The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

CSA and Eating in Season

June CSA

I've been wanting to write a post about what we've learned from a summer experimenting with CSAs, but the taboo against speaking honestly about money has held me back.  Every time I start the post, I realize I need to go check on the chickens, or sweep the floor, or wash my hair.  :-) 

What is a CSA?

CSA stands for community supported agriculture.  Basically, customers pay a certain fee for a weekly basket of produce with the understanding that they will share the eccentricities of the harvest --- if the cucumbers all die of bacterial wilt (they did), then there won't be any cucumbers; and if the winter squash produce enough fruits to feed an army (they did too), then the customers will eat a lot of winter squash.  Customers get the benefit of fresh (organic in many cases) produce from a farmer they know and trust and farmers get the benefit of cutting out the middleman and being able to depend on a definite income in a risk-prone industry.

Check out Local Harvest to find a CSA near you.  Or, as a first step toward learning to eat local, visit our What's in Season? page to learn what's farm fresh right now.

So let's get the money out of the way --- we've made $533 this year on our CSA and eggs, which is vastly less than the $3,260 we've spent on the farm this year.  (Though, that last number is not really a valid comparison since it includes everything from chicken feed and seeds to fence materials and the generator we just bought.  Gotta keep more detailed records next year.)  We would have made more, but two of our three customers spent several months out of town.

What have we learned? 

  1. CSAs are cost-efficient when you have one nearby customer, become a pain in the butt when you have 2-5 CSA customers scattered across the region, and presumably become cost effective again at a certain number above that (though we never tried to get that high.)
  2. Our rural customers are not interested in paying a lump sum up front to be a member of a CSA.  But they are willing to pay $25 a week to get a basket of whatever goodies are in season.  They understand that the basket will be bigger some weeks than others.
  3. July CSA
  4. It's a waste of time and energy to ask your customers what they like and dislike.  Chances are, the things they "dislike" will actually be eaten quite readily if you give them some useful cooking hints and minutes-old produce.  That said, on our very small scale it's good to ask them the next week what they liked the most from last week's basket.

What will we do next year?  We'll stick to our one nearby customer --- having an extra $100 every month makes everything nicer and is really no more work than gardening for ourselves.  Mark wants to try out a cash crop next year (maybe pumpkins or sweet potatoes) to bring in a bit more "egg money" instead.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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