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Your Questions Answered

You asked, I answered.

Over the past few weeks, several of you submitted questions on Instagram to my invitation to “Ask Me Anything”. I hope the answers below will help you get to know me, and the farm, a bit better. Still have some lingering questions? Just shoot us an email! CSA@VRDNT.FARM.

As always, thanks for being here and supporting my mission to grow nutrient-dense, fresh food for my cherished community.

Farmer Becky

Farm photos in today's post by Bill McCoullough.

What are you planting now?

We are just at the end of our fall planting season. That doesn't mean that we're planting nothing; it just means that we're planting less. Let me explain.

December 21st is the solstice, which is also the shortest day of the year here in Central Texas. Even at our shortest day, our minimum daily length is 10 hours, which is technically enough sunlight that crops should still grow. But in actuality, because of the temperatures and low angle of the light in combination with shorter day length, frost-hardy plants will mostly hang out and stand still but not put on much new growth. That being the case, anything that we're still planting now would need to mostly be ready by December 21st. Since that's only about a month and a half, only the shortest succession crops like spinach and radishes, which can be ready in 40 to 60 days, are still being planted. We will still regularly be seeding fresh shoots, but for the most part, our planting season is over until January 2024.

In early January, we start planting greenhouse crops and the most frost-hardy alliums. By mid-February into mid-March, it's a full-on planting season! We do keep sowing summer successions of crops like zucchini and cucumbers through mid-summer, but July and August are punishing times for small crops. So likewise, we don't sow many new things in midsummer, just like midwinter.

To be honest, I really hope you'd ask what crops we will begin harvesting soon. This is the fun stuff! The bulk of our planting season for the fall happens in September and October, so in the next few weeks, we will be getting the most glorious fall veggies in the CSA boxes. Look out for pink Japanese turnips, fresh spinach, arugula, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, Muriaki sweet potatoes, and so much more!!! Thanksgiving shares will be epic.

How do you choose the right cover crop?

I’m so happy you asked this. We spend a lot of time thinking about cover cropping at the farm. If you are unfamiliar with the benefits of planting cover crop, here is a quick read. How to choose? Time of year and what you hope to achieve by planting the cover crop are the two most important factors to consider. For example, I have a half acre that is on the weedier side, so I have retired it to be cover-cropped for a few seasons to improve the soil before returning it to vegetable production. Because weed suppression is my primary consideration, I choose very fast-growing, aggressive varieties to smother weeds.

It's important to consider the time of year to match a cover crop's natural vigor to the correct growing conditions. I always plant iron and clay peas in the summertime because they are the most drought-tolerant cover crop I've grown yet, and they are legumes that facilitate nitrogen fixation.

The winter is challenging because since there's less sunlight, many plants struggle to grow as vigorously and smother weeds. For that reason, I opt for annual ryegrass, which we all know is one of the most vigorous families of plants.

I don't think there's any right or wrong answer here. As long as you're planting plants in a window where they will thrive, there are many combinations of plants that can serve to protect the soil and foster biodiversity. Just beware of taking information on seed websites or plant influencers' platforms that aren't giving you suggestions tailored for your bioregion.

There are plenty of crops that are called 'heat tolerant,' but they are heat tolerant for Minnesota, not for Texas. For example, buckwheat is a cover crop that I frequently see advertised for the summer slot and advertised as heat tolerant, but it won't grow over 90°F, so that's really a mid-spring cover crop for us! Try to get local information and suggestions relevant to our bioregion to ensure your success in the garden. See the SARE cover crop guide below!

“Eating in line with the seasons”

This wasn't exactly structured as a question, so I'm going to seize the opportunity to shamelessly wax poetic about eating seasonally. :) Personally, eating seasonally gives me context. I'm always excited for fall because with the relief from the heat comes fresh new baby greens full of life after all the treacherous heat of summer. In the long days of late August, I dream of fresh arugula and lettuce that's coming.

I love the flavors that change even in the same vegetables over the course of the season. In early fall or late spring when it gets hot, I always say that the kale gets a little 'gassy'. Radishes, too, change in flavor throughout the season (more of my thoughts on that here.) Not that it's a bad thing, but I definitely sauté the kale before putting it in a soup to help dissipate some of that flavor. However, in the cold days of winter, kale has a completely different flavor palette. Part of its response to cold is to increase the sugar in its stems, therefore also decreasing the temperature that it takes to freeze it.

Eating kale, even raw and thinly sliced with lemon, is such a delight because the flavor is delicate, sweet, nutty, and unencumbered by the rougher flavors of summer. It's to the point that I'll even eat kale in a restaurant and think to myself, “Wow, this kale was grown in a warm place. I can really taste the difference from what I have on the farm.” I don't know if other people move through the world with a sense of vegetables the way I do, but for me, it's a beautiful thing to know that melon season is only once a year and that despite the blistering heat of August, there's always watermelon to be eaten. I have a feeling that long-time gardeners or members of local CSAs know what I’m talking about.

In the winter, there are tender, sweet kales and cabbages that I’ll miss as soon as it gets hot again. I personally think that vegetables grown far away and shipped somewhere are never going to taste the same as something freshly grown. Novelty is fun, but if I eat too many meals away from home, I ache for the familiar.

I know most cooking in our culture is taught from a paradigm of giving you a list of ingredients that you then go source and cook into a particular meal. Really eating locally involves a different skill set. It involves looking at the ingredients that you have available to you in that moment and thinking of creative ways to weave them together into a balanced and healthy meal. I will say I Ada, our recipe/blog extraordinaire, does an amazing job of framing recipes in this context, and we have links to many, many guides on starting to cook in this way. LINKS

How do you get good at leafy greens/ lettuce?

Gee, thanks! I'm so glad that you enjoy our greens! Truth be told, I think our post-harvest practices are some of the most important factors in ensuring that your greens are super fresh and have a marvelously long shelf life. First off, our greens are immediately washed and cooled (*farm washed, but you still need to wash your vegetables at home!), then dried to the appropriate moisture, and immediately put in a humidity and temperature control room. You likely receive our greens within a day or two of being picked.

In contrast, greens that you buy bagged in the grocery store might be up to 2 weeks old and are often disinfected with chlorine to slow down any microbial growth. This is probably why a lot of your greens are pretty flavorless and likely don't have the nutritional profile they could either.

Even though growing practices and soil health are all important factors that influence the nutrition in vegetables, by far the most important factor for the amount of nutrients in a vegetable is how fresh it is. Almost all the grocery store veggies that you get spend 5 days in transit before arriving at a distribution center, and another 3 days on a grocery store shelf or in the inventory before they are purchased by the consumer, who may store them for up to 7 days prior to consumption. Effectively, they would have lost 50% or more of the key nutrients! According to this very informative article from UC Davis: link.

I may have gone on a bit of a tangent with this explanation, but essentially, I think our greens are a superior product because they are incredibly fresh, which means they have at least twice as many nutrients and probably flavor (although that is subjective) than any greens that you might buy at the grocery store.

How are YOU Becky? And what is the hardest thing about running VRDNT?

Well, thank you so much for asking :-) I am doing well! At this point, the farm is employing six folks full-time, so I am growing out of being a startup entrepreneur into growing the business into something that is much bigger than just me. I'm feeling incredibly proud of the farm that exists under my stewardship and incredibly grateful to work with each of the current VRDNT staff. It's so clear that everyone on the team is genuinely passionate about what we're doing and is motivated and engaged to bring you the best veggies!

I think I'm really struggling right now between putting my energy into tasks that really affect the bottom line of the business, like marketing…but ultimately I really just want to be focusing on managing the people and the ecosystem here. I just want to be planting flowers, improving the soil, and building systems that make us more efficient growers, better stewards of the land, but also I’m not at the point where the vegetables actually sell themselves.

The hardest part of the job for me is trying to market and grow our CSA. I feel like I am drowned out in a sea of misinformation and flashy, misleading food and grocery marketing. I honestly just feel so inept every time I try to come up with a marketing plan because I feel so strongly that real, nourishing food is a necessity, not a nicety. How we eat is one of our most intimate interactions with the Earth and ourselves. It is literally the nourishment and energy from Mother Earth that fuels our thoughts, emotions, and every action throughout the day. It is clinically proven to have hugely positive health impacts, as well as local economic and environmental benefits.

I'm honestly continually flabbergasted that everyone doesn't want to eat fresh local veggies. (Access to healthy food is a whole other conversation.) So I'm not really sure what angle I'm supposed to take to be successful at selling our vegetables. I have to admit, I've been getting down in the dumps lately because I've had a hard time growing our CSA membership and meanwhile, and every other week I'm being asked to attend yet another new farmer's market starting up somewhere in Austin.

I know that all these folks are really well-intentioned and think that starting another Farmer's Market is helpful, but in reality, it continues to dilute the market and results in less foot traffic at every individual market, making it continually less profitable for us as farmers to attend and sell our vegetables at any market. If you’ve world a farmers market before, especially during watermelon or bulk-root season with schlepping literal tons of vegetables at early morning hours, you know that it’s not easy work. If there aren’t enough attendants at individual markets, the entire effort can often be unprofitable (and unsustainable). I am always looking for new CSA pickup locations & partnerships, and some of these new markets would be ideal spots, but inevitably I'm always told that we need to attend the markets physically. I do understand the why of this, but as a small farm, staffing many multiple markets on weekends isn’t possible.

It's become quite a sore topic for me, and sometimes it makes me feel like the desire for us to come to the market is to be more entertainment than creating a sustainable supply chain to feed a community. For those of you who are really serious about wanting to support the local food system, I will say that the CSA is absolutely the most efficient way for our farm to sell our vegetables. By the way, it’s also the best value for you :)

I've honestly put my heart and soul into building this farm and doing it the right way. I know what we are doing is inherently valuable not only in the food we are producing but how we are doing it. I really want the ultimate success of the farm to be defined by that, and not about how amazing I am at catching your attention on social media, or how flashy my market stand is.

If my talking about the struggles of growing our CSA is tugging at your heartstrings a bit, there honestly is something you can do to help me. You can tell your friends about the CSA and refer people our way. Shoot a quick message to your group text, post a story on Instagram, or email your neighbors. If you like the idea of sourcing veggies from us but CSA membership doesn't work for you, would you consider letting us know why? I really do want to try to eliminate the barriers between getting our produce to you.

I'd love to know what the real limiting factors are because right now it just feels like I have to be on Instagram making reels and trying to sell the farm, and that's not really where I want to be investing a majority of my time. I’m also not sure that it helps actually grow my CSA membership. I really want to focus my energy on farming and bringing you the best produce, so thank you in advance for your help in spreading the word about our little farm :-)"


And also! Some things I’m reading & gardening resources for you:

This podcast came out about a year ago, but i just listened to it and it really profoundly nourished and inspired me. Veggie Planting Calendar for Central, TX for those of you wondering what to plant, when. This is a reginoally relevant guide!

Great article about many aspects of produce in common supply chains in case you want to learn more.

Breaking News: kimchi bacteria, anti viral!?

If we want to talk about reducing suffering in the food system… let's start with chocolate.

Here is a link to a really cool farm blog.

1 Comment

What a great post, Becky. Thank you for sharing all of this, especially the section about the difficulties of growing the business when what you really want is to have your hands in the dirt. That frustrating tug is a testament to the great thing you’re doing. I’ve been with the VRDNT CSA for over 2 years now and I have to say, it has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I talk it up to everyone as being the best CSA in the Austin area, the only one I have seen these days that offers a share *every week* (the planning and effort that goes into that is amazing), great quality, delicious produce, including difficult/expensive …

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