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Updates from the farm

Updates from the farm and city.
Posted 2/16/2018 10:11am by Business Manager.

Hi everyone!

Winter is starting to lose its grip. We’re beginning a pattern with lots of high temps above freezing, and with lows in the teens and 20’s. The forecast for the next couple weeks is for moderate weather with (hopefully) decent amounts of sunshine. March is the beginning of meteorological spring (March 1 - May 31), and it looks like we’ll have a very average start to the season. In spring, moderate, even cool, weather is perfect, allowing things to progress steadily. Hot spring weather, like we had in 2012, burns things up and stresses everything out.

The higher sun angle and longer days responsible for these changes are being amplified in our hoop houses, where spinach is starting to grow quickly. We finally harvested some spinach these last couple weeks. Normally, we wait for leaves to get big, so that harvesting goes quickly. In this case, we decided to harvest sooner so that we could get some badly needed greens into your boxes. We’ve been quite frustrated with the fact we’ve harvested no spinach from our fall planting until now. Usually, we’ve have harvested over 1000 pounds by now, putting lots of it in CSA boxes, and selling the rest at farmers’ markets.

Believe it or not, the issue now will be slowing things down somewhat. We can’t deal with 22 hoops maturing all at once. Having made it through a winter with low temps of -15 on several nights, the spinach is very tough and acclimated to the cold. With no wind, it can handle temps in the single digits. We’ll actually be opening up many hoops to slow down growth and spread out the harvest. We’d like to see our last hoops make it until late April, allowing us to get as much return from our planting as possible. Normally, we’ve got a 4 month period to harvest and sell spinach. With only 2 months left in the harvest season, and so much maturing at the same time, it will be difficult to sell it all. This week’s bag is not that big. Harvest was painfully slow and we just wanted to get you some for now. Starting next delivery, you’ll be seeing much more. It will be that way into the first couple spring boxes of April.

Otherwise, things are pretty quiet and normal. We are excited to have an improved “back end”, information management aspect, of our website under construction. We’ve been struggling with all this since last fall and finally have our wheels on the tracks. It will take a few months to finish the project. When it’s done, add ons should be much easier to administer. After that, we’ll work on our online store to further simplify and modernize the customer experience. With the food and distribution options available these days, we need to work hard to remain competitive.

I see this as a last effort to make money and save the business. I cannot believe, as I said in a frustrated email last fall, that we, in a city as big as Chicago, can’t find a way to sell high quality, locally grown, organic food for a profit. A few years ago, we had nearly 600 CSA customers. That number as fallen below 400, representing a loss of nearly $200,000 of sales. I’ve watched a few of my best farming friends lose similar amounts of business and go under.  While we can lower some variable costs, we have enough fixed costs that we’re currently on the edge of solvency, owing back taxes and all. We need to find a way to generate more business and get more customers. I want to figure out how to network with CSA members and find ways to connect with more like minded people. Once we get housekeeping in order and new employees up to speed, we’ll work on things from this angle. We’re open to ideas and suggestions.

-Chris

Posted 2/12/2018 9:19am by Business Manager.

Hello everyone! Hope you enjoyed your snowy weekend.

In the box this week you can look forward to...

  • SPINACH- it's finally here! 
  • Carrots
  • Red meat radishes
  • Whole roasted tomatoes
  • Frozen Butternut Squash
  • Tomato Juice

Check out this article with great tips on how to use spinach

And here are some tasty recipe ideas using this week's produce:

Cream of Winter Squash and Tomato Soup

Tomato and Carrot Marinara Sauce

And one more recommended to me by our wonderful CSA member Alison

Watermelon Radish, Orange, and Goat Cheese Salad

We love when you share photos and recipe ideas with us. If you're on social media, please use the hashtag #tomatomountain. 

Be sure to leave out a cooler again this week! And remember that any add-on orders placed after noon tomorrow will be included with the next delivery, the week of 2/26. 

Have a great week!

Alanna

 

Posted 2/9/2018 10:10am by Business Manager.
Happy Friday everyone!
 
First- a reminder that mushroom orders must be in by the end of the day Saturday and all other orders must be placed by Tuesday at 12pm to be included in next week's delivery.
 
We're excited and proud to offer something we've been working on for some time now-  grass fed, goat and sheep milk cheeses from Felix Thalhamer of Capri Cheesery in Blue River, Wisconsin.
 
I've know Felix for over 10 years. Born in Switzerland, he's become one of my favorite farmers because of the dignity with which he treats his animals, and his uncompromising dedication to integrity and high quality products. His cheeses are hand made, in small batches, and second to none. 
 
 
1) Chevre-  Classic, soft, fresh, and slightly tangy spreadable goat cheese.          $8 for 1/3 pound container. 
 
2) Greek Feta- Sharp and tangy, made from sheep and goat milk.                         $8 for 6 oz piece. 
 
I'm addicted to this Feta and make tomato salads around it in the summer just because I've got the cheese in my refrigerator! Felix has agreed to cut consistent size pieces for us to facilitate our online store. 
 
Down the road we're thinking of offering Felix's Gouda and Goat Cheddar. Let us know what you think. Your feedback will help us decide.  
 
Chris, Tomato Mountain Farmer
Posted 2/7/2018 9:33am by Business Manager.

Hi all!

We have lots in store for you this week, including an incredibly delicious nacho package deal!

ALSO available:

  • Shiitake and Crimini mushrooms from River Valley Farms
  • Potatoes from Driftless Organics- including a new red variety!
  • Five varieties of cheese from McCluskey Brother's
  • Honey, maple syrup, and sunflower oil
  • Whole roasted tomatoes, salsas, soups and more!

I might add that our tomato soup with shallots tastes especially great during these cold winter days!

Also- be on the lookout for new cheese varieties coming soon. We're hoping to offer Chevre, Greek Feta, and possibly even a goat cheddar from our friends at Capri Cheese.

Hope you decide to treat yourself to some of these great products! If there's something you'd like to see offered on our online store we'd love to hear your suggestions at support@tomatomoutain.com

Thank you for supporting our CSA!

Alanna

Posted 2/1/2018 1:24pm by Business Manager.

Our warm spell ended more quickly than originally forecast. We’re disappointed because spinach growth is minimal when temperatures are as cold as they’ve been most of the time since November. Ironically, last year, when we planted our winter spinach on the early side, to be safe, we had a warm fall and even warmer winter, with nearly record warmth in February. We had too much spinach all at once, and could not sell it as fast as it was maturing. We ended up tilling in several hundred pounds (several thousand dollars worth) of amazing spinach we simply could not find a home for, even after wholesaling much of it for much less than we’d prefer to sell it for. This year, we planned our spinach planting a bit later, and got the opposite weather.

This is a very much the opposite sort of problem compared to most of our agricultural puzzles. Usually, if we don’t do something fast enough, or as timely as we plan, we get steamrolled, can’t keep up, and are often overwhelmed, particularly for things like weed control. In this case, we planned a planting a week later than last year to avoid excess growth, actually got the planting in a week later than that, and then had below average temperatures for three, now looking like four, months is putting huge brakes on growth. They did say it would be a La Nina winter, with colder than average temps, and it did work out that way.

Otherwise, this week’s box is a solid, typical winter box, with jarred whole roasted tomatoes, frozen roasted butternut squash, and our trio of winter root crops. The “watermelon” radishes are very special as radishes go, with a sweet and slightly sharp flavor. Our beets are much like our carrots, very sweet and flavorful, far beyond anything California can produce. All three are in the box.

Thanks to everyone who responded to last week’s newsletter regarding our mispricing of the winter share. Normally, because it’s only every other week, out winter share is valued higher than other seasons, which are delivered every week. Instead of raising our prices across the board for all seasons, as we did with spring, summer and fall shares, we in effect lowered our winter price share. Responses overwhelmingly supported for my idea of adding up, at the end of the winter season, what we actually delivered, and asking people to pay the difference between what we charged, and what we delivered.

We are not going to “charge” in a mandatory way, this amount. Even though 80% of responses from CSA members suggest that such mix-ups happen all the time in business and that we should simply state what happened, charge what we should, and move on, that is not perfectly ok by us. We said something, and we don’t feel comfortable asking people to do something we all agreed on at the time, mistake or not. So, again, at the end of the winter share, we’re going to add up everything we delivered, compare it to what we charged, and give people the option to pay, no obligation. Sorry for the confusion. Sometimes efforts like this, that aim for full transparency, can be messy. If anyone has any questions or problems, please feel free to call me, Chris, at 608-712-1585. I spent hours writing responses last week to everyone who did what I asked and chimed in on the issue. I do appreciate the everyone’s feedback, and find that talking it over is often easier and faster than writing.

Finally, we’re working with one of our CSA customers to put together a better website that will make many CSA interactions clearer, faster, and easier. First, we’re working to streamline our information administration, to save time and make less mistakes. Then, we’re going to work on our online store to make add ons better and easier to facilitate. Those are the main goals for now. Eventually, we’ll also likely work more on the front end of our website, the one you guys see, to tie everything together, and bring it fully up to speed in the computer age/21st century. I’m writing a grant proposal to try to get $12,000 from the Frontera Farmer Foundation to help us out. Keep your fingers crossed!

Posted 1/30/2018 11:10am by Business Manager.

Hi all!

In the box this week you can look forward to...

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Red meat radishes
  • Whole roasted tomatoes
  • Frozen Butternut Squash

Be sure to leave out a cooler again this week! Temperatures will be very low and we would hate for your to find a box of frozen veggies in the morning!

There are many delicious recipe possibilities inside this week's box like...

Roasted Beet and Winter Squash Salad

Pasta with Whole Roasted Tomatoes

 

Just a reminder that any add-on orders placed after noon today will be included with the next delivery, the week of February 12. 

Hope you're all looking forward to this week's box!

Alanna

 

Posted 1/27/2018 1:43pm by Business Manager.

Hi all!

Just a reminder that TODAY is the last day to purchase mushrooms as an add-on to your box next week! We have two varieties available- Crimini and Shiitake. 

Check out the mushrooms and all the other extras we have available in our online store.

Thanks and have a great weekend!

Alanna

Posted 1/25/2018 4:28pm by Alanna Kerstein.

Hi all!

Hope you enjoyed your first box last week. There are no deliveries this week, but we've updated our store with many new add-ons to tack on to your order next week!

First off, we're offering three varieties of certified organic potatoes.

Desiree is a moist potato with a yellow flesh and bright-pink skin. They're great as roasted or fried potatoes, and make great chips, because they don't crumble.

Purple Viking is a purple skinned potato with pink-red splashes, snow white flesh, and a very smooth texture. It's a great all purpose potato that makes excellent mashed and baked potatoes.

German Butterball is an exceptionally tender, gold fleshed potato. They're great steamed, baked, or fried.

Next, check out two varieties of mushrooms produced by River Valley Ranch. They are certified organic, grown without any chemicals, preservatives, or growth enhancers.

Crimini mushrooms (aka baby portobello) have a brownish color and firm texture. They're more flavorful than younger white mushrooms. They're great sautéed, in stews and soups, and anywhere you'd use button mushrooms.

Shiitake mushrooms are large, black-brown, and have an earthy rich flavor. They're great in stir-fries, soups, and make an excellent meat substitute.

 

Please also see-

  • Blue Corn Tortilla Chips from A-Maize-ing Corn Products...Also purchase cheese and salsa and you'll have great nachos!
  • FIVE kinds of cheese! Mozzarella, Sharp Cheddar, Mild Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Butterkaese from McCluskey BrothersGrass-fed and organic! The best of the best.
  • Maple Syrup from McCluskey Brothers
  • Honey from Ellis Family Farms

As always, our salsas,  soups, and other jarred tomato products are available for purchase.

Orders for mushrooms are due by THIS SATURDAY. All other orders are due by next Tuesday at noon.

Please place orders at your soonest convenience!

Thanks for your continued interest and support in our CSA!

Alanna

Posted 1/16/2018 3:27pm by Alanna Kerstein.

       SNEAK PEAK - WINTER WEEK 1

 

FIRST DELIVERY OF 2018

 

The first delivery of the 2018 Winter Season will arrive this week.  

In the box you will find:  

Whole Roasted Tomatoes, Frozen Butternut Squash, Shunkyo Radishes,    Shallots    

In the Store this week you will find:  

Red Globe Onions  

Shallots  

Carrots  

Yellow Onions  

Beets  

Red Meat Radish  

Aaaaannnndddddddddd.......    CHEESE!!

If you still haven't tried this cheese, boy oh boy, you are missing out!  MOZZARELLA  

MILD CHEDDAR  

SHARP CHEDDAR  

BUTTERKAESE  

MONTEREY JACK  

Aaaaannnndddddddddd.......   

HONEY (ELLIS FAMILY FARMS)   

MAPLE SYRUP (MCCLUSKEY BROS)  

SUNFLOWER OIL (DRIFTLESS ORGANICS)    

Notes this week - It's getting cold out! Now is the time to leave a cooler out for your delivery. We would hate for you to find a box of frozen veggies in the morning!        Alanna & The Tomato Mountain Farm Team   

Posted 12/13/2017 6:29pm by Business Manager.
 12/13/2017 CSA NEWSLETTER
 
Whats in the box?! 
 
BEETS, SHALLOTS, CARROTS, BOK CHOI, NAPA CABBAGE, WHOLE ROASTED TOMATOES
 
THE REMAINDER OF THE THYME PLANTS WILL BE DELIVERED THIS WEEK!  THYME IS A VERY ROBUST PLANT AND CAN HANDLE THE COLD OVERNIGHT, BUT MAKE SURE TO BRING IT IN FIRST THING IN THE MORNING. 
 
 
It looks like we’ll have a regular, old fashioned winter this year. While anything longer than a week long forecast is generally shaky, the El Nino vs La Nina forecasts are usually accurate. They’ve been saying the La Nina condition has been setting up for a few months now. That generally means we’ll have a colder, wetter winter, at least compared to many of the warm winters we’ve seen in recent years. While nobody is saying we’ll have anything like the “polar vortex” winter we had back in ‘13/’14, it does seem about 65% certain we’ll be fairly close to average for temperature and precipitation.
 
This week, the “musical chairs” that our website platform has turned into, has seen a major new development. After reporting last week that our long awaited Harvie interface, that would facilitate a significant degree of choice for CSA members, was not in fact ready for launch, I got an email from one of those CSA members with an offer to help out. Considering that we’ve been going one direction for months now, it is not an easy choice to make, but we are seriously considering something completely different, that we would own, and be able to change, adjust, and use from year to year. I’m not yet sure what to do or think. As usual, I’m thinking out loud.
 
Somewhat ironically, somewhat practically, I’ve been hoping for something like this to happen. I’ve literally written, in my head, to CSA customers asking for more help than I’ve ever suggested in one of these newsletters. Maybe I should have done it more explicitly, sooner. I still have reservations about making this huge change, from a cookie cutter, platform skeleton, that is managed somewhere else, by someone else, to having our own website and the responsibility to maintain it. Deep down, that is what I always have hoped was possible, and now that we have the opportunity to go that route, it is very hard to say no. I’ve got a very good farmer friend who thinks as I do, and I hope he and I take the plunge and go for it. Either way, we’ll keep on farming and bringing you the best produce possible. Stay tuned.  
 
To avoid seeming completely dysfunctional, I should point out that from a farming perspective, things are going well. While our spinach is a bit behind what we’d like, we do expect to have plenty of spinach for our winter share, and everything else about our last season has finished off nicely. We’ve been in the farm’s processing kitchen almost every day these past few weeks roasting, blending and vacuum packing butternut squash. We’ve put together and frozen nearly 2000 bags so far. Besides our tens of thousands of pounds of carrots, there are a few thousand pounds of seriously sweet beets, and a good amount of what I consider to be the nicest radish, our watermelon radishes. As with carrots and beets, we wait until several hard freezes have done their thing and allowed these radishes to sweeten dramatically.
 
Wow, it doesn’t feel like the end of the season, but it is. I want to thank everyone for supporting another crazy year of farming. We’re looking forward to next year, even with all the unknown factors, more than ever. I’m not sure exactly what it will look like, but we’re as committed as ever to growing the best crops we can, and serving customers well, in new and innovative ways. As always, please let us know what you think, tell as many of your friends as you can about us, and have a good holiday season.  

Tomato Mountain Newsletter- Week 3 Winter 2018February 16th, 2018

Hi everyone! Winter is starting to lose its grip. We’re beginning a pattern with lots of high temps above freezing, and with lows in the teens and 20’s. The forecast for the next couple we

Sneak Peek! Winter Week 3 DeliveryFebruary 12th, 2018

Hello everyone! Hope you enjoyed your snowy weekend. In the box this week you can look forward to... SPINACH- it's finally here!  Carrots Red meat radishes Whole roasted tomatoes Frozen Butternu

Now offering goat and sheep milk cheeses!February 9th, 2018

Happy Friday everyone!   First- a reminder that mushroom orders must be in by the end of the day Saturday and all other orders must be placed by Tuesday at 12pm to be included in next week's

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