How many picks does it take to get a CSA delivery put together?
Actually, we did have a CSA member ask a form of this very good questions recently. Essentially, they were wondering what kind of effort went into just the picking part of a CSA distribution. When we get questions like this one, we begin to realize that there are others who might also like to learn a little about it. So, we'll try to give you some thoughts on it!
Let's assume first that we have 40 CSA members for a given day's delivery. Let's also assume that they all have standard sized shares (just to keep it simple).
First we figure out what we think is likely to be ready. We usually make a mental or actual list of crops that have to be visited. Some may be skipped in the pick if there isn't enough. This often happens the day prior to the big picking. We like to get most produce picked within 24 hours of the delivery. Some items, such as storing onions, potatoes, winter squash and garlic don't need this restriction. And, other items, can handle longer periods between pick and delivery (zucchini) while others must be put in a 'cool' delivery chain and typically need to be picked same day.
A typical late July distribution for a standard share might have 1/2 lb beans, 1 head broccoli, 3 zucchini, 2 summer squash, 1 or 2 peppers, 1 head lettuce, 1 or 2 bunch chard or kale, 1 or 2 onions, maybe tomatoes, 1/4 to 1/2 lb peas, basil.
This means we need 21lbs beans, 42 heads of broccoli, 130 zucchini, 85 summer squash, 42-85 peppers, 40-42 heads lettuce, 10-15 lbs kale or chard, 42-85 onions, 11-22lbs peas and a good sized tote of basil.
The things that take the most time are beans and peas. For example, two thirty foot rows of snow peas provided 6 lbs in one picking today. It took approximately 30 person minutes to do this work. Assuming the plants have enough to pick - the 1/2 lb per person will take us up to 2 person hours to bring in.
On the other end of the spectrum. As long as the onion rows are weeded and relatively clean, 85 onions could take all of 5-8 minutes to pick.
Lettuce takes a little more time to pick - but 40 heads of lettuce can be picked in around 10 minutes if it is a 'clear cut' pick. If we have to be more selective it may take more time. It's the hydro-cooling and cleaning for those crops that take the time!
In between are crops like zucchini, cucumber and summer squash. Typically, we like to get these picked every 2 to 3 days to keep them producing. If we are pressed for time on a distribution day, we have been known to stop when we have enough for the distribution. These crops require that we move the plant around a little to find the fruit and their somewhat viney nature can make us wonder why people voluntarily play 'Twister.'
Broccoli can be cut quickly with a lettuce knife when it is full heads. Things slow down significantly when we start harvesting side shoots. These need to be hydro-cooled/soaked as well and require a little work before they make it into your shares. Swiss chard is typically clear cut, hydrocooled and then bundled. Kale requires "kinder" pruning and is hydro-cooled and bunched.
Somehow, it all gets done. Some days we are frantically running around for the last hour trying to get everything ready and into the truck.
Ok...most days we are frantically running around for the last hour tyring to get everything ready and into the truck. We'll have to find clever options when the tomatoes start peaking in mid-August!