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December 2012
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February 2013

Mustards--the over-achiever

I was just reviewing some of our yield data (pounds harvested per acre planted).  I thought you all might be amused to hear that our highest yielding crop in 2012  was Southern Giant Mustard.  Seriously.  Seems a little cruel to me, since only a couple of you actually like eating it.  Had we planted a full acre of it in August, we would have harvested 44,576 pounds.  Thank goodness we only planted 7 thousanths of an acre.  If we'd actually picked it all, the yield would have been even higher!

The next 9 varieties that gave us the highest pounds per area planted were:

  • Roma tomatoes
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Black beauty eggplant
  • Tatsoi mustard
  • Tendergreen mustard
  • Ruby streaks mustard
  • Valley girl tomatoes
  • Tango lettuce
  • Necoras carrots

Of course this list is a little misleading.  Mustard, lettuce and carrots are planted very close together.  We can't hand-weed all our crops or we'd have to hire an army to help us.  Most other crops are spaced farther apart so we can cultivate them with tractors.  To give you a different perspective, consider yield as pounds per row-foot.  This calculation favors crops that are spaced closely in the row but far apart between rows.  Here's the new top ten:

  1. Chinese cabbage (3.2 pounds per row-foot)
  2. Roma tomato
  3. Valley girl tomato
  4. Black beauty eggplant
  5. Partenon zucchini
  6. Early jalapeno pepper
  7. H-19 little leaf cucumber
  8. Big beef tomato
  9. Garlic scallions (mixed varieties)
  10. Super red 80 cabbage

Better, huh?  You guys actually like most of those.  Maybe your New Season's Resolutions this year should be to learn how to love Chinese cabbage more--that crop grows like crazy!

Here's a link to an Excel spreadsheet of our harvest data: Download Harvest Log 2012.  I actually don't recommend that you look at it.  It's a gigantic document with a lot of boring data, and since I keep it for my own use rather than yours, it won't be easy for you to tell what all the numbers mean.  But some of you might want to get into the nitty gritty of what we do, so go crazy. 

Your farmer,


Wednesday--It's the new Tuesday

We're changing one of our weekly harvest days from Tuesdays to WEDNESDAYS this year.  And Dupont folks, we're shifting your pick-up half an hour earlier.  

Here's the new choices for 2013:

  • Dupont Wednesdays, 5:30pm-7:30pm
  • Clagett Farm Wednesdays, 3:00pm - 7:00pm
  • Clagett Farm Saturdays, 1:00pm-4:00pm

Same locations as last year:

  • Dupont:   behind 1737 20th St, NW, Washington DC 20009.  Enter the alley from S St, between 19th & 20th.
  • Clagett Farm:  11904 Old Marlboro Pike, Upper Marlboro MD 20772.  Keep left on the driveway, we'll be ready for you at the Washing Station, which is on your right at the top of a hill.

Why the new day?  Almost all of our harvesting happens on the day you pick up your food.  Just under two-thirds of our members pick up on the weekday harvest.  By shifting to Wednesdays, we will be able to harvest more on Wednesdays than on Saturdays, because there are 4 growing days from Saturday to Wednesday, and only 3 from Wednesday to Saturday.   

We asked you in our member survey this year if you had a strong preference for Tuesday or Wednesday, and to our surprise, the vast majority of you had no preference at all, with a slight lean of most others toward Wednesday.  Terrific!  It also helps us at Dupont, because we will be able to use the parking spots earlier in the evening.  

There will be no price change this year.  We'll keep it the same as it has been for the last two years:

  • $515 - Returning members picking up at the farm
  • $575 - Returning members picking up at Dupont
  • $50 extra for members joining for the first time in 2013

Note that you're a returning member no matter how long it's been since you last joined.  

Our schedule:

  • First week of February, we'll invite past members to re-join.  Look for an e-mail from us.  We have a few kinks to work out before we can offer you shares, so that's my ballpark estimate of when you'll hear from us.
  • March 6, 2013, 5:00pm:  We'll open up the web site for new members to sign up.  
  • May 4, 2013:  Spring Meet 'n' Greet to welcome you to the farm for the new season.
  • May 15 and 18, 2013:  Your first share!  

I'm about to place an order for 4000 new strawberry plants.  I can hardly wait!


Strawberries 2012 F Delventhal

(Image via krossbow on Flickr)


Survey Results, Part Two: The Logistics

Here's part 2 of our overview of your survey responses. In Part 1, we focused on vegetables and selection. Part 2 focuses more on the logistics of the CSA: our communication with our members, days, times, locations and you-pick. 

Let's start with our member communications!

Weekly Updates by blog, e-mail and Facebook

I was glad to see that everyone managed to see our weekly updates at least a few times.  It's always sad when surveys come back and people comment that they couldn't ever figure out how to get our weekly posts delivered to their inbox. We've clearly made some progress, and I'm quite pleased.  

85% of you said you saw the posts in time for them to be helpful, at least sometimes.  People who pick up on Saturdays get the best advanced notice.  Three days after you pick up your share, we announce what you'll be getting the following week, with reasonable accuracy.  For the 18 of you Saturday folks who still felt we were not timely enough, I'm not sure what we can do to help you (except maybe cook your dinner for you, and really, couldn't we all use that?). 

Of people who pick up at the farm on Tuesdays, a third of you don't get much use out of our weekly updates (which is true for just 10% of Dupont folks).  This is probably because most weeks we post it and send the e-mails between 1 and 3 pm.  The Tuesday farm pick-up begins at 3pm, and for those of you who like to get there early, there would be no point in checking your e-mail on the way up our driveway to get your share.  I think the best I can do for you is show you our harvest plan, which I could potentially do as early as Saturday afternoons.  It would at least tell you what we're planning to pick, though not how much of each item you'll actually get, if any.  This idea falls into the category of "Things we could do if we paid for internet access at the washing station, or if we ran back and forth to the office a lot."  It will probably happen eventually, but perhaps not in 2013.

We're Shifting to Wednesday

The vast majority of you do not care whether our weekday pick-up is Tuesday or Wednesday, with a very slight preference for Wednesday among folks who do care.  We think your share might improve slightly if we move it to Wednesday, because there are more members picking up during the week, and there will be one more day for the plants to grow since they were last harvested.  So the balance of what we're able to pick on Wednesday vs. Saturday will better match the number of members we are serving on those days.        

Dupont pick-up: new site fine, maybe earlier?

We asked slightly different questions of the people who picked up at Dupont versus people who picked up at the farm.  People picking up at Dupont had a new site this year, which 87% felt was between neutral and great.  Only 7 people rated it poorly.  Everyone seems aware that we won't find a perfect spot in a neighborhood with so little available parking.  From a staff perspective, we were generally pleased, but with all the Tuesday evening rain storms, we were really sad that we never found a site with any rain cover. 

We noticed that a lot of you wanted more scales.  We can certainly buy a couple more for Dupont next year, and work on easing up some of the bottlenecks to reduce the lines. 

The Dupont Circle Physicians Group closes early on Wednesdays, so we'll be able to set up in their parking spaces earlier in the evening.  I was surprised to see that there was not a strong preference for 5-7pm (preferred by 23 people) versus 6-8pm (preferred by 20 people).  We might split the difference and go for 5:30-7:30pm.  We'll let you know soon what we decide. 

Thanks, by the way, for so many nice notes about the staff (Genevieve) and volunteers (Holly, Rebecca, Katie and Layne) helping at the pick-up.  I agree--I see Genevieve go way out of her way to be warm and helpful, and it seems like you all noticed, too. 

Compostable Bags

Great news!  The amount of money you contributed for bags is exactly the same as the amount we spent on the bags you used.  We were a little concerned mid-season when it looked like a lot of people were using bags but not contributing.  But all you needed was a little reminder.  Thanks!  Some of the members were discouraged to hear that other members weren't pitching in.  You may now renew your faith in human-kind.  The other great news is that 37% never needed bags from us at all, which is mighty impressive.  Only a couple of you said you would have preferred a different system, compared with the 78 people who thought it was fine as it was.  So next year we'll make the signage a little more clear and consistent, but otherwise we'll keep it the same.

You-pick signs

There is a general consensus among you that it's difficult to find you-pick items in the field.  This is a perennial problem for us, unfortunately.  How do we post signs that don't encourage strangers passing through the farm to pick our strawberries?  How do we post signs that don't get hit by tractors or mowers or vehicles, but are still visible?  Do we use paper or plastic signs can include lots of information and pictures and arrows, but which blow away or fade?  Do we make wooden signs that can't be changed year to year and are difficult to make and move and store?  Do we post a map on-line and let anyone with a computer find out about our abundant ripe tomatoes and where to find them?  I think we can make some modest improvement with some field labels and more printed maps.  If anyone has a hankering to router some wooden signs for me, let me know. 

Maintaining good selection throughout pick-up

Several of you mentioned your disappointment when items ran out before you arrived, or when food looked picked-over.  It might not seem obvious, but we routinely hold on to items to put out toward the end of pick-up--especially if we ran out of that item the week prior.  It's not a perfect system--after all, you probably don't come at the same time every week.  And there were a few weeks when we were surprised by the number of people who turned up or made a mistake with our weights, and the people at the end were left with a poorer selection.   

There was a time when we used to pre-bag some members' shares, and their general satisfaction with their shares was much lower.  So we like to offer choices to our members.  But there is not circumstance I can imagine where everyone at all pick-ups gets identical options.  We're always going to have this problem where people get a slightly different selection depending on when and where they show up.  But the people who come later during the pick-up are just as important to us as the people who come first.  I think our challenge is to make sure the value of the share at the end is just as high as what we offered in the beginning, and to somehow communicate how the selection they are seeing is a fair one.      

Thank you for sharing a season of Clagett Farm with us!

I wish I could respond to all of the comments, but you'd be reading til the cows come home.  I hope I touched on most of the important issues, at least.  If I didn't please rest assured that I definitely read them all.  There were lots of great suggestions and my mind is humming with ideas for this coming season. 

You'll hear from us again in a few weeks, when we'll invite you to re-join.  We hope you do!

Happy new year, everyone!

Your farmer, Carrie     

Survey results, Part One: Overall opinions and favorite crops

At the end of the CSA season we surveyed all of our members to find out what they thought about the 2012 season. Thank you to everyone who responded! 

Aren't you curious about everyone else's responses?  Here are all the results, exactly as they were submitted:

Below I've given you my general summary, as well as some  of my responses.  There's a lot to say!  I've done my best to stick to the most mentioned issues, and I've split my summary in half.  I'll post the second half tomorrow.    

Let's start with your general impressions:

 76% of you gave a very affirmative "yes!" that you are glad you bought a share this year.  And 98% of you were at least mostly glad.  Terrific!  

96% of you were between somewhat and very satisfied with the quality of your produce.  92% felt that way about the overall amount, and 88% were somewhat to very satisfied with the variety of choices each week.  

It looks like we should focus our efforts on offering more variety, especially in some of the weaker months.  In years past, our most difficult month was June.  Since then we've figured out how to grow early zucchini and cucumbers in June, so we've made that month more appealing.  Now the notably difficult time seems to be the fall.  Last year we had a big flood in the fall that ruined the greens.  This year we lost our sweet potatoes and winter squash.  Winter squash are always fickle for us.  They have a very long growing season, and easily succomb to disease.  And one little bite from a deer, groundhog, skunk or stink bug can ruin an entire 10-pound squash.  But we can certainly redeem ourselves with sweet potatoes. They are usually so hardy, I'm afraid I wasn't as worried as I should have been when the drought set them back, followed by a steady nibbling from animals.

Top ten crop requests.  In order of preference, you wanted more weeks of:

  1. Mushrooms - We inoculated a lot of new logs in 2012, and hope to see the results in 2013
  2. Sweet potatoes 
  3. Winter squash (acorns, butternuts & other edibles--not pumpkins) 
  4. Tomatoes
  5. Asparagus - Unfortunately our experiment of adding chickens to the field (for fertilizer and bug control) did not seem to help;  we've moved the chickens elsewhere (and might do away with them completely), and we'll plant more asparagus in the spring.
  6. Broccoli 
  7. Strawberries - We tried an everbearing variety, and we were very disappointed with the flavor, texture and yield;  we'd rather try some new fruits and leave the strawberries to May and June.
  8. Spinach - More!  We agree!  It's a tricky little plant for us, but we're working on it.
  9. Peas - One of my co-workers has some choice words about peas ("#*$%ing waste of time...").  They require huge amounts of work for just a handful per share for 2-3 weeks.  We're going to need a whole new plan for peas, and none of our ideas involve increasing how much we're growing.  This is a terrific candidate for your own garden, if you happen to have one.  Or perhaps you'd like to move to England?  
  10. Cucumbers - We had some great cucumbers in June, and then a lot of disappointment.  That's definitely one we'll keep working on improving.  

There were a heck of a lot of potatoes this year, weren't there?  I was surprised to see that there were still 39 of you who wanted more weeks of potatoes, and 28 of you wanted larger amounts per week.  That's some real potato love, right there. 

And 17 of you still wanted more Southern Giant mustard.  I thought even those of us who love spicy mix were maxed out by the end of fall.  Kudos to you and your stomachs of steel!  You will outlive me for sure. 

I appreciated one comment: "Clearly, some items can't have longer harvest times, so 'more weeks' is a bit of a dream…" So true!

And whoever wrote, "I love greens and there were plenty for me!" is one of my new favorite customers.  As well as the person who wrote, "Our involvement with this CSA has literally changed our lives, not just in the way we eat, but in how we think about food."  I feel like a dog that just had her belly rubbed. 

Items that we didn't list, but many requested:

The most commonly mentioned was the same as every year:  FRUIT.  Indeed.  We love fruit too!  We'll be  planting some blueberries and Asian pears this spring, but please keep your expectations low.  This is a notoriously difficult region for growing organic fruit.  

A lot of you also requested beets.  Perhaps you have heard me mention how many times I've tried to grow beets, and yet I can't even get them to germinate.  Oddly enough, they grow beautifully in my kitchen garden, which is a stone's throw from several of our vegetable fields.  Some day the eureka moment will come, when I finally find the answer to this puzzle.   

Several people were especially happy about the abundance of tomatillos, ground cherries and celery in the you-pick field.  I'm glad you mentioned the celery, because I was thinking that was a bit of a bust.  The celery was great in my stock pot, but I didn't notice a lot of people picking it.  So we'll keep all three crops in the u-pick field for next year.   

Shallots were another frequent mention.  And I've been surprised to find they are my favorite topping on our homemade pizzas.  The bit we grew fared reasonably well, so we'll plan a modest increase for 2013--modest because we need to be sure we don't plant more than we can weed.  

Some of you might remember that we planted some experimental fava beans, parsnips and fennel this year.  The favas were a miserable failure.  They grew poorly, the deer ate them, the ones that remained had black spots all over them, and the one I ate was kind of gross.  I love a chance to quit growing something that doesn't work, so that was all the convincing I needed to give up, but my English co-worker, Dave, would like to try again.  We'll see who wins.   To be honest, I'm kind of a push-over. 

The parsnips didn't grow well, but still have potential.  They have an especially long growing season--one of the first crops to be planted, and one of the last to be harvested.  By the time we should be pulling them out of the ground, everything else we planted back in the spring has been long gone, so in September the parsnips sit alone surrounded by cover crop and get neglected.  We need to find a place for them that we can keep weed-free for a long time.  It's not the most attractive quality in a plant, but we'll give it another try. 

The fennel was tough and chewy.  I think it would have been more tender if we had harvested it sooner, but the bulbs would have been pretty small.  We'll adjust our planting and harvest times to get a better result.  At worst, we can offer a steady supply of fennel leaves, much as we do with celery.  The feathery greens can be a nice garnish for salad, if you like the taste of licorice.  It's not perfect, but we'll take what we can get.   


In past years we've gotten quite a few comments from people who felt their tomatoes often spoiled before they had a chance to use them.  This year we made a point of picking them less ripe, so there was a range of ripeness to choose from.  86% of you thought that strategy worked.  9% of you thought they were still too ripe, and 6% of you thought they weren't ripe enough.  Perhaps we've struck a good middle ground? 

I'd be happier with more tomatoes overall, so you can go crazy picking as many for yourselves as you want of your preferred maturity, flavor, size, and so forth.  My favorite decision was leaving all the cherry and grape tomatoes for you-pickers.  You deserve the sweet reward for your efforts, and the nerves behind my knees deserve a little break after all that squatting to pick beans.  For those of you that do not have a car, I applaud you, and direct you to Zipcar.  Some treats must be appreciated in the field. 


We had an excellent question about the garlic:

There were ups and downs this year, but that is all part of the bargain, right?  Still waiting for an answer though on way you were selling the garlic surplus rather than including it in the shares.  We took the bad (i.e. the corn, the melon) with the good, so we didn't we share in the garlic bonanza? Just can't wrap my brain around that one.

Garlic is one crop that we can grow very well with relatively little space, labor, and other expenses.  Yet in survey responses, it seems very few members want more of it than we're already giving you.  And in weeks when we offer garlic as a choice among several items, few people take extra garlic.  So we're not adding much value to your share with more garlic.  Yet I do not believe that if we stopped growing the extra garlic we could increase the size and quality of your CSA share by much.  On the contrary, selling the garlic made a profit of $5,414.  Had we tried to make that same income from CSA shares, we would have had to raise prices by $21. 

We used that income to pay for staff and supplies, which means we can provide a better share for a lower price to you.  So I believe you did "share in our bonanza," but it wasn't in the form of garlic.  Perhaps to make the situation better for the two dozen of you who would like more garlic, next year we can offer garlic more often as part of a choice among other items, so you can take more if you want it.   And of course, we gave you the chance to buy it, so you could spend $21 and buy 4 pounds of garlic, which is about 48 bulbs, or 240 cloves.  Our intention is to give you as much as we can of the things you want, and waste as little of our time on things you don't want.  I certainly don't want to give the impression that we're taking your money, siphoning off our best product, and then selling it to someone else.  Do you have thoughts you would like to share?  Feel free to leave your comments below and tell us what you think.   

 Is your share getting smaller?

Here's a comment from a member that I would like to address:

The full shares these days are about 1/2 what they were 10-15 years ago.  Why is that?  When I first joined, a "full" share was enough for typically two small households each week; now it's barely enough for one hungry vegetarian.  What percentage of the output goes to non-revenue generating interests?

I like this question because it inspired me to go back to one of our old Year End Reports (2001).  I got a good chuckle thinking about how some things have never changed ("many customers requested pick-up sites closer to their houses"), while others have changed quite drastically (we didn't harvest weekends). 

To the point of the questions raised, in 2001 we distributed 55% of our harvest to low-income families (our "non-revenue generating interests"), compared to 47% this year.  The weight of the share averaged 7.4 pounds per week in 2001.  This year it was 6.2 pounds/week, which is indeed, lower.  Interestingly, our all-time highest average was in 2010 (9.3 lbs/wk) and our all-time low was 2011 (5.4 lbs/wk), although our records prior to 2004 are not terrific.  At any rate, the weight of the share is not the same as the volume or the quality of the share.  So I don't want to dismiss the idea that a member might have been much more satisfied with a share 10 years ago as opposed to this year.  But the evidence does not support that with any clarity. 

I can say that in 2001 our income was 25% of what it was this year.  We had less than half as many CSA shares, and we charged just $340 per share.  It was certainly a much better deal for our customers, but it was not financially sustainable--we relied very heavily on money from the Capital Area Food Bank and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation back then.

Check in tomorrow when we talk about your pick-up sites, weekly updates, compostable bags, and more!  Woohoo! 

Camera wanted

Per chance, did you get a camera upgrade this year?  Feel like donating the old one?  If you have a digital camera that you no longer need, we'd like to use it to take photos for the blog.  Offer a price, and we might even buy it from you. 

Thanks everyone!  -Carrie