On the value-added CSA

It’s been about a year ago now that some friends* convinced me they needed to pay for my food.

(This food of course was a gift before that date.  Yes, I have some dumb friends.)

There was a tipping point, though.  Excess vegetables are something most gardeners experience at one point or another (case in point:  zucchini), and even four chickens can produce more eggs than three people can reasonably consume per week.  But if you combine large gardens with year-round greenhouses, a lot of laying hens and then throw a milking animal into the works, well…excess is not the proper term any longer.  It’s something else.

Over the last year I have formalized the process of purchase.  I have a somewhat small a la carte list wherein other friends purchase items individually.  But my stalwart “customer” friends get a box of goodies per week.  A typical box-scheme CSA is usually where a set fee is paid upfront for a season of weekly boxes, and you get what you get, fresh, of what is harvested.  My setup is  different than the typical model.

I maintain the “get what you get” thing because I am truly not a masochist, despite years of blogging evidence to the contrary.  But I do it with a weekly fee, usually paid by the month (and the month has either 4 or 5 weeks in it, so the fee fluctuates accordingly).  And because my gardens are big but not huge, the food that goes in the weekly boxes is not all what’s harvested per week.  Instead, that’s where the “value-added” label comes in.

So the typical year-round share is:  a quart of yogurt and about 10 ounces of herbed chevre.  A quart of vegetarian soup or a quart of veg ferment (sauerkraut, kimchi, sauerruben, lact0-fermented beets) and a loaf of whole-wheat sourdough bread.  A gallon bag of salad (herbs at the bottom) and a gallon bag of other greens.  A dozen eggs.  And finally one canned good item (jam, chutney, salsa, tomato sauce, beans, peaches, applesauce, etc.).  Year-round fluctuations are in the vegetable/fruit kingdom: more garden-fresh to less, more stored-veg (squash, potatoes) to less.  It works, my friends are happy.

And my gardens and animals pay for themselves now…in fact, they’re creating a profit.

*”Friends” is completely accurate.  I would not do this with people I do not know and trust.  The sale of raw milk and its products is illegal, and indeed, my friends know the risk of consuming it.  They also help around the farm.  The payments help them (they know the value of the food, and therefore think it’s only fair) and they help my hobby’s bottom line.

9 responses to “On the value-added CSA

  1. This is my first year with a CSA. Like yours it’s value added and, also like yours, it was set up with a small number of shares for those we already have established relationships with in mind. And let me just say, though the season hasn’t even begun for us, I have determined that anyone with ANY kind of CSA is a masochist.

    This spring may kill me yet.

  2. I told some of my friends the variety of veggies I’m growing this year: swiss chard, 7-top turnips, ethiopian cabbage, 2 types cukes, 3 types of small watermelons, yard long bean, sweet onions, and 6 types of tomatoes. 2 that live in apartments want to buy veggies from me but I have a hard time convincing them that I need the labor more so than the money! Changing a lawn and yard into raised beds, small fruit “orchard” and hardscaping is a labor intensive endeavor. Although I have a large variety of plants, I’m only planting 2-3 of each plant to cut back on waste and the “What’s that? I don’t eat that!” factor. If this works out, I’ve been invited to share a booth at my local farmer’s market next year, so we’ll see…..

  3. I really like your value added plan with a WEEKLY fee. This can be a great way for friends to get their feet wet with a CSA. Thanks for sharing your plan and how it’s working for you!

  4. Really interesting to hear more of the details. We are at a transition stage torn between donating extra produce to a food pantry, or giving it to friends who appreciate it but also have plenty of access to just-as-good options. Also neighbors, which encourages good feelings when we have ongoing projects that might not look so lovely…

    I think for me the regular thing is the most appealing. Having occasional drop ins or having to ask people if they want stuff is a pain to me, I want a system where on X day people take what I have. I love the value-added idea too, bread and yogurt is such a great idea.

    • Yeah, Sara, that’s why I formalized it. I had an informal thing with some other parents at school. and I spent half my time either tracking them down, chasing the money AND the people, and let’s not start in on the IOUs. This was completely for the birds. Like, they’re doing me a favor…!

      But neighbors, bosses: I don’t count these people in on the list at all. Family either, come to think of it. They’re on the gratis list. And if anyone makes it out here to nowhere, you don’t go home empty-handed.

  5. So great – thanks for sharing! I just realized we sort of have this going on with my sister – on a MUCH smaller scale. For years they’ve been asking to buy spinach from us. We never let them. But this spring we offered to start selling eggs for the first time. They were the first takers (we could only sell to one person anyway). Then about a month in, two of our hens got killed by a fox. So this week, we were short on eggs and substituted spinach. Different of course, than a real CSA, but still along the same lines.
    I’m encouraged by this post. 😉

  6. Thanks for sharing your system El. You know I’m thinking about how this will work for me! I can’t wait to make a wood fired oven like yours!!!!!Especially since we’ll have a ready supply of wood that will regularly come down in windstorms.

  7. I like your CSA idea. We have been planning to give away our excess (assuming we ever have any) to friends and neighbours, but like you, a small CSA might be in the future.
    I have to say I’m impressed that you use the word “profit”. Around here in the small farm and homesteading circles, not many people will use that word. It’s become rather a ‘dirty’ word for some odd reasoning. I actually wrote a post about it on my blog yesterday. Good for you. Your customers will appreciate it.

  8. Hi All: I will be doing another post about the CSA soon (as soon as things calm down, baby-goat-love wise) to kind of fill you in on even more details. This might bore many of you but maybe it’ll drop some pearls of insight into those who might consider doing something yourselves.

    Well Ms Diana I suppose the secret is out, sort of. We do this because we don’t expect a cushy life…so in most folks’ eyes we can only be cray-zay. Eh (shrugs shoulders). I consider the alternative “crazy” around here and shuffling to the grocery store 2x a week along with all the other driving/chaperoning/hell, makeup-wearing, now that sounds terribly unattractive to me. I prefer my muddy boots and sore shoulders, naked face and good grub! But yeah, the weather is definitely pouring salt on the wound.

    JoAnna, I have always been amazed at how much more help just one extra pair of hands is in the garden, especially in those crucial early steps of putting the darn thing in. I think your list sounds lovely…I only wonder what Ethiopian cabbage is! But I do understand the “ick” factor and my counter to that is “how about some more garlic?”

    Donna Rae, indeed: it seems to make the most sense…but the monthly commitment also helps. The weekly thing helps ME too in those strange instances where next to nothing is harvestable (a rarity, but it happens) or when I am otherwise overwhelmed and need a break…or when THEY just can’t eat all the food in a week and want a reprieve!

    Sara, the other thing I forgot to mention about the weekly delivery (or pickup in most cases) is that goodness, sometimes I feel like the mailman after a 3 day weekend, or Lucy and what’s-her-name on the candy assembly line: there’s just SO MUCH and darn it the food needs to be eaten NOW.

    Anisa, I am glad to hear your sister has convinced you. I love the barter system myself and am on a barter thing with meat with two other families but yeah, sometimes money is the only thing that makes sense to people, even if they’re relatives! Anyway, I hope you’re encouraged, despite the hiccup like what happened to your poor chickies. It’s fun to share, however that sharing works out.

    Annette, I am so happy for you if going to the country is really where you’re going! And indeed the oven is a fabulous vehicle for using up windfall…in point of fact, fireplace logs are the worst things to stick in it because they burn so long and slowly. Anyway, I can just see your mental wheels turning…you must be so excited about ALL the possibilities, outreach-wise, family-wise, and knowledge-wise, that’ll soon come your way.

    Sharon, well, there’s no other word for it than profit, but really, it is just a hobby (albeit an all-consuming one at times). I am not sure with the land I have that I could make a go of this, financially, if it were the only thing going; I would need 20 more customers at least and I would need a lot more help. But indeed, everyone thinks it’s a fair trade, and everyone loves the food…and even though I’m not motivated especially by the money it’s helpful.

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