Saturday, January 8, 2011

2010 - Top 5 ...

The turn of the year seems to produce a proliferation of lists - the best of this, the worst of that, the top 10, the greatest ... In that spirit, Thiessen Farms has it's own list - the top 5 of 2010. I'm not quite sure what to call them - top 5 issues, top 5 stories, top 5  things that affected our farming year ...? Whatever!

5. New neighbours.
For as long as I can remember the farm next to us has been in fruit orchards. Now the trees have all been removed and the land rented out. My new neighbours grow vegetables, and raise sheep, ducks & chickens ( ). It's a whole new world next door, and it will take some getting used to. The animals are great (as are the neighbours), but I really miss the trees. Our farm feels so open & exposed now. I'm used to being surrounded by orchards, seeing only trees, not open ground.

4. Farmers' markets.
We started the marketing season with a cautious optimism. After slower sales in 2009, we hoped things would pick up in 2010. However it was not to be. Sales declined very slightly, despite our best efforts & great tasting produce. I guess we've been spoiled though, with increases of more than 10% for several years. Some say there are too many markets in Toronto now - the Toronto Farmers' Market Network website lists more than 30. But I think more markets are a good thing. Customers have more choice and become more discerning, which leads to better quality & variety at the markets, which means better markets. Selling our fruit & vegetables at the markets is still the best way for us, and we're already dreaming & planning for the coming season.

3. Weather
As Canadians, farmers and vendors at outdoor farmers' markets, the weather is of utmost importance to us. Weather can make or break our year. This past season we were blessed with good weather - enough sun & heat to give the fruit amazing flavour & sweetness, enough rain to give good, healthy growth, and none of the extreme storms & conditions that some of the country received. Sure we had some rainy market days, but overall we can't complain at all about the weather - not bad for a farmer, eh?!

2. Farm repairs & maintenance or Is there anything left to breakdown?
Our farm repairs & maintenance bill was uncomfortably high in 2010. Poor management? Perhaps. Certain repairs had been put off repeatedly as we waited for a "better year". Those repairs finally caught up with us and together with unexpected breakdowns made for a wild year of fixing things. The list includes painting the barns,
replacing the aging culvert, fixing the helphouse where our workers live, cold storage repairs, 2 tractor clutches, new truck tires, new engine for the rototiller. The good part is that things are in pretty good shape overall now. 2011 should be problem free (right!!). The downside is a serious cash flow problem right now. Did I mention what a great guy my banker is?

The helphouse with a new a hydro stack, 2 new walls including windows, new roof and some new siding - plans are to finish it this spring.

The biggest story for Thiessen Farms is that we started a CSA in 2010. We have a page on this blog that explains CSA (see above) so I won't repeat it here, but it's a new way for us both to connect with our customers and sell our produce. It went really well for us - and I think for our customers too! It gave us the chance to grow more vegetables which we really enjoy. We also learned how to be more disciplined in our seeding schedules, seeding amounts, weeding ... all in all a good experience. And it sure was great to have the customers come to us instead of loading the truck & driving to them. If we can grow it large enough, we can eventually do less farmers' markets - an important consideration as we age!!

Happy new year, and all the best for 2011!!