I’m going to talk a little more today about the nuts and bolts of Terra Firma’s CSA. Pay close attention because there will be a test at the end; well, actually it’s a very short survey.
When you open up and unpack your box today, take a look at the contents. Now try to visualize how much time it might take for one person to plant, weed, irrigate, harvest and pack the vegetables and fruit.
At our current prices, the money we receive for one Small box covers a single hour’s wage cost for a single employee. A Medium box covers a little over an hour and a half. A Large box? Two hours.
Terra Firma’s costs to grow and pack your CSA boxes rise every year. In particular, wage increases mandated by the state increase our payroll cost by 10% annually. Our employees — who have always been essential workers — deserve that financial recognition.
Other mandated costs also have laudable goals, like the requirement to replace delivery trucks with newer, less-polluting versions every few years. But those mandates have also caused the price of a new refrigerated truck to double from $80,000 to $120,000 in just five years. And instead of keeping our trucks for ten years or longer, as we used to, we essentially have to buy a new one every 5 years — tripling our capital cost.
We are continually focused on improving our efficiency on the farm in an effort to stay ahead of these increasing costs. Whenever possible, we make investments in labor-saving systems and equipment. Nonetheless, growing fresh produce will always be a labor-intensive endeavor.
We have not raised the price for a subscription to our CSA for several years. Instead, we have raised the values of some of the items that go into your boxes, based on the wholesale and retail market cost of those items. Over time this has led to a shrinking box. We often now find ourselves making tough choices between two items that we have available.
Our first priority when we are designing the CSA boxes is making a diverse mix of items, with amounts appropriate to the size of the box. The second priority is using the perishable items that are ready to harvest in the field and cannot be stored for a week.
The increasing interest in subscribers using the CSA store to add additional items to their delivery has been one way for people get more of certain fruits and vegetables. But due to the cost of packing and delivering those individual items, we have to ensure a minimum “unit cost” for them. That means you have to buy a larger amount of a certain item than you would receive in your CSA box. Not all subscribers want that much.
Small boxes have seen the most noticeable impact from creeping costs. We understand that some Small box subscribers feel like there is “too much stuff” in them. But we can’t do “half bunches” of Chard, for example. And it takes the same amount of time to weigh and bag half a pound of Green Beans as it does a quarter pound. In order to keep our costs in line with the price of the box, we have ended up simply putting fewer items in most weeks. But the portions are often the same as the Medium and Large boxes. The Small box no longer accurately represents our farm’s diversity of availability.
Medium boxes now routinely get one item less than they used to, which might not be noticeable. For Large boxes, the shrinkage has taken the form of lower volumes of one or more items. But the higher values of both those boxes has allowed us more leeway to keep a balance between volume and diversity. That leeway will diminish as mandatory wage increases and other rising costs force us to reduce the amount of produce in your boxes in the future.
In order to keep our Small CSA subscription a viable concern, we need to raise the price of the box by $2 per week. We are going to make that change effective on July 1st. We understand that this might cause some members to cancel their subscriptions.
For Medium and Large boxes, we are asking subscribers for their input on a potential price increase. Please take a few moments and fill out this three-question survey. Your responses will help us determine our course of action, as well as what your boxes will look like in the future.