by Laurel Blomquist | A few weeks ago, I attended the Organic Vegetable Production Conference. This conference is relatively new, but well-attended by the farming community because it’s strictly for growers. The theme of this year’s keynote was “Farm Resilience in the Face of Change.” While the casual observer may note that weather patterns have seemed to shift in the past 20 years, farmers are keenly aware of this fact. Weather is something farmers pay attention to more than most people, since their livelihood depends on it.
Weather is just one of the shifting, unpredictable patterns that farmers, and entrepreneurs in general, must face. Changes in the local economy, the challenge of finding and keeping customers as well as efficient, reliable labor, and the difficulty of distribution can keep even the most successful businesses on their toes.
Building Relationships with Neighbors
Jack Hedin of Featherstone Farm, one of the conference’s keynote speakers, had several pieces of advice that resonated with me. Building and sustaining relationships with your neighbors is the first. At Gwenyn Hill Farm, we are lucky that we are surrounded by a community of engaged neighbors who are excited to experience our progress as we gradually transform this land. Each year, we go from house to house, delivering some of the bounty that has been provided by this land. The first year, it was sunflower seeds to feed the birds. Last year, it was multicolored, decorative yet edible popcorn. This year, we were proud to distribute our delicious pastured eggs. We dropped off our gifts at 200 homes. It’s no surprise that our CSA members make up many of these neighbors.
Transparency: How and Why
Jack’s next piece of advice is to be transparent and tell your customers what you are doing and why you are doing it. I feel that we do a good job of this in our journal posts, in our CSA newsletters, and when we meet our members at the farm for CSA pickups or at the farmers market. When you farm the way we do, there is nothing to hide. Anyone can ask about how we raise our grass-fed beef and pastured eggs, or how we fertilize or deal with insect pests and weeds, and we will be glad to answer.
Balance Between Idealism & Realism
Jack’s third piece of advice is to keep a balance between idealism and realism. This one is a bit trickier. It’s easy to get carried away by all the possibilities that a bountiful piece of land such as this one can provide. Farmers tend to be practical if nothing else, so we have carefully built up one enterprise at a time, making sure not to over-extend our resources while we gather a solid customer base.
It’s hard to believe that a mere three years ago, we were transitioning this land to organic without anything to sell. This year, we have a wide variety of offerings. You can purchase our certified organic vegetables as a Spring Share, a Weekly Share, an Every Other Week Share, or at the Farmers Market (a la carte or as a Share). Our pastured eggs can be purchased all of these ways as well. Our grass-fed beef and veal can be purchased as a Spring Share, a Monthly Share, a Quarter, four different Bundles, or A La Carte (look for our GrazeCart online shop rollout, coming soon). Customers who come to our farm to pick up have access to our raw honey, as well. Two new offerings this year are shiitake mushrooms and microgreens–keep an eye out for them as part of your CSA share or at the Farmers Market.
This diversity sets the stage for Gwenyn Hill Farm to be resilient for years to come.
This is Laurel Blomquist’s twelfth season as an organic farmer.