By Lettie Stratton
There’s no off-season when you’re a farmer. Not even in wintertime when the ground is frozen over and it will be months until something green sprouts from the soil. It can be easy to picture farmers with their feet up in front of the fireplace simply waiting for the thaw, but that’s just not the case—at least not for two young farmers in Vermont.
Winter can actually be very busy for farmers. Jake Mendell and Taylor Hutchinson of Footprint Farm like to call this time spreadsheet season. The two farm 10 tillable acres in Starksboro, growing certified organic vegetables, flowers and eggs from 100 laying hens. They also produce eight pigs a year and run a small-scale maple syrup business, as well as host on-farm workshops on subjects like gardening, mushroom foraging and wild edibles.
Hutchinson said his farm depends mostly on community supported agriculture, or CSA as it is commonly known. They had 30 CSA members this past year and are nearly doubling their membership to 50 this coming season. A member is an individual or family who signs up for a weekly share of farm produce.
They do an on-farm pick-up for CSA shares, as well as pick-up locations in Shelburne, Hinesburg and Bristol, Hutchinson said. They also sell at the Shelburne Farmers Market, to several area restaurants including Folino’s and the Hinesburgh Public House, and sell eggs through the Family Cow Farmstand during winter.
To make all of this work, spreadsheet season is a necessity. “We do a crop review and go through how each crop went the past season, how we liked the variety, and make notes on pest and disease management,” Mendell said. “During the growing season it’s hard to manage all that.”
Mendell and Hutchinson also do their crop plans, planting schedules, and seed purchasing during spreadsheet season to create a helpful map for their year. Hutchinson said winter is a great time to catch up on bookkeeping and marketing as well.
“We send out a CSA survey to our members to find out what worked and didn’t work for them throughout the season,” she said. “We use that information to decide what the CSA will look like for next year, do marketing around that, print pamphlets, and set up drop-off locations. Then we do our bookkeeping for the season so we have good numbers to work with going into the next year.”
These numbers will be especially important for Mendell and Hutchinson this year as they prepare to hire their first employee for the 2016 growing season. “We want to do as much as we can to make it easier and more efficient in the summer,” Mendell said. “We figure out where our limitations are and how we can be efficient in our movements.”
One big improvement in efficiency for Footprint Farm this year will be a centralized tool shed, being built to help reduce time spent walking to gather equipment.
Mendell and Hutchinson are heading into their third season with Footprint Farm, and each had two season of previous experience before this endeavor. Hutchinson expects that by year five, they may take a week off during winter. “When you have animals, it’s really difficult to get away,” she said. “You have make sure their water doesn’t freeze, collect eggs before they freeze, knock snow off hoop houses and more.”
But a week off is not what Hutchinson and Mendell are focusing on. In addition to expanding their CSA and hiring their first employee, the two are excited to be part of a UVM and Cornell study that adds 20 low-income CSA members on EBT food stamps to their farm over the next three years. “They’re looking to see if a close relationship to a farm increases healthy home cooking habits,” Hutchinson said.
These new members will be able to pay for their CSA share using food stamps as well as get access to nutrition and cooking classes through the universities. “It’s a very exciting time,” Mendell said.
Who knew the “off” season could be so busy? To find out more about Footprint Farm’s CSA, workshops and more visit footprintfarmvt.com.