Sweet Rain & a CSA Collective


After a couple of days of intermittent drops here and there, we had a nice soaking this afternoon. I’d just returned from the gardens–picking ten boxes of cherry tomatoes for deliveries tomorrow and collecting heirloom Marvel of Venice bean seed to dry for next year’s crop.

I was talking to one of my CSA members at the farmers market this week, and she brought up an idea that I had entertained as well–a collective CSA in which several farmers contribute produce to the weekly shares of the members. This is not an uncommon set-up–I have read about a number of CSAs that pool together produce, meat, eggs, even flowers to fill weekly shares.

In the past four years, I have used some of the CSA members’ funds to purchase other local produce to put in the bags–produce I was not growing at all, or produce that I didn’t have enough of for all the deliveries (plus me). This week, I’ll be delivering produce from two other farms besides my own.

But that strategy has been informal for the most part–I picked up this week’s winter squash and red onions at the farmers market and without pre-arrangement. As I come to the realization that it’s really too much for me to teach full time and farm full time, I’m looking around at what other farmers grow well, and talking about next year’s crops.

I’ll be doing some research this winter about how other CSA collectives handle their business.ย  I’ve thought of a “savings account” wherein a manager collects the membership money from shareholders at the beginning and then goes out and uses that money to buy produce in bulk from local farmers each week to fill the shares.

There’s the possibility, too, of contracting in advance with the farmers and paying for the promised produce ahead of time (in more typical CSA fashion).ย  That would require the kind of surity that most small farmers might be a bit wary of providing.

This idea sort of flies in the face of my “housecleaning” approach of getting rid of excess projects this fall and winter, but I’d really hate to see Community Supported Agriculture go extinct in Vermillion.ย  It seems there ought to be a way to make the load on my own shoulders a bit lighter while keeping the farm-consumer connection strong.

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Claire on October 7, 2008 at 12:22 am

    maybe you just need some minions to put in some work on these projects for you. Ya know, delegate instead of eliminate?

  2. Posted by flyingtomato on October 7, 2008 at 7:36 am

    Minions?

    I have tried, though not terribly hard, to find an intern, but the problem with hiring people is that it puts me in more of a management role rather than a gardener role. Too, if I did hire people, I’d want to pay them well, and I’m not sure I could expand enough to compensate for the labor wages.

    I’m excited about the idea of working more closely with other farmers, too. That is part of my mission, and it’s a part that I haven’t been able to put as much focus on as I’d like when I’m spending so much of my time in the field.

    I hadn’t thought about minions–do you know where I could get some? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Posted by Claire on October 7, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Well, you could certainly tap some labor out of some hippy students? I’d actually be interested for a learning experience, not a job, but I have a gimp back to deal with. I’m still a pretty resourceful gal and would be up for lendin’ a hand. It is a great dream of mine to learn how to garden/farm so that I can do it for a hobby when I’m done with school. I grew up in a sea of pavement and managed to have pest infestations in a 3rd floor balcony garden in CA. So, I definitely have a lot to learn! My husband would probably be interested too. So, that’s two minions right there ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Posted by flyingtomato on October 7, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Well, if all the young anarchists weren’t getting so gainfully employed these days…or working for my partner!

    I’m not sure working for H. constitutes “gainful employment,” but I think we might’ve made some kind of deal about me not trying to steal his labor force.

    Ah, well. Maybe next spring, we can work something out!

  5. I understand that often farmers set up CSAs in order to get up front the money they need to plant. If your Vermillion CSA was continuted as a multi-farmer CSA, could it serve that function? Or would it be easier for the farmers to just sell their produce at the farmer’s market?

    I really hope a Vermillion CSA can continue in some fashion because it’s so symbolic. As a state, South Dakota really needs to get to a more sustainable, more local food future, and although certainly it’s not your responsibility, Rebecca, to get us there, it would seem like a huge step backwards if Vermillion couldn’t keep a CSA going.

  6. Posted by flyingtomato on October 8, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Kelly–

    Yes, it is true that CSAs are usually one tool in a farmers kit for bringing in money at the beginning of a season. It is possible that a collective CSA could still work that way if farmers were willing to contract in advance to grow certain crops, and the money for those crops were paid to the farmer in advance (say, the farmer who agreed to supply the potatoes for the CSA would likely get enough money in advance to pay for their entire seed potato order–including the potatoes they grew for other markets).

    It all depends on whether or not farmers would be interested in doing the advanced contract. And I’m not sure it couldn’t go both ways–with those willing to contract in advance getting paid in advance, and those who don’t getting paid when they harvest.

    For some, it would be easier to just sell at the farmers market, but for others, who grow large quantities of produce that must be transported to more than one or two markets per week, participating in a CSA might save them the time, gas money, and uncertainty of marketing in several different venues with lots of competition.

    I do appreciate your point that it’s not my personal responsibility to get us there! I know that, but at the same time I put a little too much of the burden on my own shoulders anyhow–mostly because it matters so much to me.

    I figure that my investment of time and energy should come as close to reflecting my estimation of the thing’s importance as it can. It’s a balancing act though–no matter how important the local food system is, there are other things I have to do to pay the bills, and those things may give me some of the contacts and skills I need to better pursue the goal (not to mention giving me a place to live and work).

    Besides the CSA, starting up and working with the community garden these past two seasons is another way toward that local sustainable food system goal, as is working on the Farmers Market Board.

    Well, that’s what winter is for–re-examining the past year’s strategy and adjusting the course where needed.

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