December 3, 2003: A
limited liability company, a mission statement and an organizational
chart might sound like they belong more in a corporate boardroom
than a biodynamic farm. But for the Illinois-based Angelic
Organics CSA, they have become keys to success.
“The book ‘The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small
Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It’ by Michael
Gerber influenced our business decisions,” said Bob
Bower, general manager at Angelic Organics. “It shows
you need to identify what you are about, identify what your
business is about, and find out how to make the business support
what you are about.”
So what is Angelic Organics about? It’s a 100-acre
biodynamic CSA vegetable and herb farm located in north-central
Illinois near Caledonia, less than two hours from downtown
Chicago. The farm switched from conventional to organic production
in 1990 and has operated as a biodynamic farm and CSA since
The CSA’s 1,000 participants, known as shareholders,
receive a weekly 3/4 bushel box of fresh vegetables and herbs.
The boxes are delivered to more than 20 Chicago-area sites.
Shares last for 12 to 20 weeks, from mid-June or mid-August
to late October. The farm specializes in root crops, herbs,
onion crops, leaf crops, fruiting crops like sweet corn, peppers
and tomatoes, and cole crops like broccoli and cauliflower.
Shareholders buy rural land
Angelic Organics grew out of the farm crisis of the 1980s.
John Peterson, the CSA’s founder, had farmed conventionally
for years. When financial calamity hit in the early 1980s,
the farm was nearly wiped out. But Peterson hung on to a few
acres—enough to move in a new direction and build Angelic
By 1998, Angelic Organics was charting new territory again.
“Twenty Chicagoans combined over $180,000 to acquire
38 acres of farm land adjacent to our farm,” Bower said.
“The investors granted Angelic Organics a 15-year lease
on the land, with the assurance that the farming operation
will manage the land according to prevailing organic standards.”
These shareholders wanted to provide the farm with land security
and keep the parcel from being developed. A limited liability
company was formed to hold the land, Bower said. But completing
the deal posed a major legal challenge.
“The legal documentation that went out to each investor
was about 85 pages,” Bower said. “We did everything
we could to keep the documentation friendly and CSA-like,
but every attorney we consulted said we had to comply with
the regulations that governed these transactions, or Angelic
Organics would be vulnerable to lawsuits and breaches of securities
For other CSAs that may want to try something similar, Bower
stresses the importance of getting good legal advice first.
“People are welcome to examine our documents about the
deal, and hopefully we can make the process easier for you.
But there are legal protocols that must be followed, and the
right attorney can tell you what they are.”
Crafting a mission statement
With nearly 100 acres and 1,000 shareholders, Angelic Organics
is large compared to most CSAs. The business employs 25 or
more full-time workers during the summer, and four to five
employees work at the farm year round.
Bower admits that managing the business would be tough without
guiding principles like the mission statement, the organizational
chart, and the Angelic Organics farm manual, which documents
all these processes.
“A lot of these concepts came from reading ‘The
E-Myth Revisited,’” said Bower, who worked as
a certified public accountant and computer specialist for
nine years before joining Angelic Organics. “This book
has become required reading for all our interns. We emphasize
that to be sustainable, you have to work economically.”
This is reflected in the CSA’s mission statement, which
Angelic Organics is dedicated
to creating and forwarding an economically viable, organic,
biodynamic farm which nurtures its soil, plants, animals,
and community of workers and enlivens the connection between
people and the source of their food. We are committed to
providing the freshest, most vibrant food possible to our
To accomplish its mission, Angelic Organics follows an organizational
chart that places John Peterson, the head farmer, at the top.
“We had struggled with who was responsible for what
before we started assigning specific responsibilities,”
Bower said. “This chart has made our lives much more
John Peterson handles biodynamics, soil fertility and special
projects. Bower, the general manager, handles the financials,
human resources and computer information services.
Then the organization chart lists three realms, including
human, plant and mineral. Bower handles much of the human
realm, which includes customer service, marketing, distribution,
and general services. Other managers handle the plant realm,
which includes growing, harvesting, and landscaping, and the
mineral realm, which includes machinery and buildings.
Along with the organizational chart, Angelic Organics also
spells out its guiding principles regarding its managers and
Providing employees with opportunities
for growth, a balanced life, and adequate financial compensation.
Providing managers with a balanced
work life that allows for creativity and reflection.
Providing an orderly succession
Conducting business in a financially
Monitoring performance against
Conducting all work in a timely
Conducting all work as efficiently
“We want to take care of our workers,” Bower
said. “We don’t want people to burn out or feel
exploited. We’ve got a lot of workers who come back
year after year. That says a lot about our system. It also
means we don’t have to spend as much time training people.”
In 2004, Angelic Organics plans to change the workday schedule
to benefit employees. “We want to get all the work done
from sunrise to about 1 p.m., so managers have the afternoon
to plan for the next day,” Bower said. “People
need this space.”
Reaching out to the community
All this structure and planning helps Angelic Organics meet
its goal of connecting people with the source of their food.
Angelic Organics spells out this focus in its guiding principles:
• Providing our customers
with the highest quality products and best service possible.
• Building community among our
• Sharing our knowledge and
resources with the larger community.
With each delivery of vegetables and herbs, Angelic Organics’
shareholders receive a weekly newsletter. The articles educate
them about the produce and keep them informed about what’s
going on at the farm.
“The newsletters also offer cooking tips and recipes
make it easier for our shareholders to get to know and like
new foods,” said Bower, who reports that the CSA has
already sold two-thirds of its shares for 2004. “Newsletters
are a very important tool CSAs can use to take care of their
Angelic Organics also invites its shareholders out to the
farm several times each season. Guests can visit the vegetable
plots and visit with the farm’s employees. They can
also stop by the Learning Center.
“We couldn’t accommodate all the groups that
wanted to tour the farm,” Bower said. “The Learning
Center is not-for-profit spin-off of the farm that we created
to handle the public’s interest in biodynamics and organic
Through the Learning Center, Angelic Organics staff members
work with school children, Heifer Project International (www.heifer.org),
and other groups to connect consumers with agriculture.
What happens if CSA customers aren’t happy with their
experience with Angelic Organics? “We’ve created
a business model that lets us work with our customers if they
are dissatisfied,” Bower said. “If people join
and find out the CSA isn’t right for them, we’ll
refund their money. We usually find someone else to buy their
Customer dissatisfaction is not a big problem for Angelic
Organics, though. “About 5 to 10 percent of our shareholders
purchase multi-year memberships in the CSA,” Bower said.
“This helps us build our infrastructure, since we can
finance long-term projects like putting a new roof on the
barn. We’ve found that people like to be able to help
their farm succeed.”