Counting the Harvest

“Gathering statistics on community gardens can be as critical as harvesting food to ensure our sustainability.” LA Community Garden Council recently circulated a link to an article talking about the importance of keeping garden statistics.

At the Community Garden at Holy Nativity, we’ve had good intentions about keeping statistics, but the actual doing so has been a bit elusive.

In the early days (circa 2008) we blogged excitedly about our first harvests. But too soon the tasks of harvesting and tending overwhelmed the idea of blogging, and the posting tapered off. And with it, our harvest records.

We do weekly harvests from the garden. Our team gathers every Thursday afternoon (at approx. 4:30pm till dusk, volunteers welcomed!) and packs large farmers-market-scale crates. One of our volunteers drives the crates of fresh food to LAX Food Pantry the following morning.

Weighing the harvest, with all its bulk and odd dimensions, was quite impractical. In the early days we had only a kitchen food scale. And when the chard harvest was of a magnitude that we were piling it into bedsheets or tarps to haul it, we were simply overwhelmed. Out went the weighing idea.

We don’t bundle our harvest, the way the vendors tend to at farmer’s market. So counting “bunches” of chard didn’t work either. One time my young daughter counted all the chard leaves. The numbers ran into the hundreds. Do you give a 12″ leaf the same “count” as a 4″ leaf? Plus, how does one “count” a tomato – One cherry? One heirloom slicer? The counting idea never made sense.

Over the years we considered getting a larger scale, the bucket kind like they used to have in old-fashioned markets. But where to put it since our garden is exposed to the weather and the tool shed is too tiny? We never acted on the impulse. It sounded like it would make more work.

About two months ago another idea dawned upon us: bushels. Farmers have traditionally talked about “bushels of wheat” – why couldn’t we measure that way?

For us it began with a Permaculture concept: observing what we had, and working with that. Years back a local CSA had left large farmer’s market style plastic bins at our garden, and we had been loading them up every week. They were durable and handy. And they could haul quite a load.

I took a careful look at those bins. A quick measurement of our bins, a geometry equation, plus an internet search revealed that the most common of our bins is 123.6% of a bushel. Another is 95% of a bushel and the “milk crates” are 99.75% of a bushel. Ah, now we’re talking. A simple tally of how many bins we fill and haul will give us a rough estimate of harvest figures.

Most weeks we average about 4 bins of mixed produce. Some weeks it’s six or more. That gives me a rough idea. We’re harvesting at least 257 bushels of food per year (52 weeks x 4 bins X 123.6% bushel conversion factor) which means 1,028 bushels since our garden began.

1,028 bushels of food from land that used to be scruffy, unused, water-hogging lawn. 1,028 bushels of fresh organic produce to local needy food pantry patrons who used to receive only dry goods or canned foods – before our garden came into existence.

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About envirochangemakers

We are a community group in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles (LA 90045 near LAX airport). Founded in 2005, we offer classes, events, and community gatherings focused on building a resilient future. We are part of the international Transition Network.
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