Farm Happenings at Where the Redfearn Grows Natural Farm
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Farm Happenings for July 30, 2020

Posted on July 25th, 2020 by Dave Redfearn

I think I mentioned last week that this is the hardest time to farm. We've been watering transplants and seeds like crazy to make sure they thrive as we start setting up the farm for fall in the middle of Missouri summer heat!My farming superpower is sweating (This is Dave of course because Sheri just glistens) Yesterday I hung up four pairs of pants and 4 shirts to dry that were soaked with sweat. The good news is that this round of transplants are doing well and with a cooler week and rain ahead of us, we're hoping for success!

So I've got a question for you: How has your CSA membership made an impact on your life these past few months?  We'd love to get some testimonials.  Sometimes we reread them when things get tough on the farm and they remind us why we get up every day to face the challenges.  

A CSA member wrote us the other day asking about why she hadn't seemed to manage to get green beans in her share.  It was a good question and maybe you've wondered the same thing about one vegetable or another.  

I thought I'd copy down my response below because it might be of insight to you to about how Harvie works and how putting together your share each week works on the "back end".

Have a great week! We'd love to hear about what the CSA means to you!

Your Farmers

Dave and Sheri

Why you May not Have gotten Green Beans....

"...Good questions.  Setting your preferences for green beans to "love" is a good move and will make it more likely that you'll receive them. Also, a quick tip is that if in your preferences you mark most veggies as "love" (5) then when Harvie randomly builds your box it can't decide between green beans and radishes so when it randomly goes through the list, too many 5's makes you less likely to get that one item you were really hoping for.

So as far as why you didn't receive them in your share the last two weeks (only had them for two weeks so far) is for two reasons: 1) The supply of green beans does not meet demand and 2) you had them not ranked as a "love".   Certain items like cherry tomatoes and green beans tend to be in high demand but we can only make available what we think we will have ready to harvest each week. 

We put into Harvie as many as we can and since there seem to be more people who "love" them than we have, Harvie randomly puts them in shares based upon preference.  I'd say not even everyone who had them set to "love" probably got them.  The algorithm randomizes the order in which it fills each member's box but it still goes in order of preference so if 200 people say they "love" beans and we only have 150 boxes, then 3/4 of the "love" people will get them but probably not the exact same people who got them the previous week. 

In situations where there are more of an item than will fit in the shares, those items go into extras and swaps.  So if we had say 300 boxes of beans and everyone's shares got filled and there were still 20 left over, then they would show up in swaps and extras.  

On your question about swaps and extras, Let's say in the previous example, you had beans already put in your share by Harvie, then beans would only show up in "extras" for you and not in "swaps".  But if you didn't have beans in your share, then beans would show up in both spots (only if there actually were enough left over after all the shares were pre-built in Harvie).   

I don't really like this aspect of Harvie that items already in your share don't show up as a swap item.  You can still get more than one of an item in this case but you have to first delete something in your share and then add the item you want in extras.  So if you had green beans and saw green beans in extras you'd have to delete a bunch of kale or something and then add the second box of beans.    

So to answer your question about where to see all available items: the email you receive shows the items pre-packaged by Harvie for your share and if you look at extras in the email it shows all of the other items that are still available (not fully consumed by the initial share construction by Harvie) at the time when Harvie built the shares. 

Items in the extras are always changing because once the initial email goes out people are swapping items in and out.  Sometimes the items that are on your email as extras are depleted in these trades and therefore won't show up as an option to you at the time you log in.  Other times, new items may appear that had been totally consumed initially but that someone traded out of their share.  That item may not have shown up at all in your email as a possible option but at the time you logged in it was listed as a swap or extra item.    

So not all the items we harvest each week show up in your email.  For instance, we had a handful of serrano peppers (maybe 30 boxes) be put into Harvie.  Those were fully consumed by Harvie's initial build so they didn't show up in anyone's emails as a possible option, but if someone traded them out, then 1 box of serrano peppers would appear to anyone who logged in and looked at extras and would remain there until someone swapped it into their share and then it would no longer show up to anyone who logged in. 

It's possible that two people would be eying that same box of peppers and one added it to their share before the other person.  In that case, the person who wasn't so quick would get a rather confusing and frustrating message that the item was no longer available.  This happens real-time and the available items are always changing in this way.  

As we get closer to harvest, we get a better idea of what we think will be ripe and sometimes we can adjust our harvest estimate up.  Back to the green bean example, if we thought we'd only get 150 boxes but it looks like we might eek out 180, we'll add an additional 30 boxes to inventory sometime later, maybe Sunday or Monday.  Those would not go directly into shares because the shares were already set up and trading had been taking place but they would show up in extras or swaps. 

And if you happened to log in after those 30 boxes showed up, you could add them to your share but eventually they'd probably all get gobbled up.  

And then continuing with the bean example, if we adjusted our projected harvest to 180 and went out to harvest the beans and ended up getting 200, well, it's probably too late to change anything in Harvie because the customization period has ended and we can't keep changing harvest quantities up until final packing (we need some time to go out and pick everything).  In this case, we'd have 20 extra boxes after packing everyone's shares. 

Well we know people want these so we take them to our pick-up sites and we sell them to CSA members. If it's a farmer's market and it was an item we know people would want more of we don't sell them to the general public but only to members (that's why we haven't sold tomatoes to anyone besides members but we have sold kale because there's always extra kale leftover).  That's how we try to make it fair for everyone.    

So you might ask, why not have enough green beans for everyone?  Well, we'd love to get as close to that as possible but there are lots of factors (weather, disease, pests, poor germination, not enough space available to devote to the crop, or simply not enough time to harvest enough) that limit how much we can grow at any given time. In a perfect world, we'd have just enough of every crop to satisfy everyone in the CSA's desire every week. 

We wouldn't want much extra though because we'd have a lot of waste or product we'd have to figure out how to sell or donate.  I'm fine with donating things and we do that a lot, but in examples like green beans that take so long to harvest, we just wouldn't want to overproduce on those.   

I can tell you that right now I wish we had more green beans, more squash and more tomatoes.  We've had some crop failures on both tomatoes and squash which have severely limited our production capacity.  Green beans will be a long haul.  We can harvest from a planting of bush beans for about 2 to 3 weeks, then we have to move on to the next planting.  We don't really have the space available to plant at regular 1 to 2 week intervals to keep  a constant supply.  We plant them as room opens up with an eye to ensure that we don't shoot ourselves in the foot planting too many beans and not leaving enough space for fall crops like carrots. 

We've devoted a significant amount of space to several successions of pole beans that will be producing yellow, purple and chinese yard long beans and which we hope will continue to produce for the entire season.  This will allow us to have beans in some quantity uninterrupted while the green beans (bush beans) come in and out of production from the various successions.    

Another thing we've learned as farmers about human psychology is that the new and novel is always in demand.  That's why everyone is dying for tomatoes in May and June and sick of them in September.   So demand is always at its peak when we first have something.  Once people have gotten it a week or two , they'll maybe swap it out.  No one swaps out green beans the first week but they very well may later in the season.  So don't be dismayed if you don't get these items at first.  Usually, once either demand decreases or our production increases you'll start to see them showing up in your shares.     

I hope this little glimpse into the "back end" of the CSA production and filling helps you understand what we're all up to.  We really do want to be as fair as possible and to give everyone the things they like best.  This is our first year using Harvie and I think it will be really helpful to us for future planning.  Already because of the data we are generating from people's preferences and production shortages, we've been altering our crop planning for this season to better match demand, but it does take time for seeds to become plants and to become food we can put in our harvest estimates to go into your box.   Thanks so much for reading this far and for bearing with us as we all learn the Harvie system together.