Monday, March 10, 2014
Winter Hill Farm family (1st & 2nd generations)
Want to stock your kitchen with beautiful farm-fresh vegetables or locally caught seafood while investing in the future of family farming and sustainable fishing in Maine? Is the idea of connecting with the hardworking producers who grow/fish for your food appealing? It’s simple then, you might consider purchasing a share in a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) and/or Community-Supported Fishery (CSF).
CSA/CSF members generally pay for an entire season upfront, thus helping the producer with early season costs including purchasing seeds, making equipment repairs, maintenance, and labor throughout the season. In exchange, the shareholder has the opportunity to become part of a community, to be exposed to produce they might not otherwise try, and the satisfaction of knowing they are directly supporting the persons who grow their food.
Share price, distribution, and other details vary by farm. Most farms have a drop-site location where members pick up their CSA share each week, and some have pick up at the farm. Many farms provide a list of week-by-week or month-by-month examples of what to expect for produce. Basic things to consider when joining a CSA: convenience (can you pick up your share on the designated day at the set time), do you want a full (or if an option family or half) share, and do you like to try new things (in some cases you do not get to pick what you receive in your share). Depending on how you respond to the given points, you might consider purchasing a share with a friend or other family.
Maine Farmers Talk Community-Supported Agriculture
Three Maine farmers who run CSA’s discussed community relationships and member satisfaction with The Root.
Brian Smith of Oyster River Farm Express & Oyster River Winery in Warren, Maine
Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Sarah Wiederkehr of Winter Hill Farm in Freeport, Maine
Tell us about the importance of joining a CSA versus going to the farmers’ market.
Jordan’s Farm: I don’t see these as mutually exclusive because many farmers at the farmers' markets also have CSAs. I would say the importance of joining a CSA is creating a relationship between you and your farmer … I know I get to know what my CSA members really enjoy and have called some to say … drop by today strawberries are in … or try this it is our test product this year … they really become part of the farms extended family.
Oyster River: With a CSA, the choices are made for you. As long as you are flexible in your eating habits, that relieves a lot of thinking. CSA farms also like being able to know that they have that steady income for the year.
Winter Hill: Both are great. But a CSA model is a really important tool for farmers to be able to pay for seeds, new tools, etc early in the season. It is a commitment that is made by the customer, but also by the farmer. It is a mutual relationship..... you get to know each other. Sure, you can also get to know the farmer selling the food at markets, but a CSA offers a more intimate relationship, and a good view into a real farm. You also often get a newsletter, recipes, some form of communication. And it is cheaper - all the items that you get each week in your share would cost much more if purchased individually at the market.
I joined a CSA with a friend to split the share of weekly produce, cost, and pickup duties. Do you have any other suggestions to encourage individuals to purchase a share?
Jordan’s Farm: Our CSA is a self-select so there are no special arrangements – people can come to our Farm Stand in Cape Elizabeth between 9:00 – 6:00 daily.
Oyster River: We also have quite a few people who share a CSA share. Our CSA is structured as a mixed farm product package so each week they recieve a meat, a cheese, a bread, some mixed veggies, and a bottle of wine. This theme really suits getting people to get together to cook and share food together. The contents of each share is basically the raw ingredients to cook a really nice meal for four people.
Winter Hill: We are happy to try to accommodate customers. Our CSA is very small and we are able to do that, though most CSAs that are larger won’t be able to accommodate everyone. So, we usually can work with customers to make appropriate arrangements if say, they can’t pick up on time. If customers will not be able to pick up for a week, they are expected to make other arrangements (have a friend pick up) or let us know to not make them a share that week (though they are still responsible for paying). Purchasing a share from Winter Hill and picking up on the farm has some advantages, especially for families with young children. We have lots of animals to see and interact with on the farm, and we also have additional items (eggs, cheese, meats) that can be picked up on the farm when the share is picked up (you can also add on eggs, dairy or flowers to the share itself).
What is the most important lesson (good or bad) you’ve learned running your farm’s CSA?
Jordan’s Farm: I am a firm believer that CSAs build customer loyalty – a CSA gives people a good feeling that they are doing something for family farms, they are helping keep food dollars local and they are part of creating a strong and vibrant food system.
Oyster River: We have found that getting people to pay on time is much harder than we imagined. We try to provide several payment options flexible to folks budgets. There are some services out there like paypal and such that might make this a bit easier, but we have little interest, at least at this point, in giving some of our hard earned profit to the credit card companies.
Winter Hill: You can’t please everyone! Generally I have found that most customers are happy with shares, but there often seems to be one customer that you just can’t please. CSA shares are not for everyone, either. Some people should stick to farmers markets.
I’ve heard it’s important to go with an established farm, because it is a safer investment, but everyone has to start somewhere. Do you have any advice for someone considering committing to a new farm’s CSA?
Jordan’s Farm: If it is a new farm I would talk them about their experience with a CSA. Many new farms are owned by people who do have experience on other farms. I would also, want to know if the farm has a relationship with other farms (many do). Also, ask about the farmer's experience (if they have never worked a farm … well..)
Oyster River: We are a brand new CSA so I would say go for it. I understand that people might want to hear reviews about how other people enjoyed the CSA before they commit, but I am all for supporting new startup small farms. We need more small successful farms.
Winter Hill: Growing with a new CSA is pretty great! I do think new CSAs tend to be more attentive to detail and really establishing good solid lasting relationships with customers.
Oyster River Farm Express horse-drawn delivery in Rockland
How much time do you spend on non-direct farm stuff i.e. marketing your farm’s CSA? On that note, how important has communicating with shareholders via social media, a newsletter, and maybe farm events been to members rejoining?
Jordan’s Farm: I spend several hours a week marketing to all customers … I would say on average from April through November I spend 4 – 5 hours a week on “marketing” .. this includes: Facebook, Website, ads, blog, articles, emails, newsletters.
Oyster River: Seems like these days social media is very important, and newsletters. There are several members who we have never even met. We just drop their food at the door and never see them.
Winter Hill: Every farm is different on this. We use social media and newsletters to communicate with our customers, and spend quite a bit of time on marketing and communication. I think our customers really appreciate the direct communication of a newsletter each week with their share. I like to include recipe suggestions, and some updates on things happening on the farm- like a pest report, a glimpse of what’s to come, etc.
How have you dealt with produce selection shortages due to pests and (extreme) weather?
Jordan’s Farm: I have a relationship with other farms and buy in products to ensure a broad selection of items for our customers.
Winter Hill: I have purchased produce from other local organic farms on occasion when I was short on something, like potatoes because I lost a whole planting to multiple pests. or if I wanted to diversify and offer something a little special, like earlier tomatoes. However, I usually just explain to people that this is what being a part of a CSA is- you roll with the punches and if we lose a crop to pests or weather, that is just how it goes. You take the good and the bad.
Meet Your Farmers and Fishermen: A Celebration of Community-Supported Agriculture and Fisheries
Between Friday, March 1 and Sunday, March 3 the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is hosting "Meet Your Farmers and Fishermen: A Celebration of Community-Supported Agriculture and Fisheries" events throughout the state. These events are part celebration and part education, as local farmers, fishermen and other food producers tell community members how to enjoy local foods and support local businesses in a meaningful way. Attending one of these events could provide you with the information you need to make a decision about whether to sign up for a CSA/CSF and which one. For location information visit here.
According to MOGFA, over 180 Maine farms have CSA’s. Here is a link to MOGFA’s CSA Directory.
Winter Hill Farm and Jordan's Farm photos by Sharon Kitchens. Oyster River Farm Express provided by Brian Smith.Tweet
Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.
When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.
In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.