Farmer John Writes: Whose Choice Should It Be?

 In Farm News

Harvest Week 3, Deliveries of July 4th – 8th, 2023

Season’s Blessings

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 to learn about our pro-rated shares.

Odd Development

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.

flea beetles—not this year

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

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.

Farmer’s Choice

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,
Farmer John

Recent Posts
Showing 21 comments
  • Margy LaFreniere

    I feel I have received the best of both worlds in regards to customization. I joined the farm back before customization was available. I learned SO MUCH about about foods I had never tasted before – kohlrabi, chard, daikon radish, chinese cabbage, kuri squash, beets. Now that I am seasoned, I get to customize. To my great delight, I can now enjoy as many beets (and beet greens!), chinese cabbage, and winter squash as my box can handle. I can avoid daikon radish. Whatever you decide regarding customization in the future, I’ll be happy. But I consider this sequence of events unusually lucky. Sweet summer breezes to you and the team!

    • Farmer John

      Lucky you, really…I almost decided to seed three beds of daikon radishes this season, but decided on the usual two (’cause of the likes of you…I mean the dislikes of you and more.)

  • Jill Paulus

    I think as cost goes up, if Farmers Choice makes it more possible to keep cost down, which I think it would, I was happy with Farmers Choice. Now, given a choice I will take it. But I eat all my vegetables! Thank you! Jill Paulus

    • Farmer John

      Farmer’s Choice might keep costs down in certain ways, but if we lose a lot of customers because we convert to Farmer’s Choice, costs might go up, because we are at a smaller production scale. Business is a labyrinth.

  • Allison

    As always, thanks for the farm news! I just want to mention, I love my CSA box – with or without customization! I was a member pre customization and learned that my tastes changed – I didn’t think I liked turnips, beets, Brussels Sprouts winter squash, or radishes, and because of my farmers choice boxes I tasted them anew and now love them. But, I appreciate the option to customize my box – now, I grow my own herbs, dinasour kale, hot peppers, and cherry tomatoes – so it doesn’t make sense to have more of those.

    Thanks for growing great vegetable and creating a systematic for me purchase them!

    • Farmer John

      Wow: You didn’t think you liked “turnips, beets, Brussels Sprouts winter squash, or radishes…” I love that you decided otherwise. I think it is a triumph to overcome food aversions like you have.
      Seems a bit like learning a new language–requires a certain inner mobility.

  • Karen Healer

    I appreciate having the option to choose my produce because I am on a low oxalate diet and have to be careful with what I eat. The fact that you offer people the option to choose is why I became a member. A number of my friends are members too and they love the fact that they can choose the veggies and fruits they want. I would rather not pay for veggies I cannot eat. Thanks for offering us a choice!

    • Farmer John

      Thanks for sharing your clear affinity for customizing.

  • Donna

    I am a new member this year, and part of the reason I joined was that I had the choice of what I added to my box. There are certain products that you grow that I have no interest in, and if they were just put in the box, they would either go to waste or I would see if a neighbor would eat them. I appreciate the choice, thank you!

  • Deepa

    Another member with memories of the farmer’s choice box, and later the swap box at my local delivery site. Those were the days before refrigeration at the farm, and the box truly reflected the abundance (or lack of) that growing season. One season was not very productive so I was introduced to pea shoots (didn’t care for it but others did)! We’ve eaten many veggies I may not have otherwise tried, but I do enjoy the customization option too. The assigned $ value for veggie customization is only a way to allow for changes- to me it’s also reflective of the availability that week. It’s all good!

    Thank you and the team for growing our food!

    Also, fashion models?!

    • Farmer John

      I like “It’s aLL good!” I will remember that next time I am having a bad day. The 4 fashion models were so tall. I think they were all over 6 ft, off the runway in Boston, looking for adventure in San Miguel

  • Kate

    Thanks for farm notes, and for the customization option. I recall getting a ‘surprise’ box fondly, and the fun of figuring out what to cook with new or unexpected items. But with young kids now, it makes my life a little easier to know what’s coming and select a few more of the veggies I know the littles will enjoy. Thank you for providing this option despite the additional work it creates for your crew – our family is grateful!

    • Farmer John

      The “Littles!” What a great title for kids. Thanks for your input.

  • Colleen Frayn

    I’m working with a nutritionist on a particular food plan so I appreciate the customization.
    Thank you for offering this.

    • Farmer John

      Thanks, Colleen, I tend to offer people what they want, not what I want them to want, or think they should want. However, I think it is interesting how many people have posted here who found out they liked something that they never thought they would like. Your program, though, doesn’t sound like it’s based on wanting, but on what you and your nutritionist decide you are needing.

  • chris

    I like choosing each time. If anyone wants to have a new/ surprise item, they can just swap it out for Farmer’s Choice. You already anticipated this situation, so no problem! Thanks for all you do!

  • Alicia

    I adore the changes you’ve made into this season: good job Amanda for your hard work!

    I hear the value of a Farmer’s Choice box, especially in introducing new vegetables to people. I’m already an adventurous eater, have a full time job, and two small kids, so knowing what is coming (and being able to select out items I know we won’t use much of) is really helpful. I switched from a different CSA to Angelic Organics because of the customization feature.

    • Farmer John

      Thanks for your input, Alicia. If there is a time to try new foods, it’s probably not in your busy life these days. Nice to hear from you.

pingbacks / trackbacks
  • […] received so many interesting responses to last week’s Farm News, Whose Choice Should it Be?, about customization, that it seems appropriate for this issue of Farm News to be a venue for […]

Leave a Comment