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
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
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
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 audience.
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
Julia’s Swell Ideas
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 -- 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.