Farmer John Writes: Whose Choice Should It Be?
Harvest Week 3, Deliveries of July 4th – 8th, 2023
The season has been going splendidly. The crops are maturing in extraordinary abundance. Broccoli, summer squash, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, cabbage, beautiful heads of bok choy, beets, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi…a huge stream, a torrent of vegetables. Good to be part of our CSA this season.
Let Your Friends Know
We still have 2023 CSA shares available. Send your friends to www.angelicorganics.com to learn about our pro-rated shares.
Season after season, we have had to protect our crops from flea beetles. They eat holes into our leafy crops—they can ruin a whole bed of arugula in one night if the arugula is not protected. We spend lots of money in time and materials covering many susceptible crops with row covers, but not this year—this year we have had very minor damage by flea beetles. Not sure why, not sure for how long. They seem to become especially active in the heat, but this year’s moderate heat has not encouraged them.
I knew a big grower of organic vegetables in Colorado—thousands of acres. He said flea beetles were his nemesis. Rotating his crops didn’t matter, because they would fly in from afar. He took a plane up over his property with a net attached to see if they were sky borne; his net was quickly caked with flea beetles. Colorado extension says this about flea beetles.
For those of you who are familiar with Secrets of the Soil by Peter Tompkins, you might remember a premise he offered that balanced soil grows plants with a certain light spectrum that makes the crops invisible to insect marauders. I used to think that way, but I’m more seasoned (skeptical) than that now. I still like the idea that plants grown in perfectly balanced soil are invisible to insects, but is it so? Maybe, maybe not.
You Can Buy More When You Customize Your Share
We offer more crops for you to customize than what your $45 box can accommodate. We have to offer a surplus, so that shareholders can swap out some crops for other crops. In other words, there has to be some wiggle room when you customize your box.
Here’s a graphic example of what I am trying to convey:
The sliding puzzle has to contain an empty space in order to re-arrange the squares.
In our customization process, this sliding space is represented by surplus vegetables. We strive to have most of the vegetables that we offer for you to customize your share with in surplus. You can purchase vegetables and herbs that are in surplus, in addition to the items that make up your $45 box.
If You Do the Numbers
Your $45 box might not have cost you $45. You might have purchased your share for less than the full price when you signed up. So, possibly, when you select to receive a $5 bunch of kale or $5 bag of arugula, you aren’t really paying that much; in actuality, you are paying a pro-rated amount. Please be aware of this when you are customizing your box.
Speaking of Customizing
We hear shareholder rumblings now and then that some of you liked our former system of filling your boxes based on what we had in our fields that week—the Farmers’s Choice model. Back when we had the Farmer’s Choice model, we just harvested a volume of mixed produce and filled our boxes accordingly. Everyone pretty much received the same items.
But we know that some of you prefer to customize your share…
Studies typically reveal that CSA’s that offer box customization have about the same amount of shareholder retention as that of CSA’s that don’t offer box customization.
Here is an except from a loooooong comprehensive review of studies of CSA farms:
(This review focuses on California CSA farms, but other studies of CSA farms located elsewhere indicate similar findings.)
“…most frequently advocated in the literature—shares are customizable in terms of items—has no effect on retention rates. For the 16% of customizable CSAs—those that allow their members to configure their share items—retention rates were no different from standard CSAs (those with a standardized box).”
Overall, box customization is a deterrent for some people and a compelling feature for others.
To further summarize, shareholder retention is not better when shareholders can customize versus when the famer chooses what goes into the box.
Shareholder retention is an important factor in the viability of a CSA farm.
* If a farm does not customize its CSA shares, it will typically retain 60% of its former shareholders for the next year.
* If a farm customizes its CSA shares, it will typically retain 60% of its former shareholders for the next year.
Either way—to customize or not to customize—the typical CSA farm loses 40% of its shareholders ever year.
Like other CSA farms, Angelic Organics has about 60% shareholder retention. So, every year we have to drum up a lot of new customers, known as marketing. Marketing is not what I set out to do when I started the CSA over 30 years ago. Marketing wasn’t needed much during our first couple of decades as a CSA. Shares were much more likely to just sell themselves, which was great, because, again, I didn’t start a CSA in order to do marketing. I wanted to grow great food for people and for them to have a deep, rich experience of a farm.
Who Wants Customizing?
I think that, more or less, the shareholder who wants customizing knows what they want, knows what they don’t want, and consequently customizes their box with what they want. Getting less of what they don’t want will minimize food waste and heighten meal enjoyment.
Who Doesn’t Want Customizing?
I think that, more or less, the shareholder who does not want customizing wants to receive a range of items; items they are familiar with and which they know they like, items they are unfamiliar with, so as to try new things; and—get this—items they don’t like so they can learn how to work with them and maybe even come to like them.
My Fuchsia Shirt
Years back, a group of fashion models visiting Mexico, after a review of my closet, took me to a used clothing market for a makeover. One of the items they selected for me was a fuchsia, silk shirt.
“I would never wear that shirt,” I said. “Put it back.”
“You need this shirt,” a model said. “Try it.”
It became the most popular shirt in San Miguel de Allende. People asked to borrow it and even to buy it. Someone threatened to rip it off of me and run away with it. Even the customs officials at the LA Airport, upon noticing that my fuchsia shirt was ripped, offered to repair it with tape or staples.
If I had customized my fashion that day in San Miguel, I never would have enjoyed life in my fuchsia shirt.
The Downside of Customizing
Customizing requires more customer service—that’s a problem for this overworked farm. There are other downsides of customizing, such as buying, printing and attaching labels; monitoring box contents to make sure they match the labels; projecting how much of what we have to offer each week (though that part can also be a fun challenge). I will say that overall, the itemized label on the box incentivizes or permits some of our shareholders to email the farm regarding a miscount or a missing item. Farmer’s Choice boxes have no miscounts or missing items—they are formed out of variety and volume, but not specificity; their contents are not labeled.
You Can Help Us Out
Before emailing the farm office, please consult our FAQ’s. You might find the answer you seek before even writing us.
We now have a slick Report an Issue Form for you to fill out if you have a problem with your vegetables. This will expedite our evaluation of any complaints and providing credits for damaged or missing items.
Before customizing, years back:
Not About to Change
We’re not planning to revert back to Farmer’s Choice boxes at this point. Maybe we’ll get around to doing a survey to help us decide which model we should use.
It’s not really viable to offer both Farmer’s Choice and Customized Boxes through our current platform. We have to offer one or the other.
Yours in Fuchsia,