As we get ready for the growing season, we thought we’d share some of our summer bustling with a look behind the scenes of what goes into harvesting, packing, and delivering all the goodies in your CSA boxes!
Planning the Box
CSA shares actually start a week or two before as we start noticing what crops are ripening, and how near things are to perfection. For a Tuesday box, we start eying those crops that are getting close to prime on a field walk a full week before, but make the final decision of who’s ripe or not on the Friday or Saturday before the harvest (this is also when we try to write our newsletter for the week).
We usually have ten to fifteen potential vegetables that we could put into the shares each week, so we spend some time looking at what you’ve been getting, what’s likely to start coming in soon, how near to ripe the crops are, and how popular they are. We try to mix up the shares with a diverse range of produce, and make sure the most popular veggies get eaten! Planning the boxes ends up in the generation of a harvest list of when and how many of each crop need to get picked.
Harvesting the Crops
Then the big labor of getting the boxes ready begins! We head out into the field to harvest Monday and Tuesday morning (Thursday and Friday mornings for Friday shares). Some veggies we prefer to pick 24 hours before packing the boxes so they have time to chill thoroughly and dry, which helps them last longer in your fridge. Other crops with short storage time (like basil) we like to harvest at the very last minute before we pack the shares. So for Tuesday deliveries, we spend Monday bringing in things that benefit from longer cold storage, and Tuesday harvesting more tender crops.
Out in the field, we motor around with the farm truck, which is loaded with all the tools, rubber bands, and tote bins we need to get the job done. We strive to get everything out of the sun within minutes of harvest, so as the bins are filled, they are stacked up in the shade and kept cool. As soon as we have a full load (or even before, if it’s particularly hot), we race them back to the wash stand.
Washing and Storing the Crops
90% of the veggies go through the washing station to get clean and cooled off. By default, we have to wash at the back side of the garage, since that’s where we have both power for our walk-in coolers and potable drinking water for veggie washing. Someday we dream of having a barn in the field with its own drinking water well so that we can wash the veggies closer to where they are grown, not make our lawn all messy, and keep from draining all the water for our showers (yup, we learned in 2016 that in a severe drought, we sometimes have to choose between washing the vegetables and long showers. We hope you appreciated the shiny clean veggies, and gave us a wide berth!).
Pretty much all leafy greens and sturdy greens like broccoli benefit from “hydro-cooling,” which is when they are dunked in super cold water to get all of the field heat out of them. You might not belief how hot veggies can get in the sun, even by only 9 or 10am on a summer morning, but 30 seconds of agitation through icy water goes a long way to cooling them off. All root crops, which are understandably dirty since they live underground, are hosed down particularly well—this is one of the big labor bottlenecks of our farm, so we are playing around with DIY inventions to see if we can speed this up for 2017.
Fruiting veggies like peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash, we generally try to avoid washing, only doing a quick hose off, wipe down, or dunking in warm water if necessary. These crops are unique because if they are warm and then soaked in cold water, they can suck some of that water in through their skins, which is icky and something we avoid at all costs.
After washing, all the veggies are neatly stacked in clean totes in the coolers to further chill and dry off. Some veggies like greens go through our spinner, but we let most drip dry to keep the cooler humidity level high (this seems to help them survive for an extra week or two in your refrigerators). This spring we are excited to add a second walk-in cooler in the garage so that we can have one cold cooler and one lukewarm cooler, since about half our crops prefer 50 degrees, while the other half yearn for 38 degrees!
Packing the Box and Deliveries
The morning of share deliveries, we are still out harvesting the more tender crops, but also start packing the bags and quarts that might appear in your share. Greens are spun if needed and weighed into bags, potatoes and more measured into quarts, and odd shaped things like eggplants sorted by size.
Next is packing the boxes themselves, which is my favorite part of the process, since it’s super pretty and feeds into my OCD needs! We get a long assembly line going from the cooler to the truck, sliding the boxes along with each person carefully placing their items in. At the end, they get loaded Tetris-like into the truck.
Once we’ve pulled the vegetables out of the coolers and packed the boxes, we are on a super tight timeline in a race against the summer heat since we don’t have a refrigerated delivery vehicle (another dream future investment). We try to cut it as close as possible, so the veggies have maximum time to chill, but so that we aren’t running late for drop offs. Matt has his special way of loading the truck, and them we speed-pack any extra veggies into the swap basket cooler, toss in the eggs (okay, we don’t *actually* toss eggs in), and chase him out of the driveway.
Then the veggies are ready for you at the distribution sites! We use the annoying-to-open corrugated wax boxes because they help retain coolness, especially when densely stacked. We are also lucky to have cool, shady sites (thanks, site hosts!), but on hot days, we definitely recommend trying to arrive earlier rather than later, since even the best chilled vegetables start to warm up by being outside long enough in August.
We hope you enjoy your share this summer (and yes, we do still have a few shares available!), and please let us know if you have any questions about your veggies!