2018 CSA Survey Results: Your Comments and My Responses (Post 3 of 3)

Clagett chainsaw
Farmer Dave does some off-season tree pruning at the farm. This photo was posted on Clagett Farm's Facebook page.

 

I've already shared with you the breakdown of this year's survey responses, and your feedback about which veggies you did and didn't like.

In this post, I've pulled out lots of comments from the survey, and I've done my best to respond to them.  

There were many more comments than I could reasonably answer here, but please rest assured that we read them all!  We hear you! And thank you so much for taking the time to give us your feedback. It’s incredibly useful.

    • Any chance of added raspberry and blueberry bushes?  Funny you mention blueberries.  We planted 100 plants in 2013. They haven’t grown much since then, and have never produced many berries.  The problem might be the soil pH, which we are working on lowering (it’s a slow process). But the more likely culprit is deer.  We have since fenced in the area, but they only need a few incursions per year to eat back all the new growth, and that fence (the same one the deer busted into to eat your okra and first succession of tomatoes) is assaulted regularly.  As for raspberries, we planted about 20 black raspberry plants in 2017, which are doing well but are still too young to produce many fruit. Given their success, we hope to expand. We also trialled a couple persimmon trees in 2018, 3 apple trees and 2 kiwi vines. (We also planted 10 kiwi in 2014 but they died.  These are in a new, more auspicious location...we hope.) In 2019, we will be planting blackberries. Did you notice the one week we gave out Asian pears? Woohoo! We planted 50 trees in 2014. Most died of fire blight, but the 10 that remain had a bumper crop! Fruit are tricky, but we’re still trying.
    • I liked everything I got in my share. I actually lost 15 lbs  because I was eating vegetables all summer. It also forced me to do some creative recipes since my share contained things I would not normally have purchased.  That’s right, friend!  You’re my new favorite CSA member!
    • Rutabaga more of these please! So delicious!!!  You know, I scoffed at the idea of rutabaga when Jared and Elissa wanted to plant it.  I’d grown it before and it got the same dull response from our members as purple-top turnips, but with even more confusion.  But you know, I have since eaten my words, because roasted rutabagas are delicious. Our planting date turned out to be a little late this past fall, so we didn’t get many, but it was enough to whet my appetite.  Get on the bandwagon, everybody, rutabagas are coming.
    • Loved the rutabaga greens.  That’s right, climate!  You kill our crops? We gave out rutabaga greens.  Take that!
    • What happened to zucchini?  Hmmm. We picked 3,288 pounds of zucchini.  That’s enough to donate half and still give every CSA member 7 pounds.  Now, I admit, over 11 weeks, 7 pounds isn’t that much, but we had even more yellow squash (for a total of 9,059 pounds of summer squash).  And that’s in a bad year. Are you sure you want me to plant more?
    • I threw out things and it broke my heart. Maybe at pick-up there could be some information on how to store things? Some of my problem was I was storing the veggies wrong (in the fridge, in air-tight containers, etc).  Good idea.  Some things don’t want refrigeration (undamaged tomatoes, sweet potatoes).  Some things should have their green leafy tops removed (turnips, beets, carrots). And speaking of containers, I would like to encourage you all to save your plastic clamshells.  I’m talking about those big boxy things that you might be buying salad greens in right now. You can rinse and re-use them easily, when you put vegetables in them in the fridge, you can see what you’ve got (unlike some reusable produce bags), and they’re great for carrying delicate items like tomatoes home from the pick-up.  And by the way, don’t worry about a little lost produce along the way. It happens to everyone. We’ll compost it, and your wilted lettuce will be next year’s potting mix. No harm, no foul.
    • More canning workshops. I know there's usually one or two but they always seem to be in DC and that's not really convenient for me.  Anyone want to volunteer to host a canning party?
    • I would like to thank each and every one of the great people who cleaned the produce and helped the distribution! They were all awesome people and I appreciated them very much as did my family. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Thank you for your friendliness Helpfulness and smile’s.  How kind! The gratitude is perfectly mutual.
    • I appreciate Sara and John! And I'm not Sara or John!  I’m so glad you thought to mention them because it gives me an opportunity to highlight two people who have been a huge help for us over the years.  John and Sara Chapman are paying CSA members who also volunteer 2 hours every Saturday from March through November. I can’t tell you how many hot, desperate, dehydrated harvest days when we were rushing to get it all picked by 1:00, and I breathed a big sigh of relief that at least Sara and John were at the washing station getting it all cleaned, organized and ready.  They know just what to do without a peep from me. If we’re dragging the last, heavy bin of tomatoes in at 2:00, I know they’ve got me covered. Phew! Thank you Sara and John!
    • I know you had a rough year. My family missed the strawberries, but we still loved our share. I'm finishing a dissertation on environmental food ethics, and in it I have a satellite image of Clagett next to a satellite image of a monocropping conventional farm from this past (very wet) April. Clagett's fields are, by comparison, filled with a variety of green, clearly benefiting from the better crop management and plantings. The conventional farm, which plowed all the way to the edge of their streams (stupid) is a muddy mess. You did extraordinarily well with a rough season.  How great of you to bring our perspective back to soil health.  After the seemingly nonstop rain we've had, I can be discouraged to see some of the gullies pop up in our fields.  It’s good to know that from a mile-high view we’re still moving in the right direction.
    • I wish that half-share holders could still pick up a double share. Good news -- now you can (most of the time)!  In 2019, 13-week members will be able to pick up 2 shares at a time if they clear it first with the person running the pick up, who will confirm that we have enough produce to accommodate you.  If we are especially tight on some items, we will ask you to double another time or to only double the things we have in excess. I don’t think this will happen often, but a few weeks each year we are slammed with people taking doubles, and I don’t think I can keep the quality up for everyone if we increase the number of shares taken those days.  Also, 13-week shares will be offered at all pick-up sites this year.
    • I would like to receive at least a pound of greens (kale/collards) in a share.  This is useful information.  I know there is a minimum weight to make cooking greens useful.  I have noticed that the bunches of kale sold in the grocery store right now are a half pound at the least, so I’ve been using a half pound as the minimum quantity for a category that includes kale and collards.  I’ll try to aim for a pound minimum when I can.
    • My Midwestern husband would love one season heavy on the Midwest crops, e.g., carrots, peas, potatoes, onions, shallots if the soil and weather here can support it. Man, those carrots we had at the end of the season were amazing!  It made me fall in love with carrots all over again (although they are still a pain to germinate and weed).  And I was pleased with our progress on onions and shallots. But my feelings about growing peas and potatoes are dark and gloomy right now.  I can tolerate a lot of crop failures to get a few great seasons with a crop, but even I have my limits. You done me wrong too many times, peas and potatoes! 
    • It would be cool to have an opt-in list of people who live near each other, to cooperate and share pickups.  I have thought often about this idea over the years.  I agree, it would be nice if you could coordinate with each other.  Right now I’m thinking about a Google spreadsheet that can only be accessed by CSA members where you can include whatever contact information you’d like.  Another idea might be a closed Facebook group for members so you can communicate directly with one another. If you guys have any better ideas, I’m all ears.
    • The half-share option is appreciated, but it seems to be affecting the farm's overall success. I understand this concern.  I have been paying close attention to how many people are picking up their shares each week.  So far it has not exceeded what it would have been if we had simply sold more full-season shares.  And we can’t continue to function without enough revenue. I think what’s really affecting the overall success is our drastically reduced yield due to the weather.  If we’d had average overall yields, I think we would not have seen a decline in share quality due to offering 13-week shares.
    • I am nightshade intolerant. It would be very helpful and valuable for me, to have a non-nightshade choice in each group. Nightshades are tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, ground cherries. It also would be nice to have some more interesting choices like Chinese long beans or agretti. Good to know!  For those of you with specific dietary needs like that, let us know and we can try to work around it.  For example, if you see that we have only nightshades in a category, speak with the person managing the pick-up and we might find an appropriate substitute (I sure hope you like squash!).
    • Please consider growing herbs like parsley, chives, mint, etc., in larger amounts and incorporating them into the share.   The difficulty of including herbs in the share pre-harvested is a constant source of frustration. Herbs are quite delicate. They wilt easily, and as soon as we pick enough to fill a bushel basket, we have way more than people want.  But I have noticed that we need more parsley, chives and mint, so at the very least we’ll try to plant more of those in the you-pick areas. We seemed to have plenty of garlic chives, oregano, thyme and basil last year. And we did pretty well with cilantro and dill.   
    • Parking can be a stressful experience.  Yes!  We’ve discussed paving the area beside the washing station (behind the pizza oven) with gravel so we can use more of that space for parking.  I also think we need to plant some trees to shade the cars. A work in progress...
    • Just keep farming. We worry about the communities popping up around you and hope we don't lose this gem.  Thank you, we appreciate it!

 

 

 

Thanks a lot, everyone!  All the staff here at Clagett Farm wish you a wonderful winter, and we’re excited to see you in May!

Your farmer,
Carrie Vaughn

(And in case you missed it and want a recap of how the 2018 season went, you can read our summary here. And you can see a chart of all the weeks’ offerings here.)


2018 CSA Survey Results: What You Loved and What You Hated (Post 2 of 3)

Clagett tractor
Moving hay bales at the farm. Click over to Instagram for a cute little video of this.

We're back with more results from the 2018 member survey. Here's the first post about that, in case you missed it.

In sifting through all the responses, it turns out that most of you just want more of everything, and more choices generally.  

But here’s a few highlights worth mentioning:

  • Of the crops we grow, your favorites, in order of preference, are: tomatoes, kale/collards, strawberries, garlic, sweet potatoes and peppers.  Excellent!  Those are all crops we can grow in abundance in a reasonable year.  2019 is going to be a winner -- I can feel it!
  • Your least favorites, in order of distaste are:  stinging nettles, turnips, okra, rhubarb, kohlrabi and ground cherries.  I could have guessed all of those except the ground cherries.  But the ground cherries had an early demise this year, so perhaps some of you got some bad ones while those plants were petering out.  We’ll be more careful next year. For those of you who chose okra, the deer had you covered -- I’ve never seen an animal make such quick work of complete crop destruction.  I was a little sad about it, but I’m glad many of you were not. And while strawberries look VERY promising for 2019, the rhubarb does not (it’s another perennial, so its plant health in the fall is a good indicator for spring success).  Again, I’m a big rhubarb fan, so I’ll do my best to bring that one back to life for 2020 -- I just won’t make you take it if you don’t want it. One thing that’s worth noting is that many of your least favorite items (nettles, turnips, rhubarb and kohlrabi, as well as microgreens, spicy mix and radishes, which were next on the unfavored list) are crops we grow in the spring.  Spring is a tough season -- cold soil, not enough sun, and wild variations in temperature and rain -- so we don’t have as many choices of what to put in your share. Fortunately, almost any fresh spring vegetable is an improvement on winter, so we’re grateful for those of you who take May and June as an opportunity to get creative.
  • 68% of you dried, canned, froze or otherwise stored some of your CSA produce for use in the 6 months we’re apart.  Well done! Almost all of you wished you could have stored more.  I am like the 23% of you who didn’t stock away enough for lack of time, which is why I’ve been muttering lately about not having enough pesto in my freezer or jars of tomato soup on my shelf.  We had SO MUCH BASIL! And even though I regretted not having our normal deluge of tomatoes, there were many weeks with full bins of damaged tomatoes to pick through. Alas... But the reason most of you gave for not storing enough for winter was that we didn’t offer you enough of the vegetables you desired.  Well, indeed, you’re right about that. Here’s hoping for a more prosperous 2019.
  • You wanted more flowers.  I mean, you wanted more of a lot of things, but for you-pick, you wanted more flowers as much as you wanted more strawberries and tomatoes, which is saying something.  As it happens, our flower grower had a baby mid-summer. She was pretty exhausted before, during and after that happened. But she assures me that she is in no mood for a repeat performance in 2019, so we’ve heard your plea for flowers and we’re on it. We’re putting Baby Teddy in charge of the trellis.  I’m kidding. That baby never does what I tell him to.

 

Getting excited for 2019 yet?  You can sign up for a share today! www.cbf.org/clagettsignup

In my next post, we’ll get to the fun part, where you’ve tossed out barrage of questions, requests, imperatives, complaints and compliments, and I do my best to respond.

Your farmer,
Carrie


2018 CSA Survey Results (Post 1 of 3)

Clagett tree
Farmer Carrie shared this image today on Instagram. 

Happy New Year, everybody!

A huge thank-you to everyone who completed the 2018 CSA member survey we sent out. Your answers and comments will help guide us for the upcoming 2019 season and beyond. 

We want to share the survey results with you, and we're going to do that in three separate blog posts. Below, you'll find some basic stats from the survey that give kind 0f a demographic snapshot of who's in the Clagett CSA, and how satsfied everyone was with the 2018 season.

In the next post, you'll find specific details about what everyone liked -- and didn't like -- about last year's mix of produce. 

Finally, the third post will include some of your comments from the survey, along with responses from me.

I hope you find all of this informative and interesting. And thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Your feedback is incredibly valuable.

Now, on to the survey results!

First, the basics:

  • 95 people responded to the survey. Thank you!!
  • The large majority of you (82%) were glad you joined this year.
  • When asked what percentage of your vegetable needs were filled by your CSA share during the 6-month season, the most common response was 61-80%.
  • Almost half of you feed a household of 2.  

Perhaps you are a person who would like to read the results yourself without all my own interpretations muddling it up?  You can! The survey results, straight from SurveyMonkey, are here.  And remember, you can sign up for a 2019 share anytime!

Who is most satisfied with their CSA share?

  • Dupont! 92% of members who picked up at Dupont were glad they joined, compared to 76% and 74% of the people who picked up at the farm on Wednesdays and Saturdays, respectively. Hats off to Garrett Waters and Blake Reichmuth for doing such a great job managing that pick-up! That one took me by surprise, actually, because Dupont members get the same CSA share as everyone else, but seldom come out to the farm for you-pick.  It’s worth noting that our membership at the Dupont pick-up has been slowly declining. Word-of-mouth is our best advertising (especially since we don’t get any walk-by traffic now that we’re tucked in the back of an alley). So Dupont members, tell your friends to sign up!
  • People who thought the share offered 81-100% of their vegetable needs on average, over the 6 month harvest season, were the happiest with their CSA share.  That seems obvious: If the CSA is meeting your needs, you’re happy.
  • Households of 4.  This bit of the data is mysterious to me.  I would have guessed that households of 1 would have had the largest proportion of their vegetable needs met by the CSA share (in fact it is households of 2, if survey responses are to be believed).  And I would have guessed that our success meeting your needs would decline proportionately with household size (turns out it’s not a linear function at all). And I would have guessed the households of 1 would be the most satisfied with their CSA share.  In fact it is households of 4 that are most satisfied, and they are the ones who claim the CSA met the smallest proportion of their household’s vegetable needs (even lower than households of 5-6). Households of 2 were the next happiest with their CSA share (after households of 4).  I have a lot of theories about this. Perhaps people with children value the experience of visiting the farm as much as getting the produce? Perhaps a pair of adults can accommodate an unpredictable medley of vegetables better than a single person who has very particular tastes? But none of my theories hold any water, because why, then, are the 3-person households less happy?  So my dear customers, you are as unpredictable as the weather, and my crops. Naturally.
  • People who commute fewer than 20 minutes.  This one, thank goodness, was a linear function.  The less you have to travel, the more likely your CSA share was worth your investment.  It’s interesting that the people who travelled the farthest were the ones who had been members the longest.  Is that because driving a lot makes you want to be a CSA member longer? No. It’s because you are my stalwart, long-time community.  We’re dear to each other, you and I. We have history. Maybe you’ve moved, or maybe you changed jobs, and you think you’ll try to stick around a little longer even though your commute is longer now.  Maybe you purchased a 13-week share, so you can still enjoy your favorite tomatoes or those fall greens. You still remember what a rush it is when you’re picking gobs of sweet-ripe strawberries or don’t have enough room in your trunk to fit one more basket of ripe tomatoes.  Some years aren’t the greatest? It’s a gamble. We’ll take it.

 

Much more to come in posts 2 and 3!

Your farmer,
Carrie


Please fill out our survey!

This is a QUICK survey this year.  You can do this!  We want to hear your preferences, joys, opinions, cravings, irritations...lay it on us.  The more people answer, the more accurately we can respond to your wishes.  Say what you'd like--we won't know it's you (unless you tell us in the comments).  CSA members and regular volunteers only, please.  

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PF67PPK

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2018--The Debrief

Wow, that was a heck of a year, my friends!  It’s the kind of year that makes me grateful that you, our customers, can support us when weather puts a strain on our ability to grow food. Without you, we surely would have gone out of business.

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Here’s a round-up:

  • We harvested a total of 36,258 pounds of produce.  That’s a lot of food, but it’s actually our lowest yield since 2001 (our average is 67,194 pounds). Yikes!
  • To prevent giving you half-sized shares all season, we did a few things to get you a better product.  
    • We bought a few things from farmer friends on a couple of occasions (sweet potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers).  
    • And we donated only 25% of our harvest, instead of our 45% target. In fact, our contact at the Capital Area Food Bank said that farms across the area were suffering large losses in yield, so donations of fresh produce were way down this year.  
  • And fortunately, although it was not our intent, we sold only 205 shares (21 of which were half price for low income families), which is down from our typical 270.  Although financially unsustainable for us, that allowed for more food per member this year.
  • Our average weight of one share per week was 5.5 pounds (our average is 7 pounds).

 

A few bright spots:

  • The Capital Area Food Bank connected us with an organization called Brighter Bites, which brings our produce to elementary schools for free distribution to low income families, along with ample nutritional and culinary guidance.
  • We had a lot of wonderful greens this year.  They don’t weigh much, but are a high value item in your shares in the spring and fall.  We also were surprised by how well the onions and fennel grew this year, and our old standby, garlic, was back up to its old rock star yield.

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  • In fact, while the first 13 weeks were slim, the second half of the harvest season was quite good.  The crazy weather moderated for a bit in August and September, and the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and then the fall greens and roots had a chance to grow normally.  
  • Next year’s strawberry crop was planted this past spring and they look fabulous!  So even though this year’s strawberries were mauled by deer, 2019 strawberries are well-protected and are looking to produce abundantly this coming May.  
  • This is our 26th consecutive year (out of 26) without an outbreak of E.coli contamination.  There were no reports of major illnesses or fatalities. No chemical spray drift accidentally harmed wildlife, our customers or our workers.  All of our employees were paid a fair wage and worked reasonable hours with time off for illness and vacations. Every ounce of food you brought home was good for you and your family’s health, and supported a vibrant ecosystem.  We care about you. You belong here. Romaine, anyone?

 

Why was the year so challenging?

We were hit by one extreme weather event after another.  In March, a tremendous wind storm ripped the brand new cover off of our high tunnel, which set back our earliest tomato and carrot plantings (thanks to warmer weather in May we were able to put it back on, and this time a little more securely).  We had an unusually cold and wet spring that set back the rest of our summer crops. Then June and July we had 6 weeks without a drop of rain. And since then it’s been rain, rain and more rain interrupted by a few weeks here and there of sun and moderation.  Even now, this is the wettest November on record.

Climate change is making life tough for your dear farm, and we are examining our options for adapting to a future of weather extremes.  We will be digging a new well this winter to augment our irrigation during dry spells, and we’ve been working on our strip-tillage system to stabilize the soil and improve absorption of rainwater during wet spells.  But nothing beats a moderate combination of sun and rain! Keep the pressure on our legislators, friends. We must dramatically cut back our production of greenhouse gases.

 

THANK YOU

There’s a lot of new, sustainable growers in our region right now--many of them were trained right here at Clagett Farm.  The average age of farmers in Maryland is 58, which means we need all those new farmers to succeed and train the next generation that will be taking over.  Now is not the time to start buying produce from some other state, delivered to your door.

Nothing supports a farmer like a customer that greets us with a smile and uses our product every single week, all season long.  We need you! You need us! We love you! We’ll see you next year!

-Carrie Vaughn (Vegetable Production Manager), and the rest of the farm staff

 

  


We need to hear your thoughts about the CSA

Remember those sweet peppers--the ones you roasted, and you realized you'd never appreciated how delicious peppers are?  What about that bouquet of flowers that brightened your kitchen?  We tried a few new things this year--colanders filled with herbs, lettuce and kale; and little trays of microgreens that pack a punch of nutrition and flavor and make a classy garnish.  Did they work for you or did you wish we would stick with the basics?  This is your moment to register your opinion

We've had 52 responses so far (and if one of them was you, THANK YOU), and we had 220 members. Please, to all 168 of you that we haven't heard from yet--complete our survey!  It's quick!  It's painless!  We appreciate you!

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Your farmer, 

Carrie


The Member Survey--What you said, and how we respond

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!

www.cbf.org/clagettsignup

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!

Your farmer,

Carrie


Survey time! Also, a harvest chart to help you remember the season.

We'd love to hear your feedback about the 2016 season.  Did you enjoy being a member?  Is there anything you wanted more or less of?  Speak now, before we buy seeds for 2017!

Respond to our survey HERE

Also, we've created a handy chart that you can check out to see what you got in your shares each week this year: Download 2016 Clagett Farm CSA Harvest Chart

You'll notice that we struggled quite a bit before August.  It was a cold, wet spring.  So the shares were smaller than normal when we started in May, and again in July when our summer crops (such as squash, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) should have kicked in.  But our overall pounds harvested this year (72,835 lbs) came back up to average for us because we had some bumper crops of sweet potatoes and winter squash in the fall.  

20160608_100056
Photograph by Jared Planz, June 2016.
 


2015 Year in Review

Thanks to everyone who responded to our member survey! If you’d like to read my highlights of the survey results, as well as my own thoughts on the season, read on. If you prefer to go straight to the raw data, you can link to it HERE.

First, I’ll begin with some items that impressed me. Overall, the vast majority of you rated the value of your share as Excellent (46%) or Above Average (34%). Terrific! We got responses from 193 people, which is a rate of 73% of our 265 CSA members. 23% of you have been with us for 7 years or longer! I’m so glad to see that. This whole farm-supports-community-supports-farm idea works so much better when we can all get to know each other and take a long view. Plus, it’s so wonderful to see familiar, friendly faces at the pick-up. I’ve been on the farm for 18 years and a few of you have been members for even longer than that!

I also want to give a shout-out to the 41% of you who are gardeners. That’s spectacular. That gives you a chance to grow the things that you love most and we don’t offer quite enough of. Carrots, for example—there’s an easy crop to grow in a small space, a little bit of shade is no problem, they can tolerate a wide range of fertility, and they are a giant pain for me to grow (literally a pain; carrots require a lot of squatting and weeding). This year I turn 40! Let’s try to preserve these knees for old age. The other thing I love about having gardeners for customers, is that you are very forgiving. We all have a few crop failures under our belts, and it’s good to commiserate.

And you should congratulate yourself that we were able to donate 29,759 pounds of produce to agencies that prepare food or give groceries to people in need (in addition to a myriad of other critical services). Add that to the 15 shares we sold at half-price to low-income families, and it brings us to a total of 47% of our produce distributed to people who needed it most. Can you say that about anyone else you buy your groceries from? Of course not. Thank you for helping make that happen.

Now let’s get to some Q&A. Many of you posed questions or left comments that I would like to answer directly (in almost completely random order).

“This wasn't the best growing season, which was reflected in quantity and variety of produce.”
Indeed. You can see from these data, below, that 2014 was above average for us, and 2015 was well below average.

 

  2015 2014 2010-2014 average
Total weight harvested (pounds) 67,982 91,235 80,084
Average pounds/week/share 5.59 7.98 7.14


The biggest difference between this year and last was the weather (the staff were almost entirely the same, and most of our crop plans do not change significantly). In 2014, the rain was pretty consistent, and in 2015 we had a summer with almost no appreciable rain. That hits us especially hard because we have so little water to irrigate with. We were able to keep crops alive, but didn’t have enough water to get a good yield. And to exacerbate the problem, the deer pressure is worse in a drought because the pastures are less appealing than any crops we’re watering. Our best solution to this is to invest in another well with a larger pump, but this is a huge capital expense, and we have quite a few hurdles to jump before we can get there. Fortunately, this rough year was terrifically motivating.

A number of you mentioned the lack of peppers and eggplant, and indeed, those are two crops that did quite well in 2014 and exceptionally badly in 2015. Two other big hits were potatoes (spring too cold and wet) and okra (deer). Two crops that did a lot better this year were, not surprisingly, in the fall--sweet potatoes (the fence kept the deer out...so they went to the okra), and turnips. Now, I’m a big fan of sweet, fall Hakurei turnips, but if I have to choose one crop to do especially well when the others are suffering, I would not have chosen turnips. C’est la vie.

But the real bread-winner for us is tomatoes. Fortunately, we planted more tomatoes in 2015 than we did the year prior, so even though the yield fell, we still had an abundant crop. Phew!

I get excited about spreadsheets, so if you want to see a layout of the pounds, acres and yield of all 43 of our crops this year, you can see it all laid out HERE as a Google sheet or HERE as an Excel document. Also, we made a list HERE as a Google Doc and HERE as a pdf of what we offered in your CSA shares each week, in case you'd like a refresher.

Many of you noted that you love to you-pick, and wished there were more opportunities. In fact, 77% of you picked your own vegetables, herbs, fruits and/or flowers this season, which is wonderful. Nonetheless, when there isn’t much to harvest, we pick as much as we can to put in your share for you. So this year, you’re right, there was less to you-pick. But I am glad to hear how much you value you the option, and I’ll redouble my efforts next year to make that available as much as possible.

“Next year I am hoping that the strawberry fields are a little more organized.” Leave a strawberry plant to its own devices, and it will spread new plants in every direction, like a carpet. Last year, I just didn't have the heart to kill off the plants in the aisles, and as a consequence, we walked on many of them. I'm not sure that it had any real impact on the total number of berries that made it into your mouths, but I concede it was sad to see crushed berries, and harder to know where to walk. For your crop this coming spring, I've compromised, and tilled a few aisles, though there are still too few and they are too narrow. Hopefully in the spring, I'll toughen up and till in some more.

“If it is possible to improve the road to the furthers fields. It would be nice to be able to drive there instead of walking. It was very hard to get to the fields to pick cucumbers, tomatoes and beans. I had to carry a heavy bag probably whole mile up the hill. It wasn’t fun.” We just can’t afford to grade and resurface all the back roads on the farm. Every year I target some crops that I hope to have on the you-pick list, and plant them near the paved driveway (strawberries, cherry tomatoes, chiles and okra). When crops in distant fields are on the you-pick list, perhaps we can bring you out with the “Gus”--the newest, most-exciting, and orangest member of our fleet of vehicles.

“The deer fences were a great addition; did they actually work?” Yes! And no...We installed 8’ tall fences around the crops that the deer always go after--sweet potatoes, corn, melons, beans, strawberries and winter squash. Honestly, I’ve never seen deer strip okra and peppers like that before. Geez! So, we have some more fences to put up, clearly. It’s a slow process, but we’re getting there.

“It was a good season, I think. In the past, you had lots of daikons. I'm guessing other patrons didn't care for them? They were great.” Yes, lone soul, you are the only one who has asked for them. And even the soup kitchen workers give us the stink eye when we hand them a large stack of daikons. But you are in luck! We use daikon radishes as a cover crop in the field where we will be planting mustards and spinach the following spring. This year the dry weather delayed the radishes, so they weren’t ready to pick until December. The sheep ate them instead of you. But next year, ask us in October or November, and we’ll send you with a digging fork to have your way with them.

“I loved the idea of fresh from the farm veg, and I enjoyed the farm once there, but it was a 45 minute drive each way and I couldn't make it all the time. I also found we still had to buy veg from the organic market, and I ended up spending quite a lot on veg this year.” Yes, I have seen a trend over the years that people who have to travel 30 minutes or more each way to get to their pick-up site are less satisfied with their share. It makes sense that for those people, the farm has to provide a much higher value for the time lost picking up the share. A few of you mentioned that a life change is making the CSA more distant or less timely, and I wholeheartedly agree that convenience is a high priority. There may be other CSAs that or farm stands that make more sense. Godspeed and good luck! I applaud everyone that chooses local, organic produce, even if it isn’t ours. No need to be a martyr.

“I'm not sure who the gentleman was who sat at the end of the display every Wednesday, but his presence was a bit unsettling.” That gentleman is Mr. Joe Brown. He has lived on the farm since he was a teenager, and spent most of his life working for the Clagett/Addison family raising tobacco. Now he is retired, and if anyone deserves to roam the farm as he pleases, it is he. Mr. Brown is not the kind of person to initiate a conversation, and I’m sure, as shy as he is, that he is not trying to make anyone uncomfortable. But he doesn’t drive, and other than his television, the farm pick-up is about as much entertainment as he gets. A dozen years ago, there was a retiree, Mr. Raymond DeVaughn (now deceased), who used to drive onto the farm and stare at us while we worked. He also used to make fun of us, which Mr. Brown almost never does. Perhaps Mr. Brown is just taking his turn. Give it another 25 years and I might be the one in the farm’s bleacher seats, awkwardly watching the season unfold around me.

“If there is a preferred list that beef shares are offered to first that the general farm membership is not a part of, it would have been helpful to know so that I could have planned my meat purchase from a different source.” Michael Heller manages the beef and lamb operation on the farm. Typically, he sells meet twice a year (around June and November). He collects e-mail addresses of people who say they would like to buy beef, and then sends a mass e-mail to that list as the sale approaches. If any of you would like to be added to that list, it’s best to contact him directly: mheller@cbf.org. I apologize--it sounds like we miscommunicated or didn’t relay someone’s inquiry.

“Would love to have small portions of the beef available for purchase during year. I don't eat much beef, so purchasing no more than 2 lbs at a time is more than enough.” Wish granted! We now have a freezer in the washing station for the purpose of selling meat in modest portions. I believe Michael is planning to stock the freezer beginning in June.

“I wish the Rosemary was more plentiful.” Me, too! Rosemary is a tender perennial. It overwinters in our region in a normal year (but not the coldest winters), if it’s protected from wind. They especially like growing beside a building, which moderates the temperature, so you might consider planting it in your home garden or window box. For us, we’ve had a maddening time getting it to survive the winter. The washing station is in an especially windy area. This winter, we have surrounded the rosemary with straw bales and covered it with a polyester fabric that lets in light and water, but adds a layer of protection. Will it work? I don’t know; the suspense is killing me!

“I seem to recall that the membership increased by a pretty large amount this year, which seemed excessive.” We did raise the price by $75 (it was the same regardless of payment by check or credit card--to answer another member’s question). We hadn’t increased the price of the share since 2010, so our income was not keeping up with expenses. Thankfully, there’s no need for another increase this year. I mean, except for that well we need to drill and the fences, but that’s what grants are for, right?

“While we try to eat seasonal, the fact is our kids consume a lot of broccoli and cauliflower and the shares never contain enough of these week to week (do they ever have cauli?)” Unfortunately, this is a terrible climate for broccoli and cauliflower--too hot and humid. We used to plant them in the spring for summer harvest. But in the heat, the cauliflower turns yellow and spotty, and the broccoli is small and bitter. So I gave that up a few years ago. In the fall, we were more successful with broccoli this year than we usually are (which is still mediocre). Fortunately, we seem to have gotten the knack of growing the seedlings for fall broccoli and cabbage, which has been a tough nut to crack. But cauliflower is slower-growing and didn’t head until after the share was over. Next year, I’ll probably grow twice the fall broccoli and no cauliflower, and cross my fingers. I’ll count myself lucky if we get one nice head per share. Broccoli and cauliflower are the same species as cabbage, collards, kale and kohlrabi. Perhaps you could find a way to substitute? Keep up the good work--at least your kids are eating vegetables!

“At the very end of the year, I came for a share at the farm. We missed a lot of summer pickups, so were rather liberally doing doubles when we made it on the fall. The volunteer that day said rolling pickups over was only to be used over a two week period. This was the first I've heard this, and would love clarification.” The reason you were confused, is that we had different rules for the farm and Dupont pick-ups. Specifically, Genevieve had the reins at Dupont, and preferred a more liberal policy of allowing members to take a double share for any missed share, regardless of how much time had passed. Dupont members, I heard loud and clear how much you appreciated Genevieve (naturally--she’s fantastic!) and this is just one more reason to add to your list of gratitudes.
We at the farm pick-up were a little more stingy. We’ve had a few too many occasions where we misjudged how many people would show up for their share and ended up running short at the end. So our rule at the farm pick-up is that you can take an extra share within a week before or after you’ve missed one, but after that it’s forfeited.
Next year, Jenn Garvin will be in charge at Dupont. Will she follow Genevieve’s lead? Will we change the policy at the farm? I’m not sure yet, but at least we’ll try to make it clear up front.

Allow me to put in a plug for anyone who might be interested in working a pick-up in exchange for a CSA share in 2016.  You can choose Wednesdays, 2:30-7:30pm at the farm, 4:30-8:00pm at Dupont, or Saturdays 11:30am-4:30pm at the farm.  You can work 1-4 weeks/month, according to your preference.  We need people who have a very positive attitude, can lift a 30-pound bin, and are reliable.  Spread the word!  

“I'd like to say that a few years ago there was an email that you were planting blueberry trees, so I'm surprised we haven't received any blueberry's yet. Also, where were the melons this year? I don't remember seeing any. I don't mind the low yield btw, though I missed the peppers this year, because I am 100% behind the idea of the CSA and shared risk/reward.”  Yes, we did plant about a hundred blueberry bushes, and a year later we fenced the deer out of them. And you have one very dedicated volunteer, Rick Vitek, to thank for coming to the farm on his days off all summer long to weed those plants all by his lonesome. Thank you, Rick! The plants look good but small. We’ve been diligent about irrigating, fertilizing and mulching with wood chips. The soil is not as acidic as they prefer, but plenty high in iron, which they especially crave. So we’ll wait and see. I’m hoping that they suddenly pop up to twice their current height, but I doubt you’ll see blueberries in your share in 2016. Maybe 2017?

The Asian pear trees we planted are not faring as well. Many of them have died from fire blight, which is a big problem for fruit trees in our region. It leaves me wondering if I should invest the time needed to coddle the ones that remain, or if I should focus more energy on planting something new--such as persimmons, figs or black raspberries, all of which grow successfully here and there on the farm already. But rest assured, we are definitely working on building up our fruit stocks.

“This was our first year and it was a great experience. Got to taste some new vegetables, such as kolhrabi and jerusulem artichoke!! We were unable to volunteer this year, but VERY MUCH APPRECIATE the people who work so hard to bring us this CSA. To all the ones who plant, weed, and harvest the produce-THANK YOU SO MUCH.”

“The farm is woven into our lives -- we wouldn't be without it.”

“I'm used to the vagaries of the harvest. It's the way you know it's authentic and appreciate the risks that people of the land without the safety nets we have face every day.”

You’re welcome! The feeling is completely mutual. It is hard work, and sometimes we really screw up, but we love our customers. You are a family for us, you bring us gifts and wisdom and energy and smiles, and we feel blessed to work for you.

There were a lot more comments that I didn’t respond to here, but I definitely read them all.  If we missed something you’re still curious about, or don’t think we quite got the message, leave a comment here!

Your farmer,
Carrie