Jordan Marr of The Homestead Organic Farm: The Value of a CSA
In retrospect, it was overly ambitious--naive too, and a tad presumptuous--to establish a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in the first year of our farm business in the Okanagan. Vanessa and I had just relocated from Vancouver Island to a lease and cooperative farm management arrangement with Joe and Jess Klein at The Homestead Organic Farm in Peachland. We wanted to grow veggies, and we wanted a CSA to be the foundation of our sales.
CSAs vary in structure, but the basic premise is that customers pay up front to receive a farm's produce, usually in weekly installments, for a whole season. The concept reorients the farmer-eater relationship. Participants develop closer ties to the source of their food, and, in committing for the season, help make the unpredictable nature of farming a little less so. CSAs tend to provide veggies at their freshest, but there are what some consider to be tradeoffs: generally, customers don't get to choose what they receive each week, and many programs require pick-up at the farm.
CSAs tend to work best when you already know your customers, your land, and your region. Starting out, Vanessa and I were ignorant on all three counts**. Who knew, for instance, that most of Peachland is on the side of a mountain, with roads squirrelling off in every direction? We had two delivery days per week for our 24 weekly customers. We let people choose their delivery day, which meant we couldn't divide up the route according to geography; each time, we had to drive the same 45 km route. The free delivery we offered killed us, and all the hills killed our (crappy) truck's clutch and brakes. Coming from the coast, we had no experience growing veggies here in Canada's sand box, and had a number of crop failures that made supplying our customers a bit stressful some weeks.
But oh, man did we learn a lot that first season (like: people generally have an unhealthy hate on for kohlrabi) and, well into our third season, our program is thriving. We've now got 45 families participating, who, through their feedback and support, have brought us closer to our goal of becoming CSA ninjas. We're growing a lot less kohlrabi now, and have introduced new features that make the program more appealing for everyone involved. Along the way, we've engaged in a dialogue with our customers about the experience of producing food, and some of the wider concerns within our food system. We do this in our popular weekly newsletter, which shares photos, updates, and cooking advice from the farm.
We'll likely continue to refine how we deliver our CSA, but the basic concept is here to stay in our business. It's a meaningful way to grow food, and it has helped us establish our business in its nascent years. We have our subscribers to thank for that.
**Plus some other counts. Among them: maritime history; Broadway show tunes; really good picnic spots.