Monday, September 29, 2008

The Berries

Henceforth, this day will be known as The Day My Mom and I Got Kicked Out of Our CSA.

Last Spring I was beyond excited to sign up for a CSA (community supported agriculture). I had been warned by friends that I would be receiving a lot of produce each week. They suggested that I split a share with someone. So, I talked my mom & dad into splitting a share with me. We were very excited for the first box to arrive.

It arrived. We were underwhelmed. However, the CSA newsletter said that there had been floods and reminded us of the "risk" we took when signing up. If they did well, we would prosper. If they did poorly, so would we. So, when our box contained 5 sticks of rhubarb and our CSA newsletter suggested we make rhubarb pie, we laughed it off and reassured ourselves that once growing season came, we would have our hands full.

Then strawberries came into season. The CSA invited us to drive down there and pick an extra supply of strawberries. In hindsight, we probably shouldn't have done this. At just shy of $5/qt we picked extras to bring home and freeze. The patches were full. So full of strawberries that some were going to waste. With all of those strawberries in the fields, we thought for sure we would receive a huge container of strawberries to make-up for that "flood light" first few boxes. Our boxes arrived that week half full with a small container of strawberries. We started to get a little sarcastic. Maybe we should make a strawberry pie, we joked.

This is not to say, that we have not had fun with the produce we receive. Every other week, I journey over to my parent's house and we grill what we have received that week. It's been great fun and we've had some pretty outstanding meals. What we do receive is fresh and very tasty.

Things turned a little odd when our next weekly newsletter started with a scolding for the CSA flock. People were NOT to open boxes. People were NOT to switch contents in the boxes. People were NOT to take items from boxes that were not theirs. People WERE to take the top box and be happy with it. And then someone had to audacity to send them an email asking why we only got one cucumber the week before. We were reminded of the flood. Hmm...we thought to ourselves, maybe a few others were finding the boxes less than full.

Well, this brings us to last week. Our 3/4 filled box arrived. However, we spotted two half pints of raspberries. We were excited and started to plan what we would make. Imagine our surprise when we opened both containers to find then covered in mold. This was a few hours after they had been picked up from the CSA site. Bummer.

We sent off a polite email explaining that our raspberries had arrive moldy. We had thought they might throw a few extras into our box next week. But, we received a response telling us to call our "coordinator" at what appeared to be a long distance phone number and ask her if there were any uncollected boxes. Then presumably we were going to have to drive wherever and pick them up. By the time we were able to arrange this, the new raspberries would have been days old and also moldy. We decided to just skip it.

But this ate away at me over the weekend. We were paying $30 per box. I sent off a short response email telling the farm contact that the boxes had seemed a little light which made the loss of the raspberries even more disappointing......and we had been a bit taken off guard being left to find leftovers on our own....we were not overly happy campers.

Yikes. This was not received well.

We received terse email reply telling us that if we "...decide to join another CSA next year..." Emphasis on "another." All of the CSA staff was cc'd. The email went on to assure us that no one else thought the boxes were light and everyone else raved about their berries. Huh.

So, there you have it. My mom and I are persons non grata at our CSA. We had quite a chuckle about it. Although, next week we may have to wash our lettuce twice. No telling what a displeased CSA could do to produce ;-)


shawn hebrank said...

I am about to join one come November, and I also live in MPLS.
Would you be willing to let us know which one to stay away from?

I just bought a house in Powderhorn, built in 1907. I found your blog, and absolutely love reading everything I am about to do to my own house.
Thanks for keeping up with the blog so well.

StuccoHouse said...

I feel a little bad naming names on this one. We have not been overly happy, but there may be people that really love this place. Hopefully, if they read this post, they will chime in. I'll say that the farm starts with an "H" and is out of WI. We will definitely join a csa again next year, just not this one ( they'd let us back in even if we wanted to).

Ohh, Powderhorn has some great old (big) houses. What style? If discover any tips as you restore your house, be sure to let me know :-)

I'm glad you like reading my blog....for me, writing is mostly just therapy. I'm happy/surprised when anyone else is the least bit entertained by it.

Anonymous said...

Stucco ... I don't currently own a home, but I'm incredibly entertained by your efforts and love seeing and reading about what you are doing every week. Not to mention I've gotten tips on some great new things (the restaurant was as good as you said it was!). Thank Goodness for your therapy!

StuccoHouse said...

Anon - Well, I certainly hope I haven't scared you off of home ownership :-) Gandhi Mahal is really good, isn't it! I go there for take out more than I'd like to admit. We tried Norteno on Lake Street a few weeks ago. Their patio if very cute. Have you been there?

shawn hebrank said...

Actually, it looks like the CSA was named already in your post about joining.

Here's a picture of my house at inspection. I've been doing some landscaping since.

StuccoHouse said...

Shawn - Ah yes, you are clever ;-)

Very cute bungalow! I love that half porch/half sunroon set up. It looks very solid.

Have you joined the Twin Cities Bungalow Club?

shawn hebrank said...

no. I wasn't sure if it fit within the year requirements.
It says between 1910 and 1930 on their website.

Mike@RuralRenovation said...

Sounds like this isn't a "real" CSA anyway. I've heard of a few of these "corporation" CSA's where an outside company arranges everything, and profits. Many times different items in the boxes are bits and pieces from participating farmers. Unless they actually provided you with details about where items came from, there is no way telling where it came from. I heard about a CSA like that here in Vermont. They actually had oranges in the box one time that were from Florida (someone forgot to take a sticker off).

It turned out to be a bad scam where they were actually buying produce in bulk (like a grocery store) and calling it local.

It's horrible that people do these things, but it always reminds me to question everything.

Next year I plan to take part in at least three local CSA's one is a single farm operation, the other two a still pretty small scale with 4 or 5 participating growers.

Good luck finding a new CSA!

StuccoHouse said...

Shawn - I'm sure that was just meant as a general guideline. Even if you house is a little earlier you would totally benefit from joining. They have a quarterly newsletter that usually is pretty interesting and often lists a lot of local resources. I'd join even in I had an old house that wasn't a bungalow. They also sponsor events like researching your old house, the bungalow tour, stencil painting, oriental rugs (I went to that one).

Mike - This one really is a CSA. We actually went down to visit the farm and took a tour of their crops. This may be a bit of the problem...we saw a lot of fun crops that never made it to our boxes. They may have been sold at their market instead (?) I personally think that it's a bit of a business snafu than anything at all intentional. The business part of me sees some easy fixes. That's why I feel a bit badly saying we haven't been totally happy with them. I think they could easily make some changes and be a roaring success. But, their email response to the berries will make us move on to another resource next year.

Mike@RuralRenovation said...

I guess you are right then. Just business mistakes. Maybe they'll learn and get better in future.

I'm assuming they are great farmers, but maybe business isn't their thing. Still wishing you good luck on your CSA search.

NV said...

I'm laughing that you got "kicked out" of a CSA. You are SO bad. Whiner! :-)

StuccoHouse said...

Mike - Thanks :-)

NV - Yea, now we are thinking maybe tattoos to cement our badass reputations ;-)

shawn hebrank said...

well, that's what I do.

Laurie said...

I need to chime in. We joined the same CSA because of you (and said so - I think you got something from them for a referral?) and couldn't be happier. Sure, there were times the amounts were a little slim (I do remember the 5 stalks of rhubarb), but we have been very impressed with the quality and amounts we have gotten since then.

Every newsletter has mentioned the perishability of the raspberries - I don't know if it was a temperature thing or a humidity thing, but expecting product replacement on the raspberries doesn't really jive with the spirit of the whole CSA thing. To you it may have seemed like a simple request, but the logistics of replacing your raspberries aren't as simple as you think (especially when you have 30 delivery sites all staffed by volunteers). A CSA isn't Lunds and I think the administrator was attempting to manage your expectations (clumsy though her efforts were).

This is the second 100 year flood in consecutive years for this farm. It's safe to say they are barely getting by on your $30 per box. And I think the CSA has been struggling a little explaining to the CSA members how much effort that "light" box has been for them to provide, especially in conjunction with their farmer's market commitments. Yes, that cucumber article was on the testy side, but I'd be testy too.

I love your blog and we live in your neighborhood. Normally, I treasure your perspective, but I feel you're a little off base on this one.

StuccoHouse said...

Laurie - Thanks for your perspective. I know that there are many members to this CSA and assume the majority of them are happy. Like I have said, we have mixed feelings on this. The food we received has been very fun (if scant) and very tasty. We really want to like them. Just a few points.

Although they promised me a referral and I provided them with the info, I never received anything.

We "get" the flood as my mother grew up on a family farm and we come from a long line of farmers. When we went down to tour the farm last Spring, there certainly were some effects of the flood. But as good farmers, they had planted new crops that were already comin up. They had a bunch of interesting crops that we saw in large abundance (a variety of lettuce, purple potatoes, summer squash come to mind) that we have never seen in our boxes. In some of the newsletter we have read about how these may being sold at their market. We get saute mix and more saute mix.

We really can understand rotted raspberries. That really wasn't the issue. The raspberries were, let's say, $5-7$ worth of a very light $30 box. When we told the farm, we would have guessed that they would have just made arrangements to give us a make-up item in our next box. Really not much extra work for anyone there. I think the "risk" runs both ways sometimes. I did not post the entire email we received from the farm in response to our email. Think of the "cucumer" talk in the form of a raspberry emai :-) Oddly, she also talked about how they have to squeeze all of the produce into the boxes lately. I'd be curious who is getting those boxes, cuz it wasn't us :-)

In the end, I am really glad you are happy with your share :-) We love the concept and will either keep doing the same kind of thing, via the Farmers Market or a new CSA. My mom grew up on a farm and it brings back many good memories for her.

Anonymous said...

We belong to the same CSA and have the same disappointing half filled boxes. If you find another one, let us know.

StuccoHouse said...

Anon - Won't be until Spring, but will do.

kat said...

We belong the same CSA & have actually been thrilled with what we have gotten. The only thing I've been disappointed in is the tomatoes which they warned us would be an issue due to the spring storms. I post about each box on my cooking blog & so many people around the country tell me they wish their csa gave them as much or the variety that ours does. We didn't have expectations on how much we would get going in so perhaps that is the difference.

StuccoHouse said...

Interesting. I now see the CSA itself has been following this thread and I'm getting some totally new posters :-) At any rate, I'd like to put this thread to rest. As I said, this post reflects my family's experience and my opinions. Your milage may differ. I won't be using them again next year ;-)

Kat - I don't know. If anyone had received the email we did regarding the raspberries, I think they would not be happy. It was not very nice. As for the boxes, you are right. I don't know that we had expectations. We compare what we receive to friends and ours are lacking. That said, if you think you are getting your moeny's worht and are happy with it - super :-)

Just A Girl And Her Craftsman Bungalow said...

ok but I had to just comment. I live in California so I had not heard about this CSA but this is all hilarious. Unless you are paying $30 a week to just be happy with whatever you get then fine. Otherwise, on average anyone should come away with the feeling that they are getting at least their money's worth-- averaging out good crops and bad crops. Otherwise why would you be involved? Charity? This is supposed to be a service right? We buy $20 worth of fruit/vegetables/cheese at our local farmers market each week and it is a week's worth of food. And are very happy with it all -- but maybe those aren't in your neighborhood? I don't know. Regardless--- rude is rude and if someone sends you a rude email because you felt you needed to let them know about the quality then they are just rude. Taking you off the mailing list.. hilarious. Drama. Life is too short. Everyone who works in a service industry knows that they have to keep their customers happy. eesh.

StuccoHouse said...

Just a Girl - I actually live near 3 (that I know of) really good co-ops (Seward, Linden Hills & The Wedge) and an equal number of weekly farmer's markets. Most of the co-ops also work with csa. So, we aren't at a loss of options :-)

There is something fun about opening a box and not knowing exactly what will be inside. I think that's the appeal of a csa.

I totally agree w/ you about the customer service. You would not have heard one small peep from me about any of this if I hadn't received the email :-)

Yes, in the end you can only get a good chuckle.

Karen Anne said...

I am so late to this thread, probably no one reading this but me and a few mice :-)

CSA sounds like such a good idea, but the local two here are quite expensive and apparently produce giant boxes of veggies each week, from the examples they list on their websites. If you're a single person, you're supposed to hunt up someone to split them with, when it's already a drive getting to the pick up points, let alone the time and gas shuffling half a box off to someone.

So I didn't join, but drove to one's early season sale a couple of times. The sales folk were so rude each time, like I was imposing on them because I wanted to actually buy something.

I do much better at the farmer's markets - easier to get to, way cheaper, and I can see what I'm buying beforehand. The people organizing them seem pretty strict about making sure the produce is actually local.

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