February to a Vegetable Farmer

Farmer Voices

February to a Vegetable Farmer

By Lauren Rudersdorf | Photo By Jim Klousia 0

Before diving headfirst into a CSA vegetable farming operation with my husband three years ago, Wisconsin winters never held any real appeal to me. They were long. They were frigid. The snow always fell at the wrong time causing canceled plans and terrible commutes.

Now, my life looks completely different. Instead of staring at gray skies and dreaming of sunnier days, I hold tight to winter. Winter is my solace—a gift after nine months of exhaustion, sweat and aching muscles.

Winter is a lot of things to a vegetable farmer. It is the time when we rest, the time when we reconnect with friends and family. It is the time when we reconnect with ourselves, and with each other. It is, yes, the time when we finally attempt to fit in a vacation (or two), but it is also the time when we wonder, we reflect and we dream. No longer exhausted from the day-to-day tasks of running a 60-member, 4-acre vegetable farm, I find the energy to make plans for the future.

December is the time for reflection and goal-setting. Year-end totals of harvests, sales and expenses are compiled and evaluated. Books are read. Ideas are gathered. Then, rather suddenly, February is upon us. Before the rest of the world is thinking about anything green, one by one, vegetable farmers wake up from their winter slumber. We find ourselves with very little time to set these new dreams into motion.

As the days tick closer to March 1st, I realize just how much we have to do. February is an exciting time on the farm. Anticipation about the season ahead is mixed with last minute urgency.

My husband and I jump into motion: Kyle manages everything that has to do with growing vegetables, and I handle the business side of the equation.

CSA sign-up forms go live on the web. I check it daily, eagerly awaiting each new member and e-mailing them one-by-one with details of the season ahead. Site hosts need to be confirmed. The introductory meeting of our new core group of CSA members must be arranged. The website should be updated and our social media forums (which also took a winter respite) need to spring back to life. New members have to be recruited.

I refocus on food. With our own storage crops finally dwindling, the time has come to buy endless amounts of organic veggies from the co-op. I catch up on all my favorite food blogs and check out new cookbooks from the library. I cook every night. Recipes are tested and recorded for newsletters to come.

Kyle has ordered our seeds, but our seeding chart has not been defined. We need to translate his field notes into excel spreadsheets. As we together transform his handwritten notes into a plan for this season, I notice vegetables that were neglected. “Where are the sweet potatoes? And the Romanesco cauliflower? Where's the fifth planting of beets?! People need more beets!”

Every February it's the same song and dance. My practical, patient farming better half understands limits. His field plans are well-thought-out. Year after year, this beginning farmer gains confidence over his operation and understands what's manageable. I always want more, more, more! Somewhere in the middle we find our balance. Last year I won shallots, blue potatoes, poblano peppers and turnips. I lost mint, chives, sweet potatoes and that fifth planting of beets. We always seem to bicker over beets.

And then there's the new greenhouse, our major infrastructure investment for 2015. It may have its structure, but it still needs to be hooked up to electric and propane. The first seeds go into soil on March 1st and the greenhouse must be ready to house them.

A new year of farming has been set into motion and I’m positively buzzing with anticipation. The event calendar for our summer is, as of yet, still empty. A little creativity and even more creative scheduling will soon yield a calendar with an event or two per month. Slowly, a picture of the upcoming season starts to take shape. As another February begins, we find ourselves enthralled by another season of growing together and all that entails. February is a great time to be a vegetable farmer.

Lauren Rudersdorf Lauren owns and operates Raleigh's Hillside Farm outside of Evansville, Wis., with her husband Kyle. Together, they manage four acres of leased family land, growing two acres of vegetables for a CSA and area restaurants. They are currently accepting new members for the 2016 CSA season. In her free time, Lauren loves to share stories about farming, life and food on her blog, The Leek & The Carrot.

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