On February 1, my first morning in Ann Arbor, I woke up early and headed out to the farm with my new house mates, Nate and Jill from Green Things. It was cold but sunny and most of the other incubator farmers just happened to arrive around the same time. We stood in a circle for a few minutes, just beyond the barn, five farmers, and five dogs greeting each other and the new day.
Two and half months later, a lot has happened at the Residency Farm and that winter morning feels like a long time ago. Those first couple weeks of work were focused on getting the shared propagation space operational and developing a marketing plan for the new Tilian CSA. Thanks to the efforts of all the Tilian farmers, Jeff McCabe, Robertson and Morrison HVAC, and Molly Ennis our fabulous intern, we installed a new greenhouse heater and fans, put down landscape fabric, built plant tables and erected a germination chamber. Today the first 50 feet of the Residency hoop is filled with plants from all the Tilian farms, waiting for their time to go out in to the field and grow, grow, grow!
In terms of CSA marketing, we’ve been busy creating new web content for the Residency Farm and Tilian CSA, designing and distributing promotional fliers, sending out e-mails to every person and group we can think of, tabling at Farmers’ Market, writing stories for the PFC Newsletter, and working with Whole Foods to table and offer an educational lecture series. Andrea and I planned the much-attended 2012 Tilian Kick-Off party, featuring the Residency and Incubator Farms as well as some very tasty desserts. We have gotten press attention from the Lucy Ann Lance Business Insider radio show, as well as in a couple great articles at annarbor.com. And, we’ve offered tours and presentations to Local Food Summit participants as well as members of the Pittsfield Grange.
Upcoming outreach efforts on our calendar include collaboration with Groupon, tabling presence at the Leslie Center and Whole Foods Earth Day events, as well as the Joel Salatin shindig later this month. Whole Foods, who has already generously donated $700 to Tilian this year, will also be hosting an “Apple Pushers” film screening to benefit us on April 22nd in Walled Lake, MI. Oh yes, and later this month I will be participating as a “farmer in the classroom” with Agrarian Adventure!
As you can see, “farming” can involve a lot of work other than seeding, cultivating, and harvesting plants. A very important part of running a successful farm business is figuring out avenues for selling food. For us so far, we have had a small group of families step forward to participate in our regular “Summer Share” but we have experienced the most success with CSA marketing reaching out to restaurants. The Raven’s Club, Darcy’s Cart, Zingerman’s Deli, Mail Order, and Roadhouse have each stepped forward to advance purchase several thousand dollars worth of produce from us. In exchange, from our side, we have modified out crop plan to accommodate the higher volume, more specific product needs of each establishment.
Our niche is obviously still evolving just a couple of months in, especially since we’re still accepting new members and it’s unclear if the shares will mostly go to families or restaurants but either way it has been an exciting challenge to figure out how to sell shares of a new farm in a totally new place.
As a person who loves to be outside, surrounded by plants, I am very excited for the season to kick in to high gear. Next week we will seed radishes, salad mix, spinach, peas, mustard, and turnips outside and transplant onions, kale, chard, collards, lettuce, cabbage, and a whole wide variety of asian greens. I’m off now to till up the spring field with our fancy new tractor! Please remember to spread the word about all the Tilian farms and if you are still looking for a CSA, feel free to drop me a line with any questions or to arrange a tour of the Residency Farm.