If we’ve learned anything from the Amazon/Whole Foods acquisition, it’s that avocados are now super cheap.
Sort of kidding. But also, regardless of the convenience and financial changes that might come of it, it’s still incredibly important to continue educating ourselves about where our food is being produced.
ENTER: Full Belly Farm — a 400-acre organic farm in Yolo County, California. We recently had the chance to sit down over breakfast (Banana Almond Flour Waffles Sandwiches!) with their Director of Education and Outreach, Jordan Dixon, and pick his brain on all things farming.
Jordan started working at Full Belly 11 years ago as a camp counselor for the farm’s education program. His responsibility and role has grown immensely since he first started — a big part of what he does now is running the farm’s overnight school programs and summer camps.
On these trips, elementary school kids from around the area get their hands dirty and really start to learn about farming processes. They spend their days collecting chicken eggs, milking cows, weeding plants, harvesting and packing CSA boxes, and at the end, they create a mock farmer’s market for their parents.
It was amazing to hear about the experience these kids are getting at such a young age. Most adults go through their entire life without ever stepping foot on a farm! And with that, never make the connection that food just doesn’t appear in a grocery store.
This element of the importance of education and exposure really hit home.
According to Jordan, most of the farm’s CSA members are people that have been CSA members for a really long time. Some are actually former campers that grew up attending the farm in the summers. These are people that are very passionate about making fresh, local produce a big part of their life.
But what about those that didn’t grow up near a local farm? Or that haven’t experienced what it’s like to harvest 400 bunches of leeks at an overnight summer camp? Or learn how to harvest and pack a CSA box?
What I’ve found in my journey to eating healthier is that research and education is a huge factor in helping me sustain my diet. I’m not a health professional, but I do like to keep myself pretty informed. And there is so much information out there — a lot of which is great, but a lot of it (a lot!!) can also be confusing, frustrating, and sometimes the root of a lot of misconceptions.
Admittedly, farming practices and CSA programs is not something I had done very much homework on before arriving at Full Belly Farm.
And I’m sure I’m not the only one. So we asked Jordan to explain CSA programs (otherwise known as Community Supported Agriculture) as if it was our first time hearing about it. He said it’s important for people understand two things:
- It’s a way to support the farm by paying for boxes in advance. The farm can then use that money for cash-based farming — pay for seeds, new equipment, labor and all types of production expenses.
- It forces people to try different fruits and vegetables they wouldn’t normally buy. People have the opportunity to try new recipes and eat with the season, rather than believing that they can eat anything at any time throughout the year.
Full Belly’s CSA Program is one of the largest and oldest in California. Many farms do it differently, but their customers invest in the farm in advance by paying for boxes on a monthly, quarterly, or annual subscription plan.
And even being one of the largest and oldest in the state, they still have a lot of challenges marketing their CSA program. Most of it is word of mouth by existing customers and small marketing efforts at the farmers markets they service.
The challenge of marketing CSA programs brings up an interesting question among the broader industry, as more and more meal-kit delivery companies like Farm Fresh To You and Blue Apron arise. Not only are they growing in numbers (aka competition), they are also causing a lot of disconnect around the original intention of CSA’s (The term is not regulated in most states, so companies can define it as they wish). The NYT does a great job breaking it down in this article here.
One way in which Full Belly is combating this challenge is by focusing on transparency and opening up their farm for people to visit, walk around, ask questions, and learn. Jordan said,
“I think that transparency is a really big part of it. If I went to a farmer’s market and asked a farmer if I could visit the farm sometime and they weren’t open to it, I would be really turned off. You don’t want to feel like there’s something to hide. We want people to be able to come to the farm and look out in the field and say, I got some sunflowers at the market and look out and see the sunflowers growing right there.”
The farm believes that connecting with individuals is the best way to establish long-term supporters and advocates for eating with the season. Jordan encourages everyone to go to your local farmer’s market and chat with one of the farmers. Try and visit the farm if you can. If you’re in Northern California, Full Belly hosts an annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival as a way to introduce people to the farm and connect like-minded individuals. We’re heading there this weekend (my first time!) and will be sharing the experience on the blog soon.
Interested in learning more about Full Belly’s CSA program? Check out their website here.
And if you’d like to nerd out some more on CSA Programs, I’ve linked some articles below that I found helpful.
PODCAST: Literally Growing Your Business With Andrea Bemis of Dishing Up The Dirt (I LOVE this podcast. Jessica is such a great interviewer and Andrea is so eloquent in explaining CSA’s and what it’s like to run your own farm. Lots of #GirlCrushing happening for these two!)