By Laurel Blomquist | 2020 is certainly an exceptional year so far. We’ve all been feeling the effects of these stressful times, and 2020 is destined to go down in history, though most of it has yet to be written.
From my perspective from the vegetable fields of Gwenyn Hill, 2020 has turned out to be fairly positive. The obvious place to start is the weather. Both 2018 and 2019 were cold, wet years. Planting started late, crops were lost to diseases or cold snaps, and yields were down. The cold weather seemed like the new normal.
2020 has been different. Warm weather started earlier, even getting hotter much faster than usual. Changes I made to get higher yields seemed almost unnecessary, as salad mix (for example) matured much faster than anticipated. The good news is that our CSA members and customers have been eating salad for weeks now, and happily so.
In general, my planting plan doubled over last year, so our fields have been flush with variety all season, with more to come. We had always planned on expanding the CSA this year, so away we plant. And plant some more. If you drive by the vegetable fields this year, you will see that only a small portion of them are in cover crops mid-season. Most of our fields are in production, and they have been fruitful.
The rain, too, has been a little more balanced. General Manager Linda Halley anticipated this and installed an irrigation system in the vegetable garden this year. It’s been nice to know that if the rains don’t come, we can still give our plants the water they need. Fingers crossed that the rains don’t start up again in August, as they have done in previous years.
Every year is different for farmers. This year, insects have been more numerous and damaging than in previous years. This is why you’ll never hear a farmer complain about the Polar Vortex in the winter. We need that deep freeze to keep the insects (and the diseases they carry) at bay. We have been fairly lucky in that no one insect has been able to wipe out a crop completely, but they’ve definitely left their marks–literally–on the cucumbers, zucchini, and basil this year.
Weeds are pretty much always a problem on organic farms, since our only recourse is to physically remove them. This year has been no exception. With hot temperatures and steady rains or irrigation, the weeds have stepped up and made their presence known. Only in September will we finally stop the endless pursuit of removing them.
Earlier I talked about doubling production, and the high yields we’ve been seeing. Luckily, our output has been met by high demands from our customers. One positive thing that COVID-19 has done is allowed more people to see the value of a local food supply. This has translated into a CSA membership that sold out in mid-April, consistently high sales at the Brookfield Farmers Market, despite a lower turnout and social distancing rules in place, and strong wholesale sales, despite restaurant closures. We provide two other farms (Stone Bank in Oconomowoc and Avrom Farm in Ripon) with supplemental produce for their customers. We have also been a steady source of produce for our local organic grocer, Good Harvest Market.
Perhaps the biggest change for us this season has been the opening of The Farmstand at Gwenyn Hill. When we sold out of the CSA early, we knew we wanted to be able to provide the community with any extra produce, eggs, meat, honey, and other seasonal products that we might have. We opened the Farmstand just six weeks ago, and the response has been very positive. We have a guestbook at the Farmstand, and it is filled with thanks from our grateful neighbors.
The Farmstand is open from 8 am to 8 pm daily, and is self-serve, so it’s convenient for our neighbors and customers to stop by whenever they have a chance. The produce changes quickly and often, with the seasons. Currently, we have tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, eggplant, melons, green beans, beets, cabbage, chard, cucumbers, zucchini, garlic, kale, lettuce, green bell peppers, and an assortment of microgreens.
We recently added organic dairy products to the mix as well. We provide our organic milk to Westby creamery in Westby, Wisconsin, and they provide us with organic butter, sour cream, cottage cheese, and French onion dip. Of course, we are also selling our own grass-fed, grass-finished beef and “Milk and Meadow” veal at the Farmstand as well.
So while 2020 has had its ups and downs, changes and stressors, our community has come together to support us. Gwenyn Hill Farm is in a great position to provide our customers with the quality food that they need at this time. We are so grateful to be able to meet the challenge that 2020 has set.
Laurel Blomquist, Gwenyn Hill’s Head Gardener, turns challenges into opportunities.