THIS WEEK’S SUBSCRIBER MENU:
• “Festival” or “Kabocha” Winter Squash
• Collard Greens
• Baby Bok Choi
• Assorted baby heads of Lettuce
• Yellow Onions
• “D’Anjou” Pears from Cliffside Orchards in Kettle Falls
Click on the links above for information and recipes about these crops.
Operating a farm is a challenge, most people understand that. Running a business based on customer contact and dependent on good customer service is a complicated layer to add to any business. Farming would be easier if we didn’t ever talk to our customers, or work hard at keeping them happy. Farming would be easier if we grew corn or soybeans. But that’s not what we do. We enjoy finding new food plants and growing them. We enjoy getting to know the people we feed. We enjoy knowing about their lives and families, helping them try and learn about new vegetables that they may never have seen. And we are happy when they are happy.
Farmers markets are good for us because we get a good sense of how people feel about things. In a quick snippet of conversation we can find out if someone likes or dislikes something, or they are turned off by a pink beet or a speckled lettuce. Then we can decide if it’s worth pursuing or if it’s too much of a struggle to “sell”. If someone has a bad experience because their basil went bad in the fridge, we can give them another bunch and encourage them to try again before they give up on it, for example.
We have been operating a CSA for many years. This is our 14th year, actually. The first few years were a huge learning experience. Guessing and learning what people like each week, learning how to handle the instances when people didn’t like what was in their box. Learning how many weeks in a row we can get away with giving everyone beets instead of tomatoes. In those 14 years we have figured out what quantity is about right for a family every week. We’ve figured out that people generally want certain things every week—like onions and/or garlic. That many people want salad greens every week, but many people don’t like kale every week. When we pack shares for delivery, we have to consider what the average prefers. When people pick up at the farm or a farmers market, we can offer choices.
We rarely get comments from customers, and we have learned that, generally, as long as people aren’t complaining, they are probably happy. Of course, when we get a compliment, we are thrilled! I’m not fishing for compliments, but it sure does make our day to get one. When someone complains, it is agonizing. We have to remind ourselves that just because one person complains, it doesn’t mean everyone is unhappy. Then occasionally, we have a customer who consistently finds something to complain about. My first instinct is to try and fix it. But sometimes, there is just nothing that can be done, because they just want to find things to complain about.
For instance, we have some amazing brilliantly-colored beets right now. Some of them are huge—well over a pound each. Some of those single beets probably outweigh a standard bunch of beets. When I saw them this morning as we were packing boxes, I was in awe. “Those are amazing!” I exclaimed. Mike wasn’t sure what to do. 99% of our subscribers wouldn’t be able to use more than one in a week. And they are just so beautiful, we should share them with everyone, so we gave many of the boxes just one glorious, luminous beet. Last week we shared Cliffside Orchard’s delicious pears with all of our subscribers. We had one box leftover this week, so we thought we would pass them on to everyone, even if it meant just one per box. I didn’t expect to hear a complaint that there was only one pear in the box. If I had known anyone would be horrified about getting one pear, I would have kept them and eaten them myself, or fed them to the pigs.
We have a pretty humble, simple life. We find joy in making people happy, and growing good food, and watching our customers’ children grow up strong and healthy, and then seeing them buy their own vegetables. We find joy in the incredible color of a technicolor beet, or the supreme juiciness in a truly ripe D’Anjou pear. And we find joy in sharing these simple, amazing things with our family of customers.