Why we run CSA Programs!

An Update from Teri

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Myrah and I at Grandma’s on Monday

Hello on the first day of February 2018!  Since we close for orders from mid-December until the end of January, I waited until it was officially February to open registration for our 2018 Veggie Lovers’ Club to last year’s members.  They get first dibs on spaces in the Program and any remaining spaces will open to the public on March 1.  I sent out the email 20 minutes ago and our inbox is dinging away with folks registering.  It’s a good feeling!

This Saturday February 3 I am joining Chez Angela Bakery at their temporary location at 1228 Rosser (in the YFC Building) from 10 am – 1 pm with some Pea Shoots to sample and sell and I’m there to answer questions about our upcoming Pea Shoot Program which starts next week.  And to eat croissants.  I’ll definitely be doing lots of that, too!

IMG_3213You don’t need to be registered in the Pea Shoot Program to buy Pea Shoots on Saturday, but this is the only week I plan to be there doing this.  I figured the Pea Shoot Program might be a bit of a tough sell for many of you, and it is proving to be a bit.  Though I do have lots of folks emailing to ask if they can buy other veggies this winter!  Today I wanted to do a bit of an explanation as to why it sometimes feels like you have to be in a special club to get our veggies (because you do!), and why we aren’t really making it our goal to satisfy every opportunity to market our veggies.

The idea of the Pea Shoot Program came from us problem solving a way to add some winter income to our farm to offset the costs of heating our production space in the winter.  The most efficient way to pay our bills in the winter currently is to have one of us work off the farm.  Jon works full-time at Masterfeeds (formerly Feed-Rite) in Brandon.  This Pea Shoot Program in 2018 is a trial, for us to see what we can make work and plan for next year.

IMG_3222However, in order to make it a viable endeavour for next winter, we need to sell about 3 times the number of trays per week that we are aiming for this winter.  Otherwise, it just makes more sense for one of us to seek off-farm employment for the winter months and not bother selling storage veggies or producing fresh greens in the middle of winter.  Keep in mind that because this year is a trial, Jon is doing all the work of Pea Shoot production in addition to his full-time job.  I am doing the marketing & administration of the program and the pickup on Tuesdays in addition to my regular winter work on the farm (seed & supply orders, production planning, online marketing and website updates/maintenance, etc– you know, all the stuff I don’t have time for in summer) and full-time baby caring.  Stephanie is doing all of the Restaurant orders herself (taking orders, washing & packaging and delivering) as well as being Grandma/Co-Parent #3 more than a couple times per week.  It requires all three of us to work together and shuffle around to get all the tasks done, but we do it hopefully, looking forward to the time when our farm can support all of us without one of us having to leave every day to “bring home the bacons” as I tell Myrah every day when Jon leaves for work.

IMG_3216I know all of you also have your own juggling acts at home and on a day-to-day basis.  That’s just life!  My favourite part of farming is trying to figure out how to make it all work, and that includes– most importantly to our sustainability– Making it work financially.  The best farmer who doesn’t know how to manage his or her finances is no further ahead than the worst farmer who knows how to manage his money well.  Farming is often a game of limited resources, and so allocating resources appropriately is the farm manager’s constant struggle.  It means we have to think carefully about decisions and always be a few steps ahead, which luckily I really geek out on!

In previous years, we offered a-la-carte ordering of our veggies to anyone who wanted to participate.  In addition to having trouble with people missing pickups or ordering and then not showing up, the execution and administration of allowing open ordering is just too much for our small team.  Programs allow us to streamline things (like payments, which can be done in groups), and we can also offer a better experience to the customer (because if everyone is getting Pea Shoots, I can share recipes, info, etc and make better use of the little time I have for marketing).

19875553_1559983834032573_61338459648007712_nRight now, we are incentivizing the Pea Shoot Program by making that your ticket to having access to any of the other items we have available, which right now ranges from carrots, beets & squash, to pickles and preserves, as well as some dried and frozen items.  Sure, we could go to a market or pop up somewhere and try to sell these items outside of doing a CSA-style program.  However, the time-cost and opportunity-cost of doing that is much higher comparatively.  Attending markets just takes too much of our time to be justifiable in the winter.  On top of that, selling at markets is very volatile: You can sell everything, or nothing, and have no real way to know ahead of time.  When resources are limited, it just makes sense for small farms like ours to work as efficiently as possible so our time/labour and veggies don’t go to waste!

Here’s where the CSA, or Community Supported/Shared Agriculture comes in: In this particular case by pre-selling trays of pea shoots, we make sure we have a home for everything we grow ahead of time.  Which means we can pass on a sweet low price ($10/tray) because we don’t have to factor in crop overages to our cost of production.  Any time we over-produce we waste all the time we spent growing the item, as well as the time at market or online trying to sell it, and of course the set costs of seeds, soil, etc.  So, that which we DO sell in the market-model tends to be sold at a higher price so we can help cover some of the shrink (the difference between what we produce and what we sell).  Setting proper prices that take the whole picture into consideration make our farm more sustainable in the long term.

Right now, we are growing 24 trays per week, which means at any given time there is over 70 trays of Pea Shoots in process.  It’s manageable, but in order to go to the next level and have the income and labour we need, we need a home for closer to 60 trays a week by this time next year.  We’ve got the space, we’ve got the know-how, and we’ve got the energy!  If all the Veggie- and Local Lovers in Brandon replaced the store bought imported lettuce in their diets with Pea Shoots, we could do it in an instant.

To make a (really) long answer short: No, unfortunately you can’t just buy a bag of carrots, though we are always really happy to hear that you are after our veggies instead of “tasteless orange sticks” (Customer description of store bought!).  There is still space available in the Pea Shoot Program and we’re saving our storage veggies for those who have made that commitment to our farm– no hard feelings!!  There continues to be higher demand for our veggies than we can meet, but it’s not a problem we’re any closer to solving than I think we ever will be.  Because you like us because we’re small and we grow really delicious vegetables, with care, on this multi-generational family farm– and we’re aware that most of the things you love about us aren’t very scaleable.  Planting 100 acres, hiring a team of workers, and being everywhere all the time with limitless supply just isn’t our goal, and from your feedback so far we know this isn’t what you see for our future, either!

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1/2 of a tray cut weighing 110 g, which is about 1/4 of a pound.

That’s why we ask for your commitment in our CSA Programs, and we’re trying to do everything we can to make the Pea Shoot Program appealing and make it work for you as well as us.  You can choose bi-weekly pickup over the next 16 weeks and it will only cost you $80, which will give you access to the remaining veggies, pickles, etc that we have available, as well as 8 gorgeous trays of Pea Shoots to enjoy.

I don’t like feeling like the “Veggie Nazi” (as I’m nicknamed around the farm), but the truth is as the one marketing our veggies I am the gatekeeper, and as a matter of keeping things organized, efficient, and simple we find that CSA-style programs work really well for us.  We find it really rewarding to get to know our customers, and building relationships with people in our community is part of why we love what we do.  CSA offers our farm a way to bypass the volatility of the marketplace, it helps us spread out the work over a longer period of time and in a more orderly manner, and it lets us get to know our best customers really, really well.  Imagine if you could sell one bag of carrots to 100 people, or instead 100 lbs of carrots to one person.  You reach more people with the first method, but you make a deeper connection with the second.  That connection is what we’re all about!

(and we’re also all about delicious, nutrient-dense veggies!  I’m not a Scientist, but the produce & natural health world is all fired up about “nutrient dense foods” these days: The easiest way to know you’re eating nutrient dense vegetables is that they will have superior flavour!  Pea Shoots are a great nutrient dense food.  If you read this whole post, come see me Saturday and say “Easter Egg” for a free bag of Pea Shoots while supplies last!  Thanks for reading!)

If you’d like more information about our Pea Shoot Program, please follow this link!

I look forward to seeing you soon!

-Teri 🙂

If there is something stopping you from signing up, we’d love to have your feedback or suggestions of ways we could change so that you could/would participate.  The journey of growing our business and keeping it sustainable for years to come is a shared one, you’re in the car too!  Below this post you are able to leave comments, or send me an email at sales@brownsugarproduce.com: I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

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