2015 CSA Survey Results

Thank You!

We really appreciate everyone who has taken the time to help us make our CSA the best it can be!  We're excited to hear what we're already doing well, ways that we can do even better, and suggestions you have as we think about 2016 and beyond!

Crop Planning

Here's the results from your thoughts about our crop selection for 2015, as well as some notes from us about how 2016 will shape up based on this feedback.  We copied over the crops you specified and noted which ones were repeated more than once.

Your favorite items:

​Beets (4), Onions (4), Cherry tomatoes (2),Tomatoes, (3), Carrots, Garlic Scapes (3), Garlic, Peaches, Kale, Pea shoots, Beans (2), Peppers (3), Potatoes (4) Lettuce (3), Cabbage, Broccoli (2),Sugar snap peas (2), Brussel Sprouts (6), Butternut squash (2), Cucumbers (3), Acorn squashes (2), Delicata squash (2), Husk cherries (2), Chard, Raspberries, Turnip greens

You wish you had these items more often:

Potatoes (7), Basil (2), Garlic (2), Chard, Head Lettuce (3), Tomatoes (2), Corn (8), Cucumbers, Brussel Sprouts, Peppers (2), Sugar Snap Peas (2), Broccoli (2), Peaches (2), Lettuce Mix, Fruit (3), Beets (3), Summer Squash, Berries, Husk Cherries, Zucchini, Red Cabbage.

Your least favorite items

Kale (4), Carrots, Beans (2), Chard (7), Fennel, Collards, Cabbage (2), Leeks, Lettuce, Mesclun Mix (which we assume is the same as 'spicy greens'), Brussel Sprouts, Acorn Squash, Collards, Peppers, Red Cabbage, Eggplant (2), Turnips, Garlic Scapes.

You wish you had these items less often:

Kale (4), Collards, Mesclun Mix (2), Lettuce, Beets, Greens (2), Cucumbers, Chard (6), Cabbage, Scallions, Large Tomatoes, Garlic Scapes (2)​

Our Thoughts

We'll take all of this information and use it to plan for 2016.  Off the bat, I can say that we are going to plant more potatoes for the summer so that we can give them out in July and August.  As for fruit, we're going to try cantaloupe and watermelon again.  We were bummed that they didn't do well this summer, though they were both great in 2014 so hopefully we can recreate last season's success.  We can't do anything about the number of peaches available for quite a few years - we planted more trees, but they're won't be bearing fruit any time soon.  Lastly, we'll probably take the mesclun mix out of the crop rotation for next year, or replace it with a different variety.  It seems like it wasn't very popular, so we'll try something else for 2016 in its place!  

Some items that you wish you had more of were results of the weather - we had much, much less beets and broccoli than we would have, had it rained more consistently over the season, so we'll hope the weather for 2016 gives us a bit of a break after this summer!  We're also going to continue investing in our irrigation system, so that if we have another year like this one we'll be better prepared.

As you can see from above, some items that were one person's favorite were another person's least favorite.  We try to hit a happy medium when it comes to designing the shares, and the boxed shares especially.  You are always welcome to switch to a market style share if you would like the ability to choose what you bring home, if that might be a better option for you and your family. 

Corn:  We're always happy to grow items that are hugely popular and corn is chief among them.  However, for us to grow corn, we can only do it as a bit of a special summer treat.  It is an incredibly 'heavy feeder' which in farming parlance means that it takes a disproportionate amount of nutrients out of our soil.  As we're committed to not using chemical fertilizers, we can only devote so much of our field space to corn without compromising our soil health.  Corn is also very space intensive - we dedicated two rows to it for 2015 and only got about one week's harvest from that field space.  Comparably, two rows of carrots lasted four weeks, three rows of tomatoes lasted all summer, two rows of cucumbers gave us more than anyone could possibly eat - it's a tricky balance to feed as many people as possible on our 2.6 acres, and keeping the amount of corn we grow in check is one way that we can stretch the space we have and make sure that all of you get a great variety.  We might do up to three rows of corn for next year, but I doubt that anyone will see corn more than twice in their shares in coming years, and just once is more of a safe bet to make.

Chard and Kale: We hear you, fewer bunching greens!  We're reconfiguring our fall harvest lists to make sure that less of these two show up in your shares.  That said, I can assure you that kale, chard, and collards, will be out each week on the market share table, and boxed shares can expect to get them at least a few more times.  Part of the reason we've relied heavily on these crops this year is that without them, and without the weather needed to size up our other crops, we would have been hard pressed to offer you a suitable sized share each week.  This past June and July we could only increase the number of items in everyone's share by adding in either kale or chard, and this fall will certainly be the same way - take out an item across the board as the weather cools off, or put a bunch of kale into everyone's bags?  We can't justify holding back food if we have it to distribute - you all technically own these crops, having already purchased them, and we would rather see food being taken home to be eaten than left in the fields, even if it's not the best variety week to week (and a comment about distribution of extra food and where that line is as we make those decisions will follow below, since it came up in a more general comment).  We will continue to be judicious in our distribution of bunched greens and we'll definitely take into account that many of you would prefer to receive less of them in 2016 - planting more potatoes will alleviate the issue somewhat, as will the investments in our irrigation system we are planning to make this winter.  However, these crops will still be distributed this fall and again next season.  

I can tell you that in our efforts to use up chard and kale in our own house, we tend to chop them up and add them to just about any and all meals - if you put them into a pasta sauce in the last five minutes of simmering it, they'll wilt nicely and add some extra vitamins to your dinner or lunch, and the same goes for soups and stir fries.  We make swiss chard pancakes (the recipe comes up on google and is fantastic) and often instead of serving a dinner over rice or another grain, will sauté chard or kale and serve it on the wilted greens instead.  I also make a great raw kale salad by mixing up red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, maple syrup, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pouring it over the kale about a half hour before we want to eat so that the leaves soften.  If we're feeling fancy, we'll add some mozzarella and avocado to the salad as well, or just eat it with only the kale and dressing - a year round favorite!  For collards, our favorite way to prepare them is to chop up bacon and cook it with onions (or leeks) and once the bacon is crispy and the onions are golden brown, toss chopped up collards into the pan and wait until they soften slightly.  If the bacon doesn't pack enough punch to make it a filling dinner, you can always add some sour cream or grated cheddar cheese.

Your General Comments

Addressing some of the more general questions asked on the survey, it seems that you are all pleased with the cleanliness of the produce.  There was one comment that carrots could be washed better, so we'll make sure to do so in the future!  As for how the boxed shares were packed, it was the same general consensus that you all were happy, with one heads up for us that a member's tomatoes got bruised - we're sorry that happened and we'll keep a close eye on that kind of thing so it doesn't happen again!

It appears as if the vast majority of you are planning to sign up again next year - we'll be so excited to see you in 2016!  Likewise, nearly all of you would recommend this CSA to your friends and family members.  That's great to hear... and we hope that you do!

Everyone seemed pretty enthusiastic about the sliding scale payments, from folks who would not have been able to participate in the CSA without it, to others that were excited to be able to pay more for their share.  It worked out great for us and we're definitely keeping the option for 2016 and beyond!

It seems as if, with a few tweaks like less of the bunching greens and taking a look at some other changes for next year, we're headed in the right direction.  Here's some of the great comments we received when we asked about your favorite aspect of the CSA:
  • ​Seeing the variety of food grow from week to week and raspberry picking
  • Fresh, local,good value
  • Beautiful produce, super friendly farmers/staff, feel part of the community of he farm.
  • Fresh veggies taste good!!!!!!!
  • Receiving very fresh, delicious, local vegetables and fruit on a regular basis, as well as a variety that we may not choose on our own. And, supporting our local farmer and community.
  • Supporting our local farm
  • Fresh local produce
  • Finding vegetables in the bag that we would not otherwise have bought in the store, and getting recipes to go with them.
  • I love coming to the farm and seeing the market share display.  I'm happy with most of the produce we received.  I enjoy receiving Eleanor's emails and learning more about what it's like to be a farmer.  I enjoy supporting local agriculture!
  • Fresh, local produce every week!
  • The veggies were delicious!
  • Fresh, local,good value
  • That it was from a farm in Barrington where really kind, hard working people live.  Knowing my food was literally from just down the road from me made every bite even better. 
  • Eating veggies I might not get otherwise, see the dogs, supporting local farmers.
  • the diversity of items
  • Weekly surprise at what is available; good variety; friendliness, quality products; helpfulness of folks working in the pickup area re: recipes for products
  • Being greeted by Jeb and Russell (unless it was too hot for Jeb, then I would have to greet him); walking into the store and seeing the beautiful colorful array of vegetables; and on the luckiest of days, getting to see my lovely CSA farmers Eleanor and Theo!
  • I liked the variety and chance to try new things.
  • Receiving the fresh veg every week less shopping at supermarket I have to do
  • Knowing where our fresh vegetables came from and enjoying them throughout the season.  
  • Our produce has been top notch!  I also have enjoyed your weekly newsletters.  They are really, really well written, funny at times, and very interesting.  It is a great way to connect with the food again.
  • In addition to the food itself, everyone was always so friendly, welcoming and accommodating! We were always greeted with smiling faces and if I needed to change my pick-up date on occasion, you were always very good about letting us!  

Your Suggestions

We loved some of your ideas for the farm - we'll put it on the list to look in to the feasibility of reusable bags, as well as offering wild flowers for sale and/or as an item in the shares.  This winter we'll aim to get some recipes posted on the website so that you all have a resource for items you might be less familiar with - in the meantime, if you have a family favorite, please send it over and we'll add it to the list of our own recipes to type up for everyone!

Item Sizes

We are taking a thorough look at your suggestions for the item sizes.  Chief among them is increasing the size of our herb bunches - good to know that you all wanted more of them!  We'll also take an onion or two out of the bunches since they seemed to be a bit big and plant more beans next year so that you have more of them to take home.  The sizes of the beets, carrots, and turnip bunches were mentioned as well - we'll make sure to increase those this fall and plant more of those crops for next year so that we can make sure we're giving you enough to be useful!

Heirlooms and Other Crops

There was moderate interest in having more heirloom crops and a greater variety in general.  A couple folks were super enthusiastic about the idea, a number thought our current selection was perfect, and most fell right in the middle.  We'll take the suggestions you made into account for 2016, which included radicchio, endive, sweet potatoes, celeriac, kohlrabi, edamame, and more heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and squash.  The striped beets will make a reappearance next year - we didn't realize they were so popular last year!  

As we plan for some of these newer crops, we'll keep in mind your thoughts about wanting more corn and more potatoes - increasing those crops will mean less space available in the fields to try new things, so we'll try to strike a balance for 2016.

Store Hours

There were quite a few comments about our store hours being as constricted as they are.  We would love to have the store open later into the evening and we certainly agree that it would be great for folks to be able to come by on their way home from work.  Right now, we're not at a size that we can staff the store any more hours than we currently do, though as we grow as a business we'll keep at the forefront of our minds that hiring more store staff would be well received.  A quick reminder that boxed shares are available into the evenings - we clean them up as late as 9pm - and eggs are likewise available whenever the store isn't open, which is a great option for those of you who can't make it during the workday.

Your Concerns

Overall, the general response to the survey was overwhelmingly positive, though we did have a small number of comments we would like to address since we want to give a thorough explanation behind some of our decisions.  These were only from three individuals, but we thought that all of you might be interested in what your fellow member's thoughts were.  We've grouped together these concerns into two categories and written our thoughts below.
  • ​Not sure if it is just the year, but we have had a csa at another location for four years, and this year we were often through our share by Thursday night after Wednesday pick up. I know you are also a store, but as a csa member, you ebb and flow with the productivity of the farm, when there is less you get less, when there is more you get more. However this year, it seems we just got less when there was less, and then you advertise a surplus, that we need to spend more money to benefit from?
  • I feel like the quality of food is great but the quantity is very low. I did a medium market share through another CSA last year and we received 3 or 4 times as much food each week for the same price. ($350) There were 15+ fruits & vegetables to choose from an the allotted quantity was significantly more. I realize farms are different sizes and yield different harvests, but I've asked and you're both operating on the same amount of acreage.
  • Let your csa members enjoy the surplus at no cost, since we were understanding during the late season start and slow, and small item weeks. During the bounty, that should be when the lost weeks and money are repaid, instead all of the suggestions of how to make back the lost weeks, involved giving more money??! Like discounts, but only if we buy a certain poundage of an item.
We're very interested in these comments and have spent quite a bit of time talking about them and figuring out how we can take them into account for 2016.  The short answer is that we didn't really have much surplus at all this year, which I'll get into below, and that based on the vast majority of the feedback, the shares were the perfect size - 88% of you said it was the right amount of food for the week, 6% said it was too much, and 6% said it was too little.  As for whether extra food should be included free of additional charge, that definitely asks a question of how CSAs in general are run, how our CSA is run, and what 'sharing the risks and bounty of the season' means.

For the first concern about the amount of produce distributed each week, we base what we give out on a careful consideration of the size of the shares we sell.  For a twenty week season, we charge roughly $350 for a medium share (and about 80% of our members have medium shares, which is why I'll use that as the example).  This breaks down to an average cost of $17.50 per week, and we build into our plan to distribute more like $20 to $22 per week on average.  This is then broken down across the four months of the CSA, with fewer items available on the tail ends of the seasons and more in the height of the summer, so that your share in August and September is of a higher value than that of June and the end of October.  A year like this year, we have so far been able to meet that value stipulated on our website - a cost of $350, which represents about a 10-15% savings for you and your family, though the trade off of doing so was extra kale and chard.  On a very poor year, one worse than this (which we hope doesn't happen!), you could expect even less variety as we attempt to maintain those savings for you.  For a great year - good weather, wonderful soil conditions, few pests, fewer diseases- we would happily increase that cost savings to you up to about 20-25% by either distributing produce of higher value, like the corn and potatoes, or giving out significantly bigger bunches, or more items.  What we cannot do is more freely give away produce above that mark, for a number of reasons.  

One is that we cannot remain solvent as a business if we are charging you $350 for your share and delivering between $1,050 to $1,400 of produce over the season.  We do not have the capacity to grow that much food, nor the ability to afford the staff to harvest, wash, and pack that quantity of produce.  We feed 85 families on 2.6 acres, of which .34 remained fallow this year so as to improve the health of the soil - a rotation we will continue so that we can maintain the soil structure needed to farm long term on this piece of land

Another reason we cannot always distribute extra food is that we run into a number of logistical issues: to make it fair, we would have to offer the same to all of our customers and if we drop off extra cucumbers at our off-farm locations and members don't want them, there's no outlet for the leftovers.  Our agreements with drop off locations cover if shares are not picked up, but do not extend to them handling crates of unwanted produce.  It might be equitable if we offered the extra produce at the farm, but not fair to members who are used to picking up at our other locations and cannot make the trip to Barrington as easily as our on-farm CSA members can.  We also at times have extra produce that is enough to sell, but not enough for 85 members to all have more of - this relates directly to the above comment about kale and chard.  We had enough to give every member a bunch of greens a number of weeks in a row, but if we only have enough extra cucumbers for 40 members, we cannot equitably distribute the surplus.  We can, however, offer a discount as a way to ensure that we are selling them and they are not remaining in our fields, and that they are available to you at a lower cost if you do want them.  This year, when we offered a discount on cucumbers it was only after all CSAs members had gotten them repeatedly and we were getting towards the end of their harvest.

As for the late start to the season, we were excited to offer an extra item a few weeks back as a way to make up for the slow start to the spring.  That involved no extra cost on your part and we would have loved to be able to do that for more than just the one week.  Part of joining a CSA means sharing the risks of the season with the farmer and that includes weather related issues.  I am certain that our CSA, like others, will face challenges in the coming years that reflect this year's - a late start, an early end, a failed tomato crop, diseases that wipe out the onions, rain that prevents tractors from getting on the fields, a poorly timed hail storm that takes out a lettuce harvest, a late frost that kills summer crops, and so on.  We recognize that it's frustrating for you, having made a purchase ahead of time for your vegetables to not receive them when we thought we would be able to have them available.  We distributed all extra produce that was available, and offered discounts as we were able to.  Over the course of the coming years, we expect to have seasons that are as excellent as this one has been challenging and when that happens, we will be thrilled to distribute the extra food that we grow.

  • This year I was a little disappointed compared to last year.  Items listed in the email didn't always appear in the shop.  I had a medium share and I often found myself trying to figure out what to take for the last item or two.  I realize that conditions weren't perfect this year...I'm just answering the question
  • I had to switch to the later pickup time this year for our market share, and by then many items I'd hoped to get, based on the weekly list in your email, were no longer available :-(
  • There were some items we did not receive, since they were gone by pick up, I feel like with the market style, there should be a replenishing so it is not a race to get the produce we already paid for in advance.
  • ​We pick up our vegetables on Thursday morning early, but often find some vegetables already gone.  I understand that those who get boxed shares have first choice; however, it would be great to be able to pick up beets, carrots and potatoes on Thursday (and maybe corn?).
So a couple notes about the market shares.  First, is that boxed shares don't get preference - we sit down at the beginning of the week, make a list of what's available, and distribute the produce accordingly.  In that process, market shares and boxed shares are treated equitably, as are the different sized shares, so as to ensure that everyone gets a good variety over the course of the season.  Second is that we make sure that every member, of every size share, and on every pickup day, gets access to every vegetable we grow.  This means that for the market shares, we ensure that there is at least one week (for items such as peaches, raspberries, corn, etc that are limited) and more like two or three or four (for more common items like carrots, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants) that we have enough of each item for everyone who comes.

When we create the market style shares, we do not put out everything that is on the harvest list.  I've added a note to the newsletter for this week to ensure that is clearer and I apologize for not having done so earlier in the season.  We make sure that the table and chalkboard has a great selection of food and that there's enough choice that our large shares get flexibility as well.  In doing so, we choose a variety of greens to set out, a selection of available root crops, at least one item from the onion family (leeks, scallions, garlic, etc), a choice of whatever fruit is available, and the 'next new thing' such as zucchini in July, eggplant in August, and squash in September and October.  We're committed to always giving you a choice so that you can take home a great selection of food that you'll love.

We do certainly run into some problems - sometimes we have 15 market members coming, but only 10 pints of cherry tomatoes are ripe (an issue earlier in the season, but bear with me).  Do we not harvest them because it's not equitable?  Or do we harvest them and put them out, as they've already been paid for?  We tend towards putting them out, since we have yet to find a reason that justifies holding them back if they're available.  In these instances, we make sure that even if the cherry tomatoes are gone, there are still fantastic choices available, and then we write down a note that not everyone got cherry tomatoes, so that as soon as it is possible, we'll have 15 (or more!) pints out.  It's definitely a hard balance and one that we're still growing accustomed to, and one made harder this year since instead of sizing up all at once, we had crops like beets and broccoli slowly trickle in, meaning only a handful of people got them each week and we had to spread that around.  A good rule of thumb - and one that we try to explain to folks and I definitely should have made clearer in the emails - is that you'll never see the whole harvest list.  Why?  A lot of those items on the list are either just beginning to come in (as in the example above) or are on their way out, and there's simply not enough for everyone.  I've toyed with the idea of taking the harvest list out of the email entirely, since who wants to see 'tomatoes' listed at the beginning of August, and then have them not appear in their shares for a week or two?  At the same time, it's a good representation of what's available, so that folks have at least some idea of what to expect.

We'll try to have a better representation on the market table for next year so that we can avoid most of this problem and we'll be more transparent about how the harvest list in the email works.  I'm sorry for any confusion and disappointment the harvest list has caused thus far.

I just want to also make a quick note about some of the examples used to explain all of this.  The kale and chard was handed out because we wanted to make sure you all had enough food each week and we were struggling through a terrible start to our growing season, as well as the fact that both are early spring vegetables and are generally reliable until harvest picks up in July and August.  The cucumbers were offered at a discount only after we distributed them in all of your shares and we were faced with a remaining surplus that we had to decide what to do with.  The example of the cherry tomatoes came at the beginning of their harvest when we were aiming to get folks their first tomatoes of the year as quickly as we could.  All of these were different scenarios with different crops and there were a lot of external factors at play - what else was ready to be harvested, how much total we had available of that crop over the season, the time of year, what we knew would ripen next, etc.  If you have remaining questions of how we make these decisions, feel free to ask!  It's always something that we're happy to go over with you.

These comments and concerns were from a small minority of our members, but if now that you've read over them and realize that you agree, or that they raise a new issue that you didn't think of before, please let us know!  We're always looking for ways to improve and these types of concerns let us know that there are aspects of our CSA we should take a look at and reevaluate for the future.

A Few Parting Words

Thank you for all of your thoughts, suggestions, and concerns.  It's certainly quite a bit of food for thought and we're spending this fall and winter making sure that we're taking what you said into account.  We'll make as many changes as we can so that the CSA can continue to be as successful as it has been!

Again, we're so thankful for all of you who took the time to let us know how we're doing.  We were thrilled at how positive the response was and are definitely taking the handful of concerns into account as we look towards 2016.

Questions? Comments? Thoughts

Drop us a line and let us know if reading over this has sparked anything else that you'd like to have us know!