March 12, 2009

  I don’t think I’ve ever written in any depth about "CSA day". That’s the term I use for the day our main farm product gets assembled and sent out the door each week. This is a big deal, both for the work involved and the small matter of this being our main source of farm income. You may cue up your personal copy of Queen’s "The Show Must Go On", if only in your mental background. See the picture? That used to be our living room. That’s 3 tables covered with 30 filled CSA boxes for our customers, with our box storage table in the background.

CSA day really isn’t just one day, as work starts on Tuesday. A phone call goes to my farming partner to ask for citrus, which he generously picks and delivers to the farm. He is told how many boxes, and he picks citrus in increments of the boxes. For example, if I want 8 lemons in each box and 4 oranges, he knows he needs 275 lemons and 150 oranges. No, my math isn’t wrong, we need extra because invariably some of the fruit is too damaged (or just too ugly) to be sent to clients. Quite often the fruit is dirty, because birds and dust and weather all work their special magic. The best case scenario is that they need a light rinse with the hose. Worst case, each fruit needs to come into the house for individual scrubbing with soap and water and a towel dry. So just the citrus prep alone can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 4 hours. If I am including bagged items like rice, almonds, etc., this is also the time I’ll pack those and set them aside in a bin for tomorrow. Tuesday also sees the box preparation. I take my notebook, which lists every client getting a box that week and any particulars pertaining to their delivery ("needs melon", "no grapefruit", whatever the case may be). Each box stacked on the storage table is taken down and referenced against the notebook. In a perfect world, a returned, pre-labelled delivery box from each client exists somewhere in the stack. Alas! The world is never perfect! Boxes with ready labels are noted by a single checkmark next to each client name, and placed on one of three tables according to delivery region: Davis, Woodland or Colusa County. Then the notebook is examined for who doesn’t yet have a box. Some new boxes may be brought into service, but more commonly other extras are re-labelled until the tables are complete and there is a box for every client. Next a second check of the boxes takes place, with a second checkmark in the notebook. A physical count also takes place, the number of boxes on the table must match the number of clients listed in the notebook. Somewhere in there, time spent in the office produces a last check of email correspondence prior to packing, any needed labels, and correct entries into the accounting software for all charges and any new client information. There is also a double check of the information in my iPhone and on iCal, which are the electronic backups for my paper notebook. Whew. Next each box needs a clean plastic liner. Box lids are opened, liners attached, and any recycled/returned packing materials sorted. New liners usually need to be brought out and used on boxes where the old liner didn’t come back. Once this is all done, it’s time to get outside. I survey the gardens late on the weekend in order to have a general idea what will be picked. Before Tuesday is over, any citrus will already be placed in the boxes. If I have ordered cabbage from another farm, I will drive to obtain that produce. I meet with a lovely woman named Aloon, who does all the field work with her friend Mun. I am likely misspelling their names, both ladies are from Southeast Asia and both of them are phenomenal in the field. They deliver heavy boxes of perfect organic cabbage or broccoli that we both struggle to lift into the car. I then drive home right away and store the cabbage in the cool dark of our shop. If it’s broccoli, each head needs to go right away into an individual  plastic bag to maintain humidity. By now it is often mid to late afternoon. I have to decide if I am picking salad…if so, it takes hours to wash and dry the leaves and I should start picking right away. If not, I can turn to other jobs. Especially, collecting eggs. Our egg sales have been very popular and it is a good idea to collect and process eggs before work stops for the day. Each egg is washed in soap and water, air dryed, and examined under a candling light to make sure there are no defects. The egg cartons are filled, dated, and placed in the refrigerator. It depends, but often work is occuring until about 9pm or later. But don’t feel too bad, I don’t get up at 5 am. 7:30 is more my style. If the woodstove is used to heat the house at all on Tuesday evening, it must be kept damped down so the house will be as cool as possible for the benefit of the vegetables on the next day.

Wednesday morning, and now crunch time starts. But NEVER before coffee at my farming partner’s house. (I have to greet Smudgepot my little grey kitty ["Smudgie" for short] and feed her.) More bad work is done without coffee and the morning comics page than is worth the risk….Three different gardens have harvest-able vegetables. First I drive to Dunnigan for kale bunches, fennel, cilantro, turnips, and maybe spinach. Spinach is picked as individual leaves into buckets, the buckets are turned out into bins in the back of a Toyota station wagon. Turnips may be stacked in the front seat, and fennels may wave out the rear passenger window. Everything picked must get home quickly before it can wilt. Spinach goes into a clean 35 gallon garbage can filled with fresh water. Greens do much better if soaked. Insects float to the surface, dirt sinks to the bottom. Spinach espeically needs two different cans of water because the leaves become splattered with soil during rainfall. Turnips need their roots trimmed and soil washed away. After everything is squared away, it’s time to go to the other gardens. Anything ripe and threatening to become over-mature needs to be picked, regardless of what it is. Then the guesswork starts…do I have enough to fill the boxes? Too much? I usually err on the side of too much. I look next for other mature vegetables. Right now that could be collard greens, kohlrabi, more cabbage, beets, chard, radicchio, who knows. Anything I find that will work all goes into the garden cart and is hauled back to the house. As each item is washed and checked, the stacks pile higher in the clean yellow tote bins we use. In the meantime, I also have to run interference against the birds. The turkeys and peafowl see the bins of vegetables and if left unattended, they’ll help themselves to any greenery that looks good to them. At some point, hopefully not later than 3pm, it’s finally time to fill the boxes. Tote after tote is carried inside, and one by one the vegetables are placed in the boxes. Some vegetables are huge, others not so much. Because of the size difference, two boxes with technically the same contents can appear quite different as to fullness. If a box doesn’t seem full, I go in search of extra items I can add to fix that. During the packing process, I write down what vegetables and fruit I’m using for reference later. It’s so easy to forget about items! Finally, all the boxes will be full, the liners are wrapped over the vegetables to retain moisture, and the lids closed. Next the notebook and I go to the office, and it’s time to write the CSA email. There are always three parts to this: the recipient list, announcements/discussion items, and information about the vegetables. It can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to compose and send this. Next it’s time to do the delivery lists. Ken and I each get seperate printouts of who gets what for the next day so that we can double check the boxes against this list as we load our cars…it is the final inspection that we didn’t forget anyone or goof anything up. Special instructions or changes to the routine must be noted here. For new clients it is sometimes necessary to search and print maps. Now it’s time to label eggs. Back goes the notebook and client labels are placed on egg cartons. They are then packed into an ice chest and loaded into the cars with the boxes. Next it’s back into the office, because usually some clients have questions or concerns which need a response. Since we want to be personally accesible to all our customers, some hours each day are spent in correspondence. Finally, I package and store any leftover produce for later use so it stays nice and fresh. And then, at last, it’s time to stop work. Just a little glimpse into how those boxes come to be!

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