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Community Supported Agriculture a Win for Farmers and Members

Start your own Community Supported Agriculture or CSA with grassroots marketing and local food delivery.

| July/August 2014

  • Community supported agriculture farms offer great in-season veggies.
    Photo by Nathan A. Winters
  • Roadside markets, farmers' markets and CSAs often provide the consumer with beautiful flower selections.
    Photo by Nathan A. Winters
  • Many people go with a CSA primarily for the in-season offerings, like squash.
    Photo by Nathan A. Winters
  • At the pickup site, a board lets the consumer know what's in each CSA box.
    Photo by Nathan A. Winters
  • Each box is weighed before heading to the consumer.
    Photo by Nathan A. Winters
  • Nathan Winters and family.
    Photo courtesy Amanda Jones

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a farming model in which community members invest in the farmer and, in return, they receive produce and any number of other farm products the CSA grower offers. A person interested in starting a vegetable CSA should be prepared to not only grow an abundance of good food but also run a business. It will take endless planning, hard work, creative thinking, marketing and customer service to be successful.

Taking on CSA members also nullifies any possible shortcuts you may take in your personal garden; perhaps you are not fond of kale, or maybe you find that harvesting arugula is a bit more time-consuming than you’d like. When growing food for a community, such shortcuts are not an option. Valued members will be disappointed if their weekly shares do not include such tasty treats as kale and arugula. As a CSA farmer, your goal should be to provide a bounty of diverse crops that will exceed the expectations of your members and leave them thumbing through their cookbooks, wondering what to do with all the delicious food you have grown. If you can do that, you will be prosperous, and over time you will craft a relationship that cannot be achieved at any supermarket — a personal connection between producer and consumer.

Taking on members

First, you need to consider the number of members you will take on. This number will determine the amount of capital, land and labor you will need to get started. My advice is to start small.

If you are plowing new ground, take the time to learn about your soil and its ability to yield crops so you can meet the expectations of your members. How many members should you accept? In my experience, feeding 20 people and your family on 1 acre of land with one full-time labor assistant is achievable. That equation is scalable.

If your goal is to feed 60 people, consider growing 3 acres of crops and hiring three assistants or volunteers for the season. You must be realistic when it comes to how much land you can cultivate, how frequently you can succession plant, how much labor you will have available, and how many members you can acquire.

Receiving members in February is great, and it will alleviate financial strain, but not having enough crops or labor to fulfill your customers’ needs in August will leave you emotionally and physically exhausted.

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