Another growing season is upon us. Days are lengthening. Tomatoes and peppers and onions and sweet potatoes, radishes, beets, kale, and all the rest are rising up out of the seed trays in our hothouses and getting stronger every day as we reach closer to summer.
I don’t often get a chance to slow down and reflect this time of year, but relaunching our website and getting grant proposals out the door, meeting with new and long-time donors and advisors, it has all forced a healthy internal dialogue about who we are, where we are, and what we’re doing.
Having worked in and around agricultur
e for nearly ten years now, often rubbing elbows with the luminaries of the organic and sustainable farming movements, I tend to climb pretty high up the mountain. A recent meeting with a donor and advisor reminded me that it’s easy to over-complicate the message and reach too far with our goals. Goals need to be simple, achievable, measurable. For 2016, we’ve stated three for City Fresh. To grow share sales by 25%, get 4,000 subsidized shares to families who need a little help, and to extend the season through the winter months. All tolled, this will cost us about $80,000, but if successful, it will reduce the future need for philanthropic gifts.
To be confident in our plans for growth, we’ve poured through hundreds of survey responses and comments left over the last three years. We examined them, categorized them, quantified them, and came up with three strategies we feel we can pull off this year that will transform how you order, what you get each week, and how we continue to deliver on our mission of getting food to everyone in all communities at a price you all can afford.
We have worked closely with our farmers this winter to tailor our shares to better fit all of our refrigerators. You’ll be getting the same amount of produce, but the days of cabbage 4 weeks in a row are gone. I know I threw out cabbage last year! We do feel really good about the variety of produce we have brought to the tables these last five years, but getting more intentional about how far ahead we plan the shares should help both you in the kitchen and our farmers in the fields.
We are also making ordering a million times easier by finally launching a custom built online ordering platform before the start of the season. Please, please, please do
order by mail to get the season started for us all on the right foot – but know also that we are about to go into beta testing for our new online ordering system. We worked a few years ago with Small Farm Central, a great service for the traditional pay-up-front CSA, but City Fresh broke their system and it caused sooooo many headaches for us an
d for you, with daily combing through the records to find profiles that had updated their ordering, with missed orders and people showing up for shares that they didn’t pay for because they got an automatic reminder they shouldn’t have. What a mess. Week-to-week ordering for 15+ locations is no joke, and simply not an out-of-the-box software solution. You’ll be able to set automatic weekly or monthly payments so you don’t have to remember, and so you can cancel or delay or upgrade your pickups as your busy summer schedules require.
Finally, we are going to extend the delivery of shares throughout the winter months into 2017. We’ll be seeking feedback from you – should we go once a month or twice a month – and we’ll need to decide as a community and prepare the farmers for that by the end of June so we have enough produce on hand. Going into the winter months also gives us the opportunity to explore meat and cheese on the shares in an affordable fashion, which has long been on all of our wish lists.
Clear and measurable goals aside, our mission, our purpose, is lofty and ambitious. I’m not sure I could do this work with the passion I do without knowing that I was part of a broader, global movement to restore justice to our food system that has left so many people to scratch through the dirt and take what they’re given.
City Fresh here in Cleveland will not change the world at large. We can’t even try. The world is far too big. What we can do is change our
world, starting with ourselves
, our own eating habits, how we spend our money and vote with our wallets every day. We can lead by example for our families. We can help inform and inspire and be a part of a regional effort to provide access by volunteering and getting involved with our local Fresh Stops or at the George Jones Farm. We can give back with donations if we haven’t the time or the skill.
Our mission is to improve health in our community and create economic opportunity for those working in agriculture. Success means lower health care costs for all of us and more dollars in our region at one level, and the lessening of the environmental impact of agriculture by transforming how food is grown and distributed in the region at another.
By becoming a model that can be reproduced, our effect can extend far beyond our own limitations. Our vision is to be the bridge between social justice and the local food movement and give all people a means of transforming their communities through the power of fresh food.
Is this a business? Is this a community development project? Is this a charity? Yes. We are all of these. We are a community building project with a charitable function that acts like a business so that it can create lasting cultural change in the way people relate to and interact with their food and the food system.
We are a replicable, scalable solution to a series of
challenges relating to a destructive and extractive food system that causes more health and environmental damage than any other human practice. There is a business aspect to what we do, though I always argue that we are not competitive within the traditional marketplace but rather we are filling a need in a market that has been abandoned and we provide a model for businesses to compete in the more lucrative middle and upper income marketplace – evidence being that in 2006, we were one of three CSA programs in the Greater Cleveland area and today there are more than 40. None of them do what we do where we do it, but the most successful of these programs were launched by former students, volunteers, and partners of City Fresh.
We are not trying to treat the symptoms of a failed food system, we are rather providing a fair opportunity for all people to eat the kind of food normally only available to the wealthy. And in the process we are working to rebuild demand for fresh produce in neighborhoods like southern Elyria where half of children are expected to be diagnosed with type-2 diabetes and where 97% of children live in single parent households.
We are doing incredibly difficult work getting top-quality, transformational vegetables at a discount to people who often don’t know yet what to do with them, people living in neighborhoods were they have to see us year after year before they trust that we’re not just another group of do-gooders.
And all of this, we do together. Onward and Upward!
- Nick Swetye
New Agrarian Center