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Posts Tagged: CSA

Customer Engagement: U-Pick Membership Programs

For a small-scale farm, opening up the fields and orchards to the public and allowing them to pick their own crops can be a wonderful way to engage happy customers and teach children where their food comes from. It can also mean opening the family farm to people who trample vegetable beds, let their children break apple tree branches, and "sample" more than they buy. Two California farms, Suzie's Farm in San Diego and Gabriel Farm in Sonoma County, have set up U-Pick membership programs that allow them to invite U-Pickers while controlling potential damage and limiting overcrowding.

The people of Suzie's Farm, diversified organic growers in San Diego, have explored many ways to connect their customers to the farm and the good food growing on the farm. They offer regular farm tours, a CSA program, strawberry U-Pick days, farm dinners and other events. About a year ago, farm manager Lauren Gagliano Saline and her staff noticed that some of their customers wanted more chances to get their hands dirty, maybe to harvest their own CSA.

Suzie's staff tried an unguided vegetable U-Pick, letting customers pick vegetables from the fields. That didn't work out so well. Many people didn't know how to walk in the fields without trashing the beds, and didn't know how to harvest the different crops, and the random picking adventures tied up staff time. So Lauren and the team created a guided U-Pick option, and the U-Pick Harvest Club was born.

Now about fifty U-Pick Harvest Club members pick their own CSA every week. They join and prepay for four, eight, sixteen or more "picks". Each "pick" is a varying list of eight items with a set quantity of each item, designed to be approximately equal to a CSA share. Harvest Club members are told the times each week that they can pick their shares, on Tuesday, Saturday or Sunday. The picking times are when farm staff are leading their regular farm tours, so Harvest Club members join any of the tours and are supervised in their picking by the tour leaders. Of course they are not charged for the tour, which usually costs $10 per person.

Another advantage the U-Pick Harvest Club members enjoy is the chance to customize their pick, an option not available to regular CSA members. Rather than picking a set amount of each of the eight items, they are allowed to substitute more of one crop if they prefer. For example, they can pick eight melons one week if melons are one of the listed items, and take none of the other things on the list. And some people, Lauren explained, just prefer to pick that perfect bunch of kale. Harvest Club members are also allowed to bring along up to three people to "help" them pick - which includes the free farm tour.

The first year of Suzie's U-Pick Harvest Club has been a success, seeing steady growth and renewals for the second year. For more information, see Suzie's Farm website.

Torrey Marius Olson and Lucy McBride Olson ran an apple U-Pick operation for about six years on Gabriel Farm, their 14 acre organic farm near Sebastopol in Sonoma County. Over the years, popularity of U-Pick grew to the point where Torrey and Lucy couldn't handle the numbers of San Francisco Bay Area people who would arrive at the farm every weekend.

About four years ago, the Olsons set up a "U-pick/CSA Member Program," and now reserve the u-pick experience for farm CSA members. The price of membership is a case of Gabriel Farm's organic juice. For $36, customers get three gallons of juice and the ability to pick and purchase whatever is in season. Once they had the membership program established, Lucy and Torrey felt comfortable in opening up the U-Pick options to their full range of crops - from apples, pluots, berries, Asian Pears, tomatoes and flowers in August through persimmons and pineapple guavas in November.

Membership in the U-pick CSA program at Gabriel Farm averages about 500 families. A membership is good for a family or for a group of four people. Most customers are families with young children who want their children to learn where their food comes from and to be able to experience the farm. Most drive an hour or two from the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Lucy and Torrey are happy with their program. They have found that most people who make the membership commitment are supportive, kind and respectful of the farm.

Most U-Pick CSA members only come out to the farm once a year, as they are very busy people, Lucy explained, although she encourages all members to experience the apple harvest at least once if they start in a different season. Turnover in the program is about 80 percent, but enough new members join each year to maintain the average membership numbers.

The Olsons are not trying to grow their U-Pick program. They tried a hay pyramid one year for the children to play on, but decided that they didn't want to be in the agri-tainment business and did not repeat the experiment. They plan to continue to use the U-Pick membership program to limit the number of customers and to make more of a connection with people who enjoy and respect Gabriel Farm. For more information, see gabrielfarm.com/portal/u-pick


Posted on Wednesday, July 27, 2016 at 4:25 PM
Tags: agritourism (2), CSA (2), Gabriel Farm (1), Suzie''s Farm (1), U-Pick (1)

Customer Engagement: Garlic Braiding Party at Eatwell Farm

Nigel and Lorraine of Eatwell Farm in Dixon go an extra mile to share a taste of real farm experiences with their 500 CSA members and their friends and relations, partly for increased understanding about the farm by their customers and partly to build loyalty and attract new CSA members.

Eatwell Farm is a certified organic, diversified farm of about 100 acres, selling at farmers' markets, through a CSA and to wholesale customers. My wife and I were lucky enough to join the Garlic Braiding Party at Eatwell last Saturday with a small crowd of delighted CSA members and their friends, mostly families with children. For only a fifteen dollar ticket price, we were invited to set up tents to stay overnight, tour the farm, join a potluck dinner, roast marshmallows at the campfire, enjoy coffee and breakfast in the morning, and just relax on the farm. And we learned how to harvest and braid garlic! And we got to keep the garlic! And we got to bring home some strawberries!

After arriving and getting settled, we all walked out to the garlic field, where we learned how to pull up the bulbs with the stem still attached. We got the hang of garlic harvesting quickly, as the soil had already been loosened around the bulbs, making pulling pretty easy. We picked and pulled and shook off the dirt and piled our findings into harvesting trays to bring back to the packing shed.

After we'd filled a dozen or so trays with our harvest, Connie and Eric, our hosts for the afternoon, let us loose in the next field over, the most beautiful abundant strawberry patch, with instructions to taste and pick what we wanted. No prices, no weighing, just picking and eating of the most delicious ripe and sweet berries. Smiles were everywhere.

On the short walk back to the packing shed we wandered out to visit some of the hundreds of chickens housed in movable coops around the farm, passed through a field of fragrant lavender and couldn't resist a taste of a sweet berry or two (or three) from the mulberry tree.

Then it was time to learn how to braid. First a little instruction in cleaning off the outer layers of skins, then a short demo on how to braid, and we were ready. We all made a few braids, or tried to make braids. Although the farm sells garlic at their farmers' markets, Connie and Eric again let us know that we could take home as much as we wanted! We felt royally gifted with kindness.

Finally, dinner was ready. The main course was farm-raised chicken, prepared by Lorraine. Rounding out the delicious meal were potluck salads, sides and sweets brought by the visitors. Dinner was followed by a campfire, complete with marshmallows and all the makings for classic s'mores.

We didn't stay overnight, as we only live twenty miles down the road, but we left our new friends to enjoy a Solstice evening on the farm, a night under the stars, and a good rooster wake-up in the morning. Thank you, Nigel, Lorraine, Connie and Eric, for a memorable experience! We'll tell everyone we can about your CSA and hope to come back to make tomato sauce in August.


Posted on Tuesday, June 21, 2016 at 5:25 PM
Tags: agritourism (2), CSA (2), Eatwell Farm (1), small farms (1)
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