Last summer was our first summer running a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and we supplied our members with a box of veggies from the garden for 16 weeks. I’ve been growing food for about 35 years and for most of those years I just gave away my surplus. Two summers ago we sold our produce at a stand in town, which gave me the confidence and the desire to try the CSA model. The problem with selling at a stand is that I would harvest a certain amount of food and would end up bringing back or wasting a portion of it. Or inevitably I would take something like beets week after week, not sell a single one, and then when I finally gave up and didn’t take beets, someone would ask me for them! Running the CSA last year with just a few members (roughly 10 families) gave me the experience of mentally working through how much stuff to grow and how well I could keep up the variety with succession planting. After last year’s season we asked our members to fill out a survey to find out what they liked, and what we could improve on. Our reviews were glowing!
Of course it was a crazy amount of work for just 10 members, so this year we decided we would only run it if we got 20 full time members. I got a little more aggressive in trying to sign people up. My radio sales experience had me “asking for the order!” As I told my Happy Hockey colleagues, “Surveys show that the best hockey players are the ones that eat the most organic, locally grown vegetables. It’s a fact. You can look it up. Oh, and did I mention I run a CSA?”
So we hit our target of 20 members fairly quickly! What a great feeling!
Then one of our local papers ran a story about us. More people wanted in! We hit 25 members. Michelle started saying, “Maybe that’s enough?” Then we hit 30 members! Yee ha! I was so pumped. Then I wrote an article in another local paper about the brave new world of growing food. So now we’re at almost 40 members and Michelle isn’t sleeping at night and I’m bouncing off the walls with elation!
You see, Michelle is the logical, “How are we going to do this?” type of person and I’m the, “Who cares, let’s just get the numbers and then worry about it” type. When I was a teenager I’d show up at my uncle’s warehouse with a crew of friends to do a mailing for him. He’d say, “There’s the mailing machine, here are the labels, there are the mailbags, I’ll be back in 8 hours, get the mailing ready to go.” He left it to me to figure it out. When I started selling advertising I knew nothing about selling advertising. Then I bluffed my way into a job selling microcomputers, which I knew next to nothing about. Then we saw a niche to offer an electronic publishing service and we started Aztext Electronic Publishing and sold our services like crazy. Then we moved off the electricity grid knowing absolutely nothing about electricity. In 2003 my uncle asked us to do his renewable energy magazine, so we wrote much of it, edited the rest, laid it out and got it to the printers electronically. From this I knew there was a need for a good well-rounded book on all aspects of renewable energy so I convinced Bill Kemp to write it. I knew nothing about publishing a book. And “The Renewable Energy Handbook” became the best selling book on the subject regardless of our lack of experience.
So I’m really at the stage where a challenge like this seems pretty normal. And it’s a dream come true. I’ve grown food for 35 years because I really like doing it. I’ve given it away extremely successfully but ultimately that is not the measure of success. Now I’ve got 40 families that are willing to put their confidence in me that I can provide them with a great box of produce for the growing season. Don’t you worry, I’m up for it!
For 15 years I’ve walked this property and thought “you know, that would be a good place for potatoes” or “If cut that sumac bush back, I could expand that garden over there no problem.” And now I’m spending my spring doing exactly that. What a blast!
When were in the city recently I was thinking about the old idea of working for the same company for life. Get in while you are young, put on car doors or install furnaces for 35 years and then retire. Doing the same thing for most of your life. And I know many people liked this model of lifetime employment. Many others did not. I learned pretty early on it wasn’t going to work for me. And every time I’ve reinvented myself it’s turned out okay. Since the economic collapse in the U.S. in 2008 when book sales tanked, Michelle and I have tried a few different ways to replace the income, and most of our ideas have been only marginally successful. But something kept pushing me to use our property to grow food. And ultimately from an environmental standpoint this is THE absolutely lowest impact, most important thing we can do. And this spring we finally finessed it and figured out how to do it without going into debt to plant 500 acres of corn after buying a tractor and a combine.
And now I spend every day moving hay from here to there, moving manure over there, putting a proper door on last year’s glass greenhouse, raking up and spreading pine needles around the blueberry bushes, digging a trench for the new hoop house, enlarging the potato garden, deciding what to plant in that spot over by the old wind turbine I’ve been dumping manure and rotten hay on for years … It’s just exhausting. And it’s like being hooked on drugs; I just walk around with a smile on my face ALL DAY LONG! Forty members! Holy crap, how are we going to do that!?!?!?!
After last year’s drought and relentless heat I said I’d never grow another vegetable again. I said I would never enter my garden again. I said running a CSA was the stupidest thing I’d ever done. All winter I was dreading being back in that darn garden. I was enjoying staying in bed until it was light. I dreaded getting up at 5:30 to get out before the heat hit again.
Now I’m back getting up with the robins and Canadian Geese and getting out to the garden. And it’s awesome. It’s like a dream come true. I believe my mood swings would have a psychological term. Mild bipolarism or something along those lines. All I know is that the lows just make the highs higher and right now I’m on such a high. I have so much to do and just love every minute that I’m doing it. No car doors to put on for me. No nice big pension that comes along with it either. But if that next big asteroid like the one that just blasted all those windows in Russia is headed for me, and I’m out in the garden as it approaches, I’m telling you, I’m going to have the biggest smile on my face as I brace for impact.
In the meantime, Sunflower Farm CSA members, I am at your service. It’s going to be an awesome summer!
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- There are still spots available in our next full day workshop here at Sunflower Farm on Saturday, May 4th. Message me (michelle at aztext dot com) for details.
- Planning on making a purchase from amazon? Use the link under “Books & DVDs” called “Amazon Book Store” and we will earn a very small percentage of your sale! (This applies to anything you purchase from amazon, not just our books!)
- And yes, there is still a little, tiny bit of space left in our CSA! If you live nearby and want to join, let us know ASAP!