I can’t believe it has already been nine weeks since I brought up the issue of CSA memberships around the country struggling. (You can refer back to newsletter #11 if you need to remind yourself of the issue and some of the reasons why CSA membership has fallen across the country). Besides the competition that traditional CSA’s find ourselves up against (Blue Apron, box truck delivery, farmers’ markets, etc..) I found through more research that many people feel like the CSA shares get the “left-overs” from the field. The “seconds” if you will. Those veggies that aren’t as perfect for the market shelf.

I want to make sure that you all are aware that Teresa, Mike & John have held a high standard for the quality of their product that goes to their CSA members from the beginning of their farming days together. I have personally worked on farms where that is true, the CSA members got what was “left over” in the field and I didn’t feel good about it. I’ve been lucky enough to have been hired by a farm that I take great pride in working for. I admire the quality of produce they grow and I’ve been loving giving you all the best of the best of our crops. That isn’t to say that there may be a spot here and there on some of the produce but hey… it’s organic, don’t panic! We don’t give you our seconds, we give you our firsts. Many crops get held for me to go through and allot out to the CSA before they go to our markets, there are crops that are planted just for the CSA and anything extra goes to market (which can be a very small amount), we price the items in your box under market price so your bounty is greater than the retail value, & while we don’t offer the option for you to build your own box we try to make up for that by offering you to swap out unfavorable items at our market stalls (for those of you who pick up at markets) & for those of you who pick up at private homes we try to stock the Leave One, Take One box with enough variety that you feel like you have options. Needless to say, we love feeding all of you and giving you our best! You support all of us directly and it doesn’t go unnoticed 🙂

I invited you to give your feedback on your thoughts and CSA experiences and I heard back from a few. Here is what your fellow CSA members had to say…

“I’ve been a very happy member of the Fifth Crow Farm CSA for the past 4 (maybe 5) years, ever since I discovered it while visiting FCF’s stand at the San Mateo farmers’ market.  Though I’ve only been able to visit the actual farm in Pescadero on one occasion, the connection I feel to the farmers is real.  It is a notable thing, and a reflection upon our food system in this day and age, for me to have met the people who grow my food, walked around their apple orchard, and even chased one of their chickens.  (She’d gone outside the fence.)  Thanks to the CSA I have added kohlrabi, fennel, and even the occasional escarole to my diet.  I have learned my favorite way to eat turnips (pickled Middle-Eastern style with a beet to turn them bright pink!)  And I’ve filled my freezer with strawberries in order to enjoy them all winter long.  I know that Teresa, Mike, and John are committed not only to providing excellent produce to their customers, but are also committed to supporting their amazing crew of farm workers and engaging in sustainable, environmentally-sound practices while growing food for the extended Bay Area community.  I proudly tell friends about the CSA when I serve them food from “my” farm, and encourage them to explore their local foodways.”

“Regarding the CSA topic – most often I hear from people that they don’t belong to a CSA either because 1) they don’t know how (or have the time to figure out how) to use the items that are foreign to them, i.e. kohlrabi, escarole, etc.  unusual items, 2) they can’t eat that many vegetables or convince their families to, or 3) fear of the unknown/control freak — they want to be able to pick what they get.  I used to fall into category 3, but after trying it with Fifth Crow found that issue to disappear, partly because of the trade-in box, and partly because of the great variety that you offer.  I trade in when I’m either already totally stocked up on an item, or if I grow the item and already have tons of it (like rosemary, basil, parsley, and pretty soon tomatoes).”

“Wanted chime in with regards to your CSA on the decline topic.  I’m sorry to hear that this is happening!  Wanted to share my perspective as I subscribed to a box service (gobble.com) while the CSA was in the winter season. My experience with gobble was average/poor.  On the one hand, you couldn’t beat the ease of meal preparation, and frankly, portion control.  We split 2 meals between 2.5 people and often times the portions were just right.  The CSA season ended just as I went back to work after the birth of my second son, so I did appreciate taking the thought out of meal preparation. That said, my two main complaints about the service were firstly, around the waste that was involved, there was a ton of packaging with every meal and I just couldn’t get my mind around all that plastic.  Also, There was a decline in quality over just the 3-4 months that we subscribed to the service, especially with regards to the vegetables.  You guys have spoiled us… 🙂 I feel truly fortunate that as a family we have access to pristine and just picked vegetables that we receive every week from you guys–frankly there is no comparison to any store (don’t even mention services that have processed the veggies after the fact) when you have experienced the freshness of the vegetables that come from a CSA.  I cancelled our gobble service about a month before this year’s CSA season started and haven’t looked back.”

“I used Farm Fresh to You briefly during the off season. I think they may be one of the companies that is competing with more traditional CSAs. Their produce was okay for the most part but not nearly as good as Fifth Crow! I think their food is all sourced from the same geographical area but I am not sure if it from the same farm. Regardless, I feel so much better using a traditional CSA. The food landscape is so complicated these days, and these articles were really helpful in deepening my understanding. This article recently appeared in New York magazine and made my head spin. Potentially something to share. One of the things we can do to counteract all the madness is support CSAs.”

Thank you to everyone who took the time to send in your feedback to me with your experiences not only with the Fifth Crow CSA but with other services you have tried. I know everyone is busy and I appreciate the response. It truly helps me better understand how to continue our CSA program and offers me new points of view on how I can make it a better experience for all of you!