Member survey results

Howdy, all!  It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon, and I’m sitting here stuffed after Thanksgiving dinner, part…three?  Yes, I think we’re up to three.  During the feast, we pondered where everything had come from, and with the exception of the rice and mushrooms used for a delicious rice stuffing (one at our table is avoiding gluten), we did pretty well as far as local sourcing.  The bread for the traditional stuffing came from me and from Jeanette and Don at LolliePapa Farm in West Paris.  The bird came from Harvest Hill Farms here in Poland.  All the veggies, of course, came from right here at Summit Springs Farm:  pie pumpkin, winter squash, onions, garlic, rutabaga, potatoes, etc.  Most of the butter and milk we used came from High View Farm in Harrison.  The cranberries were local, too, though their source has slipped my mind for the moment.  Not bad, not bad…

Earlier this week before getting swooped up in the wonderful wave of cooking and family time, I managed to look through all of the returned 2010 CSA surveys, compile the data a bit, and come to some conclusions.  First off, many thanks to everyone who took the time to respond.  We got back around 34 surveys, or just over half of our membership, which seems like a good response rate to me.  It’s important because the results help us to get a sense of how we’re doing as farmers and CSA operators.  We want the CSA to be the best that it can possibly be, so getting your feedback…likes, dislikes, ideas for new approaches, etc…is crucial.

The responses we received were divided just about equally between new CSA members and returning members and also about equally between full and half share members.  One of my favorite survey questions is right at the beginning:  What did you enjoy most about your CSA experience?  The answers were lively and wide-ranging…everything from trying new veggies to eating more veggies, meeting people to supporting a local business, the convenience of the weekly pick-ups to not having to buy produce from the store all summer long.  The most frequent answers had to do with the freshness and quality of the food and with the variety of veggies received each week in the shares.  And…aw, shucks!…quite a few folks mentioned seeing and visiting with Sonya, Lydia, and I each week as something they enjoyed.  Us, too!

Folks came up with lots of different requests for crops they’d like to see more of next season, with the most popular requests being, not surprisingly, the crops we had some trouble with this season.  Broccoli and cauliflower were high on the list.  Our major problems with these crops had to do with our planting dates being off.  We think we’ve got it down now, and our fall broccoli has actually done fairly well…alas, after the CSA season ended!  Other popular requests were for eggplant and hot and bell peppers.  These crops struggled, too…a surge in the population of a pest called the tarnished plant bug did a number on both the eggplant and peppers we planted (esp. the eggplant…those critters eat the flowers so the fruit never has a chance to form).  Though peppers like hot weather, our plants actually flowered late because it was too hot, and this lowered our overall yields.  We’ll try again next season and hope for better results.  For crops that folks would like to receive less of in the future, there were really no front-runners.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that only a couple of people listed tomatoes and cucumbers, two crops we had in abundance.  I’m glad most of our members weren’t overwhelmed!  Aparagus was the clear favorite in the “what new things should we try and grow in the future?” category.  We have a small asparagus patch up beside the house that we put in three years ago, and this season we got a decent harvest from it.  The catch is that asparagus comes in early, usually in May, which is well before the CSA gets going.

The overwhelming majority of the survey respondents felt they received “enough” food, neither too much or two little.  This is a good thing, of course, but I was a little surprised by the consistency of this response even though our share quantities were pretty large overall this season….certainly larger than in the previous two seasons.  In terms of some crops, like cucumbers and especially tomatoes, the quantities offered at their respective peaks were quite generous.  I should cautiously note that share quantities will vary from season to season depending on the weather and on the many, many other factors that can impact the farm in ways both positive and negative.  Folks also overwhelmingly rated the quality of the produce they received as being “high”, and that’s very satisfying to us.  We strive to grow and pass along the highest quality produce we possibly can in terms of freshness, flavor, appearance, variety, and more.  I’m glad to see we’re doing well there.

About two thirds of the respondents picked up their shares here at the farm with most of the rest picking up down in Portland.  Most folks felt that the pick-up locations, days, and times worked well for them.  Some folks had to tweak their schedules a bit but felt that that was worth it to be able to participate in the CSA.  Next season, we hope to offer even more pick-up options.  Our goal is to expand the CSA and add another Portland drop plus maybe one in the Auburn/Lewiston area depending on the need.  Stay tuned for more details in the coming months…  We received no complaints about our customer service skills this season.  Again, that’s satisfying.  Our goal at pick-ups, whether on the farm or off, and whether it’s me or Sonya or one of our apprentices who’s on duty, is to be as open and helpful as possible, guiding our members through the process, providing suggestions about storing or preparing their veggies, answering questions about the farm, the season, what we’re doing, etc.  Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or put in your two cents!

We’ve had a couple of weeding parties at the farm so far, one last season and one this season.  Most of the surveys indicated that folks would like to see more such gatherings in the future though quite a few people mentioned that they themselves might be too busy to attend.  We understand.  Attendance at such events is certainly optional and we realize that many of our members may be unable or unwilling to participate.  For us, it’s another way to get to know our members better and vice versa.  We had a good turnout for our weeding party in ’09 and had a lot of fun working with some of our CSAers.  I think they appreciated getting a sense of the day-to-day work involved on the farm and spending a few hours out in the sun with their hands in the dirt.  Also, of course, a tremendous amount of work gets done.  A few hours of focused weeding with a big crew can save us days of work down the road.

As the blogger/website guy, I’m thrilled to learn that this season almost all of our survey respondents visited the Summit Springs Farm website at least once and that most of them checked the blog either weekly or every couple of weeks.  Beyond pick-ups and e-mail, the blog is really the main way we keep in touch with our members, and it’s a great source of information:  what’s contained in each week’s share, veggie storage and cooking tips, general farm updates and announcements, photos, food news, etc.  I really enjoy writing them up, and it’s nice to know that folks are paying attention!  As for improvements, several folks asked for more recipes.  Every winter, I try to add more recipes to the website archive, and I’ll be adding more soon.  We’ve received some good ones from CSA members and friends recently.  Folks would also like to see more photos, and I’m working on that.  At some point in the middle of this season, I finally figured out how to size my photos correctly…in the past, they’ve been quite small…and that lead me to post them more frequently.  Now that Sonya is armed in the field with a fancy-schmancy new iPhone that takes great photos, we hope to post even more in the future.  There were also a few comments asking for more CSA member input on the blog, and I would add my voice to that call, too.  The whole idea of a blog is for it to be an interactive experience.  Via comments, blog visitors can put their two cents in and interact with other readers.  I would love the blog to evolve into less of a series of static postings by yours truly and into more of a conversation.  So, post some comments, folks, and don’t be shy!  Tell the CSA blog-o-sphere about your favorite recipes, your storage and preserving tricks, your own gardening successes and failures, etc.  Ask questions and get some debates going.  We’d love to hear from you!

This season, we made the decision to offer a lot of extras for sale at our pick-ups…things like relish, pickles, bread, cookies, muffins, pizza dough, pancake mix and more in addition to the tried-and-true eggs and flower bouquets.  I also launched a bread share and wound up with six members who received a loaf of bread each week.  My bread shareholders seemed pleased with their weekly bread, and most of the surveys indicated that people enjoyed having extra options for purchase at pick-ups.  Personally, I loved the experience.  It was challenging and fun to spend my Mondays this season baking all day.  However, losing me out in the field for an entire day was tough for Sonya, and in the end, when the time and effort expended is compared with the profits made, it turns out to be not really worth it.  So, alas, we won’t be offering bread shares again next season.  However, if I still have the time and energy on Monday evenings, I would like to keep making quick and easy stuff like muffins and cookies to offer for sale on Tuesdays.

The vast majority of survey respondents indicated that they plan to join the CSA again next year.  That’s obviously good news for us, and we really appreciate your continuing support.  As for general comments and suggestions for how to improve the CSA, we received a variety of responses, and I’ll try to address some of them.  A few people want to see Lewiston/Auburn CSA pick-up options and more options for pick-ups down in Portland.  As mentioned above, we’re working on it.  We hope to add a second Portland drop, also on Friday if possible so we don’t have to make an extra trip down.  In L/A, it’s a matter of expanding our CSA membership in that area and figuring out the best option for a drop site.  We’ll keep everyone posted as we figure out these logistics.  Someone wants to see a farm sign.  We have a lovely sign that a friend painted for us, but we couldn’t use it because it had the word “organic” on it!  Now that our produce is certified organic, we can use it.  Some sort of signage will be coming in the spring…we’ve been inconspicuous for long enough!  A few folks have requested recipes and newsletters on paper rather than on-line.  We did this during our first season and have vowed never to do it again based on the time spent scrambling to finish and print off newsletters at the last minute and based on the expense and waste of using so much paper and printer ink.  I appreciate and love the allure of the printed word, but for our purposes, on-line works best.  Every year, the recipe index here on the website is expanding, so during the course of the season, don’t forget to check it out.  We have it organized so you simply click on the name of a particular vegetable and will then see a page of different recipes featuring that veggie.  Many of our all-time favs are up there plus many helpful and tasty recipes from friends, family, and CSA members.  A few folks wondered about a year-round CSA.  This season, we grew a lot of root crops and even grew (and are still growing) some greens in the back of the greenhouse once the tomato plants were finished and cleaned out of there.  A winter veggie CSA is certainly a possibility, but we have yet to really consider it seriously.  It would mean a lot more work for us at a time when, so far, we really feel we need to regroup, recharge, and plan ahead for the next season.  As the farm grows and we continue to add more veggies into the mix, we’ll see if a winter CSA, or a longer “regular” CSA, is in the cards.

Many thanks again to everyone who took the time to complete and return the surveys to us!

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2 Responses to Member survey results

  1. Steve says:

    Wondering about your thoughts on more fruits/berries? i.e. apples, blueberries, rasberries,etc.? Love your strawberries!

  2. John says:

    Sorry for the delayed response, Steve! Glad you love the strawberries, and we will continue to have those. We have a couple rows of raspberry bushes going in Field 1. It takes a few years for those to get established. We harvested some berries this past season and hope to have even more for the CSA in 2011. We also bought and planted about 20 high bush blueberry plants last spring. Again, those take some time to get established and really start cranking out fruit, so be patient! We have a few old apple trees here that produce some. The fruit isn’t bad, but they’re not the prettiest apples. We’ve wondered if we should just get those trees out of here and start fresh. Stay tuned…

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