Survey musings

Well, we got 29 end-of-season CSA surveys back, a bit over half of our membership…not bad!  Many thanks to those of you who took the time to answer our questions and provide us with some feedback.  Of those 29, 10 were returning members, 8 were new to us but had been members of other CSAs, and 13 were completely new to CSAs.  The four things folks enjoyed the most about their Summit Springs Farm CSA experience were eating the veggies they received (of course!), buying local, seeing their farmers in person, and enjoying the variety of veggies we offered.  Members also mentioned that they enjoyed trying new foods and enjoyed the surprise of seeing what was in the share each week.  Seeing Lydia also made a few lists!

As for crops that folks would like us to try growing in the future, two of the top vote-getters, broccoli and cauliflower, are actually crops that we already grow.  Both, however, were hit especially hard by the wet, cool conditions we experienced in the early part of the summer.  Quite a few people want to see more berries.  We have a couple of raspberry beds planted and are patiently waiting for them to get established and do their thing.  We also plan to put in a pick-your-own high bush blueberry patch next year.  We’ll have more strawberries next season, too.  They managed to do surprisingly well this year in spite of the rain.  Rhubarb was also mentioned, and that, too, is on our radar.  We plan to try and get a patch established next year.  A few people want asparagus.  We actually have a small patch of it up beside the house for ourselves.  Asparagus is not really a viable option for the CSA for the simple reason that it peaks so early in the spring.  By the time June rolls in and our other early crops are ready to go out to our members, the asparagus is pretty much done!  A few people want corn, too, and that’s a crop that, unfortunately we won’t be growing.  We tried growing a couple of beds last season but lost about half the crop to hungry raccoons.  Beyond the pest pressure, however, is the fact that corn is simply a tough crop to grow organically.  It requires a lot of space and a lot of fertilizer to produce well.  A heavy investment of time and resources must be made for a crop that most folks are used to getting very cheaply (six ears for a dollar, and such), and we just can’t justify the effort for the reward.

A lot of our members would like to see more beets, squash, potatoes, and tomatoes.  These crops all suffered as a result of the wet summer, especially the tomatoes.  We plan to plant more of all these crops next season, so more will be coming your way.  String beans also got a number of votes, and they’ll be back in quantity, too, especially since we discovered those lovely, dark Royal Burgundy beans.  The combo bags of those, wax beans, and Provider green beans were a big hit with our CSA and market customers.  For crops that folks would like to see less of in the future, radishes (both French Breakfast and daikon) and kohlrabi topped the list, with broccoli raab and braising greens following closely behind.  Duly noted!  We’re aware that the CSA was smothered with raab during the last five or six weeks of the season.  We simply had no idea how well the raab would do when transplanted as opposed to seeding it directly in the field.  And it’s still producing…I took several bunches to the Portland market just last week!

Most of our members felt they received enough food in their share this season.  Five members felt they got too little, and three members felt they got too much.  Most of the survey respondents also thought that the quality of the produce they received was high.  Five gave quality an “average” rating, and a few folks mentioned that they felt the veggie sizes were on the small side.  We’re pleased that overall, most of our members were happy with our quantities and quality this season, especially considering how tough the growing conditions were.  Both share and veggie sizes (onions immediately come to mind) were directly affected by the wet weather early in the summer, so we hope that we’ll see improvement next season, assuming, of course, that it’s not as wet.

Most of the survey respondents were pleased with the pick-up schedule and found the times and locations convenient for them.  We’re always open to suggestions for new drop-off sites for shares, and we wouldn’t hesitate to add new sites based on logistics and interest.  Also, I offer members who live far from a pick-up spot this challenge:  If you can do a bit of promotion for us and get 8 or 10 families in your area to join the CSA, we’ll establish a drop.  Something other CSAs often do is drop off shares at one member’s house, and then other members drop by during established times to get their shares.  The “host” member will receive a discount on their share for their willingness to act as a hub.  Just a thought…  The CSA also received positive marks for general customer service at markets and pick-ups.

We had our first weeding party this season, and survey respondents overwhelmingly mentioned that they’d like to see more volunteer work gatherings like this in the future.  This is great to hear, since the party was so much fun and so productive!

A few folks mentioned that they preferred receiving printed CSA newsletters instead of the blog approach we adopted this year.  I can sympathize.  A tangible piece of paper in hand is preferable to me, too…as the child of two librarians, the idea of an “e-book” makes me shudder.  Still, the blog makes sense for many reasons.  It’s quick, easy to update, and eats up fewer resources.  During the 2008 season, we were often scrambling around on Monday evenings to get the newsletter finished and printed out.  We motored through amazing amounts of paper and printer ink each week, too.  All that effort got people articles and updates, recipes and announcements, but it didn’t get them what many wanted most:  simply, a list of what was in their share each week.  We couldn’t add this info. to the print version because the make-up of each week’s share is often in part decided right in the field during the big Tuesday morning harvest.  We obviously know ahead of time what we expect a share to include, but there are often last minute changes.  With the blog, I can sit down just after lunch on Tuesday and list exactly what’s in the share for the week.

The blog will also, I hope, be a tool in networking and community-building.  The whole point of a blog, and what makes it different from a website, is its interactive nature.  I create a post and folks who read it can comment on it, add to it, and create a conversation.  We had a few members this past season post recipes in their blog comments…others mentioned veggies in that week’s share that they liked or disliked.  It’s this type of interaction, a bit of give and take, that can make a blog lively, informative, and a whole lot of fun.  I hope to see more comments and contributions from members in the future!  Even if you don’t want to start or participate in a conversation, though, it is important to check the blog at least once a week.  We see it as the most effective and efficient way to keep our members up to date and “in-the-know” on how the season is going and for other announcements and events.  At pick-ups, Sonya and I make every effort to chat with members and mention how things are going or pass along news about upcoming potlucks and such.  However, pick-ups can be busy…sometimes folks are in a hurry and can’t chat much, or five or six members show up at once, etc.  There was about a 50/50 split in the surveys of those who visited the website/blog weekly and those who did so infrequently or not at all, and one trend in the survey that really jumped out at us was that there was a direct correlation between members’ overall satisfaction this season and their blog visiting habits.  To put it as simply as possible, members who visited the blog regularly seemed to have a more rewarding CSA experience than those who did not, for the simple reason, I think, that those checking the blog more often had a sense of how the farm was doing during the course of the season.  Folks who didn’t keep up with the blog seemed less satisfied with the amount and variety of veggies they received, perhaps because they weren’t aware of how challenging a season this past one was.  So, CSAers:  Check the blog!  Consider it to be an important part of your responsibility as a CSA member, right up there with remembering to pick up your share!

For future improvements to the CSA, we received all sorts of suggestions.  A few respondents want more “extras” to be sold at pick-ups, like cucumbers and tomatoes.  That all depends on supply which was hard to come by this past season!  However, a few people expressed concern in their surveys about that fact that this season, with tough conditions and overall share quantities down, we were selling any extra veggies at all.  Our cucumbers did very well this year, and on a few occasions, we sold extra cukes at pick-ups.  We realize now that this may have been a mistake and that these extras should have been passed on to our CSA members.  It’s a tough call sometimes.  The goal is to pass along a balanced CSA share, with plenty of produce to get our members through the week but not too much, to the point where people feel overwhelmed.  Some weeks we were giving members three or four cukes…would doubling that amount have been good news or bad news to most of our members?  Please let us know, and remember that we put a considerable amount of thought into what we include each week.

Egg sales were popular at pick-up, and I wanted to talk a little bit about egg prices.  Hens are fairly self-sufficient, but there’s still a considerable amount of labor involved.  Three times a day, one of us has to attend the birds:  to let them out of their coops and feed them, to gather eggs, and to lock them back into the coops at dusk.  There’s also regular cleaning and maintenance of the coops and moving to do.  We have two portable chicken coops that we move around the fields as needed, to both fertilize the beds and to provide fresh forage for the birds.  The real story with the laying hens, however, lies with their feed.  We are committed to farming organically, so we purchase only organic feed for our birds.  Organic feed is not only more expensive than conventional feed; it’s actually double the cost.  A 50 lb bag costs around $20 dollars, and our 100 birds eat their way through about four bags a week.  This adds up, and this is why we charge $4.50 per dozen.  This may even be too little.  This coming season, we plan to do a more rigorous cost analysis of the chicken side of our business and see where we stand.

And as for plans to rejoin next season, the majority of folks said they would be back next year, or they are at least thinking about it.  That’s good news, obviously!  We’ll be sending out info. to all of our ’09 members in the very near future about signing up for next year’s CSA.  In the meantime, thanks again for your input and enjoy the fall!

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