One recent Tuesday as I was pulling out of the driveway with the truck fully loaded with boxes of organic berries and produce from our garden I had an epiphany. Last year we had ramped up from 12 members our first year to almost 40 members, and too often as I pulled out of the driveway back then my feeling was one of panic. Something must be wrong. I’ve forgotten something. The box isn’t full enough. Members will be disappointed. We worked very hard to avoid this outcome and judging by our year-end survey our members were by and large very happy with the product. There were things they would have liked more of and things they would have liked less of, but with 40 members and 40 varieties of berries and vegetables, it would be hard to please all of the people all of the time. We analyzed the feedback and tried to improve for this year. Continuous quality improvement! More internal systems to ensure everything is working. I sound sooo corporate!
This feeling of contentment and calm that I experienced on a recent Tuesday is a great accomplishment. (I’d use the word ‘Zen’ here but Michelle says I overuse it, so pretend I’m not using the word ‘Zen’ even though I really want to.) Growing this variety of food on this scale really takes a lot of skill and great planning. Michelle is without question the brains of the operation. She coordinates with our members, starts all of the seeds that we later transplant, figures out which boxes go where, then picks and washes and packs and organizes the boxes each delivery day. She gives me a clipboard and tells me where to deliver and to whom and off I go, just like a vegetable delivery guy. I do stay focused on the growing side and this division of labor works well.
Michelle and I have spent many years sharing the knowledge we have acquired. We started speaking at conferences on the environment and homeschooling a quarter century ago. I started workshops on renewable energy and sustainable living at community colleges and conferences throughout the province after we moved off the grid 15 years ago.
A decade ago we convinced our friend Bill Kemp to write “The Renewable Energy Handbook, the book that we wished we’d had when we moved off the grid. (This book is now out of print but we actually just came into a case of the second edition if you don’t already have it in your library!) Then we wrote a number of books and produced some DVDs that allowed us to share what we’d learned with a broader market.
So with this background in information dissemination we’re launching our latest endeavor, The World’s Greatest Most Totally Awesome “How to Start and Operate a Successful CSA” Marathon Workshop. As always we are adverse to using hyperbole in describing our projects.
I am totally over-the-moon about putting this one together! First, because I know I’ll meet some awesome people who come to take the workshop. Second, as blog readers will be aware, I believe growing food sustainably is THE most important work you can do. Yes, curing horrible diseases and figuring out how to suck carbon out of the atmosphere is important, but everyone needs to eat and if you grow the food well you can provide good health to people and the planet.
We decided to offer the workshop in January to give me time to prepare the material. It’s also a ‘down’ month for vegetable farmers and just about the time that CSA farmers should be starting some seeds indoors.
I realize it’s unlikely that this workshop will be of interest to our regular blog readers. It’s a fairly targeted specific potential market. Since we assume people will be coming a distance everyone will stay at our place. So it will be a great week of learning from sun up to sun down (and beyond since it’s January).
We also decided to condense it into one week. I think this will be kind of a cool team-building thing. Sorry, that sounds so corporate I even regret writing it. It will be a great way to build a network of support to get everyone through his or her start up years. I know that thinking about starting a CSA is a daunting concept. I believe having a network of like-minded people to help you through those first years will be critical to people.
Michelle and I have followed the evolution of CSAs since we ran an organic vegetable co-op out of our garage in Burlington 25 years ago. CSAs come and go. Often young passionate people start them but get overwhelmed with the work involved and the challenges. That’s unfortunate. One of the things that our modern food production system does is make it difficult for young people without a lot of capital to get started. You need money and/or lots of credit. And when you and your bank buy your big tractor you’re going to need a lot of fossil fuels to power your operation, and probably treated seeds and things that ensure you get your return on investment.
That model has worked marvelously well up until now and just at the time when farmers are getting bigger and there are fewer of the them producing our food, we reached the peak of easy to find and extract oil. One more credit crunch like 2008 and the whole model gets shaky which is why it’s so important for there to be young farmers growing on a smaller, less fossil fuel and credit intensive scale to pick up the slack.
And we hope our workshop will provide a few more of those farmers with the skills and tools required to make a go of it.
If you know of someone who might be interested please send him or her a link to our workshop information (http://sunflowerfarm.ca/how-to-start-and-operate-a-successful-csa-workshop/) . And when the workshop is complete I’m going to try some of the stuff I learned running for the Green Party. I’m thinking about setting up regular Sunday night live online video chats (I’m sure they have a more techy name) where everyone can ask each other questions and bounce ideas off each other. I got some of my best materials for All Candidates Meetings during those video meetings.
I really think this is going to be an awesome thing. Michelle keeps rolling her eyes when I come up with new elements to it, which means I’m on track! And there’s only 6 months ‘til it happens! Now, where am I going to make the cross-country ski trails for everyone, and I’ve got to map out the menus, and each day’s work, and how will I keep the rink skatable until the third week in January, and …