Everyone is welcome to read the complete results for the survey by following the link:
http://www.surveymonkey.com/sr.aspx?sm=mi1zYlDeGEo1Zu2nB2u9xKMd1rH97YHUeV_2bK9L9EoOM_3d. Click on “Show replies” at the end of a question if you wish to read members’ individual comments.
I (your head farmer, Carrie) had hoped to include my own analysis in the SurveyMonkey summary linked above, but they don’t give that option yet. Instead, I’ve written my thoughts below, as well as some of the most pertinent data and most common comments shared by respondents. I regret that I can’t mention and reply to all of your very helpful comments, but already I can see this post is too long.
And before I say anything else, let me thank you for being such a great community. It can be a difficult job, but our interactions with you make it a joy.
We sent surveys to 386 email addresses which represent 275 shares. We received 136 responses, which is 49% of the 275. We did not send surveys to worksharers (an average of 33 shares/week; although a few might have responded to the link on this blog), to Bread for the City (which purchased 15 half-price shares) or to the 8 social service agencies who received our donations of 23,778 pounds of produce this year.
Two was the most common response for the number of people that our members believed one share fed per week (average 2.3).
83% will probably or definitely buy a share next year (up from 80% last year).
Most people (74%), therefore, gave no reason why they would not return as members next year. 12% said they might not rejoin because the share was too small, 10% because they might move or already moved, 9% because they don’t get the mix of crops they prefer, and 9% because the pick-up is not convenient.
Items that most people wanted more: asparagus, beans, broccoli, melons, carrots, cucumbers, corn, mushrooms, onions, peas, spinach, strawberries, and sweet potatoes. No items were chosen by most people as wanting less. A few mentioned wanting more rhubarb and popcorn, which were not on the list. Many people mentioned that they liked having a lot of different varieties of each crop. Some of the specific varieties mentioned were blue potatoes, garden peach tomatoes, hakurei turnips (the small, sweet, white ones), butternut squash, and pie pumpkins.
Several people also mentioned that they would us to work with other farms to offer more items. We’ll pursue that if the opportunity opens, but so far the logistics have been tricky, and we’re reluctant to sell things that aren’t local and organic. In fact we did buy 300 pounds of sweet potatoes and butternuts from local, organic growers to augment our last two shares (if you were a recipient, you would have seen it written on the white board).
We agreed with one person who mentioned, “in general, we would prefer to have about 25 - 30% more food in our share.” For some staple crops we will simply be planting more to achieve that goal, such as melons, eggplant and tomatoes. For some others we will be trying some new techniques to combat some of the pest, disease and weed problems that have reduced our yield (such as for sweet potatoes, winter squash and broccoli).
If you read the responses you will also notice that there is no consensus about which crops we should stop growing. We do not plan to try celery again next year, unless we find an organic celery grower who can give us some guidance. And we do not plan to grow beets next year, since 10 straight years of seeding beets have yielded almost nothing, even with a lot of special efforts to soak the seed, fertilize with Boron, etc.
69% did not find problems with quality, bugs or spoilage that prevented them from enjoying their food.
Crops mentioned most often (number of mentions in parentheses):
• Potatoes (14)—The red-skinned, white flesh potatoes, not the sweet potatoes, were noted most for their knobbiness and their premature spoilage. After some research we discovered this was the root knot nematode. A heavy crop of kale or turnip greens tilled into the soil was the best recommendation to reduce this problem. Also, we will not wash the potatoes next year, since the wetness makes them spoil faster.
• Corn (10)—Our biggest problem is the corn ear worm. In fact we had a lower worm problem this year because we used a biological insecticide called Bt. Nonetheless, we find that the best technique for dealing with this problem is cutting off the tip of the ear, which we are happy to do for you at the pick-up. This is one crop where we simply can’t please everyone, and if it doesn’t work for you, the best we can do is encourage you not to take it home.
• Melons (9)—Many of the melons didn’t ripen properly and were tasteless. We’ve been investigating why the late-season melons, especially, don’t ripen well. Next year we’ll be planting fewer, more reliably ripe varieties, and shortening the season.
• Tomatoes (5)—The late blight that struck our region took a toll on our tomatoes, so it means we gave out more tomatoes that had blemishes that reduced their storage. I have confidence we will not have that problem next year.
81% of our members picked their own produce from the fields at least once. Most people only did it a few times in the season. Most frequent requests were cilantro, rosemary, tomatoes, basil, and more overall of everything. We’ve taken all of your requests and will try to fill as many of them as possible. We’ve already lined up a worksharer to focus on keeping the herb beds better weeded.
When asked about how we communicated with our members, most of the people commenting were very pleased overall. Of course if there are people not receiving communications from us, they might not have received this survey either!
Thirteen of you remarked that the weekly emails were only getting to you sporadically. This year, in the middle of a harried harvest day, one of us had to run to the office and spend at least 45 minutes on the computer composing the email and making sure it got to all of the emails in each household (which it often didn’t). With blackberries and twitter and so forth, you’d think we could make that happen more efficiently. We should even be able to send you instantaneous updates earlier in the morning with at least a list of what we’re harvesting, even though we wouldn’t know yet precisely what will be in each group’s share. But none of this technology works very well with the dust, rain, and mud out in the fields and at the washing station. We’ve discussed how we might station a computer at the washing station and protect it from the elements. Stay tuned…
Two of you mentioned that you weren’t receiving the information about beef that you had asked for. The farm manager, Michael Heller, handles the beef, and he tells me that his list of people interested is many times longer than the beef he has to offer. Lately he has only butchered cattle once per year, and not everyone on the list gets that one email or he would be overwhelmed. If you have more comments you would like to pass along to him, please feel free to send him an email (mheller at cbf dot org).
We had overwhelmingly positive responses from you about the pick-up sites and your interactions with the staff. Of the critiques, many of you want the pick-up to be closer to your home. I sympathize with that, but we all hate the driving, and customer satisfaction was actually lower the year we tried to deliver bagged shares to more places. It is only because of our support for the idea of cities and reduced sprawl that we still have a delivery to the Dupont Circle area. One person suggested that we help you coordinate groups for “produce carpooling,” so we’ve created a strategy to do that next year.
Many others want more scales at both pick-up sites, and we’ll do that. Incidentally, each scale is $175, so feel free to donate one! People picking up at Dupont want more space and I couldn’t agree more, but I can’t do anything about it. If you find a better pick-up site nearby, let us know.
Six of you mentioned how much you appreciate the skip/double option that is now a permanent feature. One mentioned wanting the option to take a share 10 days before the one she would miss, instead of the 7 day max that is our current rule. This was a common question during the season, and if we decide later we can do it without sacrificing the size of everyone’s shares, we will change the rules and let everyone know. We’re sorry that we weren’t clear and consistent with everyone.
Half of the people responding have attended a festival at our farm at some point (a quarter this year; a quarter only in a previous year). We only heard a few suggestions for improvement. For the person who suggested a more spacious pick-up site during the festival, we couldn’t agree more. Also, we’ve arranged for at least one musician to bring his instrument (and possibly his band) next fall, so if you’d like to bring your own you definitely should join in. And we have arranged for a farmer to teach a rain barrel workshop at the next Spring Meet’n’Greet. I liked the idea for ice-breaker activities, which I’ll give some thought to. If you have any other great suggestions in the meantime, pass them our way!
Finally, a few people lamented their poor options for winter produce. I concur! I don’t know of any winter CSAs that have space right now. When I’m looking for local foods, I often turn to www.localharvest.org. Also, Future Harvest puts out an Amazing Grazing directory of local meat producers (http://www.futureharvestcasa.org/amazing.html). And you can check out the “So Maryland, So Good” directory of Southern Maryland farms (http://www.somarylandsogood.com/smhd/index.asp).
I hope you’re enjoying this wintry weather! The snow is a great fertilizer, it recharges our water table, and it protects the soil while allowing the cold weather to kill off our insect pests. Happy holidays to all of you. I am honored by your kind thoughts and friendship.