Hello Friends of Granite Springs Farm! The days are lengthening, our greenhouse is filling with tiny vegetable seedlings, and it’s time to allocate where our produce will go this year! The first part of this blog post gives the info you need to enroll in our CSA this year. The second part gives other ways you can continue to support Granite Springs Farm. Then, if you have time (and interest or curiosity), the third part of the blog entry gives more detail about our plans for 2015 and beyond, because part of having a CSA is explaining what is involved in small scale sustainable agriculture so people can be better informed about their food choices.
1.) CSA Enrollment 2015 Now Open
Once again, we’re offering three sessions of our CSA and invite your participation in one, two or all three sessions. The enrollment form and details about the deadlines and dates can be found at www.granitespringsfarm.com/csa/. The first deadline for registering for the CSA is March 1st, but the sooner the better to assist us in planning. This year we are excited about collaborating with St. Bart’s Episcopal Church Community Lunch program to provide our fresh produce to families and individuals in Chatham County who need assistance. There are instructions on the enrollment form to contribute to this initiative. Thanks!
2.) More ways you can help
- Send in your CSA enrollment ASAP
- Consider increasing your share size (see why we ask this under CSA below)
- Tell a friend or two about our CSA and encourage them to join
- Consider volunteering at GSF (work share program or workdays)
- Make a donation to St. Bart’s for our new collaboration with them
- Support us and other local farmers by shopping at your farmers’ market weekly
3.) What we’ve learned so far and our plans for 2015
Because we’re asking you to invest in our farm by joining our CSA, we think it’s important to be transparent about our operations as well as our financial decisions. This is our 6th year of full time farming, and it’s going to be a critical one. Since the beginning, we’ve paid our employees well above minimum wage and will continue to do so in 2015. For the first 5 years, I (Meredith) opted not to pay myself, instead putting all profits back into the business in order to stay debt-free on the farm. I invested personal funds to get started and have paid on-going farm expenses from farm income. However, this meant all my living expenses had to come from my personal savings, and I can no longer continue to do this. So, this year I will pay myself a salary! Last year, I took classes through the Small Business Center at our community college to update our business plan and set our intentions for 2015. As in previous years, we will opt for smart growth, paying for infrastructure and improvements as we can afford them, and not taking on more new initiatives than we can handle. What follows are some of the details.
For the first time in 2014, our CSA income as a percentage of total sales surpassed our Farmers’ Market income. There was also a significant shift in these percentages. This is because we expanded our CSA, but also because our Saturday farmers’ market had a reduction in customers. Other factors affecting income included crop failure in our peppers (a major crop) as we battled Bacterial Leaf Spot, and difficulty in obtaining mushroom spawn that wasn’t contaminated. In an experiment, we planted our fall broccoli later than usual to try to avoid pest issues we had in the past, and in spite of protecting it with row cover, we lost all of it in the early hard freezes. We won’t do that again, at least not with the entire crop! However, we had our best sweet potato yields ever, and we had great success with ginger. Using season extension techniques, we were able to expand the CSA into December and continued to take produce to market and sell to restaurants in January. I’ve just become FDA licensed to produce acidified foods, so we’ll wade (slowly) into the world of value-added pickles, relishes and sauces. In 2015, we’ll continue to sell to several restaurants and Kappa Delta sorority at UNC. These wholesale accounts are important to us, and we’re comfortable with the percentage of sales we currently make to them, which is about 12.5%.
We’ll expand our CSA, continuing our priority to build connections with faith communities, especially Holy Family, St. Bart’s and Chapel in the Pines. After researching financially successful CSAs, we’ve determined we need to make some changes. Some CSAs have stopped offering two share sizes, but we want to be able to offer a smaller size for those who need it. We want to increase the ratio of Regular shares to Individual shares so we attain our goal of at least 2/3 Regular and 1/3 Individual shares. This is because labor is our greatest expense on the farm, and it takes almost as much labor to produce an Individual share as it does a Regular one. The cost difference to us in actual produce is negligible. Individual shares typically receive smaller quantities of the same vegetables offered to Regular shares and some weeks Regular shares receive one or two items the Individuals do not. Of course we’re thankful for all our members and we want them to choose what works for them, but we’re asking Individual share members to consider increasing their share size to Regular, if possible. Switching to a Regular share would cost a member an additional $6 per week. We’ve always donated produce to our local food bank (CORA), St. Bart’s Community Lunch, Farmer FoodShare, and various civic groups and charities, but our new collaboration with St. Bart’s gives us the chance to increase the amount of produce we can give to people in need, and this partnership will increase our income as well. Everyone benefits.
We’ll reduce our labor expenses by increasing our number of work share volunteers, hosting several short term interns during peak times, and holding more community work days.
We’ve examined our budget and are making cuts in every category to reduce expenses. We have a few initiatives and some repairs and changes that will require some investment, but we feel they will increase our overall profitability and are worth doing this year. These include repairs and redesign of our greenhouse due to termite damage, outfitting part of our high tunnel for for more efficient mushroom production, and investing in items needed for acidified food production.
2015 Crop Plan
We conducted a survey of our 2014 CSA participants and are including some of their suggestions in our plans. We’ve tweaked our planting schedules to increase our variety, add more storage crops and grow less of the more labor intensive, but low profitability crops. We’re taking back the majority of our seedling production opting to have fewer seedlings grown for us contractually.
Methods and Mission
Our care for the soils with crop rotation, cover cropping, reduced tillage and increased compost application and mulching has resulted in a marked improvement in soil tilth, which thrills us! Our vermicomposting is going very well, and we’re beginning to use that “black gold” in our seedling production. We’ve recommitted ourselves to our mission of cultivating with gratitude and joy, believing that soil and seedlings, plants and vegetables tended with gratitude and joy produce fruits that are nourishing to body and soul and community. This year we’ll find new ways to tell this story to our customers and community. We love what we do, and are very thankful for your continued support.