This December marks the end of our third season on the McGrath property as Barrett's Mill Farm! This year we made great progress in setting ourselves up for the future: we built a new greenhouse, planted a new asparagus patch, established more blueberry bushes, began leasing 4.5 acres of new land, and purchased a water wheel transplanter as well as more irrigation supplies. In addition to investing in equipment and infrastructure we took steps to meet customers' needs for flexibility, including increased hours for the store and CSA. We also took actions important for improving soil quality, such as cover cropping to improve soil organic matter and spreading lime on our fields to increase the soil pH. In order to have the capacity to meet our regular production and store coverage needs, as well as tackle some of our longer-range projects, we tripled our labor budget by employing two full time assistant growers as well as a total of seven part time crew members over the course of the season. We have set the stage for the business size, both in terms of productivity and customer base, that we think will make our farm successful and financially stable in the long run. In fact, all of this investment in labor and in future planning turned out to have a shorter payback than anticipated, as it allowed us to have a successful and productive season this year in spite of some tough drought conditions!
The increase in crew size, customer numbers, and donation opportunities this season also meant more great community connections. We enjoyed teaching the new farm crew, many of whom had never worked on a farm before. Busy Saturdays became the highlight of the farm week! The crew was energized by the constant flow of enthusiastic farm store customers and CSA members enjoying the results of the their hard work and sharing in their enjoyment of picking in the fields. Food donations this year included our gift of a season-long CSA membership to Minute Man Arc, weekly donations to Open Table of Maynard and Concord, as well as pick-ups by the Boston Area Gleaners. Our families are still a big part of our farm community! Lise's dad continued to be the expert carpenter on the farm, Melissa's aunt helped out in the farm store on Saturday afternoons and Lise's mom continued to be the farm store, greenhouse seeder, and general supporter extraordinaire.
A major aspect of our December review and planning is of course devoted to the vegetables. The colorful variety and long picking season for cherry tomatoes this year made them a crop highlight for 2016. The hot summer was also great for watermelons and a small but tasty cantaloupe crop. Our potatoes suffered from pest pressure and the drought, however we hope to address these problems this year by preventing early leaf hopper damage, adjusting our irrigation method, and hilling the potatoes earlier. In 2017 we have fine-tuned our planting timing and selected for crop varieties that worked well. We also always like to try a few new things, so we will be planting a bed of edamame, adding some variety to our cut flower plantings, and trialing a bed of sweet potatoes for our November CSA.
Other plans for 2017 include organic certification, an increase in CSA membership, and the first vegetable crops on our new land across the street. We like to set goals for the upcoming season to ensure that we are always improving! Right now we are brainstorming ideas to improve farm stand traffic during the hot summer vacation months, both through making the farm stand area more of a refuge from the heat, as well as by offering an even wider variety of produce in between the popular strawberry and tomato seasons. This year we are also researching ways to become more efficient in our use of space in the fields and would like to continue to improve the appearance of the farmstead. As a relatively new business we feel so lucky to have such large supportive group of regular customers and we are looking forward to a successful fourth year!