NEWS FROM MARIQUITA: A CSA Journal

Blame it on the boyfriend
Disappearing CSA boxes. Vanishing flowers. Missing strawberry containers. Can it all be laid at the feet of ignorant or irresponsible boyfriends and husbands, or are men just a convenient excuse? Andy ponders some of the profound mysteries of running a CSA.

By Andy Griffin

Farm-at-a-glance

Mariquita Farm

Location: Land in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed for the last 20 years in various capacities from farmworker to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and rave king; Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf, etc.; España, foreman, tractor driver, all around repairman; Jose España, head harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head vegetable packer
Range of crops: greens, root crops, tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1 farmers market, with a small number of carefully selected restaurants that pick up at the farmers market
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover cropping, crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year

January 27, 2005: Would you believe me if I told you most of the problems our farm delivery service experiences are the boyfriends' fault?

Julia and I farm 35 acres near Hollister, California. Our friends Jeanne Byrne and Steven Pederson have a farm they call High Ground Organic Farm close to the coast outside of Watsonville, Ca. Together we operate a CSA program we call Two Small Farms. Although the two farms are only 40 miles apart, the growing conditions are quite distinct. Our farm is in the warmer interior region and High Ground is in the fog belt. When I’m picking eggplant Steven can be harvesting cauliflower. He and I are able to create a more balanced box of vegetables for our customers by working together than either of us could on our own.

Working together as Two Small Farms has helped Jeanne and Julia, too. Where each of them once had to balance the books and balance the competing needs of their businesses and their families they can now share some of the jobs or relieve each other. Jeanne takes responsibility for the finances of our CSA and Julia takes the lead on getting the newsletter out. And when worse comes to worse they each have a shoulder to cry on about how the farm takes up every minute of time and there’s never enough time to do it all, and wouldn’t it be easier if men did more around the house? All I can say is that at least Steven and I are married men.

During our CSA delivery season Julia, Jeanne, Steven and myself don’t have time to meet together very often. Julia and Jeanne talk on the phone or share emails daily, Steven and I make plans on the fly while we’re unloading trucks or packing up the CSA boxes each week. So in the winter when things are slow we meet and hash out solutions to our problems. Each year brings new challenges and each year we find ourselves looking for solutions to the seemingly intractable problems like flowers, fruits, boxes … and boyfriends. Flowers are the easiest problem to fix.

In addition to a box of produce, our C.S.A. subscribers can receive a weekly bouquet of flowers if they pay an additional charge. For the last three years High Ground has grown the flowers, but this past year Steven had some problems at the end of the year because when it had been time to plant flowers for November harvest, his fields were full of vegetables. We four talked the issue over and decided that this year I will grow a few late season flowers to help out.

We leave the bouquets in buckets of water at each pick-up site. The subscribers who paid for flowers select a bouquet when they come for their boxes. But some subscribers see fit to send their boyfriends to pick up the veggie shares. Sometimes someone, seeking to curry favor with their partner and seeing the beautiful flowers, takes a bouquet they haven’t paid for. The last flower subscriber to get to the bucket thinks we’ve forgotten them. When we investigate the crime, an ignorant, lovesick boyfriend always gets the blame. I can blame the boyfriend, but I can also understand.

Julia and Jeanne have to deal personally with dissatisfied CSA members, so in our winter meetings they remind Steven and I that people always want more fruit. Last year Steven didn’t have enough strawberries for everyone. We decided that this year I will help with the fruit problem by growing melons. But Steven grew more strawberries than some subscribers thought. How can we forget the woman who was angry because week after week we forgot to put strawberries in her share box? It turns out she was sending her boyfriend to pick up the share box. Each week the boyfriend was eating all the berries, then shoving the empty baskets under the seat. Eventually she cleaned out her car and we were exonerated.

And then there are the boxes. We use waxed cardboard boxes to deliver the harvest shares. We slip a big plastic bag in the box and then pack all the produce inside it. The subscriber goes to the pick-up site, removes their bag of goodies, folds up their carton and leaves it neatly stacked flat for us to reuse. But some subscribers send their boyfriends to collect their veggies and in a testosterone fueled frenzy the boyfriend shreds the carton as they attempt to remove the bag. Or the boyfriend takes the box home, or they toss the empty carton on the ground to the dismay of the pick-up site host who is graciously allowing us to use their home. What to do?

Maybe we ought to get boxes printed for us that have instructions for the boyfriends that clearly spell out, in English, Spanish, and Tagalog, how to open a box gently and fold it flat. Each carton can also have a rant printed on the side like a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap that reminds boyfriends we need to reuse the boxes in order to reduce costs and waste. I think this is a good idea. At any rate it’s all we can do. We can’t really tell people not to send their boyfriends—that would be perceived as sexist.

Besides, can we really be sure that all our problems have been caused by boyfriends? Even though I’ve heard a lot of people blame their boyfriends for the problems that pop up, as a former boyfriend I have my doubts. Some women subscribers may be casting aspersions at fictitious boyfriends to excuse their own lack of responsibility. And some of our most problematic boyfriends may actually be husbands; it’s just that their wives don’t want to admit they married such oafs.

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