On November 25, 2003, we sat down
with family and friends around a table spread with
food we grew and said thanks. We meant it.
Year seven was a good year for our farm and a strong validation
of our Community Supported Agriculture program.
I’m making chai tea now, pondering the stacks of papers
that plague my office, and pondering what movie I will choose
if Andy and I can get a sitter for Thursday night. That’s
pretty good considering that in past years the Monday after
Thanksgiving has been spent fretfully poring over the books
trying to decide how many weeks we had before our money ran
out and the credit cards were exhausted.
One year we sent out a winter update letter on January 2,
begging CSA members for checks. Barbara B. sent in a check
for the full season’s vegetables—more than $600—that
very day and we made payroll. I still thank her for that when
she shows up at CSA events. This year it looks as if our second
winter update letter will focus on how the spring production
schedule is taking shape in the fields.
So what went right?
Partnership is perking
For one thing, our CSA partnership with High Ground Farm,
which we call Two Small Farms, has started to fulfill its
early promise. For the second year in a row, instead of having
all the work of managing a CSA farm fall on two people—Andy
and Julia—it falls on four people—Steve, Jeanne,
Andy and Julia. Having two farms in different growing areas
cooperate on production has evened out the ups and downs that
are inevitable with farming. Having four mature, experienced
people confronting problems instead of just two harried, over-worked
people has meant we are all more able to make thoughtful decisions.
One good decision we made this year was to hire a full-time
CSA coordinator, Katie Peck, to do lots of the customer contact
which keeps little problems from growing into big ones. With
Katie’s help, Jeanne and I can concentrate on bookkeeping
and marketing, and we can pay more attention to our children.
Now that we are clear-headed enough to focus on our lives,
we are amazed we made it through the first six years of a
CSA without a full-time coordinator or a nervous breakdown.
Having room to think allowed us to be creative and have more
fun with our farm, too. Having farm events like a strawberry
u-pick or a pumpkin patch has always been an important facet
of our CSA program, but this year we broadened the concept
with some positive results.
Yes, the most well-attended events were the strawberry u-picks,
the farm 'kids day,' and the pumpkin patch, but this year
we also had a fava bean 'u-pick-nic,' a u-dig potato day and
several tomato days. What we found is that while there aren’t
a lot of people who want to walk through a fava patch and
pick beans, the folks who came loved it. An event like a fava
bean open house is something people just are not going to
find anywhere outside a CSA.
The people who came to the potato dig were likewise sent
home very satisfied. Not only were they content with their
totes of fresh potatoes, they were sore, dirty, and really
happy they don’t have to dig them all the time. The
tomato events were very popular, too, proving that if you
grow heirloom Italian canning tomatoes and offer them at a
reasonable price, the people will come.
All in all, in 2003 we did a better job reaching out to the
community that supports our two farms and people were appreciative.
Virtual farm-experience enhanced
A big part of a CSA’s promise to the public is that
a connection with the farm can be established that allows
consumers to learn more about their food. In the San Francisco
and Monterey Bay areas, where we operate, our customers can
be pretty far-flung and many folks have a hard time making
it to our events. Then, too, not all people actually want
to go to a farm. For our busier shareholder—or for those
people who want to learn more without getting dirty—we
improved our on-line communication. All our e-mail newsletters
now go out with photo links, and we are stockpiling the images
in an A-Z photo gallery. People who can’t tell what
the vegetables are in their box can look them up on line.
Our daily count of web traffic tells us many people are checking
in. We have even gotten reports that some folks are using
images of our farm for their screensavers. Andy continues
to write many essays for our newsletter because he is so prolix
(that’s Latin for can’t shut up), but we’ve
been varying the voice by having Jeanne and Steven and me
write more too. People like hearing things from different
points of view and each of the four of us can reach a different
Our audience is going to have to get bigger and our reach
extend further if year eight is to be better than year seven.
Costs just never go down. Soon the four of us will be meeting
to plan how to prepare for next year. I’ve got a few
ideas about how we can make our CSA even more relevant and
interesting to the people who support us.
Julia’s Swell Ideas for 2004
Neighborhood food events
-- We did a pick up site-specific potluck in September at
a home in San Jose and it was a wonderful event. I learned
how to make real Israeli hummus from our host. The folks who
pick up their veggie box at that site got to know each other
better and learned they have more in common than just belonging
to our CSA. I want to do more of these neighborhood events
because they build community.
Invite students and Slow Foodies
-- I hope to lead more farm field trips for elementary schools.
We had a few visits in the spring but none in the fall. The
kids enjoy being outside, and I think teaching children about
farming is a great way to contribute to our community at large.
We also opened up our CSA events this year to the local Slow
Food convivia and that was a success. Big people like to get
out, too, and it is important to interface with groups, like
Slow Food, that share so many of our values.
-- Pizza Night was an idea we never pulled off this year but
has promise for next year. A local pizzeria is willing to
help us host an event in town. We bring a boatload of fresh
organic vegetables to their wood-fired pizza oven and CSA
members bring their appetites and questions for the farmers
and chefs. This is the kind of event that might appeal to
shareholders who never have time to visit the farm but value
their connection to our CSA.
Yes, it was a good year. It helped that none of the four
of us got pregnant, gave birth, were diagnosed with cancer,
relocated, or nearly died in an auto wreck. These things have
all happened to one or more of us in the last seven years,
and we are all grateful for a relatively smooth season.