by Sally Colby
Farming in Smoot, WY, has its challenges. At 6,500’ elevation, only 45 frost-free days and a list of customers who are as far as 90 miles away, Shain and Tara Saberon have to plan carefully to make sure that they can deliver fresh produce to the 50 CSA shareholders they service.
EverGreen Farm began operating about 10 years ago when one of Shain’s friends was farming and wanted to start a CSA. “He was hesitant to do it on his own, and he knew I was an avid gardener and grew a lot of food,” said Shain. “I was hesitant to go into a business because I was a gardener and not a farmer. But he assured me that he’d help and guide me along the way, so we started a CSA.”
Since he wasn’t familiar with farming, Shain spent a lot of time reading everything he could on farming, commercial growing and the CSA model. He was also mentored by the friend who suggested he start farming. The first year, EverGreen Farm sold 35 shares, and today, they sell 50 shares. Shain says they used to sell at a farmers’ market in Jackson Hole, WY, and sold to restaurants and grocery stores, but found that it was too much work and the family found themselves eating unhealthy food as they tried to keep up with the hectic pace. A few years ago, they eliminated all markets except the CSA in order to fully concentrate on providing what customers want.
Today, the Saberons are successfully growing a wide variety of produce for customers who appreciate the fresh, quality shares they receive. “There’s a great demand for what we provide,” said Shain, adding that shares usually sell out quickly each season. “We have a reliable customer base and we don’t do any advertising — it’s all word-of-mouth.”
Produce is grown in seven greenhouses, including several high tunnels. “We have three snow arches and two high tunnels, and two 154’ houses that are not covered year-round,” said Shain. “We can push things really early if we want to, but I’ve found that with the cold weather we have, later is faster. Seeds germinate and grow during spurts, but once it gets cold again, they just hold. I usually start planting the first of April and seem to get things the same time as when I planted the first of March. The plants do better with just a little more warmth.”
Because of the short growing season, most crops are grown exclusively in the greenhouses. Salad mix, spinach, potatoes, garlic, herbs, potatoes, and some carrots and beets are grown outside.
EverGreen’s season begins with cold-hardy greens including arugula, Mizuna, red salad bowl, Chinese cabbage, romaine, bok choy, Japanese turnips, radishes, butter bibb and spinach. Next is kale, chard, carrots and beets. As the season progresses, crops including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage are ready; then tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers and squash are available. EverGreen farm also grows a variety of herbs including cilantro, basil, parsley and dill. “We grow Walla Walla onions and leeks,” said Shain, “and an extensive garlic crop including Music and German hardy garlic, and some good continental varieties with a nice, full-bodied flavor.”
Over the years, Shain and Tara have kept detailed records on planting dates, frost dates, what works and what doesn’t work. “The key to successful growing is select cold-hardy varieties,” said Shain. With record keeping, we can time plantings just right. We grow a lot of short-season varieties and pay close attention to what works.”
All tomatoes are grown inside, and Shain has found that although he has had some success with heirloom varieties, he relies on standbys such as Glacier, a semi-determinate that does well in short-season climates, and Ida Gold, a fast-growing determinate. “Even inside a greenhouse it’s hard to grow tomatoes,” he said. “Temperature fluctuations can be extreme.”
Shain tries to use no-till methods as much as possible, and finds that leaving the soil undisturbed and heavily mulched is best. He uses greensand and a mineral amendment to add essential trace minerals, and is working toward incorporating vermiculture. Drip irrigation provides moisture for plants. To control greenhouse pests, Shain carefully rotates crops within the greenhouses. “The more I mulch and stick with no-till, pests are less of an issue,” he said.
While Shain manages the farming end of the business, Tara handles marketing. She keeps detailed records on her customer base and what works for both customers and the farm. “We have a wide range of customers,” she said Tara, describing share demographics. “I’ve had single people and large families. Of the 50 shares, about 15 of those are split between parties.”
Several years ago, Shain and Tara overhauled the farm system. “It was too hard to fight Mother Nature,” she said. “I was getting snowed on during the first few weeks and the last two weeks of the season. With the work shares, where folks are coming out to help, it was cold and difficult to keep the food from freezing.” Now, instead of as CSA season that begins in early May, shares are first distributed in mid-May. Rather than providing shares until the end of October, the EverGreen season now ends in mid-October.
Tara organizes three harvest days at the beginning of the week, and schedules most of her help around those days. “Our CSA members are quite a distance from us,” she said. “We service the entire Star Valley area as well as Jackson Hole, which is about 90 miles away. We package everything and put it in heavy-duty five-day coolers. I take the coolers to drop off locations and leave them in a covered, cool area. CSA members come to that location and take their share.”
Once a week, Tara sends an email to remind customers that the weekly share is on the way. “I tell them that the delivery is on its way, and provide a link to the blog,” she said. “I give very basic information in the email, include special instructions if needed for something in the share, and invitations to come to the farm to help. I used to put more on the blog, but now I use Facebook more.”
Tara says EverGreen customers use a wide range of technologies to keep in touch with the farm. “Some use the Internet, some don’t use it at all,” she said. “Some people only look at Facebook and never look at the blog. I’m posting more photos and more farm updates on Facebook — it’s really easy to do with my phone. I will be asking members if they check that out.”
When shares are being sold, Tara uses a sign-up sheet to collect information, and asks people if they check their email daily. “If they don’t, I know I have to contact them another way,” she said. “This is the first year I’m asking if they receive text messages at the phone number they provide. I need to know how to contact people if the delivery will be late. I want to provide top-quality service.”
Visit EverGreen Farm’s Facebook page and their website and blog at www.evergreenfarm.typepad.com
Bountiful produce in challenging climate conditions
by Sally Colby