2013 CSA survey results

We’re hard at work planning for the 2014 CSA season (seed orders go out in January!), with all the discussion, analysis, and debate that involves. As part of this process, we compiled the results of our 2013 end-of-season member survey, and will share some of the data below, with a representative selection of written comments and our thoughts on the results and their influence on next year’s plans. Thanks to all those who responded to the survey; all of the feedback does significantly shape our plans for the coming year, whether or not any specific response made the cut for this post. We encourage any readers, members or otherwise, to share their thoughts on these results in the comments. When reading and thinking about these results, it may be helpful to review our 2013 share photos page, which has photo documentation of a standard full share for each week of the season.

OVERALL 2013 EXPERIENCE

We asked about members’ overall perception of the produce amount, quality, flavor, and value, and the overall value of CSA membership this year:

final_survey_reasons

We received a 70% response rate, disappointingly less than last year’s 90% but enough to give the results meaning. While the individual survey responses are anonymous, each household has a unique identifying token such that we know who did and didn’t fill out the survey. Of the missing 30%, 70% had already expressed an interest in rejoining next year, so presumably their responses would have fit the overall positive trend (i.e. there aren’t a lot of missing negative responses from dissatisfied members who just didn’t bother responding). Also, single share responses did not differ meaningfully from full share responses. The most negative response came from a full share who felt they didn’t receive enough produce for the overall price and found the World Harvest location somewhat inconvenient, but was positive about the rest of the experience. Thus we’re comfortable that the satisfied trend above is representative of the membership as a whole.

REASONS FOR TAKING PART IN THE CSA

We asked about various motivations for joining our CSA, which pretty well mirrored what might be expected. We were surprised (and pleased!) that the ethics of whole-farm land management scored so high, as that’s something we take really seriously but weren’t sure others did. It makes sense that allergy/dietary concerns ranked lowest as these issues aren’t present for everyone, and that community ranked second-lowest since (as will be seen below) CSA features like on-farm events and newsletters also ranked lowest in interest.

final_survey_reasons

PRODUCE EXPERIENCES

  • The produce quantity within shares was mostly fine, with a few members experiencing too much or too little. Representative quotes:
    We were able to keep up with the produce as long as we remained committed to cooking and using it daily. We only ran into trouble on the occasional times we ate out with friends. Fresh produce waits for no one :- )
    – Some weeks are a bit sparse, but for the most part there was a good match.
    – I think this year and last year the quantities have been bountiful…I expect there to be variation week-to-week and year-to-year because that’s how nature works, so whatever I get I get.
    – …all in all, it’s a farm, not a vending machine.
  • Quantity of each item was mostly right, some thought highly variable:
    – Overall, I thought the extremes were like a challenge, I was forced to deal with and face this situation, which was one of the reasons I like CSAs
    – This is where it was nice to be able to “customize” and get extras if available, or not at all
    – Overall a match but we often got too much of things we didn’t always want in large quantities and not enough of what we wanted.

final_survey_producepreference

We asked members to identify three items they really liked, and three they were least fond of. The graph above shows those items which garnered the most reaction collectively, good and/or bad (left axis is number of times mentioned). Most of these made sense to us, though we were surprised that beets were such a memorable item in both directions.

  • This wonderfully illustrates the value of CSA to farmers, as it allows us to balance the cost and risk of diversification more effectively than a market/wholesale setting where each item has to stand on its own. Some of these are too cost-effective NOT to grow (okra, turnips), and others are really not worth it unless balanced by others (strawberries, mushrooms). In other words, some of the easy-to-grow items on the right make some of the hard/expensive-to-grow items on the left possible, and members with the broadest tastes will get the best value overall.
  • Requests for new items included melons, berries, asparagus, overwintered greens, cauliflower, rosemary, & elephant garlic. Some of these are more doable than others. Asparagus is on its way, but the plants we started from seed last spring won’t be ready to harvest for a few more years. Melons are space hogs and a bit more of a gamble than some crops, but they are a true treat of summer, so we’ve decided to trial a number of varieties of musk melons in 2014 to explore what would be suitable for possible distribution in future years. Unfortunately, rosemary isn’t winter hardy here without significant protection, and growing enough in pots for distribution is impractical. Our past trials with cauliflower have been a little pathetic, so we’re going to work on mastering broccoli first, then perhaps try cauliflower again thereafter. It is personal preference, but we strongly prefer regular garlic to elephant garlic; our hopes are high for garlic being back on track in 2014 (but no promises). Any thought of doing additional berries for the CSA is on hold because of the dreaded & newly arrived Spotted Wing Drosophila. Whether or not this fruit fly will throw a wrench into strawberry harvest remains to be seen.
  • Packing errors were not a major issue.
  • There was some concern about tomato transport issues. Tomato handling is a significant source of discussion for us this winter, as (a) storage in the cold World Harvest walk-in is less than ideal, and (b) the bags don’t always provide enough cushioning/protection for these valuable but tender items during transport & delivery. We welcome brainstorms on how to better handle this.

HERBS

Herbs are a major source of discussion for us, as we perceive our highly diverse customizable offerings as a significant extra value for members, especially compared to other area CSAs, but they’re also a lot of work on packing morning, when the value of our time is at a premium. We wanted to know more about the value members attached to herbs. Among other things, we asked members to estimate  what percentage of their weekly herb bundles (generally 2 for singles, 4 for fulls) were used fresh, preserved, or went unused. The results show that herbs are valued and used very differently within our membership (each column below is an individual response):

final_survey_herbuse

  • Members were split between whether herbs are a significant additional value or just another item in the shares.
  • When asked about the size of individual bundles, 50% answered about right, 33% highly variable, 17% too big.
  • Herbs seem to be a challenge for a number of members to use properly, whether because of a lack of interest, a lack of skill/knowledge, or a lack of time.
  • Positive comments:
    – The herbs are so good and a great value. The quality and quantity are excellent and something that sets your CSA above all others.

    – We like the variety, and they really add flavor to our cooking.
  • Constructive comments
    – We would be so busy trying to use the fresh produce that sometimes the herbs were underutilized.
    Still learning how to use them fresh, and learning which herbs keep well, vs spoil quickly
    – I love the herbs I get but what’s happened in the past is I try to get things I’ve never heard of before and then forget what they are by the time I get the share. So then I end up not using them or drying them…and still don’t know what they are.
  • We’re hoping to get more information about herb identification & herb use up on the website this winter. We welcome input on ways to modify the herb distribution system to keep members with diverse habits in herb use happy.

CSA FEATURES

We asked about members’ opinions of various CSA features, things that we consider part of the overall paid value along with the specific produce:
final_survey_features

  • Again, how we manage our land scores really high, along with our diversity and customization. People value the way we run the farm, and the products/service they receive.
  • More community-oriented features like newsletters and events score much lower. This is an interesting challenge for all CSA farms, which depend in part on the “community supported” part of that acronym to keep members engaged in their food supply and respectful/understanding of how that food is produced.
    – We asked about newsletter reading habits and got a highly diverse reaction: pretty evenly split between folks who generally read & value it and those who skim or skip it and don’t value it.
    – We asked about on-farm events and got similarly split results, including many who like the concept of events but didn’t/couldn’t find time to take part.
  • The problem we face is, newsletters and events are highly time-consuming, but if we cut them back, we lose our best way to build and retain the community loyalty a farm like ours relies on. How do we engage and retain members if our current ways of doing so are seen as less valuable or worthwhile? This challenge of building a CSA community is one that is common to CSAs, not just ours, but it is a challenge nonetheless. We think the connections are important, and we enjoy spending time with members, so we will press forward with looking for effective yet time efficient ways to do so. Thoughts and suggestions are always welcome.

WORLD HARVEST DELIVERIES

  • People love the in-store experience & friendly staff; multiple comments communicated this sentiment.
  • Some expressed concern about certain items like tomatoes in the cold walk-in; we’re aware of this and considering how to handle it.
  • Some expressed desire for more timely notification of share arrival there; we’re thinking about ways to do this. Twitter is an option.
  • The location isn’t convenient for everyone, but it’s the only regular drop-off location we’re comfortable with right now.

ORGANIC CERTIFICATION

We’re strongly considering dropping our organic certification, due to the rising costs and hassles of a bureaucracy that offers us little value in return. When asked about this, members overwhelmingly supported/accepted this potential decision, stating that methods mattered more. Representative quotes:

    – Dropping the certification doesn’t matter to me because I’ve been to your farm and I know you both and trust you regardless of the certification.
     – We know you both well enough by now to trust your commitment to your farm ethics and practices beyond what any bureaucratic certification process would ensure.
     – As a continuing member, the certification is not important as the trust is already built. However, in the past, I have overlooked farms who do not have certification, who say they follow proper practices, as I have no reason to believe them.

That last one is a significant concern of ours, as dropping the O-word means we no longer stand out from the crowd and have to work much harder to explain ourselves to new members. Given that we already struggle to draw interest in outreach methods like newsletters and on-farm events, even with existing members, this poses a serious challenge.

FINAL COMMENTS

Every farming year ends with us being worn out and ready for a break, so it’s nice to read over survey results that generally tell us we’re doing things well. Here are a few nice comments from the end of the survey, that will help us want to get started again in the all-too-near spring:
    – I appreciate the opportunity to customize the produce, cuts down on waste.
    – I love the work share! I’ll keep doing it as long as you guys want me to work!
    – Overall another very successful year as far as I’m concerned. Between the customization, the herbs, the delivery options, and the amazing variety of produce, (and I should mention the eggs, strawberries, etc) you’ve got a premium product. And you charge a premium price and I think that’s perfectly reasonable.
     – We are very pleased with the CSA and appreciate all of your efforts. We look forward to another year!
     – Thanks for sharing your beautiful produce with us this year.
Our thanks to everyone who supported us this year, and we’ll be feeding most of you soon enough next year.

5 thoughts on “2013 CSA survey results

  1. OK, as a non-member, non-Columbia-area resident I’ve got a couple cents worth of thoughts. Which in Canada rounds down to nothing (no more penny!) so you know what it’s worth…

    > I love the newsletter. Keeps me up to date and keeps the blog active regularly enough. That has value beyond just informing members of what to expect.

    > I guess it makes sense nobody chose Harukei turnips as a favourite, but I bet you’d hear disappointment if you removed. They are SO GOOD! Eat ’em fresh, use ’em in kimchi, lightly sauté (maybe even with a dash of honey), use ’em to scoop guacamole, the list goes on.

    > Tough call on certification. Much harder to market yourself without that designation, but *at least* one full share only covers the costs of that process. If you cut certification you certainly should view that as time saved for doing things like newsletters as you well-document the farm/land management, and would want to continue to do so.

    > Any well located member or natural delivery spot available to have a few coolers set up to accept multiple deliveries for those that World Harvest is too far?

    > Our CSA farmer had a pot luck and there was a bit of bad communication about the event but we couldn’t go because of other equally (or more) important conflicts, and the distance to the farm (~1 hour) added time we didn’t have that particular day. Nonetheless, consolidating the ‘big event’ into one pot luck seems to make sense. I would love to be able to visit my farmer when it is convenient for me, but also not a major imposition, so having more frequent and less formal opportunities seems like a potential option. Maybe bi, tri or just monthly Sunday morning farm walks? Only one of you do the walk while the other works, if/as necessary, etc. Maybe those who come can help with something… helpful? Dunno… but I do know as a CSA member I like to be able to visit the farm, but there are a number of competing priorities and the fewer the chances the harder it is to make work.

    > Building community is a great idea, but in practice I’m not sure how many people are looking for community, per se, through CSA. Knowing my farmer, building that relationship, yes. But building relationships with other members? Not so sure. But market has been my CSA pickup location, so I’m getting community that way. If CSA replaces market, might be different.

    Sounds like you’ve built a great foundation, though, and that is wonderful to read. Enjoy these winter days and increasing sunshine. I look forward to hearing about the progress 2014 surely offers!

  2. Thanks for sharing this data. Interesting. About the finding that surprised you – that members value overall land management/practices – I want to mention that when I tell people about this CSA it’s usually something I emphasize. We were just in Florida visiting family and they were amazed when we told them your farm produces just one bag of trash per year. In connecting that to CSA events, the first year I recall that there were more educational type of events around cheese making, pickling, etc, and it seemed like the second year they were more social. Personally, I think I’d be more likely to go to events that are educational (but still have a social component)…am I the only person who would be interested to go to an hour-long event on “Composting 101” or “Starting a Vegetable Garden from Seeds,”? Just a thought.

  3. Drat, I knew I should have marked turnips as one of my favorites…there were just too many favorites, though, and I had to let David pick at least one! 😉

  4. I second what Joshua says about the Hakurei turnips. I’m not in Missouri either (central Virginia), but we just love those beautiful little tender turnips. We’ve just been harvesting some from our hoophouse (sown in early October). Tender, tasty, cosmetically perfect, no need to peel, quick to cook (if you do cook them rather than eat them raw). A treat when new vegetables are rare. (Leafy greens and salad mix can only bring a certain amount of excitement to short mid-winter days.) You all don’t know how lucky you are to have farmers providing you with Hakurei 🙂
    Pam

  5. There are a couple of rosemary varieties that are zone 6 and I have consistently overwintered in the ground. Rosemary Arp and Rosemary Hill Hardy. Hardy to 20 degrees. I trim up and cover with a 5 gallon bucket as needed – possibly could use a row cover if you had a lot. Though with the negative degree nights coming – might lose them. But I keep cuttings going each year to replace those that don’t make it – I can replant.