For most of our farming lives, my husband Dan and I grew for a CSA, first our own and later a cooperative venture with seven other growers. This year, we turned the tables and became CSA members.
Dan and I spent the summer in Petoskey, Michigan, without access to a vegetable garden of our own for the first time in 30 years. So we joined Providence Farm, owned by Ryan and Andrea Romeyn. All summer, I made a conscious effort to think like a regular CSA customer, not like a farmer, and to analyze what I liked or did not like about the experience.
Overall, belonging to Providence Farm CSA was a completely satisfying and delightful experience. We had absolutely no complaints. Here’s what we liked so much about being on the other side of the CSA relationship.
- Quality. First and foremost was produce quality. Every single item we received was perfect — picked at the right time, clean, packaged appropriately. The food was delicious, and it felt luxurious to have such superb food for so little effort.
- Quantity and variety. We never received too much of anything. If we got a bunch of collard greens or beets, for example, it was one bunch, enough for one or two meals. Salad mix was in large enough bags to serve at almost every meal. Every week’s share had a good variety of vegetables so we didn’t get bored. I had the strong sense that the shares were designed each week by people who cook for their own family and understood on a deep level what people can and want to eat.
- Convenience. Providence Farm makes it easy to be a part of their CSA. First, they have user-friendly software from Farmigo that allows customers to sign up, make changes, pay bills, etc. online. Second, they have multiple pickup options. We initially signed up to pick up at the farm, but after our first trip realized we didn’t want to drive that far every week. So we went online and switched our pickup to the natural foods store a few blocks away.
- Flexibility. Northern Michigan is a vacation destination, so many potential CSA members are there for only a few months. Providence Farm lets members start and leave the CSA whenever they want. We were there for only 11 weeks of the 24-week season, but the farm welcomed our membership all the same. This may be hard on the farmers from a planning perspective, but speaking strictly as a member, it removes one of the biggest obstacles to joining a CSA.
- Communication. Andrea maintains great communication with CSA members. She sends out an email at the start of each week announcing what will be in the share — a huge help to people who want to plan their meals and shop for other food when picking up their veggies. She also does a fun, relationship-building e-newsletter with photos of the farm, family, workers, animals, produce, plus links to food articles and recipes.
- Positive energy. Everyone connected with the farm seems happy with their work. Ryan and Andrea end every email and newsletter with some statement of how fortunate they feel to be growing nutritious food for their community; for example: “Thanks so much for your continuing support and care for our family and farm. Your participation makes a hard job enjoyable and totally worth it!
In truth, we the members are the ones who are fortunate. We are grateful for Ryan, Andrea, and CSA farmers everywhere who work so tirelessly to provide flavor, health, and community.