Steve’s Weekly Update for 7/28/10

Dear members,

Climatology 2010: The heat broke late last week, and now we have had a slug of monsoonal moisture.  The warm season grasses at Mesa Top had begun going to seed in response to nearly 3 weeks of dry, hot weather.  Even so it has remained green all spring and summer and when the sun comes out in earnest, we will see amazing growth of our forage grasses.

The small spring at Mesa Top had run dry when the rains returned last week.  Now the micro aquifer is recharged again and the simple water system is “passively” moving water out of our riparian area out to the pasture where the larger herd of cows is munching green grass and looking fat and happy.  This saves work and cost for the farmers also.

Down south the rain has been “endless” by anyone’s standards.  Hay is getting rained on and the chile crop is behind schedule.  The unusual becomes usual?

Steve’s Soapbox: This week I am in Kansas City at a USDA convening of educators and practitioners who work according to the value chain approach to rural and economic development, with a goal of developing “best practices” and tools to help educate and train in the value chain approach.

Value chains are an alternative to the “dog eat dog” approach of “supply chain” distribution.  In supply chains, each “link” in the process of moving a product from its point of origin as an idea, through its creation, and to its eventual use tries to maximize its profit at the expense of any and all other players in the chain.  This approach is responsible for the movement of profit and power away from the primary raw material providers  (farmers), toward those with most control over and access to the “final market” (distributors and retailers).  It is also responsible for “unintended consequences” such as the destruction of community, wildlife, and natural resources as supply chain thinking in its extreme results on maximization of short term gain without regard for consequences.

The Value chain approach changes the emphasis from maximum profit earned at the expense of other players to a “customer centric” approach.  All players in the chain seek to maximize customer satisfaction and in so doing earn their fair share of the profit while supporting others in the chain to do the same.  The idea was pioneered by Toyota who realized (duuuuuhh!) that beating up on their parts suppliers to get them the cheapest parts was somehow NOT helping them deliver the best cars to their customers.  Given Toyota’s emphasis on customer satisfaction, they needed a different approach.  By making all players in the chain of product creation and movement into “stakeholders” and developing strategies to help them work together, rather than treating them like disposable parts, a whole new ethos was engendered.

A natural extension of the value chain approach is to bring additional “values” that are important to end customers and others in the value chain, into the process as guiding principles.  For example, “fairness to workers” may indirectly improve performance in a value chain, but when end customers start asking for “fair trade,” fairness to workers also becomes an additional value that the Value chain must demonstrate in order to satisfy the customers.  This additional layer of emphasis creates what are called “values based value chains”.

COOPs and CSAs epitomize this approach, as we are always concerned that we give an equitable return and a positive experience to everyone from the farmer through to the “end eater,” including the voiceless members of the chain such as natural resources and wildlife.  In the values based approach, consideration is given to all of the “secondary effects” of the movement of product and a deeper dive is taken to assure sustainability.

This week 34 of us from around the country will work together to develop tools for education and implementation of values based value chains in US agriculture and rural economic development.  As usual, New Mexico is “overrepresented”, as Ilana Blankman of Farm to Table, my strongest and most able ally in the work of Value chain joins me in KC, so with less than 1% of our nation’s population, NM has a 6% representation in this working group.

For a recent report on Value Chain development in collaboration with SYSCO, see the following links from the National Good Food Network website.

Click here for the 2009 Report

Click here for the May 2010 Update

This week’s Cow stories:  update on Mesa Top cows, Jim Miller Ayrshire projects and more:

Yesterday Colleen picked up the last “outrigger” cow in the Ayrshire herd, a yearling heifer who was born to Dottie, the last remaining “older cow,” last summer.  Dottie was living at Cresset Farm near Loveland Colorado because although she was the sweetest cow in the original herd that I bought from Pat Sullivan in Lincoln NM, she was hard to milk (due to poor udder conformation) and had a hard time keeping her body in good shape because she did not compete well with her peers when feed was scarce.  She had not done well at Mesa Top, grazing our poor forage.

Back in 2005 I had helped Larry Holmes at Cresset to buy a heifer calf and a bull calf from Jim Miller, and Larry was very happy with them.  As a biodynamic farmer, Larry also had an appreciation for cows with horns that most farmers do not share.  (I think I will write about horns and cows next week…stay tuned)  The original Ayrhsire herd had a number of cows with beautiful horns who needed a lot more space than Andy and Michelle at Twin Mountain had available, so Larry got the last older cows, and Dottie went along.

When Dottie had her heifer calf last year, and her udder swelled as she began to lactate, the ligaments that connect her udder to her body stretched, and her udder sagged nearly to the ground.  There was nothing that could be done for her, and she had to be “culled”.  Larry and his wife Ursula kept the calf with their herd.  As I am still keeping ownership of all of the cows and calves, and trying to move them into dairy settings where cheese is being made, this lone calf needed to begin her journey toward Twin Mountain or High Desert, or some other, future cheese making partner.

So for now she is at Colleen’s farm, beginning to be trained, and becoming accustomed to more attention from people.  Ideally she will join the small herd of yearling heifers at Scott and Julie’s.  Thanks to Colleen for taking on Dottie’s calf for now, and Cresset for raising her after we lost Dottie.  We are counting on Colleen to name her!  More on that later!

This week’s cheese share update:

This week the cheese share will be Ayrhsire Gouda from Twin Mountain and Native Pasture’s Feta.

This week’s Veggie/Share Update:

The produce offering is pretty simple now.  Salad greens and peaches and summer squash and cucumber and one or two cooking greens will form the core of the share for the next 4 to 6 weeks.  We will look for one or two interesting items to add each week.

This week’s item of interest is a beautiful head of medium sized bok choi from Mesa Top farm, and tomatoes from Vida Verde in Albuquerque.

This is the time of year when sometimes members get bored because the staple items of summer are just that:  boring unless we get creative!  But the season of summer squash and cukes and peaches from our most local sources is short, so at Beneficial CSA we will continue to provide you with recipes and ideas on different ways to enjoy these crops.

Look to the Thursday blog entry for some new suggestions.  There will be recipes and tips for squash, including squash brownies.

This is also a good time for members questions about what is available (or not) and why, to become a regular theme in my weekly message.  Please direct questions about availability, as well as produce ideas to Dena and the rest of CSA distribution staff, and I will respond with answers via the blog or directly.

Membership news:

We are near the peak of member vacation season.  Many “opt outs” each week.  We are all starting to think of the waning summer, the re-opening of school, and activities of fall.  Next week we move from St. John’s College over to Santa Fe Prep where we are heartened by that community’s interest and enthusiasm for this collaboration.  We will have a farmer’s market style distribution there, enabling members to select their own produce and to trade with each other, rather than simply receive a pre-bagged share.

A parting thank you to St. John’s College, especially Terri, for providing a place for our shares for the last 3 years.

Anyone have ideas for additional distribution sites, let us know!

Thank you for your continued support!

Steve Warshawer

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