It has been a little more than three weeks since I announced that Covered Bridge Produce was suspending deliveries. Everyone at the farm except my family left immediately after I told the staff that we were out of funds Ė some quit on the spot while others just needed time to get over the shock of closure. I spent the first week mourning and trying to understand what had gone wrong. I also worked with my bank and the local police to document the theft of funds from our business account and returned calls to reporters who wanted to write stories about the farmís failure. I wandered my fields, alternatively blaming myself and our workers for what had happened.
On September 11, Ned and Laura returned to the farm ready to work. They began weeding and thinning crops that seemed salvageable. I got on the tractor and roto-tilled the overgrown portions of our fields to make room for new plantings.
It was a new beginning, albeit a small one. We resolved to plant the thousands of transplants which had been languishing for weeks around the seedling nursery. Last week, with a little help from Trey, who worked here last season, we planted Broccoli Raab, Lettuce Mix, Arugula, Mizuna and Hakurei Turnips in the newly prepared ground. Tomorrow we will begin to transplant thousands of Broccoli seedlings into the field. Other crops will follow as fast as we can transplant them.
Many of these plantings and seedings are quite late Ė perhaps too late to produce anything worthwhile. However, at least we have a plan. As the weather cools, we will cover the crops we have seeded and transplanted with low tunnels, simple structures built of wire hoops and clear plastic which will function as mini-greenhouses. Weíve read of farms using these tunnels to extend harvests into early winter. Crops that are not mature by the time really cold weather arrives can survive dormant in these tunnels until early spring when they resume their growth.
I am not familiar with the management of low tunnels and itís quite possible that this effort will produce nothing more than further disappointment. In that case, I will proceed along the path outlined in my September 1 posting. We will sell the farm and use some of the proceeds to fund refunds to shareholders.
However, if we manage to grow enough vegetables to resume deliveries we will restart our service. I expect to have funds from refinancing the farm in hand by mid to late October, and should be able to pay workers to harvest crops and pack boxes. If the refinancing goes through, I will be able to close on the sale of our development rights and receive more money in February which would enable me to pay workers to harvest and pack early spring crops. In summary, if my crops grow and the bank treats me right, I will have vegetables to send to shareholders in the later fall and in early spring. It is not inconceivable that we could supply thirteen weeks of vegetables between mid-October and early May. As far as Iím concerned, that would be the best possible end to the worst imaginable season.
The next few weeks may spell the end of this redemptive fantasy. Perhaps Laura, Ned and I just wonít be able to get everything planted before the soil freezes. Perhaps the only thing growing beneath the plastic will be weeds or maybe harsh winds or winter floods will wipe out all promise of early spring crops. Maybe, but maybe not.
Unbridled optimism is the shaky stone in the foundation of family farming. It is irrational, but so motivating. As one farmer said, ďIíve had two good years Ė 1995 and next year.Ē All I can lose in the scheme sketched above is a little more money for labor. And I would gladly risk that for a chance to keep farming a few more months and maybe even a few more years.
I will try to keep this page regularly updated so that you can ascertain how we are doing. I plan to post some pictures of our new crops and my two dedicated workers. If we have some success, it is here that you will find out when we will be able to resume deliveries this fall and later in the spring.
Let me apologize again here for all the inconvenience and disappointment Iíve brought you this season. Please know that I will do my best to eventually deliver what I promised you when you signed up for a subscription to Covered Bridge Produce. In the meantime, all I can offer is the story of our struggle to keep that promise. Itís not much, but Iíll try to make it as interesting as possible.