Putting our fields and gardens to bed for the winter kept us busy as we approached November. As we pulled down tomato trellises and mowed over weedy bean fields, we reflected back over our first season, and the challenges, highlights, and lessons that came with each passing day. It wasn’t an easy year, but it made us stronger and it opened us up for better opportunities in the seasons ahead.
In one way or another, we’ve all ventured out on our own, tried something new, experimented here and there. Some things work out great, while some are a struggle every step of the way or just flat out take a tumble and fall altogether.
One of the primary things we learned in this first year of operating a CSA is the importance of communication and openness. While we excel in staying connected and utilizing various tools like Facebook, Twitter, email, and text, there’s an opportunity for greater transparency. We’re optimistic people — excited to just be out there doing what we love — but we faced challenges.
Most notably, we had a land rental situation that made things difficult. We had promises about equipment usage that got changed in the middle of the season. We had land that was hard as a rock, and just a few weeks ago, Karla broke two shovels on it. We hadn’t seen any rain since July and even then, it was barely measurable. Soil compaction was ridiculous, creating a situation where nearly every carrot we tried to harvest broke when we pulled it. The sweet potatoes, valiant and determined, tried to grow but the compaction squeezed them so much that almost all of them looked like pencils.
The list goes on, but we rode that fine line: do we stay optimistic and true to ourselves and our personalities or do we send updates full of complaints to our membership? We opted for the first option, and focused on positive developments, but on the weeks when the boxes were less full than we would have liked, those upbeat messages didn’t match the situation, and it’s likely that some members felt like there was too much marketing and not enough meat.
Although we had plenty of cheerleaders in the membership, we couldn’t help but believe that some people were disappointed, and even in weeks when the boxes were stuffed full, the potential for members to feel put off haunted us. We would get done with delivery, dirt still permanently crusted under fingernails, and suffer a wave of anxiety about how the boxes would be received, rather than enjoying the sweet relief of another harvest week done.
We wanted members to feel a part of our team, our farm, our journey, but at the time as we were going through these challenges, we just focused on getting through each day. Still, that’s what being a part of a CSA is all about — the member should feel involved on a deeper level and the farmers should feel that they can communicate openly with their members, regardless of the adversity. For 2013, we feel that we’ll be able to strike a better balance of discussing problems without sounding like we’re grousing about them, and we now understand the importance of letting members know about the stumbles as well as the triumphs.
Thankfully, we’re positioned well for better land, more land, as well as consistent and reliable access to equipment for 2013. Next year, we’ll be part of an organic farm incubator program called Organic Field School (OFS), which will give us access to three acres for vegetable growing, equipment usage, affordable supplies, and plenty of insight from experienced farmers.
More on that next time, but for now, the inclusion in this program is giving us hope. We’re ready for another year, another chance, and isn’t that what farming is all about? To improve with the seasons, to be flexible in the face of challenges, and to keep growing, in every sense of the word.