More FAQs about Hartwood Farm and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
CSA is a pretty different way to think about getting your food, and we are happy to answer your questions! Below are some of the most common ones that we hear, but call or email us if you have others not on this list or want to learn more!
We try to get back to calls and emails within a couple days!
What is CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. In it’s simplest form, it’s a partnership between farmers and their local community where both parties share the benefits and support of sustainable, local agriculture.
How Does CSA Work?
CSA farm customers (“members” or “shareholders”) commit early in the year to buy a farm’s harvest by purchasing a farm “share.” Over the growing season, CSA members receive a weekly box or selection of the farm’s harvest.
CSA works great for members because there is a price discount from retail prices (members save money!), shares are often brought to more convenient locations for pick-up, and members have access to a host of added benefits like visiting the farm, meeting other local folks interested in supporting farms, getting newsletters with tailored recipes, and lots more.
CSA works great for farmers because they know in advance how many members they are serving (so they have exact numbers of what they need to grow), they have more cash on hand early in the season to buy cropping supplies, and they have the support and connections with a community of members.
Why Choose CSA?
Shares each week contain a range of different herbs and vegetables, with the variety depending on the season. "Regular" shares are our larger size and have 8 to 12 crops each week, and "Small" shares have 4 to 7 crops each week.
We strive to provide members with a balanced mix each week of salad greens, root vegetables, fruit vegetables, cooking greens, herbs, and unique/fun vegetables, but the beginning of the season tends to be heavier on salad vegetables and leafy greens, while the summer weeks and fall shares have more fruiting veggies and root crops. Some staples we try to have most weeks (like lettuce) or every other week (like carrots or potatoes), while other crops just make one or two appearances each season. We also have a whole page on the website where you can check out pictures of what past shares looked like and read some newsletters to get a feel of the seasonal flow!
What is in an average share?
Large shares are 8 to 12 types of veggies a week and ran $594 (2018 season). Small shares are 4 to 7 types of veggies a week and run $396 (2018 season). Small shares will generally have the same size bunches/bags of crops as the large shares, but will have fewer types of vegetables in them, so there will be things that you might not get every week. For example, the regular shares might get carrots for 8 weeks of the season, while the small shares receive the same size bunch of carrots, but instead for 4 weeks in the season. Alternately, with some crops that are more easily dividable like lettuce, large shares might get 2 heads one week while small shares get 1 head. Both sizes have access to the U-Pick garden.
Small versus Regular shares—what’s the difference?
CSA newsletters are sent out by email a couple days before the pick-up... so, yes, you will have a sense in advance what vegetables are coming each week. Newsletters will also contain recipes to help plan out meals/shopping around the vegetables in the share. However, since we are somewhat on nature’s schedule, we aren’t always correct in our estimates—so there can always be some surprise element to the share! We do post pictures of our shares mid-day on Tuesdays, so you will have an idea of what is in your boxes a few hours in advance!
Will I know in advance what’s in my share?
Using vegetables and herbs can be as simple or complicated as you want to make it. Our newsletters will provide a lot of recipes and hints to use the produce you receive, as well as links to other recipe sites. As farmers, we often don't have much time for cooking during the growing season, so we personally focus on recipes that are quick and easy to prepare after a long day at work! And of course, we always welcome questions about the vegetables, as well as YOUR suggestions on how you like to use them. A big part of CSA is sharing knowledge and passion for food, and we hope that being a member of Hartwood Farm CSA provides us all a venue to share our enjoyment of food with others!
What if I don't know how to use a vegetable or am not a big cook?
Confession time... I (Maryellen) *hated* vegetables growing up, with the exception of spinach and lima beans (go figure). It's not until I started working on farms that I started to like vegetables. So our farmer answer of course is... try it a new way (using fresh produce) and *maybe* you'll like it this time! This happens a lot with crops like Brussels sprouts, which are actually tasty if they are cooked correctly. We provide recipes to help make less familiar vegetables easier to use. Of course, maybe you won't like certain vegetables on second taste, and that's fine too! You never have to take or eat any vegetable we offer. There will be trade tables at every site, so you can swap out with other members for crops you prefer. As CSA farmers, we want to work with YOU to make the CSA meet both our needs. As part of the conversation, we welcome member feedback on crop preferences so that each year we can make the CSA work better for all parties!
What if I don't like some of the vegetables in my share?
Our U-Pick garden is open to CSA members only (though your friends and family are welcome to join you!) and access is included in the price of your share. (If you have lots of friends/family not in your household joining you and wanting to harvest a lot for their households, there are sometimes additional charges for them.) Our official 2018 U-Pick hours are Fridays from 3 until dark, but members can come other times by appointment.
We have a small U-Pick only garden, with the big focus on flowers. It also includes a mix of herbs, greens, and a few popular crops in the closer areas of the field, but we sometimes send U-Pickers around the farm to our main plantings, since it's easiest to grow some crops (like cherry tomatoes, beans, and peas) in big blocks in the fields. We use a series of large flags to show where crops are available to harvest.
There is a bit of walking to get to the U-Pick fields. It's about 1/5th of a mile, so we recommend good shoes. Visitors may also want to walk further out to enjoy the fields and visit the animals!
How does U-Pick work?
Hartwood Farm only uses practices approved for organic production (but is not USDA certified). Since we do follow all the rules for being certified organic, we are eligible to apply for certification, but at this point have not (we are contemplating applying for certification--please let us know if becoming certified organic is important to you!). Our growing practices include NOT using synthetic chemicals while following management methods that protect and build the soil, provide a safe environment for our workers, and have little impact on the surrounding ecology. We do use organically approved soil amendments (things like raw limestone or rock phosphate) and some organically approved sprays for pest and disease control.
We believe good, healthy soils grow the best-tasting, longest storing, and most nutritious crops for our family and our customers. For more information about our growing practices and for pictures of the farm, check out our ongoing blog HERE.
Are you Organic?
Share a share, try a monthly share (available at some times of the year, weather depending), or contact us to arrange alternate work/trade situations. For many CSA members, a share can seem intimidating in the first year or two. We have found that members who share their shares with friends or family usually have a good experience. Often, one of the people splitting a share likes some vegetables more than others, so you can divvy things up easily. We welcome shareholders splitting shares, and are willing to help partner you with a share-buddy, but we can't split the shares ourselves at the pick-up.
Finally, we understand that the current economy is tight, and welcome talking with potential members about alternative payment plans and options. We have set up a range of plans with members in the past. Call the farm to start the conversation!
What if the share size/cost seems too much for my family?
Working is NOT a requirement of our members. However... if you want to help out, we can ALWAYS use a hand! Contact us to see how!
Do I have to work on the farm?
That's a good question... no, and yes... One much-touted component of CSA is shared risk. In a typical season, experienced growers (like Hartwood Farm) have a good sense of how much and what crops they need to grow to make their members happy. CSA comes first for us (before any farmers markets or wholesale customers), and we have a track record of happy and satisfied customers. However... there can be a small risk, as local food customers discovered at CSAs and farmers markets throughout the east two years ago after the hurricane and the tropical storm flooded farms across the northeast and cut their growing season short. So is there risk, and while we can plan for many possible outcomes, we can't plan for some natural disasters (we just focus on hoping they don't come!).
What if it is a bad growing season? Is there risk for the customers?
In a CSA, members mostly pay up front for the produce they receive later in the season. This is incredibly helpful for us as your farmers. First, we know exactly how many people we are growing for, so crop planning and planting is a bit simplified. Second, we actually buy 85% of our farm inputs for the year in February, March, and April, so having income early in the season means we don’t have to rely as much on credit or operating loans.
However, even as experienced farmers, we can’t tell in advance what the weather or pest or disease problems may be for that season. So we plant extra, and plan for multiple plantings of each crop in case some fail, and have all sorts of emergency supplies and contingency plans on hand. Starting in the 2014 season, we actually shortened our season by two weeks, so we have two extra weeks of buffer in the fall in case of any spring weather disasters like a deep freeze! We do our best to get all your veggies to you, but we unfortunately can’t guarantee that you will see all your favorite veggies in the best quantity in a given year.
2017 was actually a pretty hellish year for many CSAs throughout the East Coast, due to unending rain in some areas (unfortunately, this included us), and we had the added fun of dealing with a devastating hail in late June. 2016 had its own fun with a mega-drought. We weathered things fine both years, but used every one of our contingency plans, including stealing most of our farmers market vegetables for the CSA. We did hear of farms going out of business mid-season, farms having to do very light shares for much of the year, farms taking a few months off in July and August and then running late into December, and more. We anticipate weathering any 2018 challenges as well (after all, we seem to be getting a lot of practice with bad weather!), but just want you all to be informed members that CSA is not completely risk free.
What does “shared risk” really mean?
One thing we did want to clarify, since it’s often a question to farmers doing CSA and farmers markets, is how we decide what goes into the CSA share versus what goes to market (we do one farmers market and sell a little wholesale in addition to the CSA). Different farms do this differently, but we figure it out this way… First, in the winter, we plan out what we would ideally like every box of the CSA season to look like, down to the size of every bunch of vegetables we hope to include! Then we also make a guess at what we think we might sell that week at markets (this is harder since the weather on market day really impacts sales). We accumulate all this information in a huge spreadsheet and then tally up all the counts, divide them out into different plantings of crops, and then do all the work of growing and cultivating and harvesting them.
The idea of CSA is that the farmer and customer share in the risk, but also share in the reward. Because you each are committing to share the risk, we strive to give our CSA first shot at the produce. If we know quantities are short, we make sure the CSA gets their share first (for instance, the last two years we were short on potatoes so we just never had them at the summer farmers market, and one year, we only sold tomatoes for one week at market, since we needed all the rest of the crop for the CSA!). However, if we are super short on something and don’t have enough of it for the whole CSA, we might just send that to market (for example, the first week we had melons last year, there were only 5 so we just took them to market rather than giving you each a tiny slice of melon!).
If we have a ton of produce, we definitely want to share the reward of a big harvest, so we try to distribute extra (did we make any of you tired of carrots or beans last year?). However, there are a few catches… First, beyond a certain point, lots of folks get sick of vast quantities of vegetables (the number one reason many people *quit* CSAs is actually getting TOO much produce!). We could have given every share another bushel of eggplant last year, but I think some members might have come and hunted us down for that! Second, some veggies that we can have in profusion just take too long for us to harvest (cherry tomatoes and peas are the typical culprits). If we have tons of these crops, we will offer them for U-Picking rather than have more in the share because we just don’t have enough hours in the CSA harvest day to get more of them for you! And finally, we do have an upper cap on share value since we are a mixed CSA and market farm, and we rely on the farmers market sales as well as CSA shares to keep the farm running!