My weekly CSA e-newsletter included an evaluation request. It’s possibly the most important item in this week’s produce delivery because it puts the farmer-shareholder relationship squarely in the limelight.
I confess that I was tempted to click through the survey instrument, delivering perfunctory yes or no answers. Was I satisfied? Yes. Were there any problems? No. What was my favorite vegetable? All of them. Was I satisfied with the variety? Yes. What would I add to the mix? More weird stuff. That sort of thing. But, the questions and those type of answers miss the point or at least obscure it. I purchased a CSA share because I wanted to eat better, fresher and healthier while connecting my family to the family growing the food we eat. Short answers can, analogously speaking, see the trees but miss the forest.
My CSA farmer once painted my house. We discovered that fact well into our CSA relationship and didn’t drive my investment decision. Norm-the-Grower, like me, started life as a farm boy, leaving home for city life. He started a successful house painting business. After years of climbing ladders, he began contemplating his painting exit strategy and felt the farm’s pull.
He didn’t want to farm as his folks farmed, a choice that led him to the CSA path. I became a shareholder after Norm had been farming for several years. The house painting piece enriched our relationship but didn’t alter its basis.
Community Supported Agriculture isn’t a path for everyone, growing or consuming, but it should be more widely-embraced. Communicating with the subscriber base is smart business; it also elevates the farmer-shareholder relationship. Relationships anchor communities. Strong communities create opportunity and prosperity. Investing in Norm is far more than an economic transaction because he’s equally investing in me. Profit, however difficult to realize in small-scale farming, is critical but it’s not the only return on investment. The CSA model delivers on that elusive but core human need for community and connection.
I didn’t put most of this into my CSA season evaluation but I didn’t ignore it, either. Like any good farmer, Norm focuses on the here-and-now yet never loses sight of long-term plans. This growing season was defined by drought and a diminished yield. I understand yet remain pleased with quality and volume despite tough farming conditions. And, I wrote that. It’s how you build and grow a relationship.