It’s been over a month since I sent you an e-mail soliciting your comments about the general operation of Hope’s Edge CSA. I’ve received many responses and feel obliged to get back to you. But, rather than respond to each of you individually, I’ve chosen to respond with this one general note and hope that this will be more than sufficient to answer your concerns and comments.
The overwhelming majority of your responses were positive. And your suggestions for soliciting new shares have been helpful. I have employed some of them and have seen share sales increase slightly though I am still far below my goal.
Regarding my question concerning on-farm pick-ups versus a central drop-off point, your responses were thoughtful, sometimes passionate, and as you might expect complicated by the varied nature of your busy lives. In general, however, most of you who responded value your trips to the farm even though it is sometimes a chore to fit it into your schedules, particularly once children are back to school. With regards to children, however, many of you noted how much they enjoyed their farm visits. Flower and strawberry picking were cited as added incentives to visit the farm. And many of you just noted the peace and beauty that you encounter at Hope’s Edge as enough incentive to drive there each week. As you might expect, those traveling the furthest had a harder time justifying a trip to the farm. A one hour round trip from Rockland each week is just too much for some of you and indeed it is often those shareholders coming from a distance who are choosing not to come back for another season. This has made me realize that my market area is geographically centered around Hope with most shareholders traveling from Camden, Lincolnville, Rockport and Appleton. There are some true-blue shareholders traveling much further but in the future I will focus more on soliciting shareholders from local communities.
With regards to my question concerning quality and quantity, your comments were once again thoughtful, sometimes passionate, and even more varied thus making a general response a little more complicated. Many of you recognized the difficulties that the weather created last season and those of you who have been members longer than two years noted that the quality and quantity suffered because of the inclement weather. Some of you noted the meagerness of some of the offerings. In one case it was noted that sometimes the offered amount was just not worth taking. I can fully appreciate this, especially if you are trying to feed a family. One quarter pound of peas or a third of a pound of broccoli is pitiful when preparing dinner for four. I cite these two items because I felt that they were particularly affected by last years cold wet spring and fall. When setting up last years markets the lack of these items was of particular concern to me. Winter squash was another item that some of you rightly noted was less abundant than previous years.
In order to get a better feel for the quantity of items you received throughout the season I went back to peruse my record book where each week throughout the season I dutifully record the items and the quantity that I distribute to full and half shares. The results are presented in the attached table (page 3). Also included in this table is the list (from the Hope’s Edge flier) of the vegetables I grow and the quantity of each that a full share might expect to receive. Half shares should expect to receive half this amount. By presenting these lists side by side you can make the comparison of what you might expect to receive to what you actually did. I would hope that you might take a few minutes to look at this list as it will give you an idea of what your share amounted to. If you look at fennel bulb for instance you will note that each full share might expect to receive two bulbs each half share one. In actuality, full share holders received only one large bulb while half share holders one to two depending on the day they picked up; Tuesday half shares received one, Friday half shares two. (This was done as an attempt to make up for a meager Friday pick-up on Oct. 6). Looking at potatoes, winter squash, sweet corn and melons you will note that everyone received significantly less than anticipated, while the quantity of celery, carrots, chard and lettuce exceeded expectations. Peas fell within the anticipated range, but at the low end. Broccoli although below expected for everyone, was distributed unequally in favor of full shares. (This had to do with the fact that it made more sense to distribute six pounds of broccoli, a meager weekly harvest, between twelve full shares rather than between 60 half shares.
My point in going through this exercise is to make clearer to you some of the complexities of distributing equally products that are not necessarily produced equally. The list in the flier is my goal for the season. It is my hope to provide you with this quantity of each item. But the vagaries of nature can influence to what degree I am able to meet this goal.
Finally I’d like to address a comment I received that others of you might wonder about also. It has to do with the commercial markets that I sell to, these being, Primo and Francine Restaurants as well as the Good Tern Co-Op. The comment seemed to imply that I was selling to these markets at the expense of the CSA members. It is a valid concern. My salary for last season was just over $11,000, more than a third of this income was from sales to these markets. The temptation therefore exists to sell to these markets in order to raise my income. I am, however, very sensitive to this issue. There are some items that I grow specifically for commercial markets. Squash flowers, broccoli raab, radicchio and scorzenara root are examples. I also grow an excess of some crops in order to have some to sell. Fennel bulb, leeks, celery root and lettuce are examples. Some items like peas, beans cucumbers and tomatoes I very rarely if ever sell. You, my CSA members, are my primary market and I try to meet my commitment to you, as expressed in the attached list, before I consider selling to my other markets. It’s a juggling game and one that I feel I do a fairly good job at.
In conclusion, I’d like to once again thank you for your comments. They have been helpful to me and I hope that this response will be informative and helpful to you. For those of you who are returning this season I look forward to growing for you again. So far this is promising to be a bountiful year. For those of you who are choosing not to return, I thank you for your past support and wish you the best on your future food journeys.
Your Farmer Tom
Ps. Those who are returning should expect a letter in the mail soon regarding the coming season.