Winter 2012 at Nature’s Route Farm. During the winter of 2012 we really went back to the drawing board to “overhaul” our business and feel that it is important to convey some of our planned big changes. We are sure that every season will have lots of farming challenges; will it be too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry or will there be a catastrophic weather event? While we are prepared to have some ups and downs, we are ever optimistic. 2012 marks our sixth season and since we began our farming career a lot of things have changed. Our expectations have morphed, our realities have been checked and our ambition tried. 2011 was a great year, but, when it was all done we recognized some major fault lines in our business. We have worked hard and while we have invested a huge amount in infrastructure we still lack a sheltered and controlled place to wash our produce, our storage facilities need to be bigger and we need to get our vegetable storage out of our basement cold rooms. The infrastructure we have invested in (mechanization, barn, vehicles, equipment) leave us well suited to increase production but have only been possible because we skimped on hired help.
Specifically. When we both developed pneumonia and/or chest infections at the end of 2011 the alarm bells were loud and clear. Everything we do relies on our well-being and physical prowess. We are getting older and realize that now is the time to share our ambition and physical portion of our work with employees.
Our Plans. We have been very happy with the environmental sustainability of our farming practices and feel that the larger we get the more widespread these ecologically responsible practices will be. We see opportunities for our farm to grow and believe that there is significant potential for us to sell more great tasting vegetables. By growing our business we will be able to pay a better wage to our employees, have better working conditions and provide us with a more equitable living. While we enjoy many aspects of our work, we need to have more time for our family and need to earn more than $2-$5/hour. The changes we are planning will hopefully enable us to concentrate on business and build on our experience.
Transformation. So, what does this really look like? The spring of 2012 marks several “firsts”: We hired our first full time employee, we will build a simple 300ft long by 17ft wide “high tunnel”, we will install a completely electric irrigation system and we are building our first dedicated vegetable facility including a work area, a vegetable handling and storage area along with a 95ft by 27ft greenhouse. Our new facility is a true commitment to making our business work. It will make washing and packing our vegetables much less arduous and will enhance our produce quality control while improving both our long and short term storage. It will be made “tractor-trailer” size to provide flexibility for future growth. It will include an outside “dirty area” where field dirt and soil will be removed, a “clean area” for packaging and storing produce along with a separate heated area that will be used for curing warm weather crops, a greenhouse work area, an early season “growing room” and a winter heated work shop. The entire facility will be insulated and in 2012 we will have enough cold storage to ensure we have produce at the market 12 months of the year. Our new building will include an almost south facing roof and a waste water management system that will enable us to reuse wash water to water the greenhouse. These features combined with a complete electric irrigation system will make it easier for our farm to reduce our reliance of fossil fuels in the future.
What matters to you? We aim to improve our displays and flow during deliveries while keeping our basic format of several CSA pick-ups per week and the Sackville Farmers’ Market. While we are sure we will have a few hiccups and obstacles along the way, we hope that most of these changes will be “transparent” to the average vegetable eater. It will likely take us a couple more years to really get our feet under us. To keep our sanity and health we hope for modest growth while our business undergoes this transformation. If we are successful our business should be ready for significant growth by 2014.