So we have arrived at the final week of the season. In spite of the drought it was one of most productive years so far. Through every season since 2003 when I began serving a CSA group of 38 members in Montclair we have made steady improvements in the quantity, quality and variety of produce in the shares. In the 10 years after that first CSA season new groups were added each year and membership grew at a steady pace. In 2013 there were 700 members and based on the strength of the business and the generous support of some of these members I was able to fulfil a lifelong dream of farm ownership. My plans were to continue growing my CSA base and begin to diversify into fruit and possibly egg production. My dream was to eventually build a processing kitchen to create value added products from the produce and preserve what is often lost in working with highly perishable products. In 2014 we had 780 members but then in 2015 membership dropped sharply to 700 and again for this season membership dropped precipitously to 600 members in spite of adding several new groups. It has been hard for me to understand this decline when I now that we have consistently improved the value that we provide our members. My experience is not unique; there is a great deal of talk in the CSA community about declining memberships and attempting to understand the causes. There is more competition, not only from new farms but also from “fake” CSA’s and so called co-ops- companies that use the model but are actually just middleman. There is more organic produce in the supermarkets and there are more organic home delivery services. None of these actually benefit the local farmers because they are focused on the bottom line and have no real commitment to local food production. Farmers are forced to compete with prices from industrial scale California farms.
This year, in spite of tremendous productivity has been financially disastrous for Circle Brook Farm. I attempted to sell more wholesale to utilize the excess of what was planted for the CSA and for markets, but with limited success. Many potential outlets that made noises about supporting local did not follow through. We have donated thousands of pounds of produce to food pantries and soup kitchens but thousands more ended on the compost heap and tons more were left in the field to rot. This season we were also faced with more expensive truck and tractor repairs than usual and more labor and energy expense due to the drought. We now are left with tons of potatoes, winter squash, and root vegetables in storage and more greens and brassica crops in the field that we are not able to sell. And I am left with unpaid rent, taxes and credit card debt. And I am left wondering if the local food movement was just a fad that has had it’s moment.
I don’t give up easily and I am committed to local, sustainable food production but I need your help. Please consider purchasing a stock up share. If there are items that you cannot use they can be donated to food pantries. Alternatively you can purchase an entire share to be donated either to the folks who work with your CSA group or to Local Share the organization that we work with here at the farm. We will be continuing to sell at the Montclair market on Saturdays in December- Walnut St. train Station 9 am -1pm We will need to begin registration for the 2027 season early in January and will offer an additional discount for those who sign up early. Most of all I need your help in building the membership for next season. Word of mouth has always been the best advertising for the CSA. Please tell friends, family, coworkers and anyone who will listen about the farm and the CSA program and the importance of supporting local agriculture. If you can find the time please get involved with the core group that organizes and manages your pick up site. If you know of anyone who might be interested in starting a group in their town or at their workplace please put them in touch with me.
Thank you all for your support this season and especially to the core group members who work so hard so that I can focus on the farming. And thank you for the kind words of appreciation from those who have visited me at the markets or on the farm. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and a safe and healthy winter.
The share for this week will be: lettuce, onions, potatoes, parsnips, arugula, sweet potatoes, baby bok choy, spinach, baby carrots, radishes, choice of a pie pumpkin or buttercup squash, green cabbage and sunchokes. Cauliflower for those who have not yet received it this fall.Enjoy!