Putting the Community Back In Agriculture

Connecting Farmers and Eaters through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Programs to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

by Suszane Neimanis-Klug, Roots Down Organic Farm

When we first began working our farm in 2005 we quickly realized that we were going to have a hard time funding our operation. It is very difficult for a mixed vegetable farm of this small a scale fit in to a category of small business loans and we needed to build up some infrastructure and employ farm hands in order to produce enough veggies to even begin to support ourselves. We were familiar with other farms using the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model as a solution to these problems but this concept was relatively new to the Kingston area. With this model, we would find individuals that would be willing to support our farm’s endeavors by paying ahead for veggies that they would receive throughout the growing season. We would deliver their veggies to pre-determined pick-up locations in their area each week. That first season we had 15 CSA program members. Ten seasons later, our CSA has grown exponentially and has proven to meet the farm’s needs. Though we now sell our vegetables through a variety of avenues, the CSA remains as the backbone of our farm.

The benefits to our farm are crucial. This income comes at a time of year where we do not have as much cash flow. These funds allow us to purchase seeds, equipment and soil amendments, pay employees, maintain infrastructure etc. The list of expenses early in the season is quite long. In addition, having a sense of how many CSA customers we have allows us to make decisions in our crop planning, hiring and other avenues for selling our veggies.

In those earlier years, we had to repeatedly explain the concept of CSA to new customers. We found the simplest way of describing the concept was by comparing it to a magazine subscription: The customer pays ahead for the veggies that they will receive during the harvest season. These days, new customers often ask us if we offer a CSA program as the public has realized the many benefits of this model.

Though there are many ways to access local food these days and achieve the many benefits of eating fresh and great quality produce, the commitment to the farm also means that members have committed themselves to using that produce each week. This exposes them to veggies that they may not have chosen at a market or even tried before. This can be a bit of a learning curve for some people but most would say that this results in a desirable lifestyle change. We do try to facilitate by providing recipe ideas and by not overwhelming members with too much of a particular item. In the end, members generally receive more value in what they receive in a CSA than if they had purchased the veggies at a farmers’ market or store. We have estimated this value in our own CSA to be 15 to 20%. In addition, CSA customers have first dibs to purchase bulk items when they are available.

The concept of CSA is used on many different types of farms and so you will now see grain, meat, egg and bread CSAs. Each farm has their own personality so-to-speak and how they operate their CSA program will reflect that. Also, the idea of members sharing in the risk of the farm and receiving five bunches of kale each week is a thing of the past. The scope of this movement can be seen in that software has been developed to specifically help farmers manage their CSA programs. We have found that this software also improves the customer experience in terms of communication, being able to allow members to order items from a web-store and even provide the option of booking a week off and changing a pick-up location. The innumerable benefits of CSA programs to farms continue and increasing CSA memberships will only serve to improve a member’s experience.

To learn more about the Roots Down Organic Farm and their CSA program please go to www.rootsdown.ca

(Editors note: CSA farm shares are due by the end of February this year for many farms. For more information about food producers in our area, take a look at the local food locator at NFU website. For more information about organic as a lifestyle, please explore various articles on our KIHC blog site, here.)