Dear Shareholder, as an important member of a growing local food system, we’d like to share this update, and fill in any gaps you may have about what’s happening with our deliveries. In some ways, this has been the hardest few months for us, due to these delivery problems, even though we’re stronger as an business in most every other way. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work to resolve or find new solutions to the delivery issues with Stern. If you’ve felt in the dark about any of it, we’re very sorry, and hope to resolve that now.
Ultimately, I see this as a weak point in a growing Arizona food system. There currently aren’t many reliable, affordable options for getting fresh produce to Flagstaff on a Thursday, or any day, within a specific, dependable morning time frame. At this time, we do not have the resources to pick up the share ourselves. For now, we are committed to seeing the next season through with Stern, in the hope that continual investment and partnership with them will help grow and strengthen the food system. As much as we’d like it, solving this issue won’t happen with one simple switch. However, I am all ears to any suggestions or any contacts anyone might have to help.
We’ve worked in partnership with Blue Sky Farm to contract Stern Produce to deliver produce every Thursday for two years.
The simple explanation they give us as to why there are suddenly problems with deliveries is that they have a new, more complex computer system, that the night-shift Phoenix warehouse staff (who load the Flagstaff truck) are struggling with. This explanation does make sense, as we only had a single delivery problem with them all year last year. I’ve spoken with everyone from the warehouse employees, to the Flagstaff driver, to the COO of the company about this, and they all reassure me that each week, they are getting better and finding ways of resolving their issues. They’ve explained that they needed to make this computer switch in order to build more capacity, and grow their operation.
Currently, I confirm the delivery is in the system and ready to go every Wednesday late afternoon, with at least three staff members in various positions in the company.
I would say that the computer system is certainly part of the issue with Stern, but the more complex issue is that we are a small (relatively tiny) food system player, both with Stern and any other delivery company. Compare us with NAU or any grocery store chain. We don’t move enough produce, or pay enough, or have enough influence to be able to dictate delivery schedules, staffing issues and more. We are still doing this work because we believe in creating a local, equitable, sustainable system, even though at times it feels nearly impossible.
Stern is a well-established produce delivery company that sources produce from all over the US to sell to restaurants, institutions, and retailers across the state. Recently, two years ago, they created a new arm to their business that focuses exclusively on locally grown produce and other goods. The director of this new program agreed to take us on, not through their regular business model of selling produce, but to work with us only in moving a weekly pallet of Blue Sky produce. This is outside the scope of their usual practices. We simply piggyback on a truck already going to Flagstaff. While we are paying over $100 for this service, it is not in any way profitable for them. The director of this program is doing it as a favor to the farm, as well as due to the fact that she is a champion of local food systems.
As it is done as a favor, not profitable for the business, and outside of the scope of their usual operations, we are in a uniquely vulnerable position with this company, and have very little leverage. The power that we do have is our personal connection and relationships with the staff, and the social capital that we have as a sustainable farm supportive business in Flagstaff. However, even these forms of power are not recognized among all, and I feel fortunate that overall Stern does seem responsive to us and wants us to succeed.
As far as moving forward…We will continue to work with Stern and hopefully watch these issues associated with their computer system resolve.
In the future, we will explore if paying more per delivery would guarantee a better service. The price for any other company to deliver is over $400. That would increase the price of the share per person significantly. Another potential avenue to explore will be partnering with NAU to see if that might shift our positioning with the company.
Long term solutions include building up the Flagstaff CSA infrastructure – -including purchasing a truck, hiring more staff, and finding a way to accommodate larger cold storage.
What this means for future shareholders – if the share is delayed, we will now TEXT members with an update. For those who would still prefer a telephone call, we can absolutely arrange that too.
Thank you for reading and for your patience through these growing pains! Please email us with any questions or concerns.
Thank you for your commitment to our CSA!