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
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 1993.
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
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 law.”
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 reads:
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 customers.
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 manageable.”
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
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 of
Conducting business in a financially
Monitoring performance against standards.
Conducting all work in a timely manner.
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 members.
• 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 members.”
Angelic Organics also invite 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
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 shares.”
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 them