PLEASE READ. I don't know how many of you normally read our notes, but could you take a few minutes to read on? I know you care about your farm and farmers, so I wanted to let you know some struggles we are facing.
You may have seen our social media posts asking for more members to join the CSA. You might be thinking "that's great the Redfearn's are able to grow their business". In actuality we aren't trying to grow the business, we're trying to make up for all of the skipped shares each week. We have planted and budgeted for a certain number of boxes going out each week and due to an abnormally high percentage of skips, we have too much food for the number of boxes going out and farm revenue is down dramatically.
We've determined that share skipping is reaching epidemic proportions. Last week 161 shares were skipped. I know it was a holiday weekend but compared to the 2022 Memorial day weekend the skipped shares has almost doubled.
Our goal this year was to maintain the same sized membership as last year. So we capped our membership when we got to last year's number. Even though we did not plan on adding members, we went ahead and increased plantings of some of everyone's favorites like Italian peppers, cherry tomatoes, slicer tomatoes, salad mix and broccolini. We planted more of certain things, in order to provide you with more of what you like so as to improve overall membership experience. Right now we are actually growing more produce for significantly fewer actual boxes going out each week.
Most businesses don't share their missed revenue projections (unless filing with the SEC) but our farm isn't really a normal business. As a CSA member, you are part of the FARMILY as we like to say, so I thought you should know about our struggles and how individual member behavior influences the farm. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it's a really neat model to help small local farms succeed and remain economically viable in the local community and for the local community. We've been blessed with tremendous and loyal support from our members for many years which has allowed us to grow to a comfortable and stable membership level (so much so that we've capped membership the last few years including this one). I think most of you know this, but maybe we need a reminder that a CSA membership is a commitment between consumers and a farmer. As your farmers, we're committed to providing you a share of the harvest every week and you are committing to pay us for that labor. You may not have connected the dots, but when you skip your share you don't pay, and we don't get paid. We don't get paid, even though we've done 90% of the work already, preparing the ground, seeding the crop, irrigating, weeding, trellising, building etc. We planned our planting plan to include that box of food for you. Especially if you skip your share last minute, we're left not knowing what to do with your veggies that week. A few skips here and there are easily absorbed but with too many each week, the aggregate burden becomes painful for us.
In the traditional CSA model (how we started and how many still operate), members pay in-full, up-front and they don't get to select what goes into their box each week. This allows lots of security for the farmer and requires quite a bit of trust and dedication on the part of the members who write big fat checks before the season even begins. They're very committed to the economic viability of the farm. That's how we started our farm but years ago we started offering perks to members allowing more and more customization to the weekly box, weekly payment rather than up front payment, and the ability to skip shares when the need arises. I think those changes have allowed us to serve our members more effectively. Our goal is to offer the best member experience we can and as much flexibility as we can offer. But the flexibility is resulting in downsides for us as farmers. We want you to have flexibility and options, but we want you to remember that a CSA membership does involve some commitment from you.
You might say, "well, just adjust to the changing times and take on additional members to make up for the higher skip percentage." That's what we intend to do, but we hope we can split the difference with you by cutting down a bit on superfluous skips. If we were to take on 1,000 members in order to maintain our target box filling each week, that might be all well and good...unless one week 900 of you wanted your box. We wouldn't be able to do it. Have you ever gone to pick up your "reserved" rental car only to find they have no cars left and you ask, "what exactly does a reservation mean?" If we oversell shares banking on a really high percentage of skips, we could all find ourselves in a pickle. The idea is that with the CSA we have a commitment to make sure we have produce for you, but we need some commitment from you that you'll pay for your box most of your scheduled weeks.
So what can you do to help?
1) Use skipping your share as a last resort if you can't make it. We understand, stuff comes up, but the hardest kind of skipping to deal with for us is last minute skipping. We plant our fields based upon the number of shares we are planning to supply each week. We gear up every week for the deliveries we need to make, and every Saturday we survey the fields and determine how much produce we'll have to harvest. We make sure we have enough produce for all the shares that are scheduled to go out that week, then the weekly email goes out to you telling you what's in your share with options to swap items. If you skip after that time, the projected harvest goes down and the less revenue the farm will take in to pay the bills. The later you skip, the less likely the produce that was allocated to you will get snapped up by another member who wants it, So that precious broccolini, sugar snap pease, rosemary, radishes, salad mix or cherry tomatoes that were supposed to go in your box, might not go to anyone at all. If you know you are going to be out of town and can't pick up and you can't find someone else to pick up for you, would you go ahead and put your skip in advance? Of course we'd prefer you not skip at all, but skipping in advance is better than last minute. You can view all future deliveries in the deliveries tab on your Harvie account where you can skip any future week's delivery. The further ahead you do this, the better it is for us because we can have an idea of how many additional members we may need in order to harvest for the planned amount of shares each week.
2) Donate your Share If you realize you can't make it to pick up your share, one option is to donate your share. This will happen automatically if you don't skip it and don't pick it up (For all locations besides Brookside we donate all the leftover shares on Tuesday's to local food pantries where the veggies are hugely appreciated!) If you are Brookside pickup member and want to donate your share, you can move your pickup location for any given week to Farm pickup or Friday Farm pickup and it will go into our cooler and make it out for donation. Obviously, this will cost you money, but you can feel good knowing your produce went to a good cause and your farmers still got paid.
3) Invite a friend to pick up your share or share the produce with you. We're very trusting people, so if you can't make it to pick up your share but you send your friend to say "I'm picking up for my neighbor so and so" we'll give them your share. (hopefully no nefarious characters figure this out). So you don't need to make arrangements with us, we'll trust them that you really did give them permission to take your share.
4) Spread the Word. I hope we can cut the skipping percentage down somewhat through awareness, but I understand life is busy and people don't want to be tied down to their farm and maybe when they signed up they didn't understand our commitment expectations, so some percentage of skipping is inevitable. When we set up the farm budget, the planting plan, and our membership goal and cap, we planned for 10% skipping each week (this was based upon last year's skips. I don't know what the new baseline skip percentage will be but I think we need to readjust our expectations as a farm, so we've opened up for new members. They can sign up now here: https://www.harvie.farm/farm/where-the-redfearn-grows-natural-farm/signup
Maybe this is a paradigm shift for us as a farm as we come out of the COVID era and life get's busy again for everyone. Maybe we need to shoot for 30% additional members in order to pack our planned number of boxes each week. We'll be monitoring the number of boxes going out each week and we'll keep you posted. For this coming week already 9.2% have been pre-skipped, so we're already almost up to our planned number of skips for the week. And that's why we've opened up for additional members. My goal in telling all the inner workings of the farm is not to make you feel guilty. You may not be aware of the magnitude of your individual decisions. We want you to be able to take a week off from your share if you absolutely need to and we don't plan on chastising members for skipping a share here and there. But if you find yourself skipping your share last minute, week after week, we'd like you to know the impact your behavior is having upon our farm and workload. Part of being a sustainable farm is economic sustainability. We're very very blessed to have the opportunity to serve you and we hope you are blessed through our service.
OK, I'm officially stepping off my soap box to tell you some GOOD NEWS!
We're super excited that the broccolini are going to be cranking this week! AND the first of the SUGAR SNAP PEAS will be going out! AND really tender fresh kohlrabi along with mountains of salad mix and possibly the last of the spinach AND the first of the CHERRY TOMATOES! (now only a lucky few of you will be getting these first tomatoes. It will take a few weeks to get into peak production, but there are a TON of beautiful green cherry tomatoes on the vines and the first ones are almost ready to pick). We'll be spending Memorial Day with a big carrot harvest of some super sweet and tasty overwintered carrots and we're getting two fields ready for sweet potato planting either late this week or the following week. There is so much amazing food ready to go in your boxes, or almost ready, or about to be going into the ground for the far off future!
Bread and Cheese Shares:
Farm to Market Sourdough Sliced Large Loaf
Hemme Brothers Mediterranean Pizza Cheese (not fresh mozzarella, this kind is a slightly aged cheese and lasts longer)
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope I haven't offended you, sharing a bit of how we feel. We are genuinely grateful to grow your food week in and week out. Thanks for being part of our farmily. I hope we can reach a good balance where you feel the freedom and flexibility you need and we find predictability and security knowing our hard work is getting rewarded.
Dave and Sheri