Happy March 28h, 2013.
I have been wanting to write to you all for sometime now. Wanting to articulate my Kenya experience. Wanting to articulate how things have changed here at TapRoot since the summer of 2012. Wanting to articulate how I am feeling about where we are now and where we are going. This week is the end of our 4th year of our CSA, I am celebrating and grieving at the same time. It is time to dive in and articulate.
Let me start with celebrating and grieving. The grieving comes from a place where things aren't the same any more. The celebrating come from this same place. TapRoot has evolved from being Patricia's farm, starting with 50 shareholders with the shares being put together by Izaak, Lily and Grandma and Frank totting around (1 year old). Josh was running his farm and I was mine. (Josh did A LOT to support me). I guess I didn't ever really think about the CSA growing in terms of the implications of staff, land, time, energy, money, etc. I wanted CSA's in general to grow, as I still do because with more people joining CSA's (I figure) there would be more change toward what I thought of and think of as a systemic shift in how we (economy/culturally) do things. As it turned out, through some sort of hard work and maybe divine intervention our CSA membership increased. With the CSA membership increase, more and more of my time was taken away from direct hands-on management and activity with people-- something I really love-- to managing the office related tasks and the overall farm business realities. This is an area that I have learnt so much about and realize now that I have had and still do have deficiencies in business management. Anyway, my point is that things change, I have changed, and the farm has changed. I really miss my teenage woman working crew and I really miss meeting members at their deliveries, but I also stopped doing those activities because other life activities were calling me.
So for me, this 4th year end is a time of major shift. The members moving forward will not know me like you may have known me over the years, and in some ways that feels sad.
HOWEVER, I am really excited about where TapRoot is right now. We have evolved to the place where we are able to offer young farmers meaningful work and experience before they launch into their own farm ownership. On the farm right now we have four farmers. Justine has started her farming career on a small farm in Ross Creek. Two years ago Justine and I spent many hours discussing her future. She felt she needed to join into the world of post-secondary-something training because her peers were and she felt sort of alone. The thing is that she has always known that she loves the farm, and but struggled because she didn't see or feel there was value in her choosing being a farmer or working with a farm as a career choice. This time for me was very emotional because I understood. I know how the general public perceives farmers and people who work on farms and I know that many families think it would be good for their kids to get a job on a farm while in-between career options. The farm ends up being the default first and last place to go for a job. Justine decided to stay at TapRoot and we committed to support her in every way we could toward her farming career. She works a modified week so that she can do the chores on her farm as it grows while still having income. These days now she comes in to share the discussions she is having with her partner in building their farm, and I can see that the learnings we have had here at TapRoot are useful in her experience on her own farm. Teri and Jon, a young couple who want to have a farm of their own are here to gain experience, save money and build connections, all that will be helpful in launching their own farm. Tim has always wanted to grow flowers and this year because of TapRoot CSA members, he is doing just that. Josh always knew that he would be a farmer. I am touched to tears really at how special these people are and how grateful I am that we have a CSA membership (you) that entrusts all of us to bring food and this year flowers to them each week in-exchange for the dollars that make having people like Teri, Jon, Justine, Tim, and everyone with us each day possible. So this week for me is a time for celebration. Celebrating the wonderful years that have allowed us to evolved into who are are now and celebrating the exciting times ahead as we begin a new season on the farm.
As we look at where we are and where we are going I think of a conversation Josh and I have regularly with each other. Basically we both just say, 'things are busy, yep, things are busy'. It is spring 2013. We both feel that TapRoot now has an energy all of its own. There are two interns arriving in mid April to begin a 7-month formal training to be farmers. Yikes is sort of an understatement. We are once again increasing our land base to transition to organic so that eventually the whole farm will be certified organic. This coming year we are also starting work with growing flax for fibre. I am very interested in having my own clothes come from the farm. There is a lot of potential in flax as food, fibre and energy. Having fibre that we can make clothes, dish clothes, blankets, etc and possibly create a micro industry here in the region with the by-products, I just think it is really exciting. This year I am growing one acre of flax to test. In terms of membership for this year we are about 50 veggie shares short of last years membership. We will continue to work with Alison at Southfield to bring certified organic veggies to market mostly in metro. So far it is an exciting time prepping for spring and summer and also, for me, observing how things are evolving at the farm without me here day in day out.
Upon reflection, this past CSA year is likely the year with the most significant changes: a switch to full year membership only, my (Patricia's) departure from the day to day of the farm, Josh writing the newsletters (for a lot of last year), change in accountant, & expanding the TapRoot team with the addition of Tim in the fall and Teri and Jon in December. With all the ups and downs considered, it has been an amazing year.
And finally, my trip to Kenya. Let me start by saying that I will come speak to any group who would like to see my slides and hear about my work with Farmers Helping Farmers. In October I applied for a position with Farmers Helping Farmers, a small NGO out of PEI. I was accepted for the position and went about getting myself prepared to travel – which I didn't think too much of and maybe should have because I ended up having Josh give me my Hepatitis shot:). I loved the work in Kenya. I loved the people and I loved the energy. I worked with two womans groups helping to establish a plan of action for them to reach their goals for 2016. Also, I worked on marketing ideas and business planning. They led all of the work and I just jumped in with what I have experience on to provide ideas, support, and facilitation. I would like to go back and continue to work with the same womans groups. They have many needs the greatest I think is education/information. The members of the womans group are a diverse group with diverse needs. Some of the woman are very poor while others are doing better financially. All of the woman work extremely hard to bring food to their tables – I mean really, really hard. During my time there and since I've been home I haven't felt too many emotions that I didn't expect. Lately however, after many weeks upon returning home I often will find I just feel so struck by what appears to be greed, senseless spending, and lack of awareness of what is really happening with regards to the earth, our food, our water, and the people.
During my run for municipal councillor in 2008 I ran on a campaign slogan,' We Can Do Better'. Now I feel like saying, 'We Have To Do Better'. We must to take action if we want to see change. It just won't happen otherwise.
Thank you all so much for this past year!
With great respect and appreciation for you,
Attachment For Your Interest
As you all likely know, in November 2007 we purchased the small farm where our house is, that we called TapRoot farms. It is, was, still is, 23 acres and it is where my dream of having an organic farm began. In around November of 2008 I redid my business plan because I lost so much money in my first year, we needed to do something different immediately or move. I created a business plan for our farm that focused on what my dreams were and it was all around building a CSA – a community of people to share the journey of the farm, our families, and our food together.
Since November 2008 we have not revised the business plan (a serious faux pas). It has been on my to do list and I wanted to inform the new plan with a TapRoot advisory board, to build in more community in the farm. (we met once and I just keep dropping the ball on getting it rolling)
In 2008 I outlined what my critical success factors were, I have included them at the end if you wish to review them. When I review the factors, I realize that we are doing a lot of what we set out to do and we are doing it in a way to meets our ideas of success. This feels really good.
Critical Success Factors (taken from TapRoot Business Plan November 2008)
o improved profit efficiency for a goal of 40%
o positive cash flow
o continual revenue growth through CSA shares, market sales and roadside stand sales
o ability to pay retail value to associated farmers (ie. pay retail value to farmer for cabbage or other products we purchase for the weekly share)
o adequate household income to save for retirement and education saving plans for the children
· Your future:
o increasing CSA shares and other sales each year
o sourcing locally
o continually investing in our land and our farm for less dependency and increased sustainability
· Customer satisfaction:
o customers are happy and share their positive experiences with others
o open communication with customers
o Product is beautiful, delicious, healthy and ethically produced
· Product or service development:
o Providing increased opportunities to purchase local food year round
§ Frozen and canned product
o Communicating to customers
§ Providing recipes
§ Nutritional information
§ On farm activities for families
· Intellectual capital:
o Keeping good records
o Taking part in professional development
o Researching food trends in other areas especially Europe
· Strategic relationships:
o Positive relationships and networks with local farmers and businesses
o Create experiences for people on the farm in partnership with others in the community (ie. restaurants, hotels, towns)
o Identify new sources of business, products and outside revenue.
· Employee attraction and retention:
o Improve and/or provide benefits to employees (ie. health insurance, housing, transport)
o Provide training opportunities to employees (ie. attend ACORN conference)
o Increased employment opportunities on our farm
o Improved microorganism population in soil
o Improved organic matter in soil
o Balanced time and task management
o Reduced dependency on power and gas
o Reduced water usage
o Personal ability to keep it all going.
o Increased acreage transitioned to organic production
o Increased number of people accessing local, healthy food