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: http://www.surveymonkey.com/sr.aspx?sm=Um1D8PaFgcI2R9jLxHtJ8_2fCOop4G2UBUOzsM_2fMQA9mM_3d
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:
- Mushrooms - We inoculated a lot of new logs in 2012, and hope to see the results in 2013
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash (acorns, butternuts & other edibles--not pumpkins)
- 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.
- 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.
- Spinach - More! We agree! It's a tricky little plant for us, but we're working on it.
- 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?
- 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!