January News from Riverland Farm

spinach growing under cover in the field under snow
Dear Friends,
      It is finally starting to feel like winter now that we have some real snow to speak of.  Up until the first snowfall we were busily preparing the farm for the winter…. putting equipment away, finally finishing and sealing up our high tunnel, draining and blowing out water lines, pulling row cover out of the field, all those final tasks that seem to eat up hours of time and are made more challenging by the colder and shorter days.  Now that winter has set in and we no longer are able to do work in the field, work in the farm office becomes a much bigger part of our weekly schedule.  There are the yearly office tasks that we must do in the winter that include crop planning, seed ordering, budgeting, interviewing and hiring, and renewing our organic certification.  In addition to those tasks we also spend quite a bit of time on larger long range planning and decision making.  After spending some time evaluating 2012 we decide where we need to improve, what big projects we can tackle in 2013, and what capital purchases we are able to make.
     We have spent a significant amount of resources in the last 2 years upgrading our equipment and building new infrastructure.  I used to think that at some point we’d reach this place where we’d have every piece of infrastructure and equipment we needed and we’d be done improving things.  I’ve now come to realize that like the saying “fashion is never finished”, there seems to be an endless well of improvements to make on the farm.  This process is part of what keeps the work interesting.  Constant scheming, innovating, and creating.  How can we get this crop earlier? how can we harvest this other one over a longer period of time? what can we do to make this particular task go faster or how can we make it easier on our bodies?  Maybe at some point all this scheming will translate into more family time?? or maybe just more scheming.
     Some things that are on the scheming list this winter…. we’re contemplating growing peppers in the new high tunnel to get them earlier and have them over a longer harvest period. We’re thinking of transforming an existing barn space into a temperature controlled area for onion and cabbage storage.  We may put up another small greenhouse for hardening off transplants before they go in the field.  We need to buy 2 cheap farm trucks in order to stop using our box truck in the field (a practice that will shorten its life drastically if we don’t stop doing it).
    We are going to evaluate some long term cost and waste saving measures this winter such as purchasing hard plastic greenhouse trays that will last 10 or more years to replace the plastic trays that we use now and need to throw away after 2 seasons.  Another cost and waste saving measure that we are going to explore is buying all metal tomato stakes that will last 10 or more years to replace the wooden ones that last 2 seasons if we are lucky.
    The last and largest egg to crack this winter is securing additional land for the long term.  At present we are farming 33 acres.  We own only 12 of those acres and the rest of our land is pieced together with short term leases and hand shake agreements.  To be in this relatively vulnerable position is a constant stressor to Meghan and myself and a risky manner to operate the farm business.  The land that we’ve pieced together, along with its uncertain future, is all over the place.  We are currently farming land in several locations in Sunderland, in Montague, and in Hadley.  The logistical difficulties of doing this are obvious.  The need for a larger and more permanent land base has grown to the point where it will stay at the top of our priority list until we find a solution.  We will spend considerable time this winter thinking through and exploring options for additional long term land access or ownership.  Please let us know if you have any land or any leads.
      We need to approach all these decisions we make from several different angles.  We want to know if a decision will have an immediate and visible impact on our day to day operations. But we have to consider how each will affect the long term viability of the farm business, the bottom line in the short and long term, the environment and soil health, the workload and satisfaction of the farmers and employees, the satisfaction of shareholders and wholesale customers, and the list goes on.  The more information we have about the issues surrounding each big decision, the better the solution we are able to come up with to address each need.
      So while there may not be a lot happening in the fields right now there is still a lot happening on the farm.  We wish the best to all of you in the new year and look forward to seeing some of you during this month’s winter share pick up on the 14th and 15th!
On behalf of the farm crew
Your Farmers,
Rob, Meghan, and Cayden

Cayden wondering where all the dirt went