Startup CSA questions/opinions - Mothering Forums

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Old 11-18-2010, 11:02 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I am back in school studying Sustainable Agriculture and completely loving my classes. I am learning a ton and implementing a lot of what I am learning. We are marketing our farms in class right now and all this pretend marketing is seriously getting me thinking about a small CSA  http://www.localharvest.org/csa/, or perhaps growing for market. It would probably be for the 2012 season. I am planning to do 1 2011 share with a good friend who has agreed to give me brutally honest feedback. 


What do you love about your CSA? What would you change? Are you able to use all you get each week? Would you do a work share if it meant a cost reduction per hour worked? This would be a child-friendly, come out and work in the garden and maybe learn a little in the process...

I am toying with growing a few different things that I haven't seen offered around here (like popcorn, peanuts and tomatillos). Would these interest you, or do you think these type of things would best be offered at the market? Would you be interested in a weekly flour share (maybe 1-2# per week) freshly milled flours (wheat, rye and oat flour)? I have heard that there is some interest in something like this, but it would require me to rent or clear land. What about dry beans?  What about a winter share of greens?

If you were to get a weekly farm share, what fruits/veggies would you expect to see? How often would you like to see "unusual" items (I consider unusual items to be things that are not mainstream or that have a "bad rap", rutabaga, turnips, brussels sprouts, parsnips, beets, okra)? Would you want eggs? Fruit? Herbs? 

 

FYI, we are in Zone 7 with most CSAs running for 20 weeks.

Thanks in advance, friends!! 


~Amy~ Wife to my best friend Brandon. Mama to my sweet girl Eden (11/6/06) and my little man Theo (6/25/09)
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Old 11-18-2010, 07:12 PM
 
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2011 will be my 3rd year operating a CSA farm in the heart of the midwest. I can share with you what my customers have told me..

-- Most people really prefer the "boring" vegetables. If you're going to include more different/ interesting items, you have to do tons of education, provide recipes, etc. Your more adventurous cooks, on the other hand, will love the challenge. The different items are fine if you just put them in once. Week after week is when you have a problem.. no one here wants 10 weeks of okra or tomatillos. Or even 10 weeks in a row of green beans.

-- Fruit is extremely popular with my customers. Do you have an organic farm? Fruit is a lot more challenging than vegetables on an organic farm and takes time away right when you need to be in the vegetable field. Strawberries ripen at exactly the wrong time! Picking raspberries in Zone 7 sounds like very hot work.

-- Winter greens & storage vegetables have some traction in our area. I would say that there is a lot of growth potential there. Almost no one is doing local flour, probably because of the startup costs. It seems like a great idea.

--A box with less than 7 - 8 items just doesn't look very "full." 8 items a week * 20 weeks. Think about that for a while!

--We have a work share option and those who have done it are very enthusiastic about it. It's a connection to the food & the farm for them, it's not just about saving money on their share.

--The people who don't like being in a CSA are, according to my perception, often 1) too busy to cook, 2) Not good at figuring out what to do with a box full of items that they didn't pick out themselves, so end up wasting food, and/or 3) End up finding it inconvenient to pick up their share every week.

What resources do you already have? Have you farmed or grown for market before? Are you ready to grow 45+ different crops, that's about how many the average CSA farm handles?

I'd be happy to talk to you more. I will say, if you haven't grown for market at all before, do that first, before trying to do a CSA. You need an idea of what it's like to have to have multiple crops ready every week for an entire growing season and all the logistics that go with it. If you have worked on another CSA or large market farm & already have experience, then great!


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Old 11-19-2010, 12:14 AM
 
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I have been a member of a few CSA's - this past year we did a work share and really liked it!  I am planning on doing it again next year, having the kids with me was GREAT, they learned so much and really consider it 'our farm'.  There were probably 10-12 different items in our share every week.

 

As a customer, I have to agree with the 'boring' veggies thing.  The one we had this year was very small and grew things that grow easily in our valley in W. WA, I have no idea what zone that is, but up near the border.  Anyways, they gave recipes week after week and I still found myself steaming and blending a good portion every week and putting it into sauces cause I just couldn't get DH and the kids to eat them any other way.

 

At the one we were in previously they called it a 'pick your own' share.  It really was not a 'work share' as it was almost the same price as a normal one, but 1 or two items a week you had to go pick off the plant yourself.  Nothing too hard thing like, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, green beans - nothing that took a knife or any strength to get out.  I thought that was a nice compromise because the kids did get to go out onto the farm, but we didn't really work - half the time we just ate a bunch of berries and called it a day.  One thing they did (much bigger more established farm with a full time farm stand as well) was that there was always a 'kids activity' like making starts, shucking corn, planting beans, each week that the kids could do.  Also, they had a plot called the 'kid's garden' which my kids didn't want to plant anything so we didn't do it, but they had little squares marked out with walkways and each kid could pick a square, at the beginning of the season and then an assortment of seeds that they could plant.  They had a worker there the first few weeks to try and help the kids to plant so it would grow and then help identify the baby plants as they came up.  But the nice thing IMHO was that they would water and weed the plots as necessary during the week to try and keep them alive for the kids, while letting the kids do as much as they could in their 'garden'.


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Old 11-19-2010, 06:43 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for your replies.  There is so much helpful info in them and I will digest and reply soon!  mrs_mandolini, I may want to pick your brain a little bit, if that's okay.  So nice to hear a perspective from a different area of the country.


~Amy~ Wife to my best friend Brandon. Mama to my sweet girl Eden (11/6/06) and my little man Theo (6/25/09)
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Old 12-07-2010, 10:06 PM
 
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We are a family of three and receive a large box every other week year-round. We split the cost and produce with another family.

 

I agree with a LOT of what mrs_mandolini wrote.

 

We have been with our CSA just under a year and we've had three different families split with us in this period of time. We're picking up the last box with family #2 this week and family #3 starts in two weeks. Family #1 got tired of the repetition and they diverted the funds to orthodontia work. Family #2 doesn't cook much and was wasting most of the food. Picking up the box was challenging for both families long-term, also. Family #3 shall be interesting. They don't eat many veggies from what I have observed over the years and only the husband cooks. He is very excited about the idea, but we'll see how it translates to reality. LOL

 

In our family, DH cooks more than I do and he gets into creative moods often and sticks to standard fare other times. When I cook, I typically do one dish type meals, which are perfect for CSA produce. DH grew up in the midwest and pretty much only thought corn and potatoes were veggies. I grew up all over and am MUCH more adventurous in my veggie love. DH has learned to like a lot more veggies since meeting me, but his list is really short IMO. DD is more like me in this regard.

 

Everyone gets excited by fruit in the CSA box!!!

 

We live in an area with year-round growing opportunities, but our seasons are very different than the rest of the country. One of my reasons for joining a CSA is to learn more about our local growing seasons. We have a tiny townhome yard, but I make use of all the space I've got. I cannot really learn about gardening from the standard books because they are all written for the majority of the country. I have checked out dozens and dozens of gardening books from the library over the years. Local classes and a few local authors are the best sources. The CSA has been awesome for learning our growing seasons.

 

Find a niche in your area and fulfill that.

 

I did a lot of research before choosing this particular CSA. This one had the highest reviews for variety and fruit. Freshness (not wilted) was mentioned a few times when folks were comparing previous CSAs. We have quite a few CSAs here, but most are full and hard to get into. We got lucky because they had just opened a new location right in our community and it wasn't full yet. Most of their locations are full.

 

Receiving a CSA box is like Christmas! We pick up in a very small local market and we bring our own box or bags. Unpacking and repacking could be super fast, but it can often take awhile (when no one else is waiting) because DD & I love opening every brown paper bag and seeing what is in them all! So much FUN! Receiving the exact same thing for weeks on end is not fun, though. Even strawberries, which we love. I had to start tossing 1/2-3/4 of every container into the freezer immediately because we were just burned out on strawberries. One of our playgroup moms finally taught us all how to make jam and I brought half the strawberries for a large group of us just from the CSA stash I had. It was cool. I brought 5 cups of mashed strawberries and came home with 5 cups of homemade strawberry jam (low-sugar). DH doesn't care for fresh strawberries, but he has gobbled up quite a bit of the jam!

 

As far as I am concerned, CSAs work best for the adventurous types (long-term).


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