Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Are you considering a CSA?

Community supported agriculture (CSAs) refers to farms where consumers interested in healthy, safe food join in an economic partnership with growers seeking stable markets. (Click here for history of CSA.) Consumers pay in advance for a whole season of produce which they receive on a weekly basis from roughly mid-May until October. For beginning farmers, the concept of CSAs is attractive because it helps to lock in customers (you don’t lose your members to someone else at the farmers’ market and consumers just don’t wimp out and quit coming to market). It’s also nice because theoretically you should share the harvest risk with your members. If cool, rainy springs lead to delays for full summer vegetables, members of your CSA will understand and eat what is available. Eaters like CSAs because they get to know one farmer, and – speaking from personal experience here – it provides an adventure in eating vegetables! As a farmer for a CSA you need to be prepared to offer lots of recipes – most consumers don’t have enough recipes on hand to figure out what to do with bok choy three or four weeks running!

But beginning farmers should think hard about jumping into the CSA model right off. CSAs require excellent management skills in addition to production skills. Growing such a wide variety of crops (usually 60 or more different vegetables, herbs, fruits or other crops) throughout the growing season requires knowledge of different growing techniques and carefully planned planting and harvesting, in addition to extra labor. Really – if you haven’t been producing vegetables for another farm or on your own for at least 5 years you should delay starting a CSA until you’ve been able to experiment with farmers’ market and restaurant sales. Another way to get involved in CSA without everything falling on your own shoulders is to partner with other farmers to create a cooperative CSA. Missouri has a number of CSAs -- you might check out Fair Share Farm to see one with core group members doing a lot of work or check out a cooperative CSA such as Fair Shares in St. Louis. You can also catch up on regular CSA articles written by farmers in “Growing for Market” a great little magazine for direct marketers.  (Mary Hendrickson)

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