Strawberry Hill Farm / Blog

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New Website

Posted on by Tim Livingstone

This is probably my final blog post on this website.  We are launching a new website for 2016!  It will give us better functionality for both our customers and for us with our online store and other aspects of the site.  We also hope it will give a better experience on smart phones and portable devices.

There will be new features and a different layout.  One of these is a greatly expanded and improved recipe section.

Unfortunately your customer account will not transfer over to the new site so you will need to resubmit your address and log in information.  This old site will stay up for some time to come with a link to it from our new website.

We look forward to another great season ahead!

Tim



Busy winter months

Posted on by Tim Livingstone

I had the privilege of going to St. John's last week and being a guest speaker at their organic opportunities conference.  Transportation is a huge factor for them where almost everything comes across the ferry.  The low Canadian dollar is another factor that is raising the price of our food.  In both Newfoundland and New Brunswick, we import over 80% of our food but it does not have to be this way.  Local and organic is in a position to be able to help supply the need and increase our food security all the way around. It was inspiring to see the optimism and energy with so many possibilities even in the North.

We harvested the last of our winter kale this week.  We have never harvested kale this late before and while it does show a few signs of the cold, the quality is still good and we think you will find it delicious. 

I'm often asked (by non-farmers) what we do this time of the year.  Not only are we still shipping lots of vegetables, it is also the time of year when you try to get to everything that you have not been able to do the rest of the year.  For us, in addition to shipping, this includes updating our website, setting prices for 2016, ordering seeds, maintenance and repair, finishing up our 2015 accounting, T4s for last year's employees, planning for 2016, and much more.  This is not to mention that everything just takes longer in the cold. 

Last night the cows managed to pull apart a water line in the barn and a section froze solid.  Today I have to thaw lines and replace the frozen section.  Our new hen chicks arrived last week for our summer flock.  We start a new batch each winter at this time so that they start laying in June just in time for our first summer box delivery.  Keeping them warm in January is a challenge, but they are in a loft in our hen pen which makes it possible to keep them warm enough.  The body heat from the hens keeps the room from getting too cold then heat lights in the loft give the chicks the 34 degrees C they need as chicks.

We are planning for our 2016 season and I hope to give more details in the next update.  It is our intention to try not to raise 2016 prices by much.  By signing up and paying for your veggies ahead, you will be able to lock in at a good price and not have to worry about how the exchange rate will affect the price of your food.

I'm working on a significant website upgrade to allow better integration with phones and handheld devices, content that is easier to navigate, and a better online store experience.  It will also be set up better on the accounting side and in the back end to reduce time for us and provide better and more accurate information.  It is our plan to have this up and ready by mid-February so everyone use the new website when signing up for our spring and summer boxes.  As you can see, we there is still lots to do in winter!

 



2015 - A Year to Remember

Posted on by Tim Livingstone

We have been able to have a bit of a break this Holiday Season so it is a good time to reflect on 2015 while we look ahead to 2016.  This post will be a reflection and I hope my next post will be the outlook for 2016.

Almost a year ago in January, Kirsten and I went to Toronto to meet with a business friend and advisor.  We had just completed our third season from our own farm and needed to refocus, plan, and decide on our future direction.  Sales were strong but labour was a real challenge!  We looked at the farm in light of our personal goals and as a result of that trip, we did our first full business plan setting ambitious 5 year goals.

Then we faced a brutally cold winter, heating the greenhouse to wash carrots, and packing out of our small shop, barely able to stay warm.  By March, we decided we did not want to go through another winter that way again so armed with the business plan we approached several lenders requesting to speed it up and bring a new warehouse construction from the 2016 year into 2015.  This was approved so we were able to both purchase a small house for foreign workers and put up a new building for storage, sales, packing, and an office.  The savings alone from better storage and efficiency have been enough to pay for the building.  As winter takes hold again, we are really thankful for a nice place to work.

We also brought 3 foreign workers in from Jamaica to help bolster our Canadian team of 10 employees.  This was very expensive and a real learning experience for us, but the good news was that we got our work done for the first time ever.  One of our biggest challenges has been to keep employees until the middle of November to get all the crops harvested and into storage.  We have often lost employees in September or October to other full time work and struggled ourselves to get the harvest in.  Having a crew till the harvest was complete made a big difference going into the winter.

There continues to be a strong demand for local, organic, and ethically produced farm products and our sales well exceeded what we thought were ambitious goals for 2015.  On the other side, our expenses, with labour in particular, also well exceeded our budget but in the end it has pretty much balanced out. 

We are thankful for good growing weather, our loyal employees, and for an overall prosperous year.  More than ever we appreciate our family and good health.  We also want to Thank you, all our generous customers, for your support. 

We look forward to seeing you and serving you again next year!

Tim



First Week of Winter Boxes!

Posted on by Tim Livingstone

This is the first week of winter boxes!  We have a lot of nice veggies in storage and they are storing well.  We look forward to a great set of boxes this winter. 

Last week was a welcome break after 20 weeks of doing boxes every week, but it was also a busy week.  We recovered our greenhouse, harvested the rest of our carrots, leeks, parsnips, and cabbage, and got the chickens set back in the barn for the winter.  It is hard to believe that we already had to recover the greenhouse!   Where has the time gone?  It was not long ago we were putting it up for the first time in anticipation of our first season on the farm.

 

Here is the greenhouse all covered for winter.  We were able to do a better job this time and I hope it will mean lower heat costs this winter.

 

 

 

 

 

Another thing on the job list was to put the strawberries to bed for the winter.  I also planted some strawberries into peat filled bags to start experiments with early spring berries.  Wouldn't it be awesome if we could have juicy ripe Strawberries in April?  The plants have done well this fall and we are excited to see how they perform next spring.  If they continue as expected, we should have lots of berries!



Last week of Summer/Fall Boxes!

Posted on by Tim Livingstone

We have come to the last week of our summer/fall season.  There are still a few crops that need to be harvested but over all we are in the best position we have been so far since owning the farm.  It looks like almost everything will be harvested by the end of next week except greenhouse crops and kale and possibly some Brussels sprouts.

Our Jamaican hands will be heading home in a little over a week.  They have a difficult time with the cold but unlike us, they can head home and enjoy a warm winter down south!  Don't you think we need to give them a little taste of winter so they know how fortunate they are all winter?  They are hoping to witness some real snow before they leave.  We on the other hand are not quite so keen on it....

On the topic of snow though, this time last year we were buried in about a foot of snow.  A little rainy weather is certainly much better than snow when it comes to harvesting crops!

We would like to extend a big Thank you to all this year's summer/fall box customers!  We have filled more weekly boxes than ever and have had lots of support with so many great comments.  All of this has been possible because there are so many of you who want to eat well and support local farms and who are willing to cook.  We understand that it takes real commitment to keep up with cooking the weekly flow of vegetables.  I hope this has paid off for you and your families and been worth the effort.  We certainly appreciate every single customer who has made this season possible and also those who are making the commitment through the winter.

Our winter program is now about 85% sold and starts in just over two weeks.  If anyone would still like to get in on winter boxes, I'd suggest you sign up soon before we sell out.  In spite of increasing our program we sold out of summer boxes before the start of the season and it looks like it may happen with our winter boxes too.