the potential of this team.

We have been farming through a pretty dismal spring - lots of rain, little sun. Fortunately things have really turned around the last couple of weeks with plenty of water and warmth and our crops are really looking great now.

Potatoes are chest high and filling in the rows to the point that I'm not sure we can get through to hill them again. Last week we transplanted lots of storage cabbage and prepped land for storage carrots and beets. Baby greens are at absolute peak quality right now. We are growing them on some new land in a high, windy spot and the greens love those conditions. All our crops are doing well except for our greenhouse tomatoes which have been fighting bacterial canker. This is a nasty seed borne infection that must have come through seeds this spring and we are just learning all the ins and outs of what it will take to cure it. We might end up having to remove the soil in some of our greenhouses this winter. We are hoping to hold it off enough to have a good tomato crop but it's a little up in the air at this point. We're still washing and packing produce in our little commercial kitchen, but will be moving into our new building in another week or two.

Yesterday we were bombarded with visitors from across the country who are here to learn about our local food system and how we do what we do. Among them a school teacher from Oklahoma who wants his students to understand what local food is and how they might increase their access to it. And a farm to school coordinator and filmmaker from Washington State who is traveling around the world filming farming and local food scenes. It is exciting to see the interest and to envision how this energy will be improving access to good food for years to come.~ Pete

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