Sister Hills’ CSA program has maintained an 80% retention rate by selling the farm experience as well as the vegetables, and we dig into the details of how he’s created a farm that provides a peaceful, relaxing, and community-oriented experience for its members, as well as for David and his apprentices.
David shares how he’s designed the farm so that it serves him rather than him serving the farm. We dig in to his apprenticeship program, how David has created his own tools to solve little bottlenecks, his design for weed control from soil prep through mechanical cultivation, and more – including how the management and teaching structures he has put in place helped the farm survive David’s two surgeries in the past year.
The Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously supported by Vermont Compost Company.
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Quotes from the Show
When you need to answer a question in your life or in your work, you can look outside yourself, you can look within yourself, or you can make up an answer.
What is the little bottleneck here? What is something that I’m doing every day that takes ten minutes that if I created a solution for it might take one minute?
I put a lot of energy into making those [processes] more ergonomically feasible for us.
I work reasonable hours. It’s not just because I’m an employee, but rather because I set up the farm so that we can get the work done in those hours.
I’ve designed the farm so that it serves my life and not so that I am a servant to the farm.
There’s a lot of negativity around CSA. And I feel that part of the reason that these people don’t see CSA as a viable marketing opportunity anymore is because they’re just thinking of it as strictly that – as a marketing opportunity, whereas I’m thinking of it from the perspective of my customer and trying to create community.
When the farm is beautiful and the farm is neat, we feel like we’re really professional.
Work should be fun. Absolutely.
I spend more effort hiring great people each year than any other thing.
People, to feel successful, need to feel a certain sense of autonomy, they need to feel like they’re moving towards something in the future, and it’s nice if there’s a sense of community as well.
Because the farm doesn’t demand everything of me, I feel much more fulfilled and happy and balanced.
Drop-off sites are so much less reliable [than doing a market-style CSA] in terms of trying to create customer satisfaction and member retention.
I don’t consider that we are just selling vegetables; I consider that we are selling that entire experience.
David participates in the C.R.A.F.T. (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training), a cooperative effort of local organic farms to enhance educational opportunities for farm apprentices.
David cited Stephen Covey’s discussion of production versus productive capacity in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – a book we both recommend!
We talked about the CSA Farmer Discussion https://www.facebook.com/groups/csafarmers/ group on Facebook, a great resource for CSA farmers.
David’s new Facebook group is Farming Balance. https://www.facebook.com/groups/farmingbalance/
David’s favorite tool is the DMT Folding Sharpener. Plus, here’s an instructional video that David put together on how to use it.
David sent along a link to a recent garlic planting video that includes the row marker and plant spacing marker that he uses.
David also sent some pictures of the lift table he uses in the packing house. Here it is under construction:
And here it is when completed: