Thursday, October 20, 2011

Growing and Marketing for a Winter CSA in Central Missouri

SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant #FNC07-668 - Jennifer Graber, Ashland MO

Objective: To develop a community supported agriculture business growing and marketing cool-season greens and vegetables from October through April in central Missouri, experimenting with unheated greenhouse and cold frame designs.

Results: Central Missouri has a variety of commercial growers providing fresh, organically grown local produce for wholesale and retail buyers during the typical growing season of April through October. However, there are few options for area consumers to buy such produce during the off-season of November through March, so virtually all fresh greens and vegetables must be trucked in.

At Wintergeen Farm, our small family operation on about five acres west of Ashland in Boone County, MO, we established a winter community supported agriculture (CSA) venture on about two acres. We tested four styles of unheated greenhouses and cold frames: 1) standard hoop houses, 2) hoop houses made from cattle panels, 3) low tunnels over raised garden beds, and 4) standard wooden cold frame boxes. We grew more than 30 crops through the winter, including several varieties of greens, root crops, herbs, and more.

We had eight families for the 2008-09 seasons, and 16 families signed up for 2009-10. Each family paid $15 for a large box of produce, which was available weekly from October through December and every other week in January and February. We struggled this past season with a cold, cloudy, wet, fall and winter that slowed production.

Overall, though, many of the crops were surprisingly cold hardy, surviving even through two weeks in January when high temperatures didn’t get out of the single digits. Results from the first two seasons have encouraged us to continue with these efforts. No difference in seedling germination, growth, productivity, or survival was noted among the different greenhouse and cold frame designs. The only differences were in building and maintenance costs and ease of operation.

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