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May 21, 2015
3 Big Reasons CSA's Don't Work
...and what we are doing about it!
I recently spoke with a CSA member at our Ambler location and she mentioned that she had to drive a little further to our pick up location than she used to. In fact, she used to host for a previous site. Why did she make the switch? She and her fellow members were tired of endless, second-rate greens. She would love to bring our CSA back to her area, but she feared the reputation of CSA's had been damaged by this previous experience.
This conversation strikes me as the core of what has gone awry with the CSA model. The Farmer and I talk of this often, and our CSA has evolved from the following concerns:
- Poor Quality: Since the consumer cannot sort through and pick out what she wants in her box, the CSA system allows the farmer to slough off "seconds" or even "thirds" while saving the premium produce for wholesale and markets. How does this make the customer feel? Second-rate!
- Small Portions: Vegetable size can be a matter of preference, so it can be challenging to guess what each CSA member might prefer. Take zucchini for example. Some like the vegetable picked young, small and tender. Others use the big daddy's to make zucchini bread...or zucchini chocolate cake (see recipes). But one little cucumber to feed a family of four? Undersized bunches and boxes can leave the CSA member feeling neglected once again.
- Lack of Choice: Most of you know this issue represents our biggest beef with most CSA models. The idea that you, as the devoted farm-share holder, should suck it up and eat whatever comes across your plate seems antiquated and even ridiculous. True, it exposes you to new and unusual vegetables that you might not have tried before, but it takes no account for people who join a CSA who also garden. Someone growing bushels of tomatoes in their back yard may have little need for yet another box of farm tomatoes. And people who don't like kale, still don't like kale ten bunches later.
At Red Earth, CSA is our primary focus. The majority of our growing fields are dedicated to the membership. Filling member boxes with quality, fresh produce remains top priority for us. Hot summer days, boxes left outside at pickup sites, or pack crew error still give rise to issues. In this event we stand behind our produce and offer replacements or refund for anything that arrives in unsatisfactory condition. In June we pride ourselves in glorious heads of lettuce, unlike any found in the typical grocery store. Later, when the summer heat stunts the lettuce growth, we double up those heads to make up for it. Every year we strive to implement systems to improve the consistency of what arrives in your box.
Providing the opportunity for our members to choose weekly items stands as the keystone of what makes our CSA work. For us, this means extra labor. The Farmer has to predict a week in advance what might be ready for harvest (no easy task, I assure you!), orders must be printed and placed in the correct boxes, and then the crew has to pack each box correctly. Easier said than done, but definitely worth it. Weekly online ordering remains the number one reason our members choose our CSA again and again. That, and the great tasting vegetables...and maybe the occasional cheery note from the Farmer's Wife!