Panel suggests operators model CSAs to fit conditions

AFP Correspondent

HERSHEY, Pa. (March 14, 2016) — Three very different panel members shared their experiences with CSA operations in a session at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention.
Samantha Jany, Brown Dog Produce, Cranbury; Julie Pierre, Our Yards Farm, Audubon; and Robert Muth, Muth Family Farms, Williamstown; all varied by CSA size, years in operation and type of farming. Each is in New Jersey.
Although diverse, each demonstrated positive philosophies. Jany adapted her busy schedule to have more produce ready early in June.
Pierre stressed interpersonal relationships. She said, “I make a point to be present at every pickup.” Muth noted that most people do not know how to cook, but desire creative choices.
Consequently, he strives to accommodate the ‘foodies’ even though his crops won’t click with certain people. “Purslane, for example,” he illustrates. Produce such as easily grown radishes, which sport pink, purple, white and black skins as well as red, was suggested.
The group agreed, however, that CSAs are not for everyone.
As growers know, some crops fail. These farmers acknowledged that failure is not an option. “It must work,” they indicated collectively, because they have received people’s money.
Pierre suggested backup plans and establishing and working with a network of colleagues in the event of shortages.
Jany noted the need to stand out in view of competition. Exemplary service and something unique can be vital. However, she tried assembling an attractive salad mix. But, “It didn’t sell,” she reported.
Muth cautioned, “Test the water before jumping in.”
Session moderator Michelle Infante-Casella, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, noted to the audience that value-added products may be subject to the preventive controls rules of the Food Safety and Modernization Act.
When the discussion turned to containers, baskets, market style and share sizes, there was agreement that all play a part. Pierre tried coolers, but quickly discovered many members did not return them. Muth emphasized not getting “bogged down” and suggested looking at ways to streamline the packing.
Jany said that her yellow peck baskets work well for her corporate members. The number of baskets depends on the share size. She delivers during the members’ lunch breaks.
Whether using drop points, or if members pick up their shares, can determine if pre-packing should be available. Pierre noted that in her first year she preboxed everything, which proved to be efficient.
Muth said that he uses signs to notify his members on what they can take. Also, the operator must be flexible—adaptation to shortages and/or bumper crops is important to CSA success.
In addition, if bolstering your own crops with another farm’s produce, the group stressed informing their members. “Be transparent,” was underscored, particularly if the other farm or farms do not employ the same practices regarding pesticide usage.
The group recognized the benefits of onfarm events, but cautioned that often they were too time-constrained.
Jany said her husband’s schedule now prohibits her event planning. Pierre pointed out that she has a shareholder who contributes canning classes to her CSA.
All agreed that onfarm dinners are popular, but particularly time-consuming.
Farm tours also offer marketing opportunities but can easily get too demanding.