So we're contemplating the farm in our town again this year. I have an e-mail sent out to them inquiring about their growing practices. I know they are not organic. I know they do spray with some stuff at some times. Hopefully I can get enough information from them to make a decision I am comfortable with. They have a very faithful following. Our neighbors had a share last year and want to know if we want to split one with them this year. They asked the same question a year ago, and we decided to go with the other farm.
Things I learned about doing a CSA:
1) Know thyself. For us, that means never do a CSA with a "commute" that we can't really handle. We'll miss out on shares because it's often too much of a hassle to pick them up (especially when the size of the share was rarely worth the investment of time and fossil fuels used to pick it up).
2) Know thy grower. While I felt comfortable with the growing practices at our old CSA, I didn't realize that our farmer just wasn't a good communicator, and didn't have much of a history with successful organic farming in New England. It was hard to understand why the shares were so pathetic all year round, since his only explanation was that it was a "challenging year." Umm.... no, it wasn't! Unless they got "special weather" right over their farm, it was simply an average year. Some good growing weather, some bad growing weather. Typical challenges, according to most of the farmers I know. I didn't like his attitude.
3) Know thy farm's track record. In our old town, we grew a relationship with the farmers we purchased from. We started buying Tobacco Road Farm when I was the farm market manager in our old town. I would talk with Bryan and Anita for long "down times" when the market was slow. I felt like I could trust their growing choices, and could trust that they were offering the best produce that New England could offer. I could trust that they were taking care of their soil, so that when the weather was good, the veggies were awesome. I could sympathize with a truly bad growing season (I recall one summer when the weather was damp and cloudy for a loooong time), knowing that they were doing their best. When their friends Ed and Raluca went into farming, ditto all of the above. When we left Storrs, we had been buying from our farmers for 8 years in the case of Bryan and Anita, and a few years from Ed and Raluca. The CSA we joined last year we found out about through the internet (not a good way to know a farm). We had never bought so much as a bulb of garlic from them. We didn't know the farm at all. Lesson learned.
Ah! Just heard back from our farm in town: "Hi, we do use pesticides, fungicides and synthetic fertilizer. We do try and limit our use through integrated pest management. We track bugs, and only spray when needed."
I may keep looking. I may just not do a CSA this year, and patronize farm markets as much as possible. That would fit well within my last critera:
4) Manage Thy Expectations. Just like any relationship, I have to be realistic about what I expect from the growers and what they expect from us. I should communicate with them as much as possible before deciding whether the farm is right for us.
That's all for now.