By: Traci Barkley, Sola Gratia CSA
Many times over, we hear the question- “What do you/farmers do in the winter?” The short version is “wrap up the previous year, plan for the next and try to rest our bodies a bit”. The longer version is much longer…so much so that we wonder why anyone thinks farmers “take the winter off!”
What we generally do in late fall/winter is 1) review the previous season to inform the next, 2) close out our financials and prepare the next year’s budget, 3) develop the crop plan and order seeds, 4) secure or repair needed equipment and supplies, 5) start recruiting the next season’s labor team, 6) market our CSA, 7) secure wholesale and retail outlets, 8) plan for future membership and community events, 9) write grant proposals for financial support of our farming operation and mission, and 10) partner, partner, partner to continue and enhance our mission work.
Despite how long most people think winter lasts in these parts, to a farmer, “winter” is not very long and certainly not long enough to get everything done that needs to be done. Market and CSA season for Sola Gratia Farm continues into late November/early December and we plant our first seeds in the greenhouse in early February. That leaves only 2 months where we aren’t working on hands-on production! This always reminds me of when, during my first pregnancy, a new mother informed me that full gestation is actually 10 months, not the 9 months everyone refers to. ☺In addition to the standard list above, this “winter”, we’ve taken on a few extra projects. The first is development of an employee handbook. Our farm has grown quickly both in acres in production, community programs and of course, our labor force! We’ve gotten to the point where written clear expectations are critical for our employees, both in the form of an employee handbook, signage and SOPs (standard operating procedures), which we’ll be working on next.
Second, new legislation enacted back in 2011 is finally being implemented in order to enhance food safety. Last year, we invested heavily in an expanded wash/pack shed and systems. Now, we are in the process of formally updating and documenting our food safety practices in order to comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act and to provide clearer instructions for our staff and volunteers.Many, many hours have been put into the rebuild of a 1949 Allis-Chalmers cultivating tractor, restoration of a new-to-us seed drill for cover cropping and replacement of hydraulic hoses on a pallet fork lift, a fortunate auction find. Assembly has been required on a few spanky-new items for us as well, including a basket weeder and root undercutter.
Finally, we devote time to furthering and sharing our knowledge and connections in the sustainable food world by attending and presenting at workshops and conferences such as the Illinois Specialty Crops Conference and the MOSES Organic Farming Conference.
I’ll spare all of you the laundry list of things we feel are left to do before Spring arrives, but know that every time I hear someone wishing for an early Spring, I’m counteracting the wish with hope for just a little more wintertime.
See you this Spring at Tuesday afternoon markets!