Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ranting and Raving and Raspberries

Raspberries – To have or have not?
Just taking an informal survey: Should we grow raspberries for our CSA or not?

The following is just a little ranting & raving, in the hopes that you’ll come to understand where we’re coming from and appreciate the challenges facing farmers & CSA farms:

We’ve been putting raspberries in the CSA boxes, but not listing them in the newsletter as an item in the box. Sometimes we can’t pick enough to put in all of the boxes, so rather than put them on the list and get complaints from someone who didn’t get a container in the box, we put them in as many boxes as we can and consider it a bonus.

We try to harvest the day we pack boxes, but depending on the weather or the other work, we sometimes pick them the day before we pack CSA boxes. Each berry is picked and packed by hand, with care. Raspberries are fragile little things. The bushes ripen at different rates, so a container of berries may contain under ripe, overripe and perfect berries, depending on the person who picks them. (Plus the crew has to deal with the perils of snakes and spiders in the raspberry rows!) We put an absorbent liner in the containers and keep them in a cooler with a fan blowing on them, in an effort to keep them dry and fresh. We visually inspect each container before we pack it in a box – if there is any mold or decay, we don’t pack it. Sadly, after the boxes are packed, closed and put on the truck sometimes mold grows, as quickly as overnight.

We’ve had a few complaints that the bonus raspberries were moldy when the CSA member opened the box or after being in the fridge for a day or two. Moldy raspberries are very disappointing, but some acts of nature are out of our control. I am probably way too sensitive and need to grow a thicker skin, but we take complaints seriously (and a bit personally). We hold ourselves to a high standard and we pack exceptionally high quality boxes each and every week. Considering the number of boxes we pack, we get very few complaints, thankfully. Personally, I think you should only complain if you’ve already complimented – please don’t criticize for one bruised item in the 4th or 15th box you’ve received if you didn’t take the effort to tell us about how much you loved any number of items in boxes 1-14. Look at the whole season with some perspective!

CSA boxes do not grow on trees or sprout fully formed out of the ground. Each item in your box was planted, cared for, harvested, cooled, cleaned and then packed carefully & mindfully in your box. The boxes are not always going to be perfect and there is bound to be differences in the produce found in each box – different sizes, different colors, different varieties.
If you came into CSA with the expectation of a perfect box each week, full of your favorite items (unblemished and faultless) and only containing familiar and favorite items, then CSA may not be right for you.

If you find fault with the box because you saw something on our Farmer’s Market list or an item of ours at the co-op that wasn’t in your box, our CSA may not be right for you. We grow about 100 different crops for three different markets: CSA, Farmer’s Market and Wholesale. This diversity protects our CSA members – if we have a crop failure, we can still pack our CSA boxes by utilizing the crops originally planned for those other markets. We do everything we can (and with almost 17 years of CSA experience & 35 years of farming experience, Richard knows what he’s doing!) to provide for our CSA members.

Richard & Andrea work 7 days a week consistently, generally getting up at 5 in the morning and working until 9 or 10 at night. (I don’t work that much without getting a bit “bent out of shape” as Richard characterizes my crankiness. I try to keep happy (myself & those around me) and limit work to around 45 hours a week)

Our crew of 50 (!!) starts at 8am and works until at least 6 pm, M-F, with an hour for lunch. We’ve had a full crew for most Saturdays this season too! Besides the time invested, it’s blood, sweat, tears and a lot of pride in the work we do. Because we put so much of ourselves into the work and put such great effort into each CSA box, it’s hard not to take complaints personally. I think it’s important that CSA members remember that joining our CSA is not simply purchasing a box of produce –it’s not the same experience as going to the store or market to pick out your own produce. One of the main tenets of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is the development of a relationship between grower and consumer. It’s not simply an exchange of goods for cash. It’s a commitment to a farm for the season – good and bad. It’s a connection between CSA members and the farm, a relationship to the place where your food comes from, and recognition of the effort it takes to produce it.

Thank you for listening. Now go eat your veggies!


Sarah said...

oh, please do *not* stop packing up delicious raspberries! Our two little girls gobble them up before they can even get to our fridge (or sometimes, even HOME) Thursday afternoons. One of the things we've learned eating our boxes every week is that we'll find things we don't like (edamame) and that's OK. We find new ways to try and incorporate it, and celebrate the 18 other things in the box we LOVE (I mean, who else gets to eat the best garlic and onions in the world EVERY week?)
We love the challenge a box brings to the pallets of two adults,a 6 year old and toddler. Don't change anything! :)

Amy P. said...

Personally, I think that our CSA boxes have been amazing this year, especially considering how weird the weather has been this season.

On the web I've seen photos of other CSA boxes on food blogs and read complaints (Chowhound & the Cooking Away My CSA Google group)from people doing other CSA farm shares about the limited items they've received in their boxes this year. HVF members have added their comments and they've been nothing but positive. We're extremely lucky to have a share with your farm.

For many people, it's their first year doing a CSA and they probably don't know what to expect. There are going to be great things, and maybe the occasional disappointment. That's just how it is. Participating in a CSA relationship, you start to realize the multitude of variables involved in growing food and it doesn't just churn out perfectly from an assembly line.

The variety of items in the HVF boxes push the envelope in terms of familiarity. I think that's a cool thing and an opportunity to learn, but for some, it may be a bit overwhelming.

Keep up the excellent work, guys! We appreciate everything you do.

Nick said...

Personally, I love getting the raspberries - they've been consistently among the tastiest raspberries I've had! Sure, once there were some traces of mold on one of the packages... but that just meant we ate the raspberries as we unpacked the rest of the box, instead of leaving them for the next morning's breakfast. We know berries are fragile, temperamental things - and they're always gone within 24 hours anyway...

We've always seen the raspberries as a bonus item, and are delighted to get them.

AZ said...

We, at least, absolutely love the surprise raspberries in our CSA box whenever we get them! And we love everything else about our CSA--from the amazing diversity of vegetables to the recipes and articles you include in the newsletter to how on top of things you guys really are. We love Harmony Valley, and wouldn't have our CSA experience any other way. (Here's a photo we took last week, in the spirit of the Hungry Planet photos, which prominently displays how important a part of our weekly diet our CSA veggies really are.)

Jonner said...

I hope the raspberries keep coming, they're one of my favorite fruits. We did have a few raspberries that came moldy this year, but we were still able to eat most of them and I understand that packing raspberries at exactly the right time is a very difficult task, so I didn't want to complain. In any case, the vast majority of the food we get from HVF is so much tastier than anything else we can get (even at the coop, generally), that the occasional imperfection doesn't bother me at all.

Tricia said...

Personally, I love the bonus raspberries, and I'd rather have them and deal with a few moldy spots on occasion than not have them. I think it's been a really spectacular year of boxes so far. Thanks for all the hard work.

Anonymous said...

I love getting the bonus raspberries, they are an extra special surprise and I totally understand that they are fragile but don't mind at all. I can only imagine how hard all of you work to keep us happy and I appreciate it so much! CSA pick up day is my favorite day of the week!

Anonymous said...

While this is my first season with a CSA, I've been mostly pleased. I have gotten a container or two of raspberries that has molded before I've been able to eat them, but such is life. To me this is the price of FRESH food. Sometimes, it goes bad faster because the microbes love it just as much as I do!
I think overall you guys are doing an awesome job :)

Sue said...

This the best CSA ever - and we've tried a couple of them. All were wonderful, but your veggies and the bonus fruits are lovely, fresh, and the best tasting food we get all summer. Also, the flexibility you offer - the bi-monthly veggie share, for example is a plus we deeply appreciate. We love the raspberries. This year's crop was delicious, and a few moldy ones just come with the territory. Again, kudos. We can't say it enough.

Anonymous said...

I have loved the raspberries alot and everything else, it has been a great first year for me.

Mary said...

I think you guys are awesome.
Thanks for all you do to bring us wonderful food. I too love the raspberries, but would understand if you thought they were too much for you to keep up with!!

Marianne said...

I love the raspberries, and the few moldy ones don't bother me. However, I would understand if the raspberry venture is more trouble than it is worth. If you discontinue it, could we get an extra melon instead? The melons were awesome this summer!

renee said...

We love the raspberries! We have dubbed Thuesday's as "raspberry Thursday." They do not even get a chance to make it to the fridge! Thanks for all the work!

Kat said...

My raspberries were a bit moldy this last week, but it never even occurred to me to complain about it! I love love love the surprise, and loved the handful I did eat. What a treat!

I definitely understand if it's more trouble than it's worth to pack them in the boxes. But I also think it's an important learning moment for those of us who don't grow our own food. This is my first year of CSA, and I want to experience the connection between the earth and our food. If that means failed crops (and a few moldy raspberries does not constitute failed crops), I feel good sharing in the cost of that too. Or, at least, I want to understand it.

And really, HVF communicates so well -- before we signed up, during the season, and throughout the year. I've been entirely impressed with the communication, the boxes, the amazing variety of food, and everything. Keep up the good work!

p.s. I agree with marianne -- those melons were AMAZING!!

John said...

Love the raspberries, completely ok with them being a bit fuzzy at times!

They make granola in the morning that much better the next morning!

Second year of HVF for us, and we're very happy with it.

-John, Prior Lake, MN

City Girl said...

This is my first year joining a CSA, and I have LOVED every box! I love the raspberries too, and though I'm not one that found mold, really don't think I'd complain if I had. The selection and quality we get from week to week from HVF is AMAZING! Yes, there may sometimes be some 'bad apples' but in light of the rest of the shares who cares?! We made some AMAZING raspberry streusel muffins with ours - a real treat.

Rachel N. said...

I agree -- we love the bonus raspberries and they are always devoured very quickly.

This is our first year with a CSA and we have learned so much. I can't wait until next year so I'll be able to use what I've learned. I'm confident that we'll get even more out of the tasty box of veggies. Thanks for all of the work. It is appreciated.

Veronica W said...

I didn't even know about the raspberries. I love surprises, so I will be looking out for them. I wanted to add my love to all the others! I and my friends have truly enjoyed the experience of going through the boxes, eating our favorites and a few things we didn't know were edible. I can't get over how clean everything is when it gets to me. (I've grown my own, they don't come that way!) Please let everyone on the farm how much we appreciate all the things they do to get a little bit of the country to my part of the city!

joajean said...

I agree with Kat,...the raspberries did catch a little mold the other week pretty quickly, but it never crossed my mind to complain about it.

I grew up on a farm. ...and i'm also attempting to grow what I can on my small space in the city.

Growing food is a lot of work! And challenging!

I think you guys do an amazing job >> and the food has been wonderful. Thank you for everything!

Anonymous said...

I APPRECIATE every single effort you go to for my CSA shares each and every week. After my first year, I thought maybe CSA wasn't for me (we weren't eating everything) and so skipped the 2nd year sign up. I was so disappointed going back to produce at the grocery store and elsewhere - and tried to get shares but was too late. I signed up so early for 2010 I may have been the first member! We LOVE getting the bonus raspberries in our veggie box. If you find it necessary to do away with them, we'll understand - but we definitely enjoy receiving them.

Anonymous said...


Unfortunately, so does mold.

We know. We know.

Well-- most of us know, most of us know.

Cathy said...

Hurray for all these enthusiastic comments! Richard, Andrea, Terri, and crew - we think you're the best!

Anonymous said...
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Linnea said...

We love the raspberry suprise! Like others, I am not bothered by the mold and never thought to complain about it. We feel lucky to even receive raspberries and enjoy the good ones out of the box. Just talking about raspberries surfaces my favorite childhood memory - standing in my Great Aunt's huge raspberry patch, a dog or two at my heels, eating as many berries as I could. Eating directly off the plant is the only way I know of to truly enjoy mold-free berries! I am grateful that the crew at HVF brave all the elements (like snakes!) to bring us this delicious food!

Anonymous said...

I love the raspberries. They aren't all moldy and we can enjoy the ones that aren't. I have learned to just eat the good ones right away and enjoy them before anything happens to them.

We appreciate all your hard work. The veggies are amazing. We have all learned to eat lots of new things and I am always trying new recipes. I have a personal challenge of seeing how many different veggies I can use in one meal.

Just think what a healthy country we would have if everyone ate like the CSA members!


Anonymous said...

It has been a good experience for our first year. Like a couple of other posts mentioned I saw the berries as a nice perk. Yes, some of them had grown a little mold but they were not all bad and they were above and beyond the box offering.

I appreciate the quality we are getting. I didn't know where to express my appreciation. I'm glad I took a moment to follow this link.


Anonymous said...

Every container of raspberries that we've gotten have been moldy enough that we've just thrown them out. :( It's such a tease! But they are the only things we haven't been able to enjoy!