First off, we’d like to thank everyone for taking time to answer the survey. If you haven’t had a chance, we’ll leave it up for another couple of weeks. More than 80% of those who responded said they would sign up again next year. We are extremely happy as this is an extremely high retention rate!!! Thank you for all of the feedback and the many positive notes you left for us.
There are now thousands of CSA farms all over North America, all of them putting their own spin on how they do things. Feedback from shareholders, research on-line and in books, and talking with other farmers is the main basis for the tweaks we make from year to year. In fact, we are already at work planning for the 2012 season – ordering seeds, planning crop rotations, building a new seed starting greenhouse, installing an insulated door on our root cellar, and going to lots of workshops and conferences. I just finished up a 2-day workshop with this inspiring farmer from Vermont who has over 30 years of market gardening and CSA under his belt. And we’ll be creating a Holistic Resource Management plan for the Rainbow Heritage Garden with these experienced folks from Meeting Place Farm in Bruce County. After that we’re thinking about Zach making his way to the NOFA-NY conference and then the Guleph Organic Conference at the end of January…. yes, it is shaping up to be a very full winter!
As we reflect on the past season and gear up for the next we always revisit the CSA model. This reminds us why we’re doing what we do, and what types of changes might benefit the farm and our shareholders.
One of the many differences between shopping around at farmer’s markets and participating in a Community Supported Agriculture program is that the shareholders are committed, with the farmers, to building a sustainable farm on a specific piece of land. A farm with a triple bottom line, that is not only financially viable, but socially, and environmentally as well. The shareholders and farmers nurture a mutually beneficial relationship, whereby the shareholders share the cost of production, and the farmer produces an assortment of vegetables suited to local growing conditions.
These veggies may change slightly from season to season as the preferences of shareholders change and as the farmers test new varieties, and build and improve their infrastructure and skills.
The degree of shareholder involvement on the actual farm varies depending on the structure of the CSA (member owned vs. farmer owned) and the location. Because we’re a farmer owned CSA in a very rural area region we don’t ask anything of our shareholders above and beyond picking up their veggies on-time at their designated pick-up location. We take care of all of the administration and production of the vegetables ourselves.
Even though shareholders may never get their hands dirty on the farm, in theory, the farm becomes their farm, and the farmers, their farmers. The idea is that they are in it for the long haul, along with the farmers, to build a sustainable farm – a sustainable source of local food for the community and a viable income for the farmers. They do this by purchasing a share of the harvest year after year. The farmers make a commitment to a system of food production that enriches the soil with nutrients, enhances on-farm water sources, and overall leaves the land in better condition than when they started.
Having participated in a CSA for the four full years that we attended university in Montreal Zach and I understand that making the leap to cooking with in-season veggies can be somewhat daunting in a day and age when most of us are accustomed to buying whatever we want, whenever we want at the grocery store. I have to admit that when we first started picking up our basket from Les Jardins de la Montagne farm I was taken aback by what to do with the seemingly random assortment of produce. I was used to looking at a recipe and running to the store to purchase exactly what I needed in the exact quantity called for. Luckily, as with our CSA, the farmers provided at least 3-4 recipes each week so slowly, but surely, I made the transition to substituting one thing for another in those recipes and as I became more and more acquainted with the amazing diversity of what could be grown locally I learned what veggies complimented each other in a dish and what herbs and spices would enhance their natural flavours. After lots of experimentation I now LOVE cooking.
We also had the opportunity to visit the farm where we could meet the farmers and learn more about their operation. The farm hosted an open house at least once a year. For me this really represented the ‘value added’ nature of CSA – although it was only for one day each year we we’re given the opportunity to meet the farmer face to face and watch the farm evolve from year to year. We learned why the farmers chose to grow some crops and not others, and about the many other amazing projects on their farm. It was extremely satisfying to know that a portion of our food dollars were going towards building that farm and the farmers skill base.
We hope that being part of the Rainbow Heritage Garden CSA is a similar experience for you!
So let’s fast forward to the 2011 season that’s slowly winding down.
While this was our fifth season of growing and harvesting veggies for our CSA, it was by far the most challenging – this despite spending the previous winter getting all our eggs lined up; we knew exactly how much we needed to grow, where we were going to grow it, and how often we would need to seed and transplant.
With the incessant rains through April and most of May our immaculate crop plans were shoved aside for a couple of months in favour of preparing and seeding beds pell-mell wherever they were dry enough (so that we didn’t churn our clay soil with water and make mud bricks….). Because we always prioritize what’s in the garden for CSA before market this meant we attended the market a whole month later than usual because we redirected produce that had been intended for markets through CSA. Luckily this allowed us to start CSA just one week late.
By contrast in the spring of 2010 our fields dried out exceptionally fast and CSA baskets began one week early. Looking back at our records, last year we had beets at the very first drop off (incredible!!!) while this year harvest didn’t begin until mid-season (we did manage to plant beets relatively early only to have most of our first planting ‘drown’). Some great news is that we’ve saved up enough money to invest in some ‘low tunnels’ or ‘caterpillars’ so that less of our planting is dependent on when the soil dries out.
Other exciting news for 2012 is that we’ll be moving to our farm!!! As many of you know, we (and our apprentices, the harvest, tools, equipment etc….) have been commuting between our farm, ‘The Back 50’, and where we currently live and store your veggies for the past three years. This is going to make our farm a whole lot more efficient! We can’t wait to have our crops right outside our front door so we can do an even better job of monitoring them (switching irrigation on and off, watching for pests, getting out to harvest before the hot summer sun etc.). Even better is that we’ll be able to get them from the field into our coldroom right away rather than trucking produce several times a day!
More news and updates from the farm:
Zach and Peter (a good friend and co-owner with his wife Shannon of the White Pine Yoga studio in Pembroke) spent several weeks this fall disassembling a green house that we purchased from a local farm. They’ve leveled ground, built a foundation, framed end walls and are almost finished reassembling the greenhouse. In the early spring of 2012 this new space will be used for starting lots of transplants. Once they’re all moved out by mid-May our peppers, tomatoes and eggplants will move in. We’ve had a heavy outbreak of potato beetles (which should really be called eggplant beetles since this is in fact their snack of choice) on our eggplants, and late blight on our tomatoes, and sun scald on our peppers. While we’ve still managed to pump out quite a few of these crops on our farm over the past five years we know that this new greenhouse will help us really improve our production over the coming years.
There are a few more changes we are considering for 2012 and we would love feedback to let us know if these potential changes appeal to you.
- Pre-packing CSA shares. We would divide everything up on the farm and deliver the boxes to the different pick-ups. You would take your share of the harvest out of the box and we would take the ‘empties’ back to the farm to fill up the following week. This would allow us to have multiple pick-up points and completely control the quality and quantity of produce in each and every basket. We also feel that this would make picking up for family and friends easier when you can’t come – especially if you are sending someone to pick up who is not familiar with our current ‘self serve’ market style system.
- Adding one or two pick-up points. We’ve had feedback that some of you would like to pick-up on the east end of Pembroke and in Renfrew. We’re looking into a couple of different potential locations for this. However, we personally cant be everywhere at once so we’re looking for people to help with pick-ups, drop-offs and manning the pick-up.
Specifically we’re looking for:
1. Someone from Renfrew who wants a WEEKLY CSA share and who has the capacity to transport 10 (minimum)+ CSA shares to Renfrew and host a pick-up for a 2-hour period (best = 4:30-6 or 4-5:30). The pick-up could hopefully be self serve for the most part and requires a very shaded or suitable indoor location. Yep, this is a BIG commitment because you would need to be pick-up the veggies on time every single week without fail. We’d trade you a weekly CSA share for the service. If you think you’re up for this please contact us.
2. A business on the east side of Pembroke that we can drop off about 10 (min)+ baskets where there is a suitable shaded or indoor area that can be used for a self serve pick-up. The benefit? Added exposure for your business and guaranteed potential customers walking in your door every week.
- More Choice! – We had a lot of great feedback about the choice bins – as it turns out, this was pretty easy on our part to organize so it is here to stay! We’re getting a better idea of the right proportions of different items to bring so we hope to improve on this next year. We may also allow folks to switch out ONE item from their bin for something in the choice bin (more kale for the kale lovers, and less kale for the kale haters!). We know some other CSAs that do this and they say that based on everyone’s different preferences the choice table typically evens itself out over the course of the pick-up if you let people trade items. Example: the choice table has 10 different items, you may decided to trade out your carrots for an extra bag of spinach in addition to choosing one item of your choice like garlic, or string beans.
- More flexibility! – as our CSA continues to grow we are hoping to incorporate more flexibility into the system. We’re planning to do some research over the winter into the types of systems other CSA farms have created to account for their shareholders missed baskets and vacations. If you have any ideas that you think might work for both us and you let us know.
Finally, Your questions answered….
Can we grow more fruit?
Yes! We are working towards eventually offering a veggie share AND a fruit share. After talking with other CSA farms this seems to be the norm so shareholders who want veggies only can still get them and those who want to pay a bit more for fruit can add this option to their share.
We are trialing many different varieties of fruit and nut trees that we’ve bought, planted and tended over the past three years including Asian pears, European pears, apples, plums, apricots, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, hickories, goji berries, saskatoon berries, haskaps, cherries, currants and even cold hardy peaches. Last year we harvested our first hazelnut (it was seriously pretty exciting!) and are hopeful for increased production over the next 2-5 years. Our next project is to construct a large deer fence around the entire orchard as it seems our four legged neighbours have a fondness for the young tender shoots of the many fruit trees.
We have had great success with our small patch of strawberries and elderberries and plan to expand our production (it takes about 1 year to establish the plants before you can do a major harvest).
As you already know we’ve been harvesting apples from the trees that were planted on our farm several decades ago. Each year we get a few trees with ‘good’ apples that we can harvest from and currently we’re doing research into scab prevention and how to detect/prevent the brown spots that we sometimes find inside.
Raspberries have been VERY TRICKY because in organic production we don’t spray fungicides so we have lost many berries to different molds and even if we do get good ones, once they’re picked they are extremely susceptible to further molding unless properly refrigerated (and the very specific type of refrigerated storage they require is very expensive on a commercial scale). We’ll see what the future holds on our farm for these tasty treats but for now we’re concentrating on the above crops.
How do we decide what goes to market and what goes to CSA?
There is actually really very little decision making that goes on in this area. We ALWAYS prioritize CSA over markets. We save our best quality produce for CSA. In fact, in the dead of winter make a separate plan and do separate plantings for each venue. The plantings may be right beside for one another but we have some nifty programs that allow us to estimate the number of ‘row feet’ we need to plant of each crop, like carrots. From there, we always plant about 10-20% MORE than we think we’ll need to account for poor germination, pests or disease etc. Sometimes, if we have a really good crop of something we grow for CSA we will bring the surplus to market (2011: watermelons!) but if something else doesn’t do well we will harvest what was intended for market and give it to CSA (2011: eggplants). If we get better yields than anticipated for both our market and CSA planting we may even try to sell this surplus to restaurants (2011: potatoes).
Why are your sweet potatoes so CRAZY looking?
Welllll…. you know those perfect looking ones in the grocery store? They have been grown on farms that specialize in growing sweet potatoes, probably by the tens, if not hundreds of acres. We grow less than 10 acres of veggies TOTAL. Within those ten acres we grow 200+ varieties of over 30 different crops. That means we need the skills/equipment/fertility/soil type etc. to grow ALL of these crops on a small scale. Sweet potatoes like a very fine loam with few obstructions to grow around. Our soil is full of glacial till (tons – literally – of rocks deposited by receding glaciers about 10,000 years ago). While we can amend fertility, buy the right tools, and do lots of research we can’t really change our soil type so we get some pretty funky looking roots growing around all those rocks. But the plus is that our heavy clay soil holds in lots of nutrients and healthy goodness that makes for some pretty ‘sweet’ potatoes, carrots, beets etc.
Can you grow mushrooms?
Growing mushrooms on a commercial scale requires a great deal of specialized know how and infrastructure. Before we broaden our horizons into the world of fungi we want to concentrate our energy on the great diversity of veggies we grow and nurturing our young berry, nut and fruit plantings.
When can I sign up for 2012?
We hope to have sign up available ON-LINE by January 15th. Stay posted on our website.
Thanks everyone for your support this season – we look forward to continuing this great journey of local, sustainable food growing and eating with you.
Kylah, Zach & Dayvah
- Debbie Ryan on Garlic Scape Pesto
- Introducing : Rainbow Heritage Garden | The Wellness Group Blog on About Shares
- Cait on CSA 2011: End of Year Wrap Up!
- Monica on LAST WEEK: CSA – Wednesday October 12th, 2011 – Week #16
- Kalyn on CSA – Week #13 – Wednesday, September 21 (updated!)
- Back 50
- fair wage
- farm crew
- farm tour
- Growing Up
- kale chips
- love letter
- raw kale salad
- Red Canoe Cage
- summer salads
- Taste of the Valley
- the letter writing revolution