This blog post goes out to all you growers out there.  I was inspired to write about this after connecting with several Grow Appalachia participants at our recent event in Laurel Co.  We were discussing how it can be challenging to convince our gardeners to participate in a farm stand in some of these rural areas.  We looked at the economics of folks driving all the way across a huge county to bring some veggies to a shared market stand in hopes of making enough money to even cover gas for the journey.  We agreed that  this wasn’t exactly feasible for alot of folks considering the markets they were participating in aren’t necessarily large, established markets with lots of consumers. In response to this, I would like to share some of the things we have tried at Watershed Farm of BDVP.

Now first of all, we are not located in a rural area and travel isn’t as big of an issue for us as in some other places.  However, as a former market grower, I can certainly sympathize with the idea of harvesting a bunch of nice looking produce only to bring it to market and let it sit wilting in the heat (or in coolers…but, it is still losing shelf life) for a few hours looking pitiful only to bring it right back home with you.  This just doesn’t seem time or energy efficient in a lot of cases… particularly for small growers.

One option that we have found around this is by offering a pre-ordered “share” to a few specific consumers.  A share is basically a basket of seasonal produce (valued at a certain dollar amount) that we put together and give directly to our customer.  We have several folks that will order a basket of whatever is in season  and enjoy the surprise of discovering it’s contents at pick up.  They also enjoy the challenge of having to experiment with different vegetables they may not have considered purchasing individually. 

This idea is modeled after the concept of Community Supported Agriculture or CSA.  Some farmers opt to pre-sell season long shares in their harvest at the beginning of the season. This share entails a weekly pick-up of produce that can last anywhere from 8 weeks to 22 weeks to… in some cases….all year long (impressive)! The value of the “CSA” basket can begin at $10 up to $30 or even $50 depending on the contents of the share (meats, eggs, fruits, dairy).  This is the ultimate local grocery and some consumers are happy to purchase these shares as they are unable to grow their own and want to support local producers by eating seasonal, healthy food.  We can see why this model is so beneficial to farmers.  If we are aware of what we have already sold before we harvest (or in some cases plant) that cuts back on waste and gives us more of an incentive to market our crops.

I really wasn’t interested in committing to provide for a long term CSA so, I offer shares by the week of whatever is in season at our farm.  I have 2 customers that are happy to receive a share every week and a couple of others who purchase a share once or twice a month. Shares are $25 each and are probably worth a little more than that to sweeten the deal.  Even though our farm is not certified organic, we grow our produce using organic methods and our consumers know that.  They are happy to pay a premium for our crops.  I just love the CSA model because it is a great way for us to make a little extra money off of our surplus produce without the stress of managing a traditional farmers market stand.

Our most recent share included:
4-5 cucumbers
3 yellow squash
3 zucchini
1 bunch beets
1 bunch of onions
2 heads of garlic
3 pounds of potatoes
3 large green tomatoes
4-5 peppers
a HUGE bunch of basil (enough for pesto)

….sometimes I include flowers in the basket for fun
….or berries if they are in season

Grow Appalachia project sites may be able to help facilitate this option for their grower participants by handling sales and/or marketing shares for some growers. Perhaps site managers who are operating through a farmers market already can accept EBT money for shares and reimburse growers. Another great option is for growers to find a couple of folks, neighbors, co-workers, friends from church who might like to purchase a weekly share from time to time.  It may be as easy as calling up or emailing these folks when you’ve got produce coming out of your ears and letting them know. I know that it is important to give away produce and share with neighbors to build community.  This is awesome but, it is also ok to let folks give back to the garden or the grower in some way (I am also a huge fan of bartering for vegetables!) for their hard work.    Growing is hard work, it is an investment of time energy and even cash at times.  If you were able to sell 2- $15 shares a week for 4 weeks in the summer when you have more veggies then you can handle… that’s $120 made off the garden that can be re-invested the following season. I mean this may not necessarily make a huge amount of income but, it could create more and more opportunities for self sufficiency….. If seeds and supplies are paid for by the previous year’s crop….then it really is a community supported agriculture project! 

I’m just putting this out there because it has been a very manageable option for us. We are able to bring in a little cash without a ton of extra work. Maybe this could work for some of the other sites… never know until you try!