CSAs, city ordinances, and scary neighbors, oh my!

Looks pretty good from the air, doesn’t it? Though this is Phoenix, it isn’t actually my neighborhood…. Not even close.

I tend to shy from endeavors that require me to be consistently organized.  It’s not in my nature.  It stresses me out.  I’m MUCH better-organized that I used to be;  it’s a necessity if you have five children and homeschool;  homeschooling requires at least a modicum of organization.  But, in general, I know my limits, and I don’t willingly volunteer for something that taxes my shaky organizational skills.

However, if you follow OSC on Facebook, you’ve probably seen my offer for you to join a Community Supported Agriculture — CSA — pickup that I’m hosting at my house.  This is something new for me;  I’ve never done anything like that before, where I am the point man.  Point woman.  Whatever.

In spite of my flaws, I decided to embark this adventure because:

  1. The CSA with which I have been a member for two years is now defunct, because the farmer needs back surgery.  That’s one of the dangers of buying your produce from one farmer!  If she’s down for the count, the food supply ends.  Not to sound callous about it;  I’m very sad for her.  We’ve developed a nice relationship and it hits me in the heart that she is in pain, and that her dream of being a direct-to-consumer farmer has gone up in smoke.  But in my everyday reality, her ceasing to function as a farmer means that I need a different source for my veggies.  If I want know who is growing my produce — which I do — I needed to find a different farmer.
  2. There are a number of CSAs and similar opportunities around Phoenix.  However, I wanted one whose cost was reasonable, and whose pickup location was near to me.  There weren’t any who met that criteria.  However, one farm — Crooked Sky Farms — had a number of people interested in joining a farm share in my area — many of whom had participated in times past — but no one currently acting as a coordinator.
  3. If I agreed to be a coordinator, I would get lots of veggies for myself.  AAALLLLLLLLLL for myself.  About $40 worth of organic vegetables for “free” every week, to use to my heart’s content — with which to cook, to experiment, to preserve….  As someone who is constantly trying to trim the grocery budget, yet eat in an ever-increasingly healthy manner, this was VERY appealing to me.
  4. I really do want to equip others to eat better.  Food matters. Food is intricately connected to our health.  If we eat better, our health will be better;  it’s that simple.  Healthier individuals make for a healthier society.  I’m interested in having a healthier society than we currently do, here in the United States.  We can’t get there without baby steps.  Eating organic is both an individual baby step and a societal baby step.
  5. Farmers matter.  Crooked Sky is single-farmer run, and employs 15 people or so.  Small business matters.  Small business DONE WELL is important to the economic strength of a community.
  6. How we treat the earth matters.  How food is produced matters.   Farming in particular, when done badly, is a tremendous source of soil depletion and pollution.  When done right, it is a tremendous source of soil enhancement.  Done right, farming IMPROVES the land.  Crooked Sky Farms won a local award for the best organic farm of 2012.
  7. With my two years’ experience of CSA participation, I had already decided that if I switched CSAs, I would prefer to join one that was just a little larger, still owned and run by one farmer, but with a little more diversity…  I mean…  if there’s a drought (which is likely!) or one planting utterly fails due to soil organisms (which is likely!) if the farmer has only 3-4 other veggies going at the same time, my share is likely to be sparse.  But, if the farmer has 30-40 things growing simultaneously, if one crop fails, I probably wouldn’t even know about it!  Farmer Frank Martin with Crooked Sky runs about six fields in the Phoenix area — mostly urban infill projects (which also delights me) — and has a few more further south in Arizona.  A diversity of locations means that all of his eggs aren’t in one basket, so to speak.
  8. If I hosted the pick-up at my own home, that would mean I could — duh! — stay at home, which is easier for me.  I really try to minimize the number of times, weekly, that I have to leave.  Going places simply takes a lot of time.  I figure that even if there are people filtering through my home for 2-3 hours on a weekly afternoon, I can still prep dinner, answer kids’ questions, and otherwise attend to my home and family, which would not be possible if I was camped in a parking lot somewhere, waiting for folks to come pick up their produce.

Given that preponderance of good reasons to join the Crooked Sky CSA, I was willing to immediately jump in with both feet as a coordinator.  My husband, though, cautioned me with a, “Whoa, girl!” and suggested that I contact our city to ensure that hosting an in-home pickup wouldn’t be violating any city ordinances.

Grrr….

The reason behind his suggestion is that, well, my hubby is a by-the-book kind of guy.  Additionally, we knew that one of our neighbors had already brought a lawsuit against another neighbor for an illegal in-home business.

Even though I could see the wisdom in making sure I was covered by the City of Glendale, I wasn’t thrilled about doing so;  bureaucratic hoops through which I need to jump annoy the snot out of me.  They’re difficult to unravel and time-consuming.  Half the time, they don’t even make sense!

All of this proved to be true.

It was difficult to even FIND the right person to whom I should talk.  Then, the initial response from that city employee was that I would have to obtain a Conditional Use Permit to allow a business to function out of my home.  To do this, a city employee would be assigned to me to help me walk through the process, then I would have to attend an evening hearing during a city zoning meeting.  Well, all right…. I would do it.  THEN, the employee told me that the fee for this process is $1,086.  WHAT?????  

Clearly, it made no sense for me to have to fork over that kind of dough for an enterprise for which I would be making basically no money.  I see it more as a community service, rather than a home business.  I do benefit from hosting the pick-up at my home, but it’s not really a money-making enterprise.

I appealed to my contact person at the City.  She said she would “go to bat” for me at a weekly meeting where these matters were discussed.

When she called me back about a week later, the news was GOOD!!  I did not have to obtain a permit!!

I squealed.

However, she did tell me that though the City decided that what I was doing did NOT constitute an in-home business, that “there’s no problem until there is a problem.”  In other words, if a neighbor decided that they were tired of the extra traffic, they could call and report me to the City and then I probably would have to obtain a permit to continue.  She advised me to contact all my neighbors and tell them in advance what I’m planning to do.  I had already thought about that, but had sort of been dragging my feet, especially as I knew at least one neighbor was quite litigious, and we only really know two other neighbors  on our street.

But, what had to be done had to be done.  So, I printed up my CSA FAQ sheet, the CSA contract (in case anyone wanted to join), and a cover letter to give, in an envelope, to each neighbor.  And, on Saturday, I went a-knockin’.  I planned to visit 13 houses:  the house directly across the street from us, plus the three houses to the east, the three to the west, on both the north and south sides of the street.  Fiala and Wesley went with me for about half of the visits.  I had to do it in sections, as talking to neighbors is pretty time-consuming!  I did get it all done in one day, though.  Of the 13 neighbors, I talked with nine of them in person;  for only four did I have to simply leave the envelope half-tucked under the front door mat.  I thought that was pretty good results.  Most of the people with whom I spoke I’d never met before!

Things I learned:

  1. I have some really great neighbors.
  2. My kids were hoping I’d discover some children…  Only one:  a ten-year-old girl, previously unknown to us.
  3. The litigious neighbor of whom I was a little afraid… well, he wasn’t home.  I met his wife for the first time, and she was LOVELY.  She was also from a family of six children, and thought it was wonderful that I was expecting my sixth.  She invited me into her home, which smelled amazing — chili simmering on the stove! — and we had a wonderful chat.
  4. Turns out another neighbor has five chickens, which I didn’t know.  They can’t eat all the eggs — five per day, and there’s just the two of them, an older couple.  She sent me home with a dozen eggs, and the husband said he would love to give me some pointers about raising backyard poultry as he has been doing it for years.  (They have lived in their home for 35 years!)
  5. Another neighbor, whose grapefruit tree’s branches are dripping with uneaten, ripe grapefruit said we could come pick them at any time!
  6. Another neighbor is a fifth-generation Arizonan, which is incredible.  My husband is 3rd-generation, and most folks’ jaws drop at that — that his grandfather came here in the 1930s.  This neighbor and I chatted for quite a while about our disdain of Walmart (but how we both find ourselves there more frequently than we care to admit!), and our love of gardening.  Her husband is using what used to be a fenced-in dog run as a fenced-in garden.  It’s not quite up and running yet, but that’s her plan, which I thought was great.  We also lamented about how we are so close to the area where the land is irrigated, and how we’d both love to live on the irrigated properties, but just can’t afford it (yet!).  One day, perhaps…
  7. One family on our street is from Bosnia.  It’s a four-generation household.  I think that’s wonderful.
  8. I learned some things about our next-door neighbor, the neighbors whom we know best… that they eat almost-all organic, that they use herbs as medicine as much as possible, and that they have a fledgling garden (the garden part, I did know already), and that they compost…  Hmmm…. sounds familiar!!!
  9. All of my neighbors were unfailingly friendly and encouraging, and said that they didn’t care a hoot about an increase of traffic along our street on Wednesday afternoons.  A couple of different people did thank me for informing them, saying something to the effect of, “It’s the not-knowing that would bother me, wondering about why all the cars were there, and what they were doing…”

I do still worry a bit about the folks with whom I was unable to speak directly.  But, over all, I would say that the endeavor was much more successful than I anticipated.  And I feel wonderfully having met new-to-me neighbors.

Perhaps this is hard to understand in other locales, but the whole Phoenix area is SO very transient.  People move here for work, then quickly move away when they discover that the “dry heat” touted in the tourist brochures is akin to a stiff breeze blowing out from an oven.  For a good five months out of the year, it is literally so hot that most people don’t leave their homes unless they absolutely have to — straight from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned store, and home again.  It’s common for people to have NO CLUE who their neighbor is, to never meet them…  We’re used to people moving in, moving out, moving on…. and the foreclosure crisis of the last few years has only exacerbated that problem of unknowable neighbors.  I have actually dreamed of coordinating a little block party, and meeting so many people on my street kind of fires that up again…

But I think that would completely tax my organizational skills!!

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About Karen Joy

I'm a homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 17, 15 and 12 years old, and three girls: 8 and 5 years old, and our newest, born in June 2013. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I am a natural childbirth advocate and fledgling birthing class instructor. I'm a CSA coordinator for a local organic farm, Crooked Sky Farms. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on February 4, 2013, in Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA), Desert Gardening, Facebook, Get Organized!, Life in the Desert, Organic Gardening, Relationship, The Dear Hubby. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Wow, if nothing else, this endeavor enabled you to get to know your neighbors. My husband & I are Neighborhood Watch captains (do you have such a thing as a “Neighborhood Watch” program where you live?) & the very FIRST thing we tell new folks moving in is… you MUST get to know your neighbors!! You should be on a first name basis with them… have their phone numbers… know each one’s physical street address (number)… and know “who belongs where”. If a neighbor 2 doors down from you sees one of your children (heaven forbid) being pulled into a car which speeds off, that neighbor can contact you immediately… #1 Because s/he has your phone number and #2 Because s/he knows what house that child belongs to & what that child’s parents look like.

    After you get this CSA thing going, go around to each neighbor again… get the full names of each person under each roof, the house number & their phone numbers. Then ask them if it would be ok if you put their information on a list & mimeographed it to hand out to all the neighbors…. “just in case”.

    Being on a first name basis with your neighbors & knowing each other’s patterns & habits… the best deterrent to crime!!

    –Andrea
    XOXOXO

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