CSA Woes

For the past couple of months we’ve been having issues with our vegetable CSA.

We’ve received very few of our weekly deliveries lately
and the owner of the CSA (a co-op) has cited family emergencies, weather, and just plain exhaustion.

I get it.
I’m not standing there
expecting a delivery like clockwork every week from a group of farmers.

I understand that when it rains
you can’t just SLOSH ON THROUGH your fields to pick tomatoes.

Things like car repairs come up
and for someone running razor thin margins
getting the radiator fixed can’t always happen on the same day that it breaks.

What is frustrating
is that I’ve heard the same things week after week lately.

For the first half of the year
we did not have any problems
and the deliveries were amazing.

Things seemed to go downhill quickly these last few months.

More often than not
our delivery is delayed by several days
and there have been instances that when it does show up
the produce is bruised or past its prime.

My husband and I have had numerous conversations about whether or not we will renew in January
since we prepaid for the year.

The last conversation we had
we were both tired of the lack/wild variation in timeliness of deliveries, poor produce quality as of late
(a whole bag of green beans was moldy)
and exasperated by the fact that we received an email stating that we would receive a delivery that week
and nothing ever showed up.


We were not the only ones with less than squishy lovey feelings for our CSA.

Yesterday I received a notification of a new blog post from the owner on the social networking site
(one we had to join to receive updates about deliveries and pertinent information)
and scrolled on down in the e-mail to read it
(at least that was convenient).

Below are some excepts:

In the last 2 months 22 members that were supposed to, by the agreement all members signed, did not give any notice and dropped their membership. When I got back on line this morning two more members had dropped without adequate notice. All members (on their honor) agreed to give us at LEAST 2 months notice but, these ex-members did not give us this courtesy. In addition , over the last two months we’ve only gotten a few new members~ most of which were only quarter shares. Of those remaining members due to renew this month , only one paid their renewal on time.. . . I have put $6000 of my own personal money into the CSA over the last two months , trying to keep it afloat, but now I am totally tapped out and cannot affoard to (simply don’t have it) put another dime into it. I don’t stand a chance of seeing that money again.

We need to get at least 4 shares sold in the next week or the CSA is going to go bust.. . . We must get the renewals that are owed in immediately, we must get the renewals that are due to come in over the next few weeks in on time and we must get the shares sold that were abandoned or it is the end of the only CSA in the Houston area. That is brutal but, it is the plain truth of the matter.

I am putting the future of the CSA into the members hands. We have come up with several ideas to try to regenerate interest in the CSA.. . . Two months of money going out at the rate they have been ~ with very little coming in at late at best, have put our CSA into a serious downward spiral. If you have any input that you feel may be constructive, we are very open to your suggestions.

As things stand as of right now, we have no operating capital to get deliveries out. As soon as we do we will deliver the remaining undelivered members currently due deliveries. We will then shut down for the remaining time~up to a month, if necessary~ until our membership can support the costs of deliveries again.

that explains a lot.

I’m not sure why she waited so long to clue the rest of the members in
but there ya go.

I posted this response in the comments section:

“I think many members feel the same way that I do in regard to the CSA at this point. There have been MANY deliveries that were not made, even when e-mails went out that the deliveries would be made that night or that week. In addition, the deliveries are very rarely made on the day they are supposed to be made. Please do not think that I (or we) believe that you can control situations like rain or emergencies, but when something happens almost every week that prevents/delays the deliveries, it becomes very frustrating. In addition, I’ve received several deliveries with moldy fruit and vegetables or items that were obviously past their prime. The issues in getting the produce even delivered prevented me from contacting you because I did not want to add to the apparent stress that you all were undergoing. Looking back, I should have contacted you to give you a heads up on the situation if you were not aware of it.

If you want to run the CSA like a business (which I feel like we’ve received conflicting information about), I would suggest sticking to the contracts we all signed and ceasing delivery when a member does not pay. Given that it takes months to cultivate crops, perhaps consider a deposit so that if the member does not renew on time, you take the deposit and can recover some of your losses of growing the produce for those months in anticipation of a renewal. Alternately, stipulate that the member must notify you within two months of their renewal date (YOU need to be tracking this, NOT the members) if they will not be renewing. If they do not give notice to what they will be doing, then do not deliver to them until they do. People will take advantage of you, inadvertentlyor not, if you give them the opportunity.

A few other constructive ideas: move the e-mail list to something besides [weird social networking site]. I get many notifications from [site] that I don’t need to see and it would be helpful to separate the members into their respective lists and send them relevant e-mails. I’m not concerned about when other lists are being delivered, just mine (you could set up a Send To All e-mail group if you need to send something out to everyone, like this e-mail, or if you’re notifying when people will be late). People’s inboxes are already full and would rather see less e-mail than more.

Start a group on Facebook and set up a Twitter account for the CSA. Both free, free, free and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had ask about the CSA because I am active on both of these sites and have mentioned the CSA before. The [site] is hard to navigate and not many people are on it. I had to set up an account simply to get e-mails about the CSA. Make it easy for people to access you and that will help alot. In Facebook you can set up photo albums and make postings for recipes if you wish. On Twitter, tweet (send a message out) about the produce you’re delivering that week to generate interest.

We are due for renewal in January, but given the issues that the CSA has been having, we will probably not be renewing our membership either. I hope to see things pick up for BlueStar Acres, but I think it will take action on the members’ part as well as yours.”

I tried to be fair and honest.
Farming is hard and is not something that you can force to a schedule and expect quality out of it.

I don’t expect to get my deliveries EVERY WEEK AT THE SAME TIME.
Some consistency would be nice
and I really don’t want to get an e-mail saying that our delivery is going to be late ‘because everyone is just so tired.’

That does not make me very confident in you
nor does it make me want to give you my money.

You want my business, you win me over.

Many of the commenters reiterated a line from the welcome e-mail all members were sent upon sign up
that the ‘CSA is not a business.’


Whether its a profitable business or not is a different matter
but when I get an e-mail from the owner saying they can’t continue providing a product because they don’t have enough money to pay people
doesn’t that sound like a business?

The CSA is not run like a business
but it is a business operation.

There is a lot of debate on the blog going on right now–
some people out-and-out ripping the owner a new one
others sprinkling flowers everywhere and shining love out of every orifice.

I volunteered
along with some others
to help transfer files over to Facebook to get them started there
and also to build a database for better tracking of membership and renewals.

The owner is supposed to get in touch with me today
but I’ve yet to hear from her.

I haven’t quite given up on this CSA yet.
There were quite a few months when our deliveries were beautiful;
the fruit and vegetables were ripe and heady
and the selection was enough to make Central Market jealous.

I really want to see them succeed.
I love fresh produce and have been challenged wonderfully this year to try new recipes.

It was also an eye opener as to how hard it is to identify some items without a neat little printed sign in front of them.

Husband couldn’t tell the difference between a zucchini and a cucumber
(there was much pointing and laughing at him)
but I’m proud to say he’s done been learned.

If anyone is interested in joining this CSA
please let me know.

I know that seems strange to plunk out here after all of this
but honestly
when they’re in their groove
they really impress.

I’d really like to get the rest of my deliveries.

Edit: You know what, nevermind. The ridiculous saga that has taken place in the past few days with the owner has only enabled us to settle firmly on NOT renewing our membership.

I’m sorry to say that a lot of flapping arms and incoherent posts on her behalf do nothing to make me want to help the CSA
especially coupled with the owners consistent inability to follow through on ANYTHING.


1 Comment

Filed under Local

One response to “CSA Woes

  1. I love the idea of a CSA, but the thing that’s held me back so far is the financial commitment – life is just really tight right now.

    I would be royally pissed if after taking a sizeable chunk out of my food budget for a CSA the produce never showed and I ended up buying more food at the grocery store anyway.

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