Why CSA Matters

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When we originally conceived of Frinklepod 8+ years ago, we knew that it would include a CSA (community supported agriculture) program to help both build a dedicated customer base and offset our early-season expenses.  “CSA” is a model that originated in Japan and then Europe, and was introduced to the US in the ‘80s, in an effort to support diversified, small-scale farms against an ever-growing backdrop of industrialized agriculture.  The idea was that, in the winter/spring, when farm expenses are greatest, a group of people each commits a certain amount of money to a farm in exchange for their “share” of the future harvest, usually in the form of a weekly or biweekly box of produce, chosen at the farmers’ discretion based on what is available throughout the growing season.  The CSA members are sharing in the inherent risks of farming:  if it’s a bountiful year, the CSA members receive more veggies; in a challenging year (due to weather, pests, crop failures, etc.), members receive less.   In a variation on this theme, I have also heard of a farm where the farmer determines how much annual income they need to both run the farm and make a living wage, gathers together a group of CSA members, and divides the required income by the number of members.  For example, if the farmer needs to make $100,000 to operate the farm in a year, and has 100 members, each member pays $1,000 and then receives 1/100th of the season’s harvest.  

In the beginning, Noah and I considered the various ways that “CSA” could look for our farm operation.  After doing some market research, including speaking with many prospective customers in our area, we learned that people want a sense of choice and freedom when it comes to buying food!   People want to choose when they will go to the farm, how often, and which farm products they will take home and turn into their next meal.   So, we decided upon a “debit style” CSA model: which members pre-pay in the winter/spring, receive a percentage of “bonus” dollars, and then spend these funds on purchases in the farm stand once the growing season started.  If you have been with us since the beginning (thank you!), you remember that we have experimented a bit with the debit style model and also offered the more conventional “CSA boxes” for several years as well.  (We just retired this option so that we could focus our attention on keeping the farm store stocked.)

While our offerings have been based on the original CSA concept, they have diverged in one notable way: rather than sharing the risks of the season with the farmer- never being able to predict the quality or yield of the season’s harvest - our members are guaranteed to receive the market value of the price of their CSA membership, because of a free choice plan which does not expire.  As an added benefit to our customers, we have recently started partnering with some of our favorite local farmers to keep our farm store well-stocked with our favorite crops that we may not grow enough of or at any given moment may not have success with.  For example, if flea beetles demolish a bed of our arugula just before we plan to harvest it, we will do our best to offer you fresh, local, organic arugula by buying some in from farmer Josh of Girard Farm in Lyman. 

If you have been following our journey, you are probably aware that we are working towards being a year-round farm business that can be a community resource in all seasons, not just during the traditional growing season that ends by Thanksgiving.  We want to support people in eating locally, and thinking about the intersections of food, health, and community, 365 days a year. To emphasize this point, at the end of 2018 we decided to try eliminating our CSA sign-up deadline, allowing people to sign up for a CSA membership at any time of year.   But we have come to realize that we still need a critical mass of CSA members to sign up by the spring, in order to maintain a healthy cash flow and keep us on the right track going into the farming season.

We are hereby enacting a deadline of April 15 to join or rejoin the Frinklepod CSA for 2019.  Pay $200 or more by April 15, receive 5% bonus dollars, and get a CSA card that can be used as a debit card anytime, for any purchases from Frinklepod Farm.   You can add funds anytime (over $200 and you’ll continue to get 5% extra) and your card never expires.  

We know it’s hard to think about fresh, local veggies when there’s still snow on the ground!  We know it’s hard to set money aside for later when you’ve got bills to pay!  We know you have many, many options about where you can buy food to nourish yourself and your family!    But, if your budget allows and you feel committed to the idea of supporting your local farm and getting some of the freshest, most delicious food out of the deal, please do consider joining the Frinklepod Farm CSA for 2019.

The deadline is April 15th!   

xoxo

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On Raising Frinklepod Kids

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As we celebrated Sascha’s 9th birthday last week, my mind wandered back through all the years of her sweet little life.  Not surprisingly, nearly every memory correlated to some moment in the life of our farm - after all, we started Frinklepod when she was a year and a half.  A very curious and spirited toddler, Sascha was literally in the middle of every project we undertook in that first season, from building the farm stand, to assembling the greenhouse, to starting our first seedlings.  When our first customers started coming in, Sascha alternated between being an adorable, engaging little human and a watchdog who tried to chase them out with an assortment of sharp garden tools. Luckily for us, most people who encountered the watchdog-toddler enjoyed our vegetables enough to come back for more!

By our second season at Frinklepod, baby Etta had arrived and spent her early days being snuggled by our lovely interns and strapped on my back in a baby carrier.  Silly me, I went into this season believing that with a baby secured fastened to my (very sweaty) back, I could do anything I could have done before. Not so. Despite her peaceful personality, Etta was not content to tag along on hours of weeding, harvesting cherry tomatoes, or moving crates of vegetables around.  As she learned to crawl, though, she enjoyed her newfound freedom, exploring mini forests of kale, taste-testing our soil types, and dodging her big sister.

Throughout the years, our daughters have adapted to spending the majority of their waking hours at - or maybe we should say with - Frinklepod, which, we half-joke, is like our third child.  Because we decided from the beginning to have a farm operation that was open to the public, welcoming to our community, and transparent with our growing methods and crops, our kids have learned what it is to be “the face” of a business, for better or worse.  Whatever they may be doing, at any time of year, whether we are officially open or not - Sascha and Etta know that at any moment they may encounter a person who has a question, needs help, or is merely hoping to watch what is going on. (Several years ago we were admonished by a passerby for letting our little kids run naked down the length of the farm.  It was a non-issue for us.) People often catch a glimpse of our kids in action (e.g. ringing up a purchase or making mud pies) and remark, “Wow, what a great life your kids must have!”  With their cute faces front and center on our website and social media, and their one-on-one interactions with customers, our kids are aware that they are in some sort of sun-dappled spotlight.  While they sometimes enjoy this attention, as they get older they have learned how to retreat from it as needed and to carve out their own time and space away from the main activity of the farm. In doing so (we tell ourselves), they are developing some great life skills in self-advocacy and setting boundaries!

Our kids really DO have a great life!   And when I take a moment to pause and reflect, my heart feels full knowing that our children are deeply connected to nature and have a rich understanding of the many factors that affect our food supply and thus the quality of our life.  When it snows in October, they are concerned that we may not have garlic the next summer (because we didn’t have a chance to plant it). When our well goes dry, they know what this could mean and relish in being part of the team that tries to fix it.  When a ladybug lands on them in the greenhouse, they smile with the knowledge that she is helping keep the aphids at bay. When Etta is stung by a bee, Sascha will run to find a plantain leaf to chew up as a poultice, and later that day, Etta might gather greens and edible weeds for a spontaneous salad for them to share before they go back to work in their mud bakery.  Add to that their interests in flower arranging, cooking, and running the cash register and, well, you can see that our succession plan for the farm when we “retire” (insert laughing-crying face here) is looking pretty good!


It takes a crew to run a farm!

Do any of these faces look familiar? (Click on the photo above for more images)

On a wintry day like today, it's hard to believe that in just a few short months, a fresh crop of apprentices will be arriving at Frinklepod to spend the next 7 months of their lives working and learning with us.  First, though, we have to find these apprentices / they need to find us. 

Starting seven years ago, when we hosted our first brave apprentice, Laura, we have used the services of MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association) to find apprentices by being listed in their database of host farms.  Prospective apprentices peruse the listings, choose which farms they are interested in, and fill out a generalized application which is then sent out to all of those farms.  If we are interested in a particular applicant, we follow up with our own personalized interview process and, if the candidate is well-qualified, chances are they will be offered positions at a number of farms and have to decide which offer to take.    As you can imagine, this can be quite an intense process, and not everyone we offer an apprentice position to accepts.  But so far (knock on wood) we have felt very fortunate with the many wonderful people who have come through the proverbial gates of Frinklepod.

Once here, our apprentices dive into our world with enthusiasm and curiosity.  Their arrival coincides with the height of seedling season and, ideally, the melting of the last of the snow.  Acclimating to our farm operation can be a steep learning curve but we temper that with orienting them to the area, taking some down time to get to know each other and for Sascha and Etta to to test out just how "kid friendly" these people actually are!   Apprentices live in their own private quarters, sharing a kitchen with each other, on our home property, and walk to and from "work" each day - a 3 minute pedestrian commute.  Their ongoing training alongside Noah and myself focuses on running a small-scale organic farm, running the gamut from learning soil science, pest management, and weeding techniques, to customer service and retail merchandising, to community outreach, marketing, and financing.  Since the construction of our year-round space, The Pod, recent apprentices have also gotten an education in value-added food production, event-planning, and more.  As the season progresses, our apprentices take on more and more responsibilities, gain confidence in the diverse set of skills they are developing, and hone their interests, passions, and aspirations.  By the fall, Noah and I have always felt comfortable taking off for a weekend family trip and leaving the farm in the hands of our now-competent apprentices... if you are also a business owner, you know how this can feel!    Our apprentices also get to take advantage of MOFGA's farm training program, which plans educational and social events on farms throughout the state, over the course of the growing season.

In the past seven seasons, our apprentices have hailed from Virginia, Georgia, Maine, Connecticut, California, Washington DC, Texas, and Massachusetts.  They have arrived straight out of college, with a masters degree, as a veteran of the Coast Guard, and/or with years of other work experience behind them.  And when we release them back out into the world, they head to other farms, to work in non-profit community gardens, Food Corps, and a myriad of other interesting jobs.  

In the last few years, we and so many other farms we know of have struggled with finding the right apprentices for our operations.  There simply aren't enough people looking for farm apprenticeships, let alone people who meet the qualifications that each farm sets.  We've cast our net wider, advertising on sites like goodfoodjobs and keep tweaking our hiring criteria in the search of just the right people.  We are currently in the process of interviewing some candidates, and we are still accepting applications.    Do you know anyone who is looking for a farming apprenticeship?   Please send them here! 

Now, as you look forward to the first signs of spring and the first bite of asparagus, you can also anticipate meeting our 2019 apprentices for the first time!  Thanks for always welcoming them so warmly to the neighborhood,
~ flora

Come GATHER With Us!

We are so excited to announce that our new 600 sq. foot upstairs community space, called GATHER in The Pod at Frinklepod Farm, has come to fruition and will be open to the public on Jan. 15th! We have been dreaming of this for a long time - the opportunity to bring people together on the farm during any season and in any weather. These days, we are all so busy, moving so fast, and staring at our screens longer than we’d like…. the time feels so ripe to provide our community with a beautiful space for taking a pause, spending time with our neighbors and friends, and opening our hearts and minds to thoughtful conversations. Some plans for GATHER include:

  • hosting free/low-cost film screenings, presentations, and discussions around food, health, agriculture, the environment

  • showcasing live music, poetry, art

  • a corner library and reading area

  • expanded space for cooking classes, workshops, farm-to-table meals

  • casual seating for enjoying drinks and food from our kitchen cafe downstairs

  • hourly and daily rental opportunities for meetings, yoga classes, birthday parties, and more

As you may know, Noah and I have put a lot, A LOT, of heart into Frinklepod. We have also put in a lot of money, taken out a lot of debt, and made some personal sacrifices, to keep the farm running while also striving to innovate and evolve based on our passions and our community’s needs. We sometimes joke that we are like a non-profit, but without the non-profit status. Probably the best way to describe us is a “low-profit, mission-driven business.” While we obviously can’t predict the future, we can say unequivocally that we are committed to the success of Frinklepod and would not be here without the support of so many customers, CSA members, friends, staff, and cheerleaders, near and far, who have had faith in our vision and helped us work towards it.

With that said, with a list of expenses looming over us to put the finishing touches on/in GATHER, we are swallowing our pride to share our wish list and request any contribution you might like to make.

  • $600 for 24 beautiful stacking, wooden chairs for seating for events or meetings (found- on hold for us)

  • $200 for comfy seating for the library area (found- on hold for us).

  • $$ towards sturdy bookcases - or your used ones (check with us about dimensions)

  • your experienced assistance in choosing a good A/V system - projector, screen, speakers and/or any $$ contribution towards its purchase

If you would like to be recognized in some way for your contribution or would like to contribute in honor of someone else, please let us know. You can contribute online here or by mailing a check, or send us an email at food@frinklepodfarm.com (Please keep in mind that since we are NOT a non-profit, what you give us cannot be considered a tax-deductible donation.)

We are still working out details of how community members may reserve/rent out GATHER in the future, but please reach out with any ideas or questions you may have at this point. And, check out the Events section of our website to see what’s already in the works!

Looking forward to sharing this space with you!

flora

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