2015

At the end of 2013 we decided we would not offer a CSA program in 2014.  Up until then it had been the principal way we sold our produce and eliminating it was something of a risk for us.

Looking back at our first year sans CSA we’re very pleased with how things went.

We had a great year at the farmers market, usually selling out of whatever we took.  And instead of the CSA we emailed our customers a menu of items available each week, then made deliveries three times a week to nearby towns taking them what they’d ordered.

We had some customers who particularly enjoyed the CSA model and were disappointed when we cancelled it. But I didn’t like the stress of worrying about whether the shares were meeting expectations.  As I told Cherie when we were deciding what to do, if I wanted stress in my job I would’ve kept practicing law. Of course under the CSA model the members take the risk of crop failures, and the idea is that they share in the ups and downs of farming. But I knew that if anything went wrong (and something always does) they certainly wouldn’t be to blame.  So we decided to resume taking all the crop risk, and I preferred that pressure to worrying about letting anyone down.

As it turned it we had a good year in the gardens and lots of happy customers.

We’re still proponents of the CSA model and we appreciate the good folks who partner with farmers in that way. But for us the menu/delivery method works much better.

So for 2015 we will again offer no CSA option, but we’ll continue our weekly deliveries to Danville, Chatham and Altavista.  We’re looking forward to being a part of lots of delicious nutritious meals this year.

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22 comments on “2015

  1. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, probably the most defining quality in my personality is responsibility. If I tell someone that I am going to do something for them or make an agreement with them. I will practically die making that happen. To disappoint a friend, family member, or neighbor, is the worst thing possible for me. So, I can totally understand when you say you don’t like the stress of a CSA delivery when it all depends on the weather, crop disease, pests, and … deer. I wouldn’t really care for that model either if I was getting paid up front for deliveries that depended on factors out of my control. The model you have come up with is an awesome step down from the CSA and takes the produce year into account. It’s a great plan to deal with all the elements of food for income production.

    Have a great farmer’s market food delivery system day/year.

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    • Bill says:

      There is a lot to be said for the CSA model. Some people want to experience not only eating seasonally, but also the reality that crops aren’t certainties. They know when they sign up that nothing is guaranteed. Still I constantly worried about whether the shares were too much food, too little food, not what they wanted, etc. I much prefer this model. Now people get exactly what they want and in the quantities they want. We still encourage people to experiment and try new things and some do.

      We’ve also found that some people like being “surprised” by what’s in the bag that week, then planning their menus around it. Other people didn’t like that part of it. Some people preferred just placing their order one time (by buying the CSA share) and don’t like having to remember to place a new order every week. But overall I think people are satisfied with the way we’re doing it now.

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  2. Sue says:

    This is an interesting view. I’m glad it worked well for you.
    I could never handle the stress of a CSA and would worry endlessly about “disappointing” someone. But–I always read about folks that love them. It’s good to see I’m not alone on my thinking……

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    • Bill says:

      Yes there are people who greatly prefer the CSA style. We had people offer to buy full shares last year, but after we said we didn’t do a CSA anymore they never ordered anything off the menus. Go figure.

      I did find the CSA too stressful. I have no regrets about stopping.

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  3. avwalters says:

    I certainly understand your lateral step. You’re still meeting consumer demand (and with the menu plan, they can get more of what they want, and less “surplus.”) I have a similar feeling for crowd-funding. I know authors who’ve launched books that way–and good for them. I have a nephew who launched a brewery that way. I’d have difficulty with it, though, for that very reason. I hate to disappoint.
    The menu idea makes you a customer-responsive-farmer-vendor. The CSA model, while it has worked for many organic and local small farms, results in your being less than fully autonomous.

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    • Bill says:

      I agree. There were only a couple of times this year that we ended up with surpluses that we couldn’t sell. With the CSA model that never happens. But it wouldn’t have been right to just dump our extra eggplant and cantaloupes on CSA members to get rid of it.

      The first year we did the CSA I was so concerned about seeing that the shares were “fair” that I gave the members way too much food every week. We lost several members because they found the amount of food overwhelming and it was creating pressure on them to use it all. Then the next year we had failures of nearly every summer crop and I constantly worried that the shares contained too little food. All in all, just too much trouble.

      Crowd-sourcing is interesting. I’ve participated in a couple, helping fund production of a record by essentially buying it in advance. That I understand. But I’ve seen it used just to raise money for projects with no real return to the giver. That seemed more like charity to me. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but not the same thing at all. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that except as a last resort.

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  4. ain't for city gals says:

    I think sans CSA is a good way to go for you. We do the same when we build a house in a way…we build it..we finish it and then we sell it. Much easier that way for us…

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  5. That’s exactly the thing that worries me about a CSA. What you’re doing now is more like what Salatin calls a buying club, and it makes way a lot of sense. Glad the switch turned out to be successful.

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    • Bill says:

      I had a friend who offered a CSA. He told me that he wanted to quit, for the same reasons we did, but he couldn’t because his cash flow was so tight that he needed the upfront payment to be able to afford his seeds, plants and inputs for the year. Of course that upfront payment part is a big advantage to small farmers. Fortunately we weren’t so strapped that we couldn’t farm without the CSA payments in advance, but there are farmers who are.

      When we first started out we offered only a CSA. I so disliked going to the farmers market and the “sales” side of things that I wanted to just get all that done at one time. Now I’ve grown to enjoy the farmers market and I don’t mind the buying/selling part of it.

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  6. Joanna says:

    That’s an interesting thought. I myself like the idea of food hubs where people get together and pool resources to sell their products. This gives the smaller and newer farmers a way into the market, but I like your idea too.

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    • Bill says:

      Food hubs are great and we’ve been talking to some other farmers about the possibility of having one here. We’ve been approached several times about providing food for schools, but it’s just not possible for a farm our size to feed that many people every day (especially in the off-season). But if we aggregate the small farms around here it might be possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Katie Rosson says:

    CSA can be a good thing but can also be a bad thing. I’ve thought on and off about joining a co-op or CSA farm if it ever came around this area, I know a few people who are involved in such a thing and they have mixed emotions due to other members creating issues. I like the system you have been using the e-mails about the goings on are great and that you offer a “Day on the Farm” for people to visit gives us a chance to see all the wonderful ways of farming! Keep up the good work!

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  8. Peggy and I thought about signing up for a CSA on the receiving end, but decided our regular travel didn’t support the concept. Local farmer’s markets work much better for our lifestyle.

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    • Bill says:

      We’ve had people sign up for CSA shares only to discover that their travel schedule and other commitments made it difficult for them to pick up their shares. The farmers market makes a lot more sense for people like you all, and farmers need the support at the market too.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You’ve given me food for thought here (no pun intended). I was thinking we’d have to start out at farmers markets until we built up a clientele and then we’d offer a CSA. The CSA model keeps you on the farm more which appeals to both of us. Knowing how many people we are growing for also appeals to us. But now that you mention not wanting to disappoint customers – I will struggle with that myself.
    We were members of a CSA a few years ago with a little different twist which I personally preferred to the mystery box. Basically you paid upfront for a large or small share, then you showed up at the farm on a particular day to pick up your produce. The produce available that week was set up in an outbuilding and the prices for the available veg, etc… were listed on a chalkboard. You took what you wanted and wrote down how much you “spent” next to your name on a list they left out. Sometimes there’d be a sign posted limiting how much of certain items you could take. It was all done on the honor system as they had no one manning the “shop”. They’d leave you a note when your balance was running low. I thought that worked well. If you were out of town, no worries. I thought it worked rather well.

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    • Bill says:

      I’ve known of people who used that model. One of our customers was in a CSA like that once but he disliked it because he said if he didn’t get there early (and he often couldn’t) then all the best stuff was gone and he was left with the left-overs. But it has advantages (a major one being the farmer doesn’t have to spend time delivering the shares or manning a table).

      With our CSA we had three delivery dates each week (three different drop points). So it meant one of us was off the farm a lot making the deliveries. I don’t think the option of having people come out here to pick up would work, as we’re pretty far away from town.

      You’ll have to experiment to find out what works best for you. So far we’re satisfied with the system we’re using but we’re also always open to changing it!

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  10. shoreacres says:

    You already know how much I appreciate receiving my weekly email from “my” farmers, and being able to pick just what I want. And last week, when I was in Louisiana, there was no problem. I simply passed over a week. When I saw how much food my neighbor’s CSA was delivering each week, I nearly died. There’s no way I could eat that much, and there would be a real risk I’d end up throwing food away. Better to order just what I want.

    I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this, but my farmers have started including a recipe or two with the weekly list of available produce. They always key the recipe to what’s in season, as a way of encouraging people to try things they might never have cooked.

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    • Bill says:

      Getting too much food each week was a major problem some people had with the CSA. For most people it’s much better to get just the quantity they need.

      We do a weekly email blast with our “available now” list. We also have a section titled “On the Farm” which describes what we’re doing on the farm that week, a “Photo of the Week” and a “Recipes and Tips” section, in which we try to give helpful recipes, tips on food storage, etc. People have seemed to enjoy it.

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  11. farmerkhaiti says:

    Oh my god was CSA so incredibly stressful for us too, I think it’s the case with all conscientious farmers. It’s fun to assemble shares, but you always worry they aren’t good enough, or someone is overwhelmed, or not getting the value they felt they paid for. STRESSFUL! I am so extremely glad to not be doing it anymore. The hardest was disappointing the ones who loved getting our boxes of goodies, well that and the lack of that early spring influx of payments. Seems you’ve found a great alternative that is working for you both and your customers, innovation is important, as is reclaiming your sanity to have a lower stress job.

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    • Bill says:

      You’ve described exactly how I felt about it. There’s enough to worry about on the farm without adding that. 🙂

      I still love the CSA concept for the way it links farmers and customers together, but I much prefer letting people choose what they want and in what quantity.

      Liked by 1 person

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