Putting Down a Rutabaga
by Chris Blanchard
Back in 1993, on a cold near-winter’s day at Harmony Valley Farm’s market stand in Madison, Wisconsin, I started juggling rutabagas as a way to pass the time and attract some attention on a day with few customers. It was a lark, but as time went on, juggling rutabagas proved an apt metaphor for the life of farming that I was just beginning that fall. Since that time, I’ve continued to add more and more rutabagas to my juggling act; I’m writing today to announce that I am putting down one of the many rutabagas that I currently have in the air.
Once we finish delivering our winter vegetable and fruit shares on March 16, Rock Spring Farm will discontinue the operation of its CSA program. But make no mistake – Rock Spring Farm will continue to provide great herbs and vegetables to stores in the Twin Cities, Rochester, and Decorah. In fact, with this opportunity for increased focus, we hope to do an even better job of producing a more-focused selection of crops.
When I started down my farming path in the summer of 1990, I looked at growing good food as a way to change the world. Over the past several years, I’ve become more and more involved with education about growing food as a way to change the world. And that has changed my world.
As most readers of the Eat Better Newsletter know, I co-direct theMOSES Organic Farming Conference, coming up in a little over a week. What started as volunteer committee work in 1999 has grown to a major part of my life and attention as that conference has grown into the largest, and many say the best, conference for organic farmers in America.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate aspects of farming operations for projects on post-harvest handling and transplant production; co-author a book, Fearless Farm Finances; consult on a variety of issues for farms large and small; speak around the country about food safety, systems development, and more; and even manage the development of a multi-function database for the Midwest and Organic Sustainable Education Service.
And this work, all of it informed by my work farming at Rock Spring Farm, is making a difference: I regularly hear testimonials about how the Organic Farming Conference changes lives, and how the educational work that I’m doing beyond that conference provides information vital to keeping farmers in farming in ways that sustain their work, their families, and their communities.
As part of this process, I’ve formalized the educational side of my operation into Flying Rutabaga Works. A new website,flyingrutabagaworks.com, provides information and resources for farmers and people interested in farming, including a new online newsletter, Chris on Farming.
My increased focus on the education, outreach, and public service side of my life’s work has resulted in a lot of juggling. And, while keeping a lot of rutabagas up in the air can be a lot of fun, I can see clearly that if I don’t make some changes, some of the rutabagas are going to start dropping.
CSA is the most management-intensive way of farming that I can imagine. Fifty some-odd crops, over a hundred varieties, and multiple plantings create over a thousand planting events every year – and marketing and customer service add another layer of complexity. Because of the success of the rest of the farm, and of the education wing of my business, I no longer have the management time to devote to the CSA. And without that devotion, it’s not fair to my members, my employees, my family, or myself to continue to operate the CSA in 2012.
To our members past and present, and to the people and businesses who have supported us through hosting pick-up sites, I can’t say thank you enough. The CSA provided an economic backbone and venue for experimentation for many years of this farm’s operation, and resulted in many relationships that I will continue to treasure as I move forward.
Chris Blanchard, Farmer