Thursday, April 30, 2020

April Farm Update

By Richard de Wilde & Andrea Yoder

Strawberry plants poking through the straw mulch.
Before the month of April slips away, we want to fill you in on what’s been happening in our quiet valley!  The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind with CSA orders coming in by the piles, more crew members joining us, the start of field work, and in the midst of it all we continue to navigate the pandemic.  So here’s a little insight into our world.

In the first few days of April we uncovered a nice field of overwintered spinach, which had been under a big field cover for the winter.  We also removed the cover on the garlic field and just recently, the strawberries as well.  After the covers came off we had to walk the garlic and strawberry fields with pitchforks to tease and loosen the straw mulch where it was compacted in some places.  This made it easier for the plants to push through.  We’re happy to report that it looks like we had a very good survival rate over the winter!  In fact, we’ll likely start harvesting green garlic as early as next week!

Transplanting onions!
Our first actual day doing field work was April 8.  With only our small winter crew, we prepared 2 acres of plastic covered raised beds to plant onions and shallots into.  We like to lay the reflective silver plastic mulch about two weeks in advance of planting so opportunistic weeds that might sprout will be smothered by the plastic before we poke holes in it for the plants.  Despite a bit of inexperience, they did a very nice job!  The field looks great with straight beds covered tightly on the sides and on the ends.  A critical detail that keeps the plastic anchored when we have high winds.

While we continued to do greenhouse plantings, accept CSA orders, and do the initial field work to prepare for the season, we also waited with uncertainty to find out if our experienced, skillful seasonal field crew would be granted visas and be allowed to travel from Mexico.  Thankfully, in the evening of April 8 we got the good news that 31 healthy individuals were en route to Wisconsin!  We all breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing they’d be joining us soon, for without them farming this season would have been an even bigger challenge.  We were so happy to see them, although we haven’t actually seen most of their faces as they arrived with face masks and have them on nearly all the time they are at work!  We have learned that you can tell a person is smiling by looking at their eyes, and we’ve also noticed the familial resemblance many of our crew members have to their uncles, nephews, etc.  If you put a mask on Antonio Cervantes he can easily be mistaken for his nephew, Jose Manuel.  They have the exact same eye features!

Planting a new field of asparagus!
While we were thrilled to greet these guys, we also knew we had to be prepared for a higher level of management in order to navigate the necessary precautions related to the pandemic.  The last few weeks have been filled with new procedures and practices on the farm along with extensive training (with a professional Spanish interpreter) in an effort to maintain a safe working environment.  We now have three groups of crew members that each have their own lunch area, designated bathrooms, and guidelines for which buildings on the farm they are permitted to enter.  We all continue to limit our movement in the community and are doing our best to do what we can remotely, electronically and with as little contact with the outside world as possible!  We actually started communications with our crew members several weeks before they ever left their homes in Mexico.  We let them know what was happening in the USA and advised them to self-isolate as much as possible, practice social distancing, and do everything they could to keep themselves in good health.  They did a great job and took preventative measures all along the way.  They all arrived totally healthy, not even a single cold!  Now our goal is to continue to be diligent about maintaining preventative practices so we can all remain in good health!

Now that our crew is back in action we’ve been making great strides in getting things done in the fields.  We did the first planting of radishes, salad mix, cilantro, arugula, etc on April 18.  Some of these plants were emerging, so we went ahead and did a second planting last Saturday.  We need to get more direct seeded crops planted, but it takes time to prepare the fields with applications of compost, minerals, trace elements, etc.  Today we're planting peas and parsnips.  Before the week is finished we hope to complete plantings of beets, carrots, burdock, chard and then, shortly after, sweet corn and green beans.

Field of freshly transplanted dandelion plants
enclosed by a deer fence.
The greenhouses, which just 2 short weeks ago were nearing capacity, are gradually looking more empty.  Onions were the first crop to go to the field and after three days of transplanting they were finally all in the ground.  The transplanting crew immediately moved on to broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi and cabbage followed by dandelion which is one of our major wholesale crops.  The deer seem to enjoy a nice field of tender dandelion plants, so we immediately put up a fence to keep them out.  Our first parsley field is planted and all 30,000 celeriac are standing up like rows of soldiers in the field.  We started off this week by loading fennel plants.  Despite some breakthrough rain showers in the morning, the crew was able to continue planting and when the sun came out in the afternoon they moved on to our first planting of kale and collards!

We have already started some of our warmer weather crops in the greenhouse.  The pepper seedlings look beautiful.  The zucchini and first planting of tomatoes pushed through the soil over the weekend and we planted watermelons earlier this week!  We’ll keep these plants snug and warm in the greenhouse for a few more weeks until we make sure the threat of frost has past us.

Nettles, Sorrel, and Chives happily growing in the field.
In between field and greenhouse work, we continue to wash and pack vegetables.  Overwintered parsnips and sunchokes along with spinach, ramps and burdock root are part of our weekly line-up.  We’re in week two of ramp harvest and crossing our fingers that Mother Nature will bless us with at least two more weeks if not three!  It all depends on the weather, but we must admit the weather has been more cooperative thus far than in some recent springs.  The jet stream seems to have moved north, so cooler air with less moisture.  Maybe this is the bright side of the pandemic?  Reduced economic activity has greatly reduced pollution and carbon emissions.  Maybe nature will give us an immediate reward of nice weather.  We can hope!

Our CSA sign-ups are up about 20% over last year and we have a lot of new members joining us for this season!  We are at about 70% capacity for the season and we are still accepting orders.  Kelly, Gwen and Amy are doing their best to get orders processed and welcome packets distributed before the start of deliveries next week!  We normally spread our order processing work out over several months, but with the state of the world orders have been compressed into just a few weeks!  We’re doing our best to get them processed as quickly as possible, but appreciate your patience.  We started sending Welcome Packets out last week and will continue to send them as we process your order.  Please, Please, Please take the time to read the important information contained in these packets.  The “C” in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is very important this year in order for everyone to have a positive, safe pick-up experience.  We’re looking forward to the start of a new CSA season and we’re grateful for every member who has committed to join us on this journey this year!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic & The Harmony Valley Farm 2020 CSA Season

Spring ramps poking through the forest floor
The weeks have been passing us by at a rapid pace and we see signs of spring unfolding all around us.  The start of our CSA season is approaching in 4 short weeks and we wanted to reach out to let everyone know we are still farming!  We’re working on many things simultaneously at the farm right now, both in response to an early spring but also in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The focus of this post is to inform you about some general farm updates & information as well as provide you with our thoughts and plans for our 2020 CSA season.  Please understand this is a work in progress and we will do our best to provide further updates as we move forward.

The final check before closing the CSA box on the pack line
First of all, we believe Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has been a valuable model for consumers to source food for many years, but we believe it can also be one of the safest ways to source high quality, nutritious food with the lowest risk as we continue to navigate this pandemic.  We need to recognize that we are all part of a community, that is the “C” in CSA.  We take our role as a member of this community very seriously and ask our customers and members to do the same.  We are determined to do everything we can to keep our crew members healthy so we can keep our farm running and may continue to deliver our high quality food to as many people as possible and in the safest possible way.  We know this crisis may persist for months, thus we are doing our best to prepare for both the expected and unexpected.

Before we go any further, there are a few things we want to bring to your attention.
  • CSA Capacity & Sites: The majority of our CSA Site locations are still available.  Please refer to pages 2 & 3 of our sign-up form for a full listing of CSA locations.  We are only at about 50% capacity and will continue to accept sign-ups until the trucks are full!  We encourage you to include a “1st Choice” and “2nd Choice” when selecting your delivery site.
  • Welcome Packets: We will be sending pre-season welcome packets in the mail very soon for those who have already submitted their sign-ups.  We’ll let you know when they are on the way and will continue to send them to members as you sign-up.  It is very important that you open this envelope and read the contents!  We will be including important details you need to read before you pick up your first CSA box.  Please review your invoice and the site-specific information as well.  Some individuals may have been scheduled at their 2nd Choice location.
  • Volunteer Opportunities: While we are not able to offer home delivery, we do want to have resources in place to assist a member who may not be well or is in a high-risk situation and is not able to pick up their box.  If you are willing to deliver a box to another member at your site if necessary, please let us know so we may contact you as needed.  Additionally, if we find a site needs additional monitoring or a site host needs assistance, we are accepting volunteers for this need as well.  We are not certain if these needs will arise, but we’d like to be prepared if and when they do.  Please email Kelly at if you are willing to be on our volunteers list for either or both of these duties. (Volunteers must be current CSA Members)
Pandemic Response Changes to CSA Protocols:

A view of our peaceful, beautiful valley and fields
As we think through every step of the CSA delivery/pick-up process, we are aware that social distancing is a priority and minimizing points of contact are essential in order to maintain a low risk situation.

We believe we can achieve this, however everyone involved needs to be part of the process for this to work.  As we get going, we will be monitoring our systems and are prepared to make changes and modifications as needed to ensure the safest pick-ups possible.

CSA Member Responsibilities:

  • Community Responsibility: We ask our members to please read and pay attention to all email updates from the farm!  It is also your responsibility to read signs at the CSA sites so you are fully informed of procedures and expectations.
  • Be Well: Do not go to the CSA site if you, or a member of your household, is ill or is under quarantine for COVID-19.  Please ask a friend or family member who is well and not under quarantine to do the pickup for you.  If you do not have someone to do this, please contact us.  We are compiling a list of individuals who have volunteered to help in these situations.
  • Social Distancing: Maintain a minimum of 6-foot social distancing when approaching and at the site.  We ask that only ONE member is in the pickup site at a time.
  • One Person Pick-Up: Only one member per household should go to pick up the box.  We prefer that this person is an adult and if possible, it is the same person each week.  Whomever goes to the site should be fully aware of and willing to follow the protocols for a safe pick-up.
  • Patience: Please be respectful and courteous of other members when you pick up your box.  There may be times when you need to wait for your turn to enter the site and/or to maintain appropriate social distancing.
CSA Pick-Up Changes & Procedures:
  • Newsletters: We will not be providing print copies of the newsletters at the sites until the need for pandemic-related precautions change.  Newsletters will be available online and links to both our newsletters as well as additional content on our blog will be included in the “What’s In the Box” email you receive the day before your delivery.
  • “Swap” Box: We will not be offering a “Swap” box at the start of the season.  We may choose to add this later when it is appropriate to do so.
  • “Choice” Items: Any choice items we offer will be portioned individually as much as possible.  Remember, it’s always your choice if you want to add these items to your share. 
  • Checklist: We will continue to use our checklist system, and ask each member to bring your own pen when you come to pick up your box.  It is important that you consult the checklist prior to selecting your box.  Find your name (or your share partner’s name) on the list.  Carefully put a checkmark next to your name so we know you’ve taken your box.  If you do this carefully, you should not even need to touch the paper, table or clip board.  If you do not see your name on the checklist, we have not delivered a box for you.  You need to exit the site and give us a call so we can help troubleshoot the situation.  If we’ve made an error we’d like the opportunity to correct it as quickly as possible.
  • The CSA Box: We are still in the process of determining the lowest-risk packaging solution that is also cost-effective and manageable.  We will be testing both options here at the farm to ensure they are not only low-risk at the pick-up site, but will also preserve the quality of the vegetables.  Regardless of the box we choose to use, we will be adding a plastic liner bag to the box this year.  
  • Take the Top Box: All boxes will be packed with the same contents.  Please take the top box and do your best to only touch the box you are taking. 
  • Do Not Sort or Repack Your Vegetables At the Site: We ask that you sort and repack your vegetables at your home, not at your site.  We hope to facilitate a quick and speedy pick-up and limit the surfaces both your hands and your vegetables touch.  If you follow our guidelines, your vegetables will remain in the plastic bag until you remove them in your home.  
  • Sharing Households: We ask that sharing households do not split shares or leave partial shares at the pick-up site during the pandemic.  Please make arrangements for one person to pick up the share and split the contents away from the site.
  • The Plastic Liner Bag: We encourage you to reuse this bag in your home if you feel comfortable doing so.  One way to repurpose it is to use it as a liner for a small trash can.  This bag holds a low risk as a potential source of contamination and has only been touched by a farm employee on the packing line who will be wearing gloves and you, the end user. 
  • Site Management: We are working with site hosts to eliminate as many potential surfaces members need to touch when entering and exiting sites.  We do need to also be sensitive to security issues at both our residential and business locations, so it will be up to the discretion of each site host as to what is feasible to do at their site.  For sites with a large garage door that may be left open during site hours, you may just walk right in without touching any surface.  Many sites have outer gates/fences that need to be opened and closed as well as a service door entry.  If and when possible, we are asking that these entry points be propped open during site hours to eliminate the need to touch these surfaces.  If a door is open at your site when you arrive, please leave it open when you leave.  We are still working through these details and will do our best to communicate changes and procedures to you as we refine the processes.
  • Wash & Sanitize Your Hands Before & After Pick-up: Please do your part to ensure you are washing your hands before you go to pick up your box.  If you are able to use hand sanitizer once you arrive at the site but before you enter, that is also appreciated.  While we are trying to source hand sanitizer, it is in very short supply and we are not certain we will be able to provide it at all sites.  If we are able to source hand sanitizer, we will allocate it to any site that may have doors that members need to open before entering.
  • Bring Your Own Gloves….Or a Clean Pair of Socks!  If you’d like to create a barrier between your hands and any surfaces at the pick-up site, we will not object.  You may use a CLEAN pair of cotton gloves or even winter gloves if that is all you have.  If you don’t have gloves, a clean pair of socks could also suffice!  Make sure your gloves/socks are clean and you have not used them elsewhere or for any other purpose.  Put them on just before you enter the site.  Remove them once you have exited and take them with you so you may launder them.
The CSA Delivery Team:

We will be providing additional training to our delivery team prior to the start of deliveries.  We will do our best to provide precautionary measures to protect their health and well-being while they are executing deliveries.  We will also be implementing additional measures to ensure proper handling of your CSA shares.  We are still working out all of these delivery details, however we are prepared to provide a sufficient supply of disposable gloves, a portable handwashing station on the truck, hand sanitizer and masks for our delivery crew.  Additionally, we are prepared to provide supplies needed to clean and sanitize any table surface, door knobs, etc that may be needed to facilitate CSA pick-up.  If you have additional questions about this process, we’re happy to share these details with you as we continue to develop our protocols.

How & Where You Can Source Our Vegetables in April:

We know our customers are anxious to start enjoying some of our spring offerings such as overwintered spinach and ramps.  We are doing our first spinach harvests this week and anticipate ramps will be ready to start harvesting as early as next week.  We are evaluating the possibility of offering some pre-season special offers, however we do not have the logistics in place for this at present.  In the interim, we will start supplying our vegetables through some of our regional distributors and food co-ops in the Twin Cities, MN area as well as Madison & Viroqua, WI.   If/when we are able to move forward with a pre-season special offer, we will share this information with you by email.  If you would like to receive email updates from our farm, please email
In closing, we thank you for your support of our farm and for your patience as our plans unfold.  We will do our best to keep you nourished this season.

Harmony Valley Farm’s Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic—4/7/2020 Update

If you missed our first COVID-19 update from the week of March 16, you can read it here.   We continue to prioritize the health and safety of our crew members and at present everyone is healthy and well!  Below is a summary of some of the things we do on a regular basis as well as additional measures we are taking in response to the pandemic.  We continue to evaluate our practices every day and will continue to adapt as needed.

Cleaning the salad cutting equipment before harvest
(note red brushes that are only used for cleaning equipment)
General Food Safety Practices: Food safety has always been and will continue to be a priority for our business.  While we are adapting our policies and procedures in response to COVID-19, we are also continuing to implement and improve upon the food safety practices we already have in place.  If you would like to read more about the food safety efforts on our farm, you may do so in an article we published on our blog in 2015, “HVF’s ‘Culture of Cleanliness.’”   All of the information in this article still holds true and we’ve made additional improvements over the past several years.  We are scheduled to have our annual food safety inspection on June 30, 2020 and were inspected in August 2019 by a food safety inspector from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) as part of the food safety requirements set forth by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  If you have specific questions about our practices, you’re always welcome to contact us directly.
Continuing to wash vegetables, with awareness of
our co-worker's rights to personal space.

Social Distancing & Limited Movement in the Community: We, as well as our families, are limiting our movement in the community and keeping trips to grocery stores, gas stations, etc to a minimum.   We are using online ordering and pick-up options when available.  We are also utilizing some bulk purchasing options to help supply essential resources for our crew members and decrease our need to go anywhere other than our homes and work.  We are also practicing social distancing both at work and in the community.

Additional Facilities Cleaning & Sanitizing: For over three weeks now we have been doing additional facilities cleaning to ensure frequently touched surfaces (door knobs, pallet jacks, door openers, tables, light switches, etc) are cleaned and sanitized daily.

Our COVID-19 Drop & Honk Notification for
Receiving Deliveries at the farm
“Drop & Honk” Policy & Restricted Access to Visitors: We now have signs posted in five different locations on our farm to inform any visitors or outside delivery personnel about our new policies in response to COVID-19.  We have restricted access to our farm and are not allowing anyone other than employees to enter our facilities.  Delivery services leave packages outside our door and give us a honk as they pull away so we know they’ve made a delivery. While we normally welcome visitors, at this time we feel it is in our best interests to limit our exposure.

One of our portable handwashing stations
Handwashing, Gloves, Masks, etc: Our employees are trained annually in proper handwashing techniques and this has been a point of emphasis and accountability on our farm for many years.  Any crew member handling produce does so with disposable gloves and they are also trained on how to properly use disposable gloves, eg when they need to be changed, etc.  We use N95 respirator masks on our farm regularly for non-viral purposes, however we have a limited supply and are not able to source them at this time.  One of our crafty and talented employees is making masks for our crew members so they will be available for use both on and off-farm. 

If you have any additional questions or concerns, you are welcome to reach out to us directly by phone or email.  If you have questions about pandemic-related changes to our CSA box procedures, additional CSA-specific information is available on our blog.