About a month ago, I put a survey on our website so that members could put in their two cents about how they think the year went. I asked questions about which vegetables people thought there were too many or too few of, how they liked the pick-your-own options this year, and how they felt about the size of their share in general. A few questions had to do with whether people would like a fruit option in their share, how that should be structured, and whether people would be willing to pay extra for it.
I’m very grateful for all the many responses we got, it definitely helps. Working for Erin taught me a whole lot, and I got to learn the particular nuances of the Mud Creek way and the things that make Mud Creek different from other CSA’s, but one year wasn’t enough to really learn everything, especially in terms of how this year compared to last year, and how people are feeling about it. On top of that, moving to a new piece of land brings new and different challenges, as well as new and different opportunities that weren’t there before. So having the members’ help with planning and designing this new farm is invaluable. I want to share some of the decisions that have been made based on the survey responses.
Number 1: The fruit thing
At Cherry St, we have a few spots that are too hilly for vegetables (because the tractor couldn’t handle the incline, and also there’s the risk of erosion) but they aren’t too hilly for perennial things like raspberries, blueberries, or fruit trees. My vision is to grow a permaculture fruit forest that’s somehow operated in a pick-your-own way. From the survey responses, it seems like a lot of people would like fruit, but are not sure about their general share price being raised for it, so my current thought is to have people pay as they pick. That way, people could opt in or out weekly, depending on their needs and on what was available at the time. That being said, fruit is a long term thing… anything I planted this year wouldn’t be ready to pick for at least a year or two (some things would take longer), so in the short term, I’m going to try to figure out a way for some other fruit vendor to come to distributions; if not every week, then at least at pre-scheduled times, so that members could get some organic fruit with their veggies.
Number 2: The pick-your-own field
Pick-your-own crops are one of the main things that makes Mud Creek different from most other CSA’s. A couple members were a little worried that pick-your-own would go away with the move to the new farm; I’m here to tell you, it aint goin’ nowhere! Having members be able to pick their own peas, beans, flowers, herbs, etc. is one of my favorite things about how Mud Creek works. I know that people love it, they love the freedom to take as much (when there’s no limit) or as little of something as they need, they love being able to come pick any day of the week (also not changing!), and they love being out in a field of food and flowers with nothing to bother them (we call it the “Oasis Factor,” and it was actually one of the bigger criteria in choosing a new farm site; does it have the Oasis Factor?). This year, we plan to make the pick-your-own field a little more organized and clear. And we will have a better map!
There were a couple people who mentioned that they would like to pick their own, but are unable to because of physical barriers. This is a problem that I really want to solve somehow. There are sometimes points during distribution where there are enough of us farmers around and a lull in traffic when one of us could go pick things for people, but if I’m realistic, I know that
won’t be all the time. Especially in the beginning of distribution, we are all scrambling like mad to keep everything restocked, etc.
I’m remembering a troop of awesome girl scouts who came and helped us at the new farm this fall. We dug up a bunch of the Echinacia from the old farm, loaded it into Josh’s truck, armed these girls with shovels, and they planted them all through the front along Cherry St. It was a lot of work and they were at it for quite some time, but when the last one was planted and it was time to head home, a small team of girls weren’t ready to let go of that shovel.. they headed out into the field to “dig a pond for you guys!”
Their enthusiasm comes to me when I think about this problem.. I’m not sure how to implement it yet, but when I close my eyes and think about it, I see a team of kids running back and forth from the field to the front to pick for people who can’t. Anyone out there know kids who would like to be pick-your-own ambassadors? Or have other ideas how to solve this dilemma? Let me know!
Number 3: Pickup time
Quite a few people asked for an earlier pick up time. I know there are reasons why Erin moved pick up from 4:00 to 4:30, but there are also good reasons to move it back. I haven’t finished weighing all the pros and cons on this yet, but its definitely on my mind, and I’m seriously considering making pickup from 4:00 to 7:00 next year. No promises yet though!
Number 4: The parking lot
People may remember the beginning of the 2013 season (unless you’ve blocked it out!) when the parking lot became a mud pit and we had to hand people their shares drive-through style on the street. I never want to see that happen again. Budget willing, there is a lot of gravel in our near future… and one of the nice things about this new land is that there’s an entrance and an exit, so traffic should flow a lot smoother next year. Now, if I can just get the town to do what they promised and put those culverts in, we’d be in good shape! But yes, we have plans for the parking lot.
Number 5: Add-ons
Let me just say, I really miss Lauren Maxfield and her entire family. Lauren was that lovely child
who sold eggs during distribution. She had a pretty big flock and great plans, but (unfortunately for us!) the Maxfield family had to move to Oregon suddenly and unexpectedly in the late summer. All of us farmers miss them a lot, but they won’t be gone forever; they are in Oregon for a few years, then they’ll be back. Meanwhile, lots of members would love to see eggs at distribution, as well as any other options we can muster up.
I love this idea, and as I said earlier, am already trying to find fruit vendors. Anna plans to offer lamb again next year, and I may be able to find some people to offer other meat. Josh, who will be camping out at the farm all summer, is going to be raising chickens so he will have eggs for sale at distribution. And I’ve been talking with my Small World cohorts to try and figure out a way to have someone selling bread and other baked stuff, as well as some fermented items. So its in the works… the Mud Creek grocery store. My main plan in this arena is to keep it as organized as possible so I can let people know in the weekly newsletter who will be offering what when.
Number 6: Half shares
There are several people who would like to get half a share every week instead of a full share every other week. This could open up a whole big debate, but let me just sketch out the basic points:
The pros for a true “half a share” share are that people have a more steady source of veggies, and they don’t miss a whole month if they miss one pick-up.
The cons are more driving for less veggies, and mostly the extra time it would take us, the farmers, in terms of logistics and planning.
The easiest way I can see to solve this dilemma is the way a lot of you are solving it already; splitting a full share with a friend, family member, or neighbor. That way there’s always a share to pick up every week, and however you and your friend want to schedule or split the pick up is fine; its up to you. I think that working it out with one other person or family offers a lot more flexibility than for the farm to try and anticipate every possible different need with a different type of share.
I have an idea for either a member list serve, or maybe an online bulletin board where members could get in touch with each other to coordinate this kind of thing. Then people could do things like trade pickup days with someone, carpool, etc. I’m working on putting something like this on our website; but so as not to reinvent the wheel, if anyone knows of some program out there that already does this kind of thing let me know. And, since I’m obviously kind of a luddite, I’ll be putting up a real bulletin board at the farm. You know, the kind with cork and tacks.
Well, I probably forgot to write about some of the things in the survey I meant to write about.. but this already got pretty long winded, so if you’re still with me here at the end, thanks for your interest, and I’ll probably be talking about other plans and schemes soon. I hope everyone has a warm and joyful holiday!