Monday, January 26, 2015

Survey Says!

2015 will see more 'taters, among others!
No, we haven't been watching Family Feud. Well, at least not since last season. But we are pretty pleased that we finalized our 2015 crop list and purchased our seeds this past week, including our beloved 'taters and sweet 'taters. Can we get a woot?!

It's no joke that making the final purchase of seeds for the coming season is always a satisfying endeavor. With that purchase comes a deep sigh of relief that all the deliberating has come to an end. Well, at least with that particular task. The decisions have been made. What does all this mean, you ask? Here's the dealio.

Last fall we sent a final survey to members asking for their honest-to-gosh, anonymous input. (For members who did complete this survey, we thank you. Such feedback is crucial for us as we grow our small farm.) From there we were able to glean whether members prefer having more "staple" crops or if they enjoy the "unusual"; whether there was consensus that a certain variety or crop should be axed from production completely; and whether members like a lot of variety within crop types. This type of information just touches the surface of what the end-of-year member surveys tell us.

Now, to all that, add the information stored within our snazzy farmer brains. Every year as plants are growing, or struggling, or just doing okay, we are paying attention and recording these observations either in notes (if you're the diligent type, say, in the spring/early summer) or in our li'l brains (if you're swamped and exhausted, say, in the summer/fall). We contemplate which varieties grow well in our heavy soil, which stand up to flooding and other stresses, which are more susceptible to disease, etc. On top of all that, we think about the flavor of a particular variety, which matters a lot! So, there's lots to weigh here when deciding what to grow for the year. One variety may yield heavily, which is great for any farm; but maybe that crop didn't cut the mustard in terms of taste. Do we keep it for the sake of its production history, or do we axe it based on its lackluster flavor?

What of how much to plant? We're glad you asked! Since 2012 we have grown enough food for 50 member families. Our first two years, we didn't quite hit that membership goal, and so we always had a lot of extras on hand to bulk up shares, even if we lost a variety or crop to some sort of calamity. This past year (our third as a farm) we were filled to the brim with members and, unfortunately, it was the most trying season weather wise that we've been through--we experienced lots of crop loss from too much rain and oversaturated soil, specifically--so, we now know some of our plant quantity calculations need to be adjusted. For example, where we grew six types of melons last year for variety, we will now grow our three favorites in that same amount of space. We've chosen the three that have reliably produced for us and still taste great. This simple adjustment, while not actually changing the amount of melon plants we are putting in the field, should amount to more melons for our members, even in a challenging year. In other cases we have retained the same number of varieties, but will grow more of each, as with onions and potatoes--some of the good ol' American staples members requested more of. But even this tinkering cannot be hasty, as we are but two humble farmers working a 3+ acre plot--and any large increases in production could spread us too thin.

Figuring out the farm is a constant balancing act. Of course, we get better at this with each passing season. With several years under our belt, we have built a nice list of "ol' reliable" varieties that do well across soil types and environmental stresses. But it isn't as easy as simply boosting the reliable crops. Each year we reevaluate our crop list as a whole, cutting and adding varieties to ensure we have a diverse farm that is most able to withstand the wild, unpredictable world awaiting it. Past crop performance only goes so far because mother nature refuses to tip her hand.

You get the gist. There's a lot to consider. Hopefully the combination of survey results, experience, familiarity with our land, and our priority of maintaining diversity have helped us make good choices in our crop list this year. Although nothing is ever foolproof and some crop losses are always a given, we feel better equipped than ever to make 2015 a rockin' good season. Join in on the adventure, community! We'd love to share it with you.