2016 CSA End of Season Report

This year our farm crew and equipment were put to the test in the driest farm season on record, and truly proved how resilient the LexFarm crew and community are! In a year of extreme drought we increased production, brought on a three person farm crew and full-time assistant manager, began a successful work-for-share program, continued a mutually beneficial relationship with Picadilly Farm, increased farm stand sales, met our goal for CSA share value, exceeded our goal for donations to local food banks, and hosted our first end-of-season Bulk Veggie Sale! We are proud of our hardworking staff, volunteers, and Board Members, and grateful to our CSA members for providing the core support for our farm organization.

The Growing Season: Weather, Plant Diseases, and Pests
In August 2016, after several months of dry conditions, Middlesex County was officially declared in a state of “extreme drought.” Despite Lexfarm’s adequate access to water from our well, the drought created poor germination conditions for our direct-seeded crops, increased transplant shock due to heat stress for our seedlings, and required the farm crew to spend excessive time placing and moving irrigation lines. We lost two direct-seeded plantings of peas in May due to poor germination. We had to delay many of our June transplanting dates in order to water in each seedling enough to establish strong root systems.

Despite these crop losses, we were able to deliver 115% of your CSA value due to an abundance of heat-loving crops, and our effective drip irrigation system. We were pleased to see that our well holds up in a dry season. Many other area farms faced dry wells due to falling water tables.

One positive effect of the season’s drought was very low plant disease pressure for Massachusetts’ farms. Hot, dry conditions discourage the spread of plant disease within the farm, and from farm to farm. Generally, we expect plantings of zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes to succumb to disease within weeks of the first harvest. We plant successions of these crops every two weeks, so we will have a continuous supply of healthy plants when the older plants die. This year, we were harvesting every succession of tomatoes at once, because the plants stayed healthy!

Another negative effect of the drought was an increase in pest pressure—in the form of four-legged creatures. Woodchucks decimated two plantings of cucumbers, and made a dent in our first plantings of lettuce. On the bright side, our crops experienced relatively low insect pressure this year, as a result of good management and crop selection. We effectively used floating row cover to exclude leaf miner from beet and spinach leaves, and flea beetles from our kale.

Looking towards 2017 we will hope for more rain, but feel confident knowing our crew and farm systems are able to adapt to difficult growing conditions.

In order to increase our production in 2016, we made several exciting additions to our farm staff. Tim Hines continued in his second year as the Farm Manager, and brought on Elena Colman in March as the Assistant Farm Manager. We expanded our seasonal farm crew to three people, and began the farm’s first work-for-share program, with five community members assisting in the harvest and distribution of CSA shares in exchange for their own share. Our crew was cheerful and a pleasure to work with, always reminding us that many hands help get the job done quickly! In August we hired Gretta Anderson as a Volunteer Coordinator to formalize our volunteer program. By the end of the season, she had created a streamlined online system through which groups and individuals could sign up to volunteer in the fields!

Next year we look forward to continuing our work-for-share program, and increasing our farm crew as we expand production.

CSA and Share Value
Items / Appearances in Share / Value in Share
Husk Cherries and Tomatillos / 5 / $15.00
Broccoli, Cabbage, and Kohlrabi / 8 / $22.75
Bunched Greens (arugula, bok choy, chard, braising mix, tat soi, yokattana, kale, spinach) / 25 / $112.00
Beans / 11 / $4.00
Eggplant and Peppers / 17 / $53.00
Herbs / 21 / $44.50
Lettuce / 19 / $42.75
Onions, Garlic, and Leeks / 18 / $41.00
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes / 12 / $58.00
Carrots and Beets / 14 / $41.00
Summer Squash and Cucumbers / 10 / $38.00
Tomatoes and Cherry Tomatoes / 17 / $77.88
Winter Squash / 8 / $29.50
Melons and Pumpkins / 6 / $22.50
Radishes and Turnips / 8 / $16.50
Fennel / 3 / $8.75
Celery and Celeriac / 2 / $8.10

Total Share Value 2016 $635.23
In 2016 we sold out of both vegetable and flower shares just before the season began! Our hard-working board and volunteers advertised and processed all the CSA sign-ups.

Each year our goal is to provide approximately 115% of the cost of your CSA share. This year we were incredibly proud to meet that goal by providing $635.23 in value of produce, despite the tough growing conditions, for a $550 CSA share.

We heard your feedback from the 2015 CSA survey and provided more variety, including less summer squash, more onions/garlic/leeks, more lettuce, more sweet peppers, and less cabbage. We provided more choices per week this year in hopes of catering to more customers’ personal preferences.

We heard your suggestions to add a PYO map to our farmstead, and our talented field crew member Jessica Manly joined forces with Board Member Mark Gabrenya to create a beautiful map of the farm housed in our brand new welcome kiosk!

Due to the hard work of our volunteer communications committee, you received recipes for dishes from Chard Fritters to Butternut Squash Gnocchi. In Tim’s Notes from the Field you learned about fungal diseases, collinear hoes, and how closely we farmers monitor the weather.

We continued our relationship with Picadilly Farm, decreasing their contribution to the CSA from ¾ of the share value to ½ of the share value. This relationship allows us to provide you with vegetables such as cabbage and sweet peppers, which are difficult to grow at LexFarm due to the buildup of pest and plant disease pressures in our fields.

As time passes, and our most persistent pests and plant diseases no longer have host crops in our fields, we anticipate a decline in their populations.

In 2017 we look forward to growing more of our CSA vegetables, improving PYO signage, and increasing choice in the share each week.

Soil Health
We appreciate your support through 2015 as we began a partnership with Picadilly to give our soil a regenerative break. This year, we hope you enjoyed the benefit of LexFarm’s own delicious tomatoes, squash, eggplant, hot peppers, greens, lettuce, carrots, beets, and herbs!

Tim and Elena continued to learn about LexFarm’s soil challenges as we expanded into new fields with strong weed pressure and soil compaction. We worked with a soil consultant to help us create a long-term plan to address these problems, through targeted cover crop planting and reducing tillage to improve soil structure.

In 2017 we will keep some of our fields cover cropped in rye throughout most of the season, taking advantage of rye’s root system to improve our soil compaction.

We continued to use only certified organic soil amendments and are excited to pursue organic certification in 2017!

In the late winter, we installed a double layer of plastic and repaired one end wall on the long hoop house, allowing us to better heat the space and use it for starting seedlings.

Additionally, we replaced the electric system in our hoop house and both oil tanks in the greenhouses, to improve the safety and efficiency of our heating systems.

In the spring we replaced a broken well pump, and were grateful to Dennis Busa for allowing us to water our greenhouses with a hose running from his property. The pump broke just as we were beginning to transplant our first crops in the fields, and set us back about two weeks when we could not adequately water our transplants.

The most exciting addition to our farm this year was the shiny new Kubota tractor we purchased in September with a generous donation from the Willow Tree Fund! This powerful, safe and reliable tractor will help us be more efficient in spring field preparation.

This winter we look forward to improving and organizing two storage structures: the small plastic hoop house and the pump house. Better storage will allow our equipment to last longer, and make the farm day run more smoothly.

In 2017 we will begin purchasing implements for our new tractor, beginning with a flail mower, rotary mower, and a heavy disk harrow. The flail mower will help us to manage our cover crops, the rotary mower will allow us to maintain weed-free farm roads and paths, and the heavy disk harrow will allow us to better incorporate and capture nutrients from the cover crops.

Fulfilling Our Mission
Our mission is to preserve a historic property as a sustainable working farm, while providing hands-on education to all ages, and increasing access to local food for community members.

Our CSA is at the center of this mission. The CSA ensures a stable market for our produce, allowing the farm to be economically sustainable. Our relationship with Picadilly Farm also helps us fulfill this mission, by allowing us to address our soil’s needs to ensure productivity at LexFarm for decades to come.

The relationship between our farmers and CSA members provides a foundation for education on the farm as well. By staffing the farm stand with knowledgeable crew, planting Pick Your Own fields, and writing the weekly CSA newsletters, we strive to provide an educational experience for our CSA members. This year we also increased our hands-on education with our new volunteering program. LexFarm hosted several group volunteer events this year and provided harvest volunteer opportunities to the public every Wednesday and Friday.

This year we addressed our food access mission by donating $15,670.71 of produce to local food rescue organizations Lovin Spoonfuls, Foodlink, and Boston Area Gleaners. We are grateful to our Food Access volunteer Laura Graham for facilitating these donations each week.

Thank You
After a season which was very hard on area farmers, it can feel discouraging to consider some of the risks and obstacles that stand in the way of running a small farm. Support from our neighbors, customers, volunteers, and friends eases the burden and helps to counteract many of the risks we are up against.

From behind the counter of the farm stand or from between rows of tomatoes, we observed so many constructive gestures. Whether it was shareholders pointing others in the direction of the hot peppers, tactfully explaining the difference between lettuce and cabbage, sharing their best recipes for kohlrabi, or touting the flavor of husk cherries to a non-believer, at the end of the day, these thoughtful, kind acts added up. The excitement of your children running out to the pick-your-own fields, your joyful anticipation of eggplant, or something as simple as patience when a CSA bin needs refilling is contagious. Face time with our customers has been a rewarding and motivational force. This season was a tremendous success and for that, we have all of you to thank.

Without an interested, thoughtful community of shareholders willing to commit monetarily to our CSA program, our organization would not be possible. Your investment makes it possible to run this farm. We thank you for placing value on our work to build community around organically grown, healthy food. Watching the farm’s community grow, both in size and in impact, has been a true pleasure. We look forward to building on this year’s success with you next season, and for seasons to come!

Tim Hines, Farm Manager

Elena Coleman, Assistant Farm Manager