Tomato Mountain Newsletter- Week 3 Winter 2018
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.