Tricia Boss, owner of Luna Circle Farm and farmer for most of her life, takes a very practical and deliberate approach on her 20 acres in Rio. After owning or renting farms for the last 19 years, Tricia sounds decidedly comfortable with her current farm’s capacity to produce enough food to remain a successful business (provided the weather remains cooperative). We at the Co-op are pleased to offer Luna Circle Farm’s Tomatillo Salsa Kits and habenero peppers in our Produce department during the growing season.

On a recent visit to the farm, I found Tricia working in a tidy corncrib she has converted into an open-air packing shed. Workers were shuttling in and out of the building from the nearby fields, leaving buckets filled with just-picked broccoli, dill and sugar-snap peas. In between brief check-ins with the people working in the fields, Tricia took time to tell us more about her farm while she washed and prepped lettuce using a series of metal washtubs.

Salsa Verde, Muy Bueno

Several varieties of vegetables are grown on this MOSA-certified organic farm but Luna Circle’s famous Tomatillo Salsa Kit has earned its reputation as “outstanding” among our shoppers. Packed in clear cartons, each kit contains a fresh blend of the farm’s tomatillos, cilantro, onion and hot peppers. This delicacy is generally available at the Co-op from about mid-July until the frosts of autumn. Instructions are included on the carton, but there’s no real secret to the recipe except to add your own clove(s) of garlic and quickly puree all of the ingredients in a blender. Voila! You have a flavorful and authentic salsa, ready for dipping.

This year, Tricia has planted an extra 200 feet of tomatillo plants in order to prepare for all of those who where disappointed last year when demand for the kits surpassed her supply. Asked about how she came upon the idea for the kits, Tricia explained, “I’d had tomatillos once, years ago, and absolutely loved them. Then when I started my own farm I was like, ‘I’m gonna grow tomatillos,’ but I didn’t know what to do with them. I knew to make salsa with them, but I didn’t know how to market them. This was 1990, the Wisconsin palate was different than it is now, people didn’t even know what [tomatillos] were.” After making the intuitive decision to package all of the ingredients together and sampling the ready-made salsa at her booth at the Dane County Farmers’ Market the salsa kits were an instant hit. “People were just like, ‘Wow!’” Tricia added.

Markets and CSAs

Luna Circle Farm was also one of the first farms to vend at the Eastside Farmers’ Market (EFM) when the market began in 2002. Tricia has been deeply missed since leaving the EFM, but as she explained, she had to make a decision to leave the market in order to focus on doubling the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares on the farm, which she has accomplished. Continuing to vend each Saturday on the L’Etoile corner of the downtown Farmers’ Market, most market-goers can easily recognize Luna Circle Farm’s stand with its deep purple cloth spreads and crescent moon logo. In fact, most of Luna Circle Farms harvests are sold at the Farmers’ Market and only one percent of their business is in wholesale to the Co-op. The remainder goes to fill the 71 CSA share boxes each week.

Aided by the introduction of substantial rebates offered to subscribers of Group Health Cooperative and Blue Cross Blue Shield, those choosing to purchase CSA shares have grown to 5,000 households in our area this year. This was largely due to the fine work done by Madison Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC) in recruiting more farms and providing the framework for enrollment.

Farming economics

Except for a period spent gaining her Masters in Accounting and working in the banking industry, Tricia’s long history in farming started on her family’s livestock farm. Here she describes the benefit of her education to the profession of farming: “I went to business school and I’m pretty intent on figuring out what it costs me to grow the food and pricing my food accordingly. I hear this a lot at the Market and farmers will say, ‘I’ve been here at the Market [for years] and I’ve only raised my prices twice.’ I don’t know how you can survive doing that, unless your prices were so high to begin with, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think a lot of people are under the mistaken belief that food shouldn’t cost us a lot and yet it costs a lot to grow. How do I pay a living wage to my employees, cover their workers’ comp and then have enough to pay my bills? I don’t think any of us go into farming thinking we’re going to get rich, but I don’t want to give it away either. And I do feel committed to paying my staff a fair wage.”

Employing four full-time workers during the growing season, Tricia also employs several young people from the area to do part-time work in the mornings to prepare for the Market or for CSA deliveries. After putting an ad in the local paper last year, Tricia realized that there weren’t a lot of jobs for area teens when over 35 applicants eventually contacted her. Of the handful she hired, several have returned to work on the farm for another season, including two of Tricia’s neighbors, a mother and daughter who ride their bikes to the farm from their home nearby. CSA members are another source of assistance on the farm and Tricia coordinates everyone’s work to maximize their efficiency and keep the tasks from becoming too overwhelming.

Damage control

During the Midwest flooding during early June of this year, there were catastrophic losses for some farms, but many others, like Luna Circle Farm, were affected more insidiously. Tricia calmly states that her farm will be okay, despite losing 40 to 50 percent of the newly transplanted sweet potato crop, but went on to describe the real factors. She said, “Some of our losses are hard to tally because some of what we lost was a week of planting so that means in about four weeks I’m going to come up shy with salad mix and cilantro. I’ll survive it. I’ll have a really lean week here or there.”

To learn more about Luna Circle Farm, check out their thorough website at lunacirclefarm.com, which includes a very nice collection of recipes to feature the season’s harvests.