Wednesday, July 8th – EO Group A
As the CSA agricultural model popularizes, many spin off small businesses have begun to sprout up. There’s Small Farm Central, which is a software accounting program tailored to the needs of CSAs (We haven’t used this yet). There’s Local Thyme recipe service (which we do use). There are folks trying to do home delivery CSA. And many other agricultural and value-added food businesses have tried broker partnerships with CSAs due to the model’s success. Over the years, we personally have offered jam, honey, sauerkraut, and sourdough bread as items one could add to their share.
I find this part of CSA fun and interesting, as it’s all trial and error to figure out what kind of products and/or services are the best to offer you, our members. Your interest in bread waned. But now, many of you are excited about eggs. And so continues the experiment.
A few years ago, Pat Mulvey approached me with an idea. A personal chef by trade, she had the idea to create a business that specialized in offering CSA recipes specific to the seasonal items the farms were putting in their members’ boxes. She called it Local Thyme.
I immediately loved this idea! Like most other CSA farms, we offer a weekly newsletter with recipes. Over the years we developed a recipe archive, but these recipes were not necessarily tested out in my kitchen first. Nor are they great at using more than 1 or 2 items at a time. Often I trolled the internet looking for recipes that combined the ingredients I had to offer. This was time consuming and I always wished I could offer more, and test more. Pat’s idea was my answer.
We said yes to Pat and began partnering with Local Thyme. And over the course of the last four years, I think our members have had access to some really superb recipes that help use up items in the box. Her Beet and Fennel soup is way yummy and helps folks use items they may not be familiar with. Her Gumbo Z’ Herbs is now a spring/fall standard in my kitchen when we have so many leafy greens available. Her cooking tips are helpful and her recipes help engender a familiarity with substituting and being creative with what you have on hand in the kitchen.
But with any partnership, there has been some bumps along the way. As a small business, the decision to work with another business is a tricky one. While on the one hand, we are offering our members something new that they might appreciate… on the other hand, we lose a little bit of control of our own business and its relationship with customers.
Local Thyme is a start up enterprise and as such, it has changed its model a lot over the last four years as it tries to find the best model for both the farmers and the eaters it serves. For example, when we first partnered with Local Thyme, in year #1 their product was this: they took all the items we were giving to you and created a specialized menu plan that used every single item in the box. This sounded great in theory. But in reality, it was extremely expensive for us, entirely not profitable for Pat, and through surveys we learned most of our members weren’t using it as a menu plan. Other farms and CSA members were having the same experience. So in Local Thyme year #2, Pat changed what she offered us as a product. In year #3 she changed the model again. And again in year #4 based on user feedback.
All of these changes are meant as improvements. And overall I think they are. This year’s model, along with its improved tech smoothness is my favorite year yet. But along the way we have lost some CSA members due to these changes. Some folks had joined us for the first time in Local Thyme year #1 and #2 when there was a the full menu service. Once Pat dropped that offering, some of our members felt they couldn’t live without it. Sigh. This was extremely frustrating. These were changes that Local Thyme was making. Changes we had no control over. And yet, Local Thyme wasn’t losing the business – we were.
As frustrating as those kind of experiences are, they are part of partnering with another. On the whole, Local Thyme is a wonderful resource for you, our members. And we hope you make use of it. Local Thyme will probably continue to evolve its business model over time, and we plan to keep working with them despite these changes. We just hope you’ll be patient with us/them through this journey. Not everyone will be happy with the changes. And we just have to accept those losses and keep a democratic focus in mind. In the end, we are committed to preserving partnerships that we feel benefit the membership as a whole. And Local Thyme is definitely one of them.