March CSA Member Update!

Hi Folks. First off, welcome to those of you who have joined in the last month. Past editions of this newsletter can be found on our website: https://sideroadnaturalfarm.com/farm-stories/

It has been a while since we last wrote to you and I apologize for that. I try to send out a newsletter around the middle of the month before the CSA season starts to keep you updated but March 15th came and went quickly this year! I also realize that most of you probably aren’t waiting anxiously beside your computers for the next Sideroad Farm newsletter to arrive 😉 The truth is that March is actually one of our more active months on the farm as we get our seedlings started as well as planted in the hoophouse, check off our spring projects and finish up our plans for the season and this year wrap up our Winter Bounty Box program all before our staff starts in April. We also tend to be a little extra stretched in March as Patrick and I usually have an “off the side of our desks” consulting project or two on the go that needs to be wrapped up by March 31st (the government fiscal year). As a side note for those who are interested, this year we are working on a small project analyzing the costs and benefits of a more environmentally sound field drainage system for farms in Ontario.

In the last few days we have had great weather for planting in our field hoophouses (the ones that grow food, not just seedlings) and have managed to transplant kale, swiss chard, spring spinach, three kinds of lettuce, beets and green onions as well as direct seed our salad mix, radishes, salad turnips and carrots. If all goes well we should have all of that plus a few more quick growing crops like arugula ready for our first farmers markets (May 9th in Toronto and May 20th in Collingwood). We managed to install two new basic hoophouses this spring to provide us with 3,400 square feet more covered growing space which we have decided to fill with early carrots (one of our most popular crops!) and flowers (my most favourite crops!). Starting carrots this early means that we should have them available right around the start of the CSA season in late June, whereas they may not be ready until the end of July or early August otherwise…let’s hear it for 18 weeks of carrots!

On the decision to change the format of our veggie CSA program…
I wanted to talk a little bit about why we changed our CSA program format this year to allow for “free choice” of veggies whereas in previous years we had a set box and did not allow substitutions. If you are a new customer or don’t have a veggie share this may not be as interesting to you but we have had several returning members probe us as to why we would make this change now after several year of running our CSA in a particular way. Hopefully I can explain in not so many words…

Every CSA season Patrick and I have sent out a feedback survey to our members asking people to rate the various aspects of the program as well as give us an idea of which veggies people prefer and which they are not big fans of. Each year we have received mostly very positive reviews on the program from those who choose to respond. It’s also pretty clear from the survey that people have extremely varied tastes when it comes to veggies. Some of you could eat a bag of salad a day (we do!), and some of you have a hard time getting through one bag of greens a week. Most of you would leave fennel alone if given a choice, but some people absolutely love it. Although most of you love our cherry tomatoes, there are even a few of you who can’t stand tomatoes in general. We also know that the #1 reason why people choose to not return to a CSA program is because they feel like they wasted good food (yes we know that our vegetables have been known to rot in the back of fridges on occasion). As your farmers we know that we can and want to do a better job of catering to a wide variety of personal tastes and preferences and we really want to make as many people as we can happy (a tall order!) – hence the main reason why we are switching to a customizable CSA program.

We hope that by creating a program that makes more people really happy we can eventually get close to 100% member retention (we are at about 70% – 80% returning members year to year currently). For us having a solid core group of CSA shareholders who return each season allows us to get to know our members well, builds relationships as well as eases administrative and marketing burdens associated with bringing in new members each season.

Another reason for changing our format is that we are anticipating that by using the online farm store to customize your boxes each week, we will be able to sell more of our veggies through the CSA program. If you need extra onions one week for example, and you don’t pick up from one of our farmers market booths you will now be able to order them through the webstore instead of having to go to the grocery store in addition to picking up your CSA.

As you can see we are also expecting some benefits as a business, a win-win situation so to speak. Now some information on the logistics of how this veggie program will work:
– Each week we will put together a selection which will will call the “farmers choice” CSA box. The value of this box will be set at $30. You have a choice of just taking the farmers choice box as is, or you can go online to change the contents (add and delete items as you wish). You will be given a few days to go online using the Farmigo system to make changes before we need to harvest and pack your bins.
-We will set maximum quantities for some items that we don’t have in abundant supply. An example of this is cherry tomatoes where I imagine that we may need to set the limit to 2 pints/member during the tomato season.
-The minimum order of veggies is $30/week and if you delete items from the Farmers Choice box but don’t add up to the value of $30/week you will still be charged the minimum amount.
-You can spend more than $30/week on veggies if you choose to order more through the Farmigo system…the balance will be taken from your account.
-Produce for CSA members will be priced between 10-15% less than what we charge at the farmers market.
-You can still put your shares on hold for 2 weeks during the season and a credit will be applied to your account for the value of those two weeks that must be used before the end of the CSA to purchase either veggies or eggs (but not meat, or products that we offer from other producers). See our CSA member agreement online for more information about this policy.

I think that covers the basics for now, but rest assured I will put together a tutorial that explains all of the details of how to use the Farmigo system before the start of the season!

This new system will require more logistics when harvesting and packing CSA including more communication with our members and more staff during CSA pack up. The good news is that the Farmigo system is quite capable of managing the administrative aspect of this change but we are anticipating a few weeks of mild chaos at the start CSA before we settle in to a good rhythm at pack up time. For us it’s worth it though to make sure that we are running the best possible CSA program that we can.

I hope that answers some questions and gives you an understanding of where our heads are at with this improved program.

Until next month!
Amy and Pat.

p.s. I promised some photos of the hoophouse in full swing. The best place to see those is on our Instagram page here (you don’t need an account): https://www.instagram.com/sideroadfarm/