Farmer John Writes: About Bounty
Harvest Week 4, June 29th – July 2nd, 2016
Before I Write About your Box this Week, I’m Writing About Your Email Delivery Notifications that You Might Be Receiving, Might Not
We have received several complaints from shareholders that they have not regularly been receiving their promised delivery notification emails from Chicago Messenger Service when their share arrives at their site. We know that emails end up in spam, bulk and in promotions folders; they get flagged sometimes by the Internet provider and never even reach their intended recipient; they sometimes don’t get sent in the first place. We want to find out what’s up with this season’s emails.
Please fill out this short survey to help us determine why some shareholders are not receiving their delivery notification emails. We want to determine how widespread this problem is, and how to resolve it. The survey will also help us to determine how many of you are receiving the pickup reminder email that is sent out at 8 p.m. the evening before your delivery. If you receive home delivery or if you pick up at the Farm, or in Rockford or Beloit, please also fill out the survey, as we want to determine the quality of your email notification service as well.
Using Your Box this Week to Make a Point
The first thing I will note about your box this week is that it is as full as we can possibly fill it. Our task has been figuring out what to leave out of the box. I say to our box packers, “pretend like you are packing for a trip to Europe and you are only taking a carry-on.”
We have more crop volume than we have room for in our CSA boxes, due to a tremendously bountiful season and due to not selling as many 2016 shares as we thought we would sell. I have mentioned in previous newsletters that the idea of a CSA farm tailoring its production to the number of shareholders who sign up for that season is a lovely picture, but the fact is that most shareholders sign up in March, April and May, long after we have made our plans, projections and guesses for how much to produce for how much demand we will have. We actually make our crop plans years in advance, due to our rotation and fertility practices, and we fully commit and prepare our fields for next year’s production during the summer prior to the upcoming year. We expected this year to match or exceed last year’s share sales. Our shareholder numbers are down from last year, the first year this has happened ever.
This is not a development unique to Angelic Organics. CSA share sales are down by about 20% for most farms throughout the land. Think Brexit, where an inclusionary, socially progressive impulse has been rejected or curtailed by a population that decided it wants change.
A central premise of CSA and the European Union is inclusion; the most distinctive feature that CSA offers is a relationship to a farm. Traditionally, the producer and customer in the capitalist model have a somewhat adversarial relationship (which might be rather unconscious, but it is nevertheless usually present and highly operative): what’s the best deal the customer can get, the biggest bargain, the greatest quantity? The producer is wondering how to trick or charm the customer out of the most money. I personally cringe when people brag about any great deal they get, because it makes me think about the person or business on the other side of that transaction. That person or business has needs, too.
In an ideal CSA model, the farmer will offer the most vibrant food and best services possible to the shareholder; the shareholder will pay the most possible to the farmer. The shareholder will not brag about the good deal she receives; she will be proud of the generous amount of money she pays for a share, how it has helped the farmer to roof his barn or provide for his family. The farmer will not exalt in how little he provides his shareholders, but in how much. In the ideal CSA model, the farmer’s primary concern is the shareholder; the shareholder’s primary concern is the farmer.
Many in the CSA movement have held hopes that connecting people to their very own farm would transform how people relate to food, earth, and one another. My whole adult life has been an initiative to connect people to farms, especially to my own farm. Yet many people, even those who were once shareholders, choose to source their vegetables through avenues less personal and intimate than the Community Supported Agriculture model. I wonder what’s better than having your very own farm, without all the work!?
The crops for this season are already planted; the money has been committed to their production; the harvests are upon us, overwhelming the demand. An organic wholesaler said to me recently, “starting about a year ago, the bottom dropped out of the market. It seemed people didn’t want organics, even if you gave it to them for free.” A trend can reverse on a dime. It happened with housing in 2008. It happened recently with the luxury goods market. It happened with the British pound last Friday—the biggest single day decline in the history of the pound. Whoosh…
16 Week Shares Start Next Week–Please Spread the Word
It will help us if you encourage your friends, neighbors and relatives to sign up for a 16-Week Share. They will receive the best, most bountiful vegetables and herbs ever to come from Angelic Organics. Have them visit our website to learn about our 16-Week Shares for $70 savings. These shares can now conveniently be purchased through PayPal. The deadline for signing up for a 16-Week Share is Sunday, July 3.
Just in Case
Before you decide to offer advice for what to do with our surplus other than provide it through our Community Supported Agriculture program starting next week in the form of 16-Week CSA Shares, I’ll address the suggestions that people already freely provide.
~Farmers’ markets are flooded; revenues at farmers’ markets throughout the country have begun to decline—some farms report a 30 to 50% reduction in sales at their markets. In addition, the farmers’ market model requires a significant diversion of resources and staff that would interfere with our CSA priorities.
~ Restaurant accounts take a long time to establish; sales volume per account is typically low; invoicing is tedious; collections are sometimes exasperating and even unsuccessful; many farms are scrambling for sales, so I suspect that many restaurants are inundated with offers from growers.
~ Stores—see Restaurant accounts above.
~ Wholesale—we do not have the scale of production to adequately qualify for wholesale markets; wholesale prices for organic are low and seem to be going lower (You might want to read that again: wholesale prices for organic are low and seem to be going lower—this from my friend in the organic wholesaling business); packing and grading for wholesale is a whole other method than what we engage for our CSA shares, requiring an inventory of different types of pricey boxes for each crop, and exact sizing and bunching standards.
~ Value Added—processing crops and branding them through freezing, pickling or canning, etc. to add value requires a long-range, comprehensive plan, a large allocation of staff and capital, licensed infrastructure, and a steep learning curve. Besides, we think we add value already by growing organically; consistently delivering fresh, nutritious, bountiful shares on time; hosting field days; regularly providing a farm newsletter; offering a U-Pick garden; and promoting the programs of the Angelic Organics Learning Center. We’re already kind of busy adding value.
~ Food Banks—we can’t afford to spend a lot of money growing great crops, and then give them away. This might sound heard-hearted, but we’re simply not financially able to be generous like this. We used to have a section in our shareholder signup form where shareholders could donate to a fund for low income shares, but it was a cumbersome process and it was hard to determine who best qualified for the low income status. Since we retired that program, I have been yearning to revive it in some fashion. I might still to that. We have surplus. People have hunger. Can this gap be bridged? Stay tuned.
Finally, About Your Box this Week
The broccoli came on suddenly, as spring broccoli in the Midwest often does. A nice perfectly ripe head of broccoli one day can age beyond usable in another day or two. Some of you will receive 3 heads of broccoli this week. We ice it in the field if we are harvesting on a warm morning, and always ice it thoroughly before it goes into our cooler. I like to distribute broccoli as quickly after harvest as possible, when it is at its freshest.
You probably won’t receive a bunched cooking green this week, such as kale or chard, because we have too many other vegetables to squeeze into your box. Of course, you can treat your beet greens as a cooking green. The beet greens are unusually lovely this year. Beet greens are very similar to chard; they just happen to have beets attached at their base.
You’ll receive a large kohlrabi—it’s the most exotic looking item in your box, though the garlic scapes you receive also deserve a high exotic rating.
You will receive beautiful young mizuna greens. Some of our shareholders do not love mizuna; some do. We’ve been filling our swap boxes to the brim; if you are not a mizuna lover, maybe you can swap it for something you do love.
We’ll try to sneak a head of lettuce into your box…those heads of broccoli take up a lot of room, though.
If you haven’t yet, check out last week’s issue of Farm News where you can learn how to visit the farm and pack your own box Free Choice. You’ll also learn how to properly work with Member Assembler, our online CSA shareholder management system, to schedule vacation holds and temporary delivery site changes.
Box Contents for Saturday, July 2nd
Please Note: this summary is written before you receive your box—be aware that some guesswork is involved. At times, a bit of improvisation is required for selecting the contents of your share. As always, be sure to thoroughly wash all of your vegetables.
- Zucchini / Summer squash
- Beets with greens
- Garlic scapes
- Lettuce (maybe)
Field Days at the Farm, July 16 and Sept 17—Mark Your Calendar
We hope you will attend one or both of our Field Days, Saturday, July 16, and Saturday, September 17. Plan to arrive late morning for hayrides, potluck feast, a visit to the animals at the Learning Center, and a trip to the U-Pick garden, perhaps for some green beans and a bouquet of flowers. It’s a great day for all. Please arrive by 11 a.m. We like to complete the hayrides by lunch at 12:30, but many shareholders show up just before lunch time wanting a hayride for their excited, hungry kids, otherwise known as a management challenge. Check out this page for details on the Field Day: www.angelicorganics.com/field-days-for-shareholders/
Please Fold Your Boxes Properly and Return Them
The farm re-uses the vegetable boxes. Flaps are easily torn when the boxes are dismantled improperly, and then the box bottom might later burst open with fresh, organic local produce heading towards the floor. Please carefully flatten your box and return it to your delivery site. If you receive home delivery, place them in the location where your box is delivered.
More from Shareholders
Visit us often at www.facebook.com/angelicorganics where we post exciting farm developments regularly, and shareholders post recipes, reviews tips, and photos. If you’re inspired to write a review, please do. We like knowing how our shareholders are experiencing the season.
Another Reason to Visit the Farm: Adventures at the Angelic Organics Learning Center
Angelic Organics Learning Center is an exciting and engaging place to learn about food, farming, and caring for the earth. Sign up for a hands-on farm workshop now at www.learngrowconnect.org/events