Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Frequently Asked Questions about the CSA

By Nicole Sugerman

This column has been sitting in my mind for a little while. It is meant to be a helpful explanation for many of the questions you all wonder about regarding the CSA. We know that CSA can seem mysterious or counterintuitive, so we hope this article can help to clear some of it up!

Q: Why are the beets/turnips/whatever vegetable smaller than last week’s?
A: We utilize a technique called succession planting to extend the season of many of the crops we grow. Instead of planting beets once and then using them up, we plant beets every other week, so that by the time we have harvested all the beets from one planting, there are new beets ready to harvest that we planted later. Within a planting of any vegetable, there are some individual plants that flourish more than others. When a planting is just starting to be harvestable, we pull the biggest ones first, to give the smaller ones a little more time to grow. Eventually, though, any plant’s production tapers off. For beets, we harvest the entire planting over the span of two or three weeks before moving on, while something like summer squash has fewer successions throughout the season so we harvest from one planting for over a month. So, the vegetable size varies depending on where we are within a planting. When we start harvesting from a new planting, the size of the vegetables will grow.

Q: Why is my share so much smaller/bigger than last week?
A: This is the nature of a CSA. Each harvest day, we harvest whatever is ready (making sure to leave an equivalent amount for the next pickup that week),for the next pickup that week), and then we calculate how much we can give each shareholder by dividing the total amount that we have by the number of shareholders. While we try to give a minimum of 10 items for a large share, as we promised in pre-season explanations, when we have a lot of vegetables, we give you more vegetables. That’s how you, as shareholders, get to share in the risks and bounties of the farm—because we had a really terrific early season of summer squash, we’ve been giving out a lot of summer squash! And because our lettuce heads have been bolting quickly in the summer heat, there has not been much head lettuce in the share lately. So, some weeks, we have more to harvest than others, so we pass those surpluses on to you.

Q: Why can’t I swap my kohlrabi for an extra bunch of carrots? Can I have an extra onion because I am splitting my share?
A: Because we structure the distribution so that we give out everything we harvest, we cannot let people substitute items they like more for items they like less (unless they use the swap box—that’s why it’s there!), particularly because these often tend to be the items that many people like more or less. We calculate how many carrots you can take by dividing the total number of carrots that we have by the total number of shareholders. So, if someone takes extra carrots, someone else will not get their carrots. The same goes for splitting a share; if something is hard to split, we recommend switching off who gets that item each week (cabbages, for example). But we cannot give people an extra cabbage, because then someone else will not get one.

Q: What does my money pay for in the spring?
A: Your money pays for all the costs associated with running the CSA. Most of this cost is labor; Nina and I both receive 75% of our salaries through CSA income, and apprentices receive a stipend funded partially through the CSA. We also order most of our seeds over the winter, as well as many of our inputs and supplies. An incomplete list of “inputs” includes dried fertilizer, compost (we order it in because we do not make enough of our own for all of our needs), cover crop seed, materials for making our own potting mix for seedlings (peat moss, vermiculite, perlite, compost), and organic-approved pesticides (including insecticidal soap, kaolinite clay, and horticultural oil). “Supplies” include everything else we need to grow vegetables: row cover, wire to hold up the row cover, black plastic to mulch some of the beds, drip tape and spare parts for the drip irrigation system, straw mulch, tools, tomato stakes to replace any that have broken over the past year, pruners, harvesting knives, vegetable storage bins, twine to tie up tomatoes, sharpie markers for labeling. . . it all adds up!

Q: Why is the CSA called “Henry Got Crops!”? Do you know that the grammar is not correct?
‘Henry Got Crops!’ was consensed upon as the name for the CSA by the agroecology class we worked with last fall to develop the concept of the CSA. The students wanted to convey how cool and unexpected they thought it was to have vegetables growing right beside Henry Avenue. We thought it was okay that it was not ‘correct’ grammar because we wanted to give the students some decision-making power. Since they named the project, we went with it!

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