Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pre-Season Farm Update

A view of the farm after a snow. The demolished house in the background has since been removed.

Greetings in 2013!

 Much has taken place with the farm project since the end of last season. After continuing to harvest some field crops into the beginning of November, we have kept up weekly shoot production through the off-season with only a short break for the end-of-year holidays. As is plain from the above photo, we are still a little while removed from doing much outdoors, although the sweet onion transplants for the spring are already in trays.

onion transplants for the first spring planting

On the request of our friend and customer Phil Jones at Colors in Harmonie Park, we have also recently tried our hand at growing popcorn shoots. We dropped off some 7-day-old shoots at the restaurant, though they did not look as developed as the packaged shoots in online photos. Right now, they look like pale yellow spikes, but will apparently develop blades somewhat wider than wheatgrass blades. Most recipes that I have found on the internet assume that the corn shoots have been blanched during the sprouting process, which is what we have been doing.

popcorn shoots at about 8 days

Because we have only planted about half of one tray, the current plan is to bring samples of this crop to Eastern Market this Saturday (2/16/13) and see where customer sentiment goes from there. We also need to figure out how many days each planting would require.

Imminent Greenhouse Construction

The long march toward an improved growing space took a major leap forward at the beginning of February with the acquisition of a City of Detroit Building Permit for a greenhouse. At the conclusion of two bewildering afternoons spent at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, we emerged one permit fee lighter, but with a shining piece of paper allowing us to break ground. Our hope is to start construction as soon as the frost is off the ground this spring.

Low-Technology, High-Information

This next section is dedicated to my brother William and his wife Rebecca, without whose generosity our progress in this regard would not have been possible.

When we started coming to Eastern Market after the start of the year, I got into a habit almost by accident that has since yielded some useful statistical information. Desperate to find some alternative to constantly checking my cell phone for the time (it is quite handy to always know what time it is during the Saturday markets), I began bringing the elegant timepiece I received from my brother for being a groomsman at his wedding and keeping it on the table. Almost immediately, the instantaneous access to the current time strongly appealed to me, and I certainly didn't mind being able to stow my cell phone until the end of market.

Market Ledger at 8:59 a.m. on February 2nd, 2013

During the first Saturday I brought it with me, it occurred to me--since it was much easier to keep track of the passing of each hour--to mark when the tops of the hours took place in the course of tallying sales of each crop. Doing so, I realized, would allow us to see how busy we were through the Saturday market. As long as each hour was noted in its place in the tally row, we would end up with a tidy record of hourly sales.

I will be the first to admit that our hand-kept tallying system is highly imperfect to begin with, and only effectively records about 90% of each week's sales even without marking the hours. On the other hand, sales in January and February are much easier to track with any degree of accuracy, both because of their relative infrequency during the market day and the lack of crop diversity in the off-season.

Mean Hourly Sales Volume by Crop, 1/12/2013 - 2/9/2013; Source:  Rising Pheasant Farms

The above graph shows an average of the hourly sales volumes over the most recent five weeks at Eastern Market. These data seem to suggest that most folks show up for their sunflower and pea shoots around lunchtime, but I am excited to see what this bell curve does during the season. My hypothesis involves a general shift to the left (that is, toward the earlier end of the market day), but time will tell.

Thank you again, William, for enabling the preceding interpretive analysis with your thoughtful gift. Carolyn and I wish both of you the best possible luck with everything!

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