Winterfell Acres

Brooklyn, WI

A woman-led CSA farm dedicated to bringing you fresh, local and organically grown vegetables, fruit, flowers and herbs in three share sizes to fit your eating and cooking goals.

November 2017: Year End Reflection

This year marks the 1st of many more seasons on our beautiful land we now call home. I am so incredibly grateful to be living, working and playing here! I knew going into this season that it was going to be crazy and I did my best to plan accordingly. Turns out, all the best laid plans can go to the wayside once it all shakes out. What do I mean? Well we originally planned to build our home over the winter last year, saving me from a season of craziness that actually ensued. Basically, we broke ground on our farm house in April this year and we officially moved in October. From July through September, all of our personal weeknight and weekend time was spent building and finishing our home. Well we did want to build our own home, right? The timing was unfortunately out of our control and we never considered pushing back month or two to start building so I wasn't working during the busiest part of the growing season in a construction zone. We had no idea what we were doing. Oops! Imagine being at your desk and everyday, like clockwork, a subcontractor comes to ask you a question (some requiring hour long answers). That was what it felt like for me this year: managing veggies and subcontractors. Plus all the rain...! *sigh* What a year! But I will say: I knew that was a possibility and I planned as best I could. All I can reflect on now is that damn, I am grateful that winter came early this year!

What are the results of 2017? We planted a 2 acre mixed-fruit orchard, we built a high tunnel and we built our home! I also had my best year yet for vegetable production and income. Cannot complain one bit about that :) I am so grateful for all these gifts, for the manifestation of my dreams and for all the support out there (family, friends, CSA members, neighbors- you rock!)! I sit here right now, looking over my frosted fields next to all my new house plants, in front of our fireplace that heats our home. Yes, what a year!

Crops that did well:

  • Roots crops (potatoes, onions garlic, etc.): our new sandy loam soil may not hold a lot of nutrients from year to year but dang do the root crops love that sandy, easy-to-grow-in soil! 
  • Cucumbers: after last year's paltry harvest, this years moderate crop wowed my socks off. I even had enough extra to feed Travis and I.
  • Winter squash: well I never thought I would say this but, 2017 was a good winter squash year. After 5+ years of really bad winter squash seasons, I am happily surprised to say that "a good squash year" does exist. It's called 2017. 
  • Fall brassicas (cauliflower and cabbage): again, our new sandy loam soil continues to surprise me. Although most big brassicas struggle with lighter, lower nutrient-holding soils, they also tend to hold less disease pressure. So I actually had fall cauliflower and cabbage this year after failing the last two seasons to produce any crop. As long as I continue to feed the soil to feed the plants, I think this will continue to be a pattern.
  • Greens: as always, greens are one of my staple crops. Every year, I plant more and more and every year, I harvest all of it. It tastes delicious too! That frost-sweetened spinach was my favorite this year.

Crops that didn't do well:

  • Tomatoes: one of the challenges of our sandy loam soil is that the organic matter was very low when we began (1.4%) and although my most recent soil tests shows it over-doubled (4.1%), some heavy feeding crops (like tomatoes) really struggle growing on soil that isn't amended properly. A cold spring also didn't help. So the results were tomato plants that were not nearly vegetative enough and therefore, became too generative producing a hefty fruit load over a short harvest period. I will amend the soil better next year. I also look forward to growing under cover in my new high tunnel which will greatly reduce disease pressure and where I can better control water intake.
  • Green kale: I have no idea what happened here. All of my green kale was TINY! And it wasn't the soil because two other kale varieties right next to them looking like giant trees comparatively. I guess I will try another variety next year and plant more! 
  • Melons: weeds... and too much rain... that is all I can say. Since this was my first year growing on soil that was in hay/pasture for at least the last 20+ years, the weed pressure was crazy high. Even with the landscape fabric that I plant into, it didn't help much in between the beds. Next year, landscape fabric the whole farm! And pray for melons.
  • Peas: I have always struggled with growing this challenging crop. I just can't attend to them and keep them weed free like they require. This year was no exception although I did manage to harvest at least 20+ pounds off 200' planted. What is my work around for this for next year? Well I am going to try to transplant pea seedlings next year to try to get ahead of the weeds. The struggle is with germination when the soil is still that cold in mid-April. The weed seeds are just much faster than the pea seeds. So I will try to give them a head start and see what happens.

Overall, 2017 was a great and challenging year- can't wait to start all over again in 2018!

What CSA Means to Me

When I started Winterfell Acres in 2013 the only way I could get my produce to people was with CSA. There was no other option for me, I wouldn't consider selling wholesale with such a small acreage, I didn't know any chefs to sell to and I had enough experience with farmers' markets that I knew I wouldn't be able to make enough with my limited time as a one-woman farm. I could only imagine selling to people who I knew and who were interested in support a fledging small farmer. I also had almost no start up capital so the influx of cash at the beginning of the season was (and still is) key to my success. Most farmers out there take out loans at the beginning of the season to purchase inputs and seeds and equipment, while paying it off (sometimes only some of it) when the harvest comes in. Farming has so many variables (net income being the late on the totem pole) and CSA is quite unique in that I can actually budget my income pretty well from year to year and that is only because of my supportive CSA members who are willing to pay ahead of time for veggies that come months later. Most farmers do not have that degree of stability and security when it comes to their annual income. I know that each year I can pay the land mortgage and my Kubota tractor loan if member continue to sign up. This is what makes CSA remarkable and quite an anomaly within the farming movement.

CSA members are what keeps the ball rolling at Winterfell Acres and you are a vital part of this partnership. Because that is essentially what CSA is: a partnership between farmers and eaters. The farm, in its current form, does not exist with YOU and your willingness to go out of your way to pay ahead of time for your organic veg, to stop by your local pick up site on your way home from work weekly and your excitement to come out to the farm.

I know that I there will always be someone out there who can market better than me and who can offer a more convenient product than me. So I try to offer something deeper and more meaningful than just organic veggies: a connection to the land where your veggies come from and a relationship with me, your farmer. 

One of the veteran CSA farmers in WI, Dan Guenthner of Common Harvest Farm puts it perfectly, "The one thing that we [as CSA farmers] can consistently do better than almost any other type of orientation to organic food is based upon relationship, that we can connect, we can be connected, we can be vulnerable, we can offer this authentic, this really authentic connection and experience."

That is my goal with deepening my commitment to the CSA movement (because it's not just a marketing strategy for me). I want to be vulnerable and authentic with you, my CSA members. I want to share our land and the fruits of my labor with you. I want you to feel free to come out to the land where your veggies grow. Because all of this, my business, our land, my ability to continue to farm is because of you. 

When people ask me why I pursued farming as a career choice, I always tell them: this was the one small thing I could do to help change the world and make it a better place. 

Thanks for reading!

Farmer Beth