Chris Blanchard raises about 15 acres of certified organic vegetables and fresh herbs for community supported agriculture operations (CSAs) and wholesale customers in the Twin Cities, Rochester, and Decorah on his Rock Spring Farm on the Iowa-Minnesota state line. His farm has been recognized as a model for food safety, post-harvest handling, and good business.
Although broccoli is a popular staple vegetable that can be harvested for 20 weeks in the upper Midwest, the Twin Cities was experiencing a shortage of locally grown produce every summer. Local farmers found it difficult to scale up production to take advantage of demand.
A group of farms including Rock Spring Farm was able to attain a two-year agreement to guarantee the purchase of 100 percent of the satellite farms’ broccoli crop at an agreed-upon minimum price if production acreage, production schedule, and quality standards were met. Throughout the project, data were collected about yields, economic performance, labor inputs, product quality, and more.
The project was hampered by severe weather conditions — in 2011, cold and wet conditions in the spring and spikes in temperatures in May and June, followed by drought; and in 2012, extreme drought. Therefore, demand for organic broccoli was not met even with the addition of three farms producing the vegetable. All participating farms had reduced yields but, given the weather, Blanchard said it has been difficult to determine whether a better-than-average yield by participating farms would meet local demand.
He said it also has been difficult to determine whether scaling up to grow broccoli for wholesale in this area would be economically viable for producers. Other challenges included transportation, training, unclear planting schedule instructions, and transplanting.
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