Plowing up our market garden.
Because I reposted Market Gardening last week, it is only fitting that I repost the sequel to last week's post. Plus, it is right around the corner and I can't wait......planting season! Some of you are already planting in zone 7 and above. I will not envy!
Last Monday, we talked about farmer's markets and selling to restaurants. Today, it's all about CSAs.
What is a CSA? CSA= Community Supported Agriculture.
Here, the farmer gets paid by his customers upfront before planting season for a certain amount of produce for a certain amount of time. It is sometimes referred to as subscription farming. For example, say you have a 10 customer base to start. You sell your shares of produce at $350 for a 20 week growing period at 10 pounds of produce a week. That's $3500! Not bad for starters, right?
The good thing about CSAs is that you get paid upfront to cover your seeds and supplies cost, plus labor. You can start out with only 2 customers, or, if you have a good knowledge of what grows well along with experience, shoot for 20, 30 or even 50! You do the math, not a bad way to make a little or a lot of cash doing something you love!
CSAs are becoming very popular! That being said, more and more potential customers are aware of the benefits of locally grown produce and want to know who their farmer is. So, the chances of obtaining clientele are good.
Father and son driving the tractor and tilling up the garden.
Some customers want to have the opportunity to volunteer and do some hands-on work in your garden. If opening your home and land up to others doesn't sound too appealing, you might want to find another avenue, such as a farmer's market. But, allowing volunteers to help in weeding, picking produce and/or packaging would be beneficial to you, in exchange for a discount on their subscription.
Things to consider: Many CSAs make the mistake of growing too many odd varieties. Although trying new veggies is a good thing, most people want some familiarity mixed in with the new. Also, you might have a crop failure for a certain vegetable. This needs to be expected, so, always plant enough variety so that your customers will not tire of the same old thing over and over again until a new crop comes along. Customers do share the risk of nature taking it's course, but, plant enough variety so that they won't get tired of eating radishes for 3 straight weeks!
Also, some customers can be quite disappointed in the quality and quantity. I know of a CSA several miles from here that looks like a bunch of weeds! I've also heard that the produce was of poor quality and there were too many odd varieties. Not good! Weeds are going to happen, especially if you grow organically. But, try to make your garden look appealing!
If you plan to take the CSA route, make sure you get feedback of what your customers want. Grow the staples along with the different varieties.
Be creative. If you grow lettuce, try growing a braising mix (good for stir-frys) along with green onions and snow peas. Package them together and label it "Stir-Fry Mix." Maybe throw in some carrots while you're at it. How about a salsa package, with roma tomatoes, onions, and jalapeno peppers? Many people like a little convenience and direction, so make sure you give them recipe cards for these packages. Also, if you have a new variety of a certain vegetable, make sure your customers know how to fix it. I recommend
From Asparagus to Zucchini, which gives you all kinds of recipes for fresh produce. This book was created by and for Community Supported Agriculture members.
All in all, a CSA is a great way to earn some income with your market garden.
Although we have just touched the surface of this possible money making opportunity, I hope you have gained a better understanding of what a CSA is all about.
If you would like more information, Rebirth of the Small Family Farm, is an excellent easy read about a couple who, after many other failing avenues, started a CSA on just 2 acres and are earning their living from it.
Is a CSA in your future?
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