Farm News – November 14, 2016

Circle Brook Farm
Circle Brook Farm

Hello Everyone.  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.  Over 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 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 to 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 this season to 600 members despite adding several new groups.  It has been hard for me to understand this decline, knowing 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 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 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 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 drought.  We are now 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 its 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’ll continue to sell at the Montclair market in December – Walnut St. Train Station Saturdays 9am-1pm.  We’ll need to begin 2017 season signups early in January, and will offer an additional discount for early registration.  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 our CSA program and the importance of supporting local agriculture.  If you can, please get involved with the core group that organizes and manages your pickup site.  If you know of anyone who might be interested in starting a group in their town or workplace, please put them in touch with me.

Thank you 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!       Farmer John


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