Early winter is the time when farmers hunker down in front of the books and do all the planning for the next year, and late winter (starting now!) is when we start signing up CSA members for the upcoming season. This kick-off to CSA sign-up season has us thinking a lot about our CSA (community supported agriculture) program and why it's by far our favorite way to get the veggies we grow out to people.
As farmers, we love growing for our CSA members for a number of reasons:
First of all, when we know who and how many people we are growing for, we can better plan out our crops. When we go to the farmers market, we never know entirely what will be the most or least popular veggie that week, or how many people may show up. But with CSA, we know exactly how many people to grow for. Better yet, over time we learn from our members what crops are most desired and which are least favored, so we can shape our shares to what folks want.
This leads to our second favorite part of CSA-growing: we have a full growing season (and hopefully multiple seasons) to build real relationships with our members. For us, this includes getting to know what most folks want in their shares in terms of crops, varieties, and quantities, as well as learning where we can most help provide information on the preparation and use of our crops (we are working on this latter thing the most for 2016!).
We also enjoy getting our members to come out to the farm so we can share what a working vegetable farm looks like. We host a CSA U-Pick garden for members during the season, but were a little hesitant at first, since our farm is a working operation (so it's not always perfect looking). However, as interest in visiting the farm grows, we've realized how nice the U-Pick garden is for us as farmers, since it gives us a chance to meet with our members, learn what folks are looking for in their CSA, and get a chance to enjoy the farm through fresh eyes!
Finally, the CSA model is nice for us farmers because so much of the indoor-work intensive business and planning and sales happens during the nice slow wintertime, which means that during the crazy busy-ness of the growing season, we can better focus on the outdoor farming and production ends of our jobs.
That being said, our favorite way to farm, CSA farming, has challenges for growers (and may not be right for every farm). From the farmers' perspective CSA can be a little scary. Our members entrust us with a chunk of their summer fresh food money, and with that trust comes a lot of responsibility. Before we started Hartwood Farm, we worked on farms for 15 years and had 9 seasons of working on or running CSAs under our belt. Even with this experience, it can be a bit scary juggling planting schedules and members' needs and weather at times. We've focused a lot of our planning in the last few years on building systems to minimize crop risks and add some flexibility to our growing season.
We are deep in planning for the 2016 CSA and growing season, with seed starting only a few short weeks away (5!). Let us know if you have any questions about CSA, and thanks to everyone who has joined the farm as a CSA member over the past few years!
Coming next week, why we think CSA is great for shareholders...