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Dear Hog’s Back Farm Members and Friends,

We made it back from our three weeks in Costa Rica. It was a wonderful relaxing time with our family, and now it’s time to get back to the difficult work of writing this email.

The last fourteen years have been an amazing journey for me and for my family. Starting a farm and feeding hundreds of people with the food we grow is about the most gratifying job that anyone could hope to have. Good food, responsibly grown and eaten together is why we do what we do. If I had to define what the life of the farmer is I think it would be summed up as a gratifying struggle. For several years the struggle has been outweighing the gratitude for me. For this and other reasons, I have decided that Hog’s Back Farm won’t be offering CSA shares any longer.

You all have been incredible supporters of our farm and I feel I owe it to each of you to go into some of the factors that are affecting my decision. I understand that not everyone wants to hear all the nitty gritty, and those of you not interested can stop reading here. But for those of you who’ve been with us for many years, or just one or two, I’d encourage you to read on, because it may help your understanding of our decision, and help you better understand what it’s like to be a farmer in the 21st Century.

2013 was the last year in which we sold all of our CSA shares. We were incredibly lucky to have such strong support that we did very little marketing to sell our shares up until that point. I didn’t understand how lucky we were until I had to start trying to get additional shares sold in the following years. Despite my efforts, share sales have continued to slowly decline each year. In 2016 we started offering a half share in order to bring some people back into the fold who had become empty-nesters, which added a layer of complexity that wasn’t offset by an increase in share sales. The margins for doing what we do are pretty tight, if our sales are down 5%, it’s a pretty big hit in terms of our net income. Why are sales down? Increased competition coupled with falling demand. Why is demand falling? Families are busier now than they were fifteen years ago. Meals cooked at home are declining, and mail order options like Blue Apron are providing that feeling of cooked at home with no food waste (although plenty of packaging). These are all market factors which are out of my control, but we ignore them at our peril.

When we started our farm in 2003 there were just a handful of farms doing what we do, and few that were as fussy about the details as I am. Now there are probably almost ten times as many CSA farm options, many of which are offering a very good product, as well as ten times as many farmer’s market options in just about every neighborhood. Choice is a good thing for the local foods movement, but for the individual producer increased options means that people will understandably choose the one that’s the most convenient. Nationwide, CSA share numbers are declining, and I think it's because a CSA share is, in many ways, the least convenient option.

Being a 47-year-old farmer is quite different than being a 27-year-old farmer. As unemployment rates have continued to decline it has meant that fewer people are applying each year to work on our farm. A farm like ours needs a fair amount of outside labor to run smoothly. At 47, I can’t simply make up the labor deficit by working harder and longer. This is a widespread problem for the local farms in our area and nationwide. An increase in the number of farms has also spread an already thin labor pool even thinner. Without adequate labor small farms become unsustainable pretty quickly.

I also would  be remiss if I didn't mention the erratic weather. The increasing incidence of intense rain events is making growing a challenge on our farm. Our crops are sensitive and fragile, as compared to the commodity crops, and as we see shifts in the climate it is going to be these fragile crops that have the most dramatic losses due to the weather. Farmers know that things are changing, playing a round of golf in the desert once a week does not give you expertise in climate science. 

I am going to continue growing some wholesale vegetables, most of which will go to the co-op in Menomonie, Wisconsin, so if you really can’t go the year without any of our carrots you can buy some there this fall. I’m also very excited that I’m going to be working for one of the food hubs in the Twin Cities by assisting other farmers and helping them improve their growing methods, quality and skills. It’s something that’s sorely missing in the local foods scene, and I’m hoping this missing link of information can help more growers get to a place of sustainability for the long term. I’m also threatening to take my family camping for the first time ever sometime this summer.

I am going to refrain from offering suggestions of other farms to support, because the locations of pickup sites are so widespread over the Twin Cities. If you narrow it down to a few farms that are convenient for you and want to ask me my opinion of them, I will be happy to answer as best as I can. I’d also like to put in a plug for the Shared Ground Farmer’s Cooperative in St. Paul, which is doing some good work and offers CSA shares.

I am so grateful for the support you all have given me, the farm, and my family over the last fourteen years. If you have thoughts or questions, please feel free to email me or give me a call. I will post this to our Facebook page as well so if you want to leave a comment there feel free, I will try to respond.

I know it's a little weird to have a couple of our vacation photos at the bottom of this serious email, but here are a few anyway. Melinda, Iris, Baker and I wish you all the best. -David
This is my favorite monkey photo from our trip. This palm was just outside our rental, and almost every day they'd come by to check on the progress of the fruits from the Palm Real. It was the only time we saw spider monkeys and white-faced capuchins there at the same time, and the baby spider monkey is a total bonus. Prehensile tails are the best.
Crazy jungle light. We hiked to a 90-foot waterfall and got there right when the sun was coming through a tiny hole in the trees and shining right down on the waterfall. Very Indiana Jones.

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Hog's Back Farm, LLC · W8937 Moritz Lane · Arkansaw, WI 54721 · USA

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