What I am learning: Creativity
July at City Grown Seattle has seen a huge explosion of growing and producing plants. Looking back at photos from the beginning of the month, I was amazed at how things have changed: Sunflowers now in bloom were just little sprouts at the end of June, and the beans currently reaching off the tops of their eight-foot trellis hadn’t even begun climbing 30 days ago. I marvel at the plants’ vigor and appreciate that their health shows we’ve been tending them properly.
At the same time, though, the past few weeks have turned up more than a few crop shortages. I have an increasing admiration for the farmers I’ve worked for in the past, who were able to keep various crops in constant supply by careful succession planning. As our City Grown season has progressed, more and more divergences from the original planting plan have occurred. A single planting of head lettuce, for example, gave us only enough heads to last through three weeks of markets, instead of the four weeks we’d hoped for, and the following succession wasn’t ready as early as our paper plan had predicted. This meant a disappointing two-week gap in our head lettuce. Many customers were excited about our romaine and would be buying a head a week if we had it available for them, but it’s not the end of the world: We still have salad mix with baby lettuces, and plenty of other veggie options.
That’s what’s been important for our market stand: having a wide variety. We often get comments from shoppers that our display is the most diverse at the farmers’ market. Because we can’t bring large quantities, it’s nice that we can set ourselves apart by bringing a little bit of a lot of things. There are lots of veggies growing out in the fields, giving us plenty of items to bring to market, even some unexpected items. We have been learning to make use of whatever is ready as we harvest each week, and a healthy mix of creativity and neglected plants has led to some fun farmstand additions. Mustard greens, for example, were not in our planting plan. Then a succession of spicy salad mix grew beyond its baby state when we didn’t have time to till it in during the spring rush. The larger leaves were still lush and edible, so we got a couple weeks of extra harvest from the bed and had some nice looking–and unexpected–bunches of mustard greens to bulk up the market stand display. And people loved them! Harvesting and marketing whatever is growing well, instead of trying to stick to an exact pre-planned harvest goal, is teaching us a lot about consumer tastes. Why do people love radishes and parsley so much? I don’t know, but it’s lucky they do. We had a lot of them this spring.
Creativity has also necessary in planning our space use. I spend a lot of mental energy deciding what to plant where, and when. I am getting to know all the little quirks of each of our eight plots. Jon and Katie’s yard has the sandiest soil and needs more frequent watering, so it’s best not to sow seeds there in the summertime. Use transplanted crops instead. The Bonds’ place has a lot of snail and slug pests, so we put tomatoes there instead of lettuce. Half of Bryan’s place is quite a bit shadier than the rest, so how do we use that to our advantage? It’s like fitting together puzzle pieces. Or more like playing chess, really, because there is a time dimension involved too: If I seed these brassicas in the greenhouse now, which beds will be available in a month when they’re ready to be transplanted? What should we plan to put in after the peas? How long can we keep harvesting a single planting of kale? I know that, over time, many of these things will become second-nature to me. I could tell by watching my mentors during my apprenticeships that they were doing many things based on feel and experience that they couldn’t fully explain. It is exciting to realize how much my own intuition has grown over just a few months of running my own farm, and I am already very much looking forward to next season.
We made our first restaurant connection this month, with a fantastic vegan restaurant and yoga studio in our neighborhood. The chef bought a couple things from us at the farmers’ market, then we exchanged contact information and he has called us a couple times to order more. He came and picked up the veggies from our plot, which is about five minutes away from his restaurant, and we are already discussing growing some crops specifically for him next season. This immediate proximity is what sets our farm apart. We may not have much growing space, but we have enough, and it’s right here. We travel only 10 minutes to and from the farmers’ market where we sell. One of us can quickly go harvest extra and bring it to the market if we run low on something. On Saturdays, when we open up our farmstand, we wake up, walk out the back door, process vegetables, and then set up our tent in our front yard to wait for our neighbors to come to us to buy food. Sure, we could grow more and make more money if we had more land. But our expenses are few and the degree of success that we’ve been having with City Grown so far makes me very excited about the possibilities of urban farming as a viable commercial farming model. I hope to continue expanding and improving our business, becoming more creative, efficient, and involved in our community as we go.