Thursday, August 11, 2016

Making A Connection

By Farmer Richard
CSA Members enjoying the scenery of
'their'  farm during our Harvest Party!
     It is now official, reported in major and minor news outlets across the country…CSA farmers are losing members faster than they are being replaced with new members. We started to see a decline in our CSA membership around 2009, and unfortunately we aren’t the only farm that has seen numbers slowly slide each year.  Many thought it was the economic downturn, but overall sales of organic foods is still consistently continuing to grow each year.  More and more people are concerned about the health of their family and turning to organic.  So why the decline in CSA membership?
     We, and other CSA farmers, have been asking this question and trying to figure out what’s going on for the past few years.  One reason may be supersaturation of CSA farms offering shares.  During the past 6 to 8 years the number of new CSA farms has grown faster than the rate of new members interested in joining a CSA.  Most of the growth in CSA farms has been beginning farmers with little experience.  We have long understood that CSA farming is “graduate level” farming, not for beginners.  Growing a wide variety of crops to fill boxes over a full season requires skill and experience.  Many consumers have been alienated forever by a poor CSA experience, “All we got was kale!”  Certainly not true, but a perception from “new” CSA customers who were also new to eating “in season.”
A picture of a summer CSA box contents from Harmony Valley Farm
     Organic food has also become more available at almost all supermarkets, mostly shipped in from distant growers. The advantage for customers is they can stop in and buy a few items of their choosing for dinner without the commitment of the whole box of CSA vegetables. It is good that more acres somewhere in the world are being farmed organic, without toxic chemistry, but what about eating locally and eating in season?
     Another contributing factor to the decline in CSA may be attributed to the growth we’ve seen in farmers’ markets.  The USDA estimates farmers’ markets have doubled over the past 10 years.  While it may be convenient for customers to shop at their small neighborhood markets, this growth has not been as good for farmers.  In addition to pulling members away from choosing a CSA share, farmers are also seeing their sales at each market become diluted.  Many farmers now have to go to several markets per week to sell the same amount of produce that they used to sell at a larger, once-a-week market!
Farmer Richard digging Sweet Potatoes with CSA Members.
     Finally, as times have changed we’ve seen an influx of home delivery services that will deliver not just vegetables, but everything to your door and only what you order!  If you want to break it down even further, there are now meal delivery services that will deliver everything you need for a meal or two in one package.  It may not be “organic” and you have to ignore all the excess packaging for the service, but if you only cook a couple meals a week it may seem like a good option.
     As you can see, there are now lots of options for where and how you can purchase food!  Unfortunately some families have less time to plan and cook meals, thus they opt for choices with the highest level of convenience.  So where does CSA fit into the current picture?
Well, despite the decrease we’ve seen in our own membership over the past seven years, we still consider CSA to be beneficial to our business and the part of our business we enjoy the most.  We’re not ready to “give-up” on our CSA and don’t believe CSA is going out of style.  Despite the changes we’ve seen in the food supply over the past 7-10 years, the concept of CSA remains the same.  CSA still stands for “Community Supported Agriculture” and offers one of the most holistic approaches to sourcing food for your family.  Yes, you are supporting our farm by purchasing shares with us for the season, but it’s so much more than that.  We are part of the same community and we support each other.  As CSA members, you have direct access to your farm and the land where your food is grown. We talk to you each week through our newsletters and email communications and you can talk to us any time you’d like.  You are welcome to come to the valley where your food is grown…breathe the air, walk in the soil and experience not only the food we’re producing, but the land and area in which it is grown.  Last week Bobbie reminded us all just how special and unique our region is and we want to share this experience with you as well.
Farmer Richard showing a CSA member how to 'drive' a tractor!
     When you participate in a CSA, you have an opportunity to connect with the people and places where your food comes from.  You learn what it means to eat with the rhythms of nature and embrace the seasonality of eating.  When melons are in their peak (as they are this week), you eat melon several times a day!  In the spring you long for anything green and in the fall we can’t wait to eat rich winter squash and sweet potatoes.    
     We have seen and heard so many positive stories from members about how CSA has changed and made a positive impact on their lives.  We have many members who joined our CSA when their children were little, twenty years ago.  These kids had the opportunity to grow up as “CSA kids.”  They are now healthy adults seeking out their own CSAs and continue to ask “where does my food come from?”  For many of these kids, their first taste of vegetables was something from our farm.  Many of them visited our farm when they were youngsters.   They camped in the meadow and played in the creek, fed the animals, got to sit on the tractors, gorged on warm strawberries in the field, picked peas right off the plant and built lasting memories of their farm.   They know what “real” food tastes like, understand how to eat with the seasons, and know how to cook and prepare whole foods!  We’ve heard many stories about picky eaters who, after a visit to the farm, will now eat vegetables…but only vegetables from “their farm!”  Other members have told us they eat more vegetables and have seen positive health benefits as a result of eating out of a CSA box.  Yes, eating out of a CSA box requires time and cooking, but it also gives you an opportunity to learn new things about food, build culinary skills and gives you an opportunity to spend invaluable time cooking and eating with your family.
Farmer' Richard and Andrea with Captain Jack the dog!
     We value the connection we have with you through our partnership in CSA.  There are so many benefits beyond the actual box that come along with the CSA experience.  This is something special and unique that a supermarket or home delivery service will never be able to match

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