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February 2013

The Sun Is Back!

February 18, 2013

So, Feb 10th, or so, marks when the sun is BACK! Okay, we are a long way from summer solstice, but we have mad e big jump since winter solstice.

This means a lot to us winter greens farmers. There is the psychological boost - about 2 more hours of daylight is refreshing, the month of February is the shortest, again, refreshing, and then there is the typical weather patterns (what is typical, anyway?) where no matter the temperatures, the amount of sun in February tends to be much greater than December and January (and even November).

So, this means.....new growth on the over-wintered greens!! This is WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO. Because the crops really spring up and start growing again, and we can start harvesting with regularity again, this is the fun time of year when all that work we did starting in early July to assure that we will have winter greens thriving in Vermont in JANUARY, that it makes it worth it.

My parents are visiting for a few days. Now, we are having yet another very cold spell. Currently, it is about 14 degrees, wind-chills are below zero. Last night was around 5 and extreme wind-chills. My dad, who has seen me grow winter greens now for many years, still needed to come over with me this morning to help uncover the crops because he needed to see with his own eyes that they were still alive and thriving. He couldn't wrap his head around these tender greens surviving and thriving in this kind of brutal weather. Sure enough, with the suns out strong today, at 10:00am, they were needing to be uncovered (inside the hoophouse, that is) and allowed to get some airflow and SUNLIGHT on their leaves. It was about 60 degrees inside the greenhouse (no added heat) and it was about 75 degrees under the secondary cover. By noon, the houses end-doors (both ends) needed to be vented otherwise it was too hot inside!! (Could get upwards of 75-80 degrees in there!). So, never ceases to amaze us that with simple hightunnel technology, we could keep greens alive and have them thrive here in the winter. Very exciting!

Healthy Living Market Partnership

February 10, 2013

In the spring of 2012, Healthy Living Market and Bread & Butter Farm launched an amazing partnership. As far as I know, it is the first of its kind, at least in this area, and shows just how committed to supporting local farms and local businesses Healthy Living is.

I was meeting with the folks in the produce department, Michael and Laurel last winter, when in our discussion about what I would be growing in the upcoming season and what they had a need for, it came up that what they really wanted was to purchase some of our winter greens. They were explaining that in the summer months, there is a plethora of veggies from all the local farms available and they just can't purchase nearly as much as the farmers have to sell. This makes sense because not only is it the main growing season but it is also a time when so many local shoppers have a CSA membership or are regular farmers market goers. So, the produce department at Healthy Living is actually slower in the summer when they have the most abundance. Being one of the only growers growing greens in the winter, they expressed their desire to be able to purchase some for their shoppers.

I expressed that I would love to sell them winter greens but that with the demand being so high, I didn't have any extra. Essentially, all I was growing was pre-sold in my other established direct markets. Then, in that conversation, I thought of an idea - I wouldn't be able to build another greenhouse until 2013 or 2014 because of cash-flow challenges and not having the capital to fund a large structure, but, I thought, if Healthy Living was willing to finance the a greenhouse, I could build one in the summer of 2012 and then by November of 2012 and through the winter, I would have greens to sell to them.

Michael and Laurel both got a twinkle in their eyes and I could see that my hair-brained idea may not be so crazy to them. They told me they loved the idea, they had no idea how the rest of the management would respond, but to give them a week to run it by the others.

An hour later, Michael called me back and told me they wanted to see a proposal and they would be ready to fund it within weeks! I couldn't believe it! Talk about walking the walk....

Sure enough, I quickly wrote up a proposal, sent it over, and within two weeks I had a check in hand and a signed contract. I immediately started working on my new summer growing plans and worked in the 3 weeks of building a new structure we would have to plan for.

So, before we even knew what hit us, we entered into a wonderful partnership with Healthy LIving where they financed the greenhouse - giving me great terms - payback didn't start until I started selling to them in November, and the interest rate is extremely low.

With my kale coming on like gang-busters this September and October, I was ready a month earlier to harvest. They happily took it and I started harvesting kale for them in early October. I was able to provide them kale all through October, November, and into early December. By then, the cold hit hard, I had harvested the plants pretty hard, and I needed to take a break from harvesting to allow the plants to grow back.

Now, in the lowest light time of year, and the generally coldest time of year, it is normal to get zero growth on the plants for about 8 weeks. At that point it is hunker down time, harvest minimally (for my Food Club and for the farmers market), and let the plants hang out, essentially like they are in a living refrigerator. It has been about 8 weeks now, and two weeks ago I started harvesting slowly again for Healthy Living. We have had some very deep freezes this winter, as well as some extraordinary thaws. So, I have had a little bit of regrowth on the kale, spinach and cilantro. But, now that we have hit the magical Feb 5th date, it is time to start growing again!

In early February, we get a big jump in light. You may have noticed how it is actually light out these days til almost 5:30! And the sun breaks dawn at 6:30ish. The light IS returning! This is critical for the plants and we will begin to see more growth quickly now. This is extremely exciting for those of us who grow in the winter.

So, I have baby kale plants and escarole, lettuce, brocolli raab, and other goodies started in my bathroom. I am getting ready to prep beds and plant these babies in a few weeks. The well-established kale and spinach will get their second wind and before I know it I will have more kale and spinach than I know what to do with!

At any rate, the partnership with Healthy LIving is an amazing one. It truly shows the connection between two local businesses and how they can support each other and both have positive gains from doing so. We have a beautiful hand-painted sign made by the Healthy Living folks to show the partnership as well as the comfort in knowing that the hard work we are doing here on our farm is being supported by a well established and successful local grocery, right down the road.

Thank you Healthy LIving and we look forward to future progress to this budding partnership!

February 07, 2013

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