We visited with David and Barb Perkins of Vermont Valley Community Farm LLC on Dec. 8 to find out how they spend their time while their farm sleeps under the snow. What did we learn? Farmers NEVER finish their to-do lists.
When it looks like there’s nothing going on outside, they …. evaluate the past season’s yield and crop varieties while planning for next year. They order seeds, attend and present at conferences, prepare their taxes, decide whether they need new equipment and then find that equipment — sometimes by contacting equipment manufacturers in Europe, where small farms are more common. They plan next season’s pick-up sites, market their shares, meet with companies that want to start workplace pick-up sites, hire employees, and finally, they take a well-earned vacation. They also sell their organic seed potatoes to other farmers. All of this between now and mid February, when they start 22 flats of seeds in their basement for their spring shares. By March, they’ll be working in their greenhouse again.
David and Barb are known as CSA and organic farming pioneers here in Wisconsin. They’ve been in business for 22 seasons and manage one of the longest-running CSA farms in the state.
David grew up on a farm that raised commodity crops and beef. He studied agronomy at UW Madison and worked as an agronomist for the Land O’Lakes Co-op. He earned a Master’s in public administration and worked as a budget analyst for the WI Legislature and the Department of Agriculture for 10 years before turning to CSA.
Barb earned her degree in sociology and worked in the non-profit world for 10 years, five as an executive director, before applying her “juggling” skills to running a farm.
“Our skill sets were complimentary,” Barb said.
They moved from the Isthmus to a farm near Blue Mounds back in 1994, gambling on the new farming model, CSA, “that turned commodity agriculture on its head,” recalls David.
“We thought, ‘if it doesn’t work, we can always move back to Madison,'” Barb remembers.
Today, all three of their adult children work in the family business, and many of Vermont Valley’s former employees have gone on to start their own CSA farms, referencing David and Barb as their role models.
CSA sign-up season starts in January.
Low-income households can receive assistance for half the cost of their share — up to $300 — via FairShare CSA Coalition’s Partner Shares program, which begins accepting applications Jan. 15, 2017. (Apply early; funds are limited!)
Several local health insurance providers offer wellness rebates for CSA; please check your plan.
Meet more than 35 CSA farmers who deliver shares to the Madison area at the CSA Open House, noon-4 p.m. Sunday, March 12 at Monona Terrace. This is a free event, open to the public, and includes workshops.
Editor’s Note: 5 Minutes on the Farm has moved to a monthly schedule for winter. The next episode will air Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.