12.30.2013

We Need Your Help...

Now that another year has come to an end...
 
Looking back... 2013 was another successful year for our small family farm thanks to our committed CSA Members and patrons.  In general its been a rough road for Texas  farmers and ranchers.  It started back in 2011 with the drought and slowing economy.  Markets across the state have been reporting a decrease in sales and traffic by 60% in some cases, which has put many producers at risk.  Our risk has been minimized each season due to our Community Supported Agriculture program.  We can boldly plant our seeds and increase our livestock knowing that our members have invested for the season.  It makes a huge difference knowing that you will have a secure income in the upcoming months.

Looking ahead... Nothing supports our community of local farmers more than the assurance of customers willing to make seasonal commitments.  Developing a multi-farm CSA has never been easy, by working with producers to supply our families with chicken, beef, eggs, artisan cheese, milk and of course our righteous veggies, benefits everyone involved as we all desire the best food possible.  Once again, we would like to encourage you to take the step necessary to help guarantee the continued supply of local food by becoming a 2014 Houston CSA Member or Brenham Market Member.  Your commitment is needed now more than ever before as we head towards our 10 year anniversary as Houston's first CSA farm.
 
Check out our January 2014 Newsletter online to learn more...

Yours in the local harvest,

Farmer Brad & Jenny Stufflebeam
Home Sweet Farm

12.08.2013

Community Supported Agriculture Revisted - 10 Years

2014 marks the 10 year anniversary for Houston's first Community Supported Agriculture Farm: Home Sweet Farm in Brenham.  A time to revisit the work and the communities that we serve.

 

Farmer Jenny, Fall 2013
A lot has changed in the years serving Houston since we began the first CSA Farm in the area.  We have seen the increase of awareness and the financial commitment of our members has literally helped us grow a farm from scratch without having to go to the bank.  It's been the only thing that we have been able to count on these years.  Lets face it, farming is a big gamble, especially in Texas.  Knowing that we have the secured income for a season allows us to farm full-time for our members and has been essential for our family farm to succeed.

Each year we have adjusted our CSA to meet the demand, adding new dropsites and developing a farmers cooperative to increase local food variety for our members.  Supporting over a dozen family farms, we supply fresh produce, pastured chicken and eggs, grass-fed beef, artisan cheese, honey and hand-crafted artisan foods all sustainably raised in the Brazos Valley!  Its been an exciting adventure as we mentor and support others in their farming dream by developing this new market place.

Flooding in 2009
The weather has always been an issue... years of drought, floods, unusual winters, grasshoppers and heatwaves... its amazing that anything can grow in this climate sometimes.  Membership support has helped us develop irrigation, shade houses and greenhouses to modify our growing environment.  We have researched and shared our growing techniques with 100s of people throughout the years as we strive to rebuild our agricultural community.

Over the last two years, the local food economy has slowed down for us and many small farmers in Texas.  After growing every year, by 2013 our Houston CSA Membership dropped by 50%.  This definitely makes us reevaluate the program.  With the drop in CSA member commitment and the weaker economy, we need to scale back what we are doing by focusing on a smaller supportive membership base.

In 2014, we will be consolidating routes and limiting our CSA Membership to full share members.  We have decided to not offer 1/2 shares at this time as it is essential for our farm to prioritize full share members  in order to make the CSA work financially.  Our 2014 CSA Members will have the option for more local food variety and provisions delivered each week with their vegetables.  Our goal is not to serve more people as we have in the past, our vision is to serve a core group of members more food with better service then ever before.

Horse Farming in 2008
As farmers, we have also set a goal to do more horse farming this year, becoming even more sustainable in our farming practices. We plan to utilize our high tunnels for specialty crops to extend the season and return to more heirloom varieties of vegetables chosen for their nutrition and flavor.  Ultimately, we need to have the farm more financially stable to get us through these economic hard times even if it limits our production by horse farming.

We also want to complete our commercial kitchen on the farm which will allow us to capture any loss of produce by canning, pickling and eventually offering prepared meals and a soup share to our members.

Like always, all of our goals for the farm and work is made possible by our CSA Members!  Its amazing that our family has been able to pursue this dream to be a successful small family farm.  Its an unusual story and an inspiration to many who want to go down the same path making fresh, clean, righteous food available to our community.  We can't express enough our gratitude for the constant encouragement that our members bring to us each season.  It makes it all worth it, and we thank you all for your continued support.

Yours in the local harvest!
Farmer Brad and Jenny


Heirloom Tomatoes Take Priority Again

It's December and its time to order tomato seeds!  We generally like to get ours started the last week of the year.  Originally, we would grow 35+ varieties each season, the possibilities are endless and one can easily get carried away when browsing through the Tomato Growers catalog.  As the years went by and our farm needed to focus on supplying our CSA Members, the selections we grew eventually moved towards better productivity and shipping.  Although these tomatoes are still great compared to grocery store brands, the flavor still cannot hold up to some of the old heirloom varieties.

The changes we made in tomato selections for the CSA was partly due to listening to our customers.  When we got feed back that tomatoes were cracked or didn't seem to hold up to shipping 50 miles to our drop sites, we slowly began to eliminate the more tender varieties, like Brandywine, Carbon and Cherokee Purple.  Its not that we didn't like growing these old fashion favorites... we just didn't enjoy negative complaints and considering that these heirlooms were 50% the productivity and twice the work, it just wasn't worth it as a commercial crop if our customers are not happy.

A few years later, we got bored and decided as a family farm, it was time to get back to our basics.  Its time to get back to growing tomatoes because they are the best tasting.  It may take more labor and effort on our end educating members why our heirloom tomatoes are so special.  Why they are colorfully ripe and something that they may not be used to experiencing.  We want to hear the expression, "these taste like my grandmother's tomatoes!" we want to hear people say, "my kids love your tomatoes and I can't get them to eat anything!"  It would be even more rewarding to hear our customers say, "these tomatoes are expensive, but worth every penny!"

This is the year that we get back into heirloom tomatoes for our Houston CSA and Brenham Market... the unique and better tasting heirlooms are worth it.  No more compromising tomatoes for shipping.  Big ones, pink ones, blackish purple rich ones that you will never see in a grocery store.  The not so perfect weird ones that you can make a meal out of.  Its time to get creative and to stop playing it so safe all of the time.

Get ready for some great tomatoes next spring (and pray for good weather)!

10.25.2013

Local Is Out... Farmer Direct Is In.



Since the renewed interest in local food over the last few years, a proliferation of farmers’ markets and popular third party distributors have worked hard to get their piece of the pie.  Still with only 1% of the food economy spent on local food, it’s a small piece to share and local farmers are getting the crumbs.

It’s common to hear farmers discuss how they used to do better business before “local” became popular.  Now many family farms have to work two or three markets to make the sales that they used to make at just one market.  The propagation of farmers markets have spread the business thin resulting in lower sales and increased expenses (fuel, booth fees, licenses, sales materials, tents, tables, etc. not to mention staffing).

Speaking of Farmers Markets!  That’s the very venue where many of the third party distributors introduced themselves.  Riding on the theme that they supported local farmers by offering a more convenient “CSA-like” delivery program, they pitched their tents and flashed their fancy trucks next to local farmers at markets whenever possible.  After wooing the public, they expand their “Whole Foods– like” delivery program with suave marketing that no small family farm could compete with.  Farmers are then forced to sell once again to the middle man who controls the market price, buying from whoever sells the cheapest.

The original intent of the “local” food movement: having a direct connection to your farmer and environment, is now void and being done away with by well-financed middle man distributors, pushing “local” produce 200+ miles and statewide.

And here we are.  “Local” is now becoming as watered down as “organic” and the local farmers and consumers are the ones who loose.  You see, the supply for local food does not fit the modern centralized distribution program and the only way to know for sure that your food is local is to buy direct from the farmer.  Farmers Markets, CSA Programs and other venues where the buyer can directly source their food from the producer is the only way to assure that your money IS supporting local farmers.

The truth of the matter is, Austin based distributors are hurting the “local” food movement.  Farmers across the state are reporting decreased sales, up to 60% losses in 2013, as the “local” food consolidators move into their communities taking over the market by promising more convenience with no commitment.  This pseudo-local food trend may level out in another year or two as the public catches on.  The question is, can small family farmers last that long?

If we want to save local food, we need to buy farmer direct.

Know your farmer.  Know your food.