An organic farmer’s ‘no good, very bad, day’

Oct 16, 2016 | 7 comments

By Rob Gray

I was up before 5 a.m. as I knew there was a lot of work ahead of me. Our Wednesday mornings at Gran Roca look a lot like a game show. How much produce can you get ready for sale before the time runs out? At that point, I have to leave with what I have and take it to our customers at Tienda Nectar, a couple of blocks from Parque Calderon in Cuenca, about an hour away. My plan for this week was to get to Nectar earlier so that everything would be set up and ready to go by our 2 p.m. start time.

Rob Gray

Rob Gray

We had set some fairly lofty goals for this week, but I thought we could accomplish them if I got to work early. It was still dark outside, but I had work to do in the Prep-House which is lighted. I started with weighing and bagging the potatoes and sweet potatoes. Each bag was filled with 2 lbs. Next, I wanted to introduce our customers to a new item, a banana (my favorite banana variety in Ecuador) that they likely had never tasted. So I packed these special bananas in small bags for them to purchase and put a couple of bananas aside for tasting. “No Rob, they are for the customers, not you.” I had to remind myself. Besides I had at least a half dozen in my house waiting for my breakfast.

The prep house.

The prep house.

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My next task was to prepare the cooked potatoes and sweet potatoes for tasting by our customers. So I selected some small samples of each and crossed back over to my house and put them in the oven. Nothing was added, no salt, oil, butter, etc. I then rewarded myself with my banana breakfast. I had run out of papaya which is my usual first course at breakfast (I prefer water-rich fruits first in the morning). By the time the rest of the team had arrived, I had fed the dogs and cats, started some sprinklers, cooked the beans for tasting, and figured out what else I needed to harvest for the day.

The potatoes

The potatoes

So, while the team harvested, washed and bagged the carrots, beets, onions, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and lettuces. I did the same for the curly kale, dino kale, spinach, summer squash, and the heirloom tomatoes. The team also shelled the beans and peas. All was going remarkably well. The produce was fresh, smelled great, and tasted even better. However, at about 11:15 a.m., with an hour before I needed to leave, Nature decided to complicate things. As I was harvesting the heirloom tomatoes, the heavens opened up and poured rain so hard that all of us were completely drenched in seconds. Our ability to harvest became significantly impaired. We fought through it, however, (we have a great team), and were able to get the truck packed. We were now running late as it was after 12:30 p.m. and I had to leave.

Checking the list one last time, I realized we had not harvested the broccoli, which we were going to introduce to our customers this week nor the herbs which some of our customers pre-ordered.

A new variety of banana.

A new variety of banana.

Disappointed, the game show continued as I started my drive to Cuenca. Not more than a couple of kilometers from the farm, a low-water light began flashing on the truck dashboard. Fortunately, I had a bottle of water with me. So, I pulled over to the side of the road, popped open the hood, and refilled the water reservoir. I then closed everything back up, looked at the clock and thought I could still barely make it on time. About four kilometers later, however, the low water light began flashing again. Huh? I repeated the same procedure and charged on, only for it to happen a third time just before the City of Giron. Yikes! I had boxes and boxes of beautiful fresh produce and a truck that needed to see a mechanic pronto. I was now going to be late.

The uncooperative truck.

The uncooperative truck.

After spending some time under the car, the mechanic was unable to locate a leak and suggested that I go to the electrical guy down the street and have him see if there wasn’t some kind of electrical problem. At that point, I realized that my truck was not going to Cuenca that afternoon. But, I did not want to lose all of the produce and disappoint our waiting customers. And so I called one of our guys back at the farm and asked if it were possible to have his truck meet me in Giron, move the produce from my truck to his, and then continue on to Cuenca in his truck. As I waited for the second truck to arrive, the electrical guy actually spotted the leak, and sent me back to the mechanic, who then determined that a small part had a hole in it and would require a replacement which he didn’t have. Fortunately, the second truck arrived, we moved the produce, and continued our journey to Cuenca.

I had already called Nectar to let them know that we would be late. It was now a little after 2:00pm, and I thought we could make it by 3:00pm or so. But I did not realize the replacement truck was MUCH slower than my truck and so I talked again with Nectar and reported that we would arrive more like 3:45pm.

The good news is that we actually got there at a little before 3:45 p.m. Unfortunately, many of our customers had other commitments and had left earlier in the afternoon. We certainly understood. We were nearly two hours late. We sincerely thank the customers that waited for us. They were rewarded with really great produce and a free item.

The bad news. We ended up with a lot of produce we couldn’t sell. And one member of our team caught a pretty bad cold.

The day started with such promise, but the game show ended in a no good, very bad day. Won’t stop us. We’ll go for it again next week. Hopefully, our customers will understand. We look forward to seeing them at 2 p.m. next Wednesday with more varieties in store. By the way, the truck is repaired. The replacement part cost $2.

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