By Tracy Sweely
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert when it comes to Zombies. In fact, I felt obliged to do a little cursory research before I started writing this and quickly realized that I didn’t even know the most basic information about them: what they eat. I knew they come after people with outstretched arms and gaping mouths at a slow methodical and unstoppable pace, but I never knew anything about their dietary requirements. Because Fantastic Farm Enterprises is a “G” rated site, I’ll just say that as it turns out, Zombies aren’t vegetarians. Not sure, but I even doubt they do vegetables as a side dish…. So if Zombies don’t eat vegetables, what does it mean for a beginner farmer to plan for a Zombie Apocalypse? Well, according to the literature, as such an event unfolds humans start becoming Zombies via one of several possible contagion pathways. The epidemic spreads at an increasing rate until there are only pockets of unaffected humans left with the resultant collapse of civilization. So clearly a beginner farmer’s access to the usual markets would be compromised....
But the good news is that the Urban CSA model would be ideally suited for such conditions! Small isolated pockets of humans aren’t too different from the communities and neighborhoods that Urban CSA’s serve. One difference being that the post-apocalyptic community would be relying more heavily on the CSA farm in the absence of the larger industrial food system. Which, after all, would be good for business. Meeting such a demand would entail the usual challenges that farmers face, along with a few additional ones like unstable climatic conditions that are a typical feature of your run of the mill apocalyptic world. Whether or not you find yourself experiencing the uber-challenging environmental and economic conditions that accompany a Zombie Apocolypse, incorporating three low-cost or no-cost methods for building resiliency into your operations can contribute to the long-term sustainability of your operation.
First, unstable climatic conditions from year to year can cause different crops to unexpectedly under- or over-perform. We have found at HeartEye Village CSA micro-farm that having a large amount of variety provides a great buffer against failures of certain crops that we had expected to include in our CSA boxes from week to week. Diversification of crops and varieties planted allows for a level of resiliency during any given growing season. As a beginner farmer you may be tempted to start small in an effort to keep things manageable. But making a small initial investment in good production planning tools, whether they be the tools offered on this website or any of the others available online, will allow you to enjoy the benefits provided by a diverse set of crops. Planning tools can help you more easily manage the complexity of effectively providing multiple vegetable crops over the entire course of the growing season.
Second, wherever you happen to be farming there are crops that are going to thrive in that region, even during extreme weather conditions. Find out from experienced farmers in your area, or from your agriculture extension agent, what those crops are and make sure to include them in your production plan. For example, at HeartEye Village crops like mustard, Italian plums, tomatillos and horseradish grow very well no matter what climatic extremes we experience. Most people are not going to be interested in a huge amount of any one of these crops. But region-appropriate crops provide a dependable source of variety and some, like horseradish for example, may provide a high dollar item that can substantially increase the value of a CSA box.
Third, crops that store well can really help a beginner farmer get through any lean times during the season while you’re waiting for crops to mature. We have found it indispensable that many perishable crops can be held in short-term storage during the main season. We regularly have uneven maturation for certain crops, and because we are farming on such a small scale (1/4 acre), we may not have enough during a given week for all 28 of our CSA members. Sometimes we give the most mature produce out to half of the members one week and half the next week, but this can be logistically challenging. In many cases we’ve found it easier to harvest the most mature produce and refrigerate it under suitable conditions for a week until the remainder of the crop is sufficiently mature. This way we can have enough of a particular item for everyone. Perishable crops have different optimal storage conditions, so you will want to do a little research to find out how best to store each crop
The usual long-term storage crops like onions and winter squash can help in filling out a late-season box once Fall temperatures have plummeted, when many warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers and summer squash are all but gone but leafy greens are still going strong under row cover. Several root crops like carrots, beets and turnips store well in the ground at the end of the season too, especially when covered with row cover when temperatures start to freeze. But with both roots and hardy greens we’ve also found it necessary to mitigate the activity of varmints such as voles and mice that love to munch on these once cold temperatures begin to deplete their wild food source.
These three methods for building resiliency serve the dual purpose of increasing member retention. Finding a good balance in the quantity to variety ratio within a given CSA box is extremely important in member satisfaction. No one likes monotony but too many unusual items can be a problem too. The key is to make sure you have enough diversity in your available, maturing and stored crops during any given week that you have some choices in the level of variety you include in the CSA box. Good production planning is indispensable in navigating the complexity of providing an appealing mix of multiple vegetables and fruits consistently throughout the season. Resiliency building methods don’t just help during challenging conditions but will also increase your profitability under agreeable ones. This can greatly enhance the long-term sustainability of your operation and the chances that your farming business will survive even a Zombie Apocalypse!