You speak, we listen! We got 90 responses (out of 270 CSA shares) to our survey this year. And we all know what happens when less than half of the eligible voters take the time to vote--we can’t be confident that the results reflect the true feelings of the public. But unlike our national elections, I don’t mind leaving the survey open a little while longer to catch those of you who still have some things to say.
Below, I've distilled the information that I thought you would find most interesting, I've included a few of the comments, and I've responded to some directly. If you'd like to look at the data in full, here’s a link to the survey results. I haven't give you access to the open-ended comments, because some of them were rather personal in nature, and I don't want to compromise anyone's confidentiality.
87% of you were glad you purchased your CSA share. That’s wonderful!
“I am so happy to be a CSA member! Having Clagett farm so close to my home is a huge blessing for my family and I.”
Consistent with past years, some people who have to drive a long way to get to the farm or who missed a lot of weeks of the season commented on their lower satisfaction.
There was an even split between the people who thought their CSA share met 50-75% of their vegetable needs, versus 75-100%. That’s a little better than last year, where the majority of members said their share met 50-75% of their needs. It’s still not as high as we would like. And since we haven’t found funds for a well yet, next year’s harvest will depend as much on the weather as it has in years past. We continue to add more deer fencing though, and we saw the benefits of that this year with some nice sweet potatoes, winter squash and sweet peppers.
74% of you thought your interactions with staff were terrific. This is great, but a little lower than last year for all the pick-up sites. Satisfaction with staff was especially low at Dupont (although only 10 Dupont members responded, so my confidence in that data is not great).
“Picking up my share in Dupont was pretty awkward every time.” [Dupont]
“They seemed not too happy this year and I sensed a coveting attitude.” [Farm Saturday]
“Wonderful, caring, thoughtful farmers and volunteers!” [Farm Saturday]
“Everyone was SO friendly!” [Farm Wednesday]
Thanks for your candor, patience and supportive attitudes.
Mushrooms were the crop mentioned, by far, most often among you as a crop that you wish you had received more this year. I, too, love mushrooms, but unfortunately, the ones we love most (shiitakes) are quite finicky. There’s a few weeks in April/May and again around October/November when the weather is just right for the logs to flush their mushroom fruits. To coax the logs to fruit we have to carry the heavy beasts into tubs of water and then pull them out again a day later. It’s a tiring job that yields very few pounds of mushrooms per pound of wet log lifted. Plus, we have to keep the logs misted regularly throughout the summer, when water can be at a premium. So we will continue maintaining the collection of logs we have, but we probably won’t increase our production in 2017.
Other most commonly mentioned crops that members said they wanted to see more include: potatoes, beans, asparagus, onions, carrots, beets and lettuce.
On the opposite side of mushrooms, are turnips--the crop that was head and shoulders the one that respondents wanted to see LESS in their share. Sweet potatoes and spicy mix were also notable mentions.
It’s interesting to me that okra was not mentioned often, since past surveys tell me that most of you dislike it. But apparently, with okra we’ve hit the sweet spot of growing just enough for the people who like it, but little enough that it’s easy to avoid by the many of you who don’t. Whereas with turnips, they grew quite well this year, and we had many pounds of them in weeks when we didn’t have a lot of choices.
74% of you said you came to pick your own vegetables, flowers, herbs or fruit at some point in the season. That’s wonderful. A number of people mentioned how much they appreciate you-pick--both from people who were happy to get what they did and others who were expecting more.
“The u-pick was one of our favorite things about coming out to the farm, and many weeks there was nothing but herbs and flowers on u-pick.”
“We utilize the u-pick often, great for the older kids to learn where their food really comes from.”
“LOVE the pick your own option. We picked tons of tomatoes to freeze and strawberries to eat. We also made pesto a few times with your basil and got flowers weekly for our table.”
I, also, would love to see more crops available for you to pick for yourselves. But in the months when we feel limited in what we can offer in your share, we pick the fields clean, and don’t leave anything for you-pick. We do grow herbs, flowers, chiles, ground cherries, tomatillos and a few thousand feet of tomatoes (including all of our cherry tomatoes) just for you-pick. Most years we can put spring kale and collards on you-pick, but this year it was so cool and wet, everything that was available to pick went into your share.
General Comments and Questions
“The pickup operations were not consistent with missing items or items gone in the first hour”
“I wished I could've gotten more variety, and the reason I feel I didn't get much variety is because the weight allowances for some groups of vegetables (e.g. take 1 lb of A, B, and C) only allowed me to select one of those items if I wanted everyone in my family to be able to eat it. And other times I felt like the thing I really wanted in the group always ran out early in the day and I never got any.”
Most weeks we had a few items that we couldn’t harvest in great enough quantity to be able to offer it to everyone. Mother Nature does not always provide her bounty in easy multiples of 270. Our general system was to hold onto some of those items and put them out once other items ran out. So for example, if we knew our members wanted lettuce and carrots, but we didn’t have enough of either, we might put the lettuce out first, and then put out the carrots when the lettuce was gone. There were a few weeks when we didn’t anticipate a shortfall, and it’s true, the people who came later had fewer options. We did our best to remedy those situations the following week.
“Why limits on items you had PLENTY of- garlic, winter squash, beets?”
It’s true, we did have a lot of winter squash, but they are quite heavy, and if members took more than their portion of them, we might quickly have dropped below our commitment of donating 40% of our total harvest to the soup kitchens and homeless shelters that use our produce. As for garlic, we had a fungal disease that wiped out about half our crop. We thought this might cut into what we were able to give out in our CSA shares, but in the end, we resolved that issue by reducing the amount we used as seed for 2017, and the amount we sold wholesale to MOMs. Don’t worry--I think we’ll still have plenty to harvest in 2017, in spite of the fact that we’re planting less. Again, we might not sell any wholesale, but assuming we have taken care of the fungus problem, we should be in good shape for CSA members. I don’t know what gave the impression that we had plenty of beets. We always have trouble growing beets, and felt pretty excited to have the few that we got this year.
“I would love if there were more farm events in the coming years and more volunteer opportunities.”
Thanks for the encouragement for more farm events. This is the moment when the ideas brewing in my mind start to turn to action. As for volunteer opportunities, if there is anything we have in abundance, it is volunteer opportunities. In April, we take helpers in our native tree nursery on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And from May through November, we take helpers every Tuesday through Saturday. Do call ahead (301-627-4662), but don’t be shy!
“I am a senior citizen with a fixed income above the federal poverty line. I wish you had a senior citizen discount. I doubt that I can afford next year. I make $40,000 gross income and the almost $700 fee is more than I can continue to pay.”
I can certainly sympathize. It wasn’t until I’d worked at the farm for 16 years that I passed the $40,000 salary mark, and $650 is a big chunk of money. On the other hand, I think it’s a reasonable price for fresh, organic, nutrient-dense, environmentally-sustainable food. We have considered a senior discount, but we felt that offering reduced prices to people whose income was below 185% of the federal poverty level did a better job of targeting people in the most need. If we had extra funds for our operation, a higher priority for us is to begin offering a living wage to our seasonal staff, whose starting hourly wage is currently only $10/hour with no benefits (that comes to about $14,400 for 9 months of work, full-time).
“I was surprised that the 2017 share is already open for purchase. Did you tell us? I budget for the purchase in January / February.”
Thanks to our marvelous volunteer, Deborah Starobin Armstrong, we were able to start selling shares early this year--I believe it was the week after CSA shares ended in November. I didn’t do such a great job of getting the word out, but that’s a good goal for 2017. We were keen not to leave any of you out, though, so we’ve held slots for our returning members. There’s still plenty of opportunity for everyone to buy their shares, and plenty of room for new members. Tell your friends! Wrangle your neighbors and co-workers!
Thank you to all of our CSA members this past year. And thanks, of course, to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts. CSA is a true community endeavor. Sometimes I get a little down when the shares are light, and I feel responsible for not providing the bounty we all crave. But you all keep reminding me that we're in this together. No farm can do it all every week. Our job is to enjoy what we have when we have it.
Have a terrific winter, everyone!