Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Cheese Making Class July 19!

Come on out to Morning Song Farm for our Mostly Mozzarella Class. We'll focus July's class on mozzarella and do a couple other very easy fresh cheeses to round out the class time . Limited class size so everyone can actually get their hands into their own cheese, rather than just watch us make it. Mozzarella is remarkably easy once you learn the pitfalls, and have made a few batches. The recipe we're using is the 30 minute version. The tough part is learning how to understand your cheese, how to knead it properly, drain it and what to look for to reach a beautiful stretch. We'll also make a  garlic ricotta spread, and an herbed queso fresco to round the day out. You may find that you'll discover a passion for cheese as we have here at Morning Song Farm. It's easier than you'd ever think! Take notes, and follow along with handouts and easy to follow recipes so that your success is insured when you repeat the steps at home. We'll talk about which milk to use, cultures, and why certified organic milk isn't your best choice.    Don't be afraid to bring your appetite, as we nibble throughout! Class starts at 9:00 with sampling freshly made cheeses as well as our just churned butter with bread,  muffins and coffee, while allowing you an opportunity to meet your fellow cheese loving adventurers! Get a chance to meet the farm’s beautiful Nigerian dairy goats at the end of the class, and pet our friendly herd. Bring a crunchy granola bar or two and you’ll be everyone’s best friend, especially Carl The Herd Leader who eats anything but really gets excited if it’s crunchy.
Tuition: Even if you are a much appreciated farm member, payment and reservations for our cheese classes need to be made here so that we can use the Meetup software to keep an accurate headcount.  Please, no impromptu arrivals. Our Mozzarella Class size is limited for a reason, we need to have firm reservations so we don't overbook. The pathway to the barn is rough and unpaved, so stash the stilettos or dress shoes; and opt for sneakers or boots for your cheese making day. 

To sign up or for more information: http://www.meetup.com/Morning-Song-Farm-Cheese-Making/events/223264760/

Class fee: 65.00
Time: 9 a.m. to 12:00

Harvest Shot June 16-17 2015

We're excited to see the blackberries come in so well this year despite reduced watering. They are being picked dead ripe, so won't stay fresh for very long. Some years we've tried picking a little unripe, however what's true is that picking dead ripe insures full flavor. The downside is they don't last long! As the heat has arrived consistently now, this is the last week that we'll be growing sprouts for our CSA boxes. Please do pick up your boxes as soon as possible after our truck delivers so that your produce remains fresh. Hydrocooling is helpful if you've arrived late to discover wilted greens: dunk in a sink full of chilled water, shake and refrigerate. This is what restaurants do to insure crisp greens and works just as well in a home kitchen. We're at the tail end of our avo season, still plenty of fruit out there, but some of the skins are now not sporting cosmetic perfection. The trade-off is that a summer Southern Cal Hass has wonderfully high oil content and is fully flavored. Off-shore fruit is coming into the grocery isles and will look beautiful but not have the oil content that local avos have. Harvesting under ripe fruit maximizes production returns while shipping thousands of miles under refrigeration and then gassing on arrival to achieve an appearance of ripeness results in a beautiful looking fruit but often poor flavor and oil content.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Price of Eggs

I recently read a review slamming another CSA's egg prices being just gouging the public and winced. The poor dear had no idea at all about the nefariousness of the chicken industry or the horrifying conditions her $3.00 a dozen egg laying chickens were living in.   As many of you know, we ONLY serve our CSA membership with eggs. There can only be one reason for that, and it's because it's not profitable for us. At $8.00 a dozen, I knew we were in the neighborhood of breaking even and I viewed my little chicken hobby (let's call it what it is) as a cool add-on service to my subscribers and a source of clean food for my family. I love the sound of my roosters in the morning, and count their morning calls as one of the assets of living rurally. Which makes me shake my head when I hear that HOA's  and city counsels consider the rooster's song or tiny flock hygiene issues as the main reason to disallow backyard chickens. Expand on that logic...just saying....and I think dogs should have been banned first. A well managed backyard flock of 2 or 3 chickens is a great source of bug management and a pleasure to watch and enjoy. A few decision-making folks ruin it for everyone by drafting and implementing rules that are not consistent across all considerations involved in the ownership and care of various pet species. Dogs but no chickens? Squacking stupid parrot that keeps saying the same thing...A ok, but my rooster gets a Chicken Ticket? Misinformed, I say! Draconian nonsense.

Anyway, sigh, our break even cost to provide eggs has inched up to a bit over $9.00 a dozen, so starting in July our egg price will reflect an increase to $9.00 a dozen. It didn't happen overnight, but it's time for me to raise my price. I know only a few people read my blog, so  we'll communicate directly with those that are affected by this price increase.

And word of caution: I know there are still $3.00 a dozen eggs out there, both in the grocery store and on Craigslist. I've done the math, the only way a small farmer can approach $3.00 is to work for free, or utilize free intern-type labor, feed the chickens crap, maximize feed ratio by slaughtering at 14-18 months, accept no rescues, slaughter all sick or injured hens at once, keep the miserable flock confined to cages and in an indoor facility where conditions can be optimized for egg production, and basically use up the hens' life by the time they are a year and a half old. But the eggs would be cheap.

To achieve $9 a dozen, we, too, will have to replenish our flock every 12 months. By reaching out to backyarders and selling the mature egg-laying flock while they are still laying production quantities of eggs, hens will find humane homes and we can offer $9 a dozen instead of $18 a dozen eggs to our CSA membership. By three years old, most hens will not be laying many eggs, by 18 months they will begin to taper off and the feed to egg ratio can not support even a $9 a dozen carton of eggs. Truth be told, like I said, the egg business is an ugly one and Americans have gotten accustomed to an almost free egg, but we weren't asking enough questions about how that was achieved. On a similar vein...I was delighted to hear recently that MacDonalds is suffering the consequences of folks beginning to ask questions and reeling from the unappetizing answers. There are always trade-offs. Sometimes those deals are kept hidden, but someone or something has to suffer when prices sink below the price of humane production.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Harvest Shot for June 9-19 2015

We had hoped that we'd get one more week out of the mulberry grove, but the sudden hot spell  vanquished all hope there. All the berries fell off on Sunday and the local bird/rabbit/squirrel population are having a berry fest field day. Best mulberries ever, this was a good season for us, as many years we've only gotten a week or two out of the grove. Next year, it will be even better as we learned a thing or two about mulberry management. We also discovered that rattlesnakes like to hang out in that part of the farm, and so next year us harvesters will be "chapped up" with rattlesnake protection, at least in the early weeks of picking when the snakes have gotten accustomed to having the grove to themselves.

Below is this week's large Garden N Grove box

The Spring Mix sprouts are these sprouted seeds:

  • Broccoli
  • Radish
  • Red Clover
  • Alfalfa

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Feedback Request

Help us!

I’d love to have some feedback on a few rough spots in how we run our CSA administratively.

1.       For a few years now, we’ve relied on our Change Order link for add-on requests (like eggs, honey or juice oranges) as well as Credit Card updates, vacation skips, and subscription holds/cancellations.

We instituted the Change Order system a few years back so that I could spend days at a time working on the farm without having the rosters blow up in my face, as well as the ability to go on vacation. For many years I couldn’t do either, and eventually it caught up with me. Literally, I hadn’t gone on vacation for 10 years when Beth took over. I don’t handle rosters or roster changes at all now, adhering to the Change Order system is an important part of keeping communications current and rosters error-free. (And me sane.) Beth is a full time librarian and does a meticulous  job of keeping it all straight for us. She downloads the Change Orders every week and is totally on top of all this, leaving me to the occasional vacation and several-day farm projects without  avoidable roster goofs. As some of you know, I had to take a months-long sick leave earlier this year; had I not had this in place, we would have had quite a mess on our hands when I returned. Most folks that emailed my personal email accounts during that time period, weren’t acknowledged during my hospitalization. It doesn’t matter that a member SHOULD know how their farm works, because in the end, all the matters is that many don’t. How a farm works is the boring part of a CSA, and our Welcome Note is lengthy and boring, I'm told. :/  I'm hoping we can get the word out more effectively with some subscriber input. What can we do differently?

Here’s what I’m doing currently:
I blog about our Change Order system, I print out the link onto a Welcome Label on the first box picked up, I include how our farm works on our website and the individually emailed Welcome Note sent to each new subscriber.

Still, many participants send emails which are not always caught in time to be included in the roster for which the change/add-on/cancellation/vacation skip was intended. I’m reaching out to our CSA membership to ask how we might get the word out, so no subscriber’s needs are left unattended to. What can I do to differently? Feedback and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

2.       Quarter System:
Our farm is run on the quarter system.
1st quarter is January-March
2nd quarter is April-June
3rd quarter is July-September
4th quarter is October-December

We assume our subscribers are continuing into each new quarter as a default, because most do.  This is no different than a gym membership or an apartment rental. Cancelling a subscription at the end of any quarter is easy: just use our Change Order link.(www.morningsongfarm.com, click on CSA Boxes, Click on Change Order. Your cancellation is immediately acknowledged via automated email response, and we manually acknowledge it on the roster.  If anyone needs clarification, of course emailing us here makes sense.

3.       Vacation skips: We currently offer 2 vacation skip credits to Every Week subscribers, and ask that those that don’t order weekly, or need more than 2 weeks of vacations… allow us to donate their box to the homeless shelter we serve. We’d like to make this more generous, but ran into problems with biweekly subscription vacation skips causing roster/pick-up/miscommunications. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated.

4.       Billing:
 The traditional CSA model started in Japan, was based on a quarterly billing/commitment concept; which we started out doing many years ago…and we eventually added  monthly billing for those that needed/chose to have their quarterly CSA payments spaced out into each month. We start billing at the end of each month for the following month’s boxes, and usually end the billing process in the first week of the current month that we’re delivering in. Occasionally the billing takes longer when there are a lot of credit card declines, changes or new starts. Some farms manage to do this automatically, but when we tried the auto software it just didn’t work for us. Manual transactions take longer, but each account is reviewed and the transactions are manually done to assure accuracy. Even New Starts are entered manually from the order form; they are not instantly charged to the credit card provided. This allows for a review of the order and making sure that unusual requests/start dates/add-ons are properly billed for; avoiding refunds.

5.       Rosters: The roster at each drop point includes all participants of that drop point, whether they are picking up that week or not. The roster indicates a YES or NO by each person’s name. ALL means the subscriber is picking up every week, 2/4 means picking up in the 2nd and 4th week of that month, and 1/3/5 means picking up in the first, third and 5th (if there’s a fifth) of that month. 

6.       Signing off: It’s not a problem until it’s a problem: signing off that you have collected your box aids your volunteer host in tracking down an issue such as a missing box or a biweekly subscriber being on the wrong track.

7.       Recycling: About HALF our CSA membership does not return their boxes, which means our CSA’s landfill footprint is considerably more than it needs to be, and adds to the cost of running the farm unnecessarily. Please return your empties each week. Some participants are choosing to transfer the contents of their boxes directly into bags so that they don’t have to return the box at all.

We’d appreciate our subscribers’ feedback on how we might improve communication and ideas that might improve how we run our farm administratively. Please let us know!