Times They Are A-Changin

A Letter to our 2018 CSA Members

Dear CSAers,
Thank you for another wonderful season. Some highlights for me included Lucky Tiger tomatoes, farm fishing, and much more. Though I have enjoyed the bounty and good company, it would be dishonest to not also say that this has been a very difficult season for me. Obviously my thumb injury and surgery didn’t help, but it’s more than that. I have done a CSA every year for 14 years and an internship for 10 years, and I am burnt out. While I love my job, I’ve been yearning to take a summer off to unchain myself from the intense commitment that is farming. To take a vacation perhaps. To go camping.
Also, and this gets touchier, I am turning 40 next year. I started this farm when I was 24 years old. And while I feel pride at having co-created this thriving, beautiful entity from very humble beginnings while so many other small farms have sprouted and died around me, this thing has been a scrappy labor of love from the start to the present. While some things have improved over those scrappy beginnings (potable water, a composting toilet, and a longer lease on a piece of land, to name a few), so much of it has continued in the model of a 24-year-old. As I enter the portion of my life where I’m supposed to be earning to save for retirement, et cetera, I need to get a plan together that takes into account my 40-year-old reality. I don’t own this land and I don’t have a lease here that would carry me through to retirement age. The cost of land is unfathomable to pay for on the wages you can make farming it. And though I  feel like I live like a queen, the reality is that financially I’m not in an awesome space for a middle-aged person.
What does all this mean for you? Well, after a season of agonizing self-reflection and general gnar, I’ve made some hard decisions. Though I would welcome simply taking a summer off to pursue other passions like writing a book, backpacking, and perhaps a bit of travel, I have decided to take another route. The University of Idaho offers a Masters of Natural Resources degree in Science Communication and Environmental Education at the McCall Outdoor Science School, and I am going to apply for the 2019/20 school year. It’s only one year long, the program curriculum is right up my alley, and it’s in a place I would love to live in for a year.
My hope is that, if I get into the program, it will open doors for me both economically and in terms of job satisfaction. I can’t say for sure what it will bring–there are a lot of unknowns, of course. One possibility is to come back to Boise and start a farm school with a CSA component. You know, there’s nothing like having their degree to get the higher education system to get on board with working with you. But honestly I can’t say what will happen when I’m done.
From a practical perspective, I have decided that next year I will be able to offer what I’m calling a Fall CSA, focusing on storage crops that you can throw into a closet or pantry and keep for a couple months into the winter. This will free me up in the summer from the extremely time-consuming process of succession planting and weekly harvesting for CSA, and instead will allow me to do the work of growing your food on a less rigid timeline that relies on less outside help. If you want to be a member, you will sign up as you would for the normal CSA, and I will grow a selection of storage crops for you, things like carrots, onions, potatoes, and garlic. Though the details are still getting fleshed out, it will likely include a single pickup in the fall of larger quantities of storage crops along with directions on how best to store them, and possibly a single spring crop pickup sometime mid-June. This would allow you to join another CSA (Egads!) or visit the Farmer’s Market for your every-week bounty, and get an extended fall season of fresh veggies from Earthly Delights.
This is an emotional letter for me to write. This little labor of love has given me a decade and a half of purpose and meaning in my life. With the help of so many hands and backs and wallets and hungry mouths we’ve managed to build something akin to an alternative economy right smack dab in the middle of the mainstream, dog-eat-dog one. It’s surely somewhat socialist in nature, in that everyone shares equally in the bounty and the workers control the production and call the shots. But it’s also more magical than that–a system of interconnected positive feedback loops that manage to accelerate the abundance of everyone involved, even in the face of what teeters on poverty on paper. Seeds are abundant, produce is abundant. We’ve been able to offer high-level “free” education to dozens of people over the years, and the farm has stayed afloat because of the financial pledge y’all make at the beginning of the season, before you’ve seen a single vegetable, that you will pay regardless of what you get in return. In a season like this where we were literally short-handed, this advance payment has really helped out. We’ve collectively learned to grow what can grow here, and to eat what can grow here, organizing our diets around this seasonal fare. And we’ve built the seed system to support it, so we can continue to grow these foods we’ve come to love well into the future. We are a living, breathing example of what a local food system looks like.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that this system relies on some level of sacrifice on my part. Through all the creative financing and unpaid labor, the farm nets less than $20,000 a year, which makes for a pretty tight budget. All the work I’ve done for the last 14 years has been on farmland I don’t own, that I’m not gaining equity in. Where are the models, the subsidies, the mentors we can look to for a way to actually pay farmers a living wage and provide land equity for those who work it? This farm has hung on through a combination of my privilege and tenacity, where so many others who lack one or the other have gone under. These are big questions we must answer to create a truly sustainable food system.
But I digress. Thank you deeply for your role in this farm. Please stick with me next year if you can abide the switch, because I WANT to feed you! It will be very hard to say good bye to seeing y’all every week in the summer, at least for a couple of years. And please join us for the harvest festival on October 7th! It’ll be a doozy of a celebration for me!
With massive love,
Casey