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