GEORGETOWN A trend among organic produce farmers is to enter a contractual relationship with their customers known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Basically, the customer makes a lump sum payment in the spring and the farmer agrees to deliver a box of fresh veggies every week, all summer long. By making the decision to pre-pay for your fresh, wholesome, organic food at the beginning of the farming season, you gain a sense of calm from making a wise investment, it puts you at ease with healthy eating, and ultimately, you have contributed to stabilizing the local food economy. As our family farm, Elmwood Stock Farm, began developing this business model, we have seen a symbiosis emerge. The relationship between the grower and CSA shareholder goes well beyond numbers on a spreadsheet. The true value is almost immeasurable.
To Start, an Investment
The seasonality of cropping systems in Kentucky calls for large cash outlays in late winter and early spring to bring the greenhouses to life and for the fertile fields to bear fruit. Seeds, rhizomes, potting media, propane, diesel, irrigation supplies, and the willing hands to manage all the moving parts must be paid for long before the cash flow from vibrant farmers markets starts coming. Our CSA shareholders) investment in us provides firm financial footing to begin the season. With a strong CSA, not only do we avoid the interest payments of a loan, we avoid the hassle, documentation, and headaches of servicing that loan. Rather, we have a warm and transparent relationship with our shareholders. We grow the food with each of them in mind.
Our Food Responsibility
With the awkward financial part out of the way, we can focus on growing food. We can get bulk discounts, we can lay in supplies ahead of the busy season, and we can be timely in our operations. We move through the day with pride and determination, our minds free to make clear decisions. The customer gets to revel in the anticipation of what each week’s CSA share might bring. You know your kale and your tomatoes are being tended to, awaiting just the right time to be harvested and delivered to you. Chances are, you will be paying more attention to the weather since your little plants are out there in it.
When you are a CSA shareholder, how food is grown is more prominent in your mind. CSA shareholders are often more seasonal eaters, look for organic first when shopping, enjoy experimenting with new recipes, and play with food. Over time CSA shareholders learn to keep it simple and let the freshness and flavors of the foods speak for themselves.
The most valuable part of our contract with shareholders is the shared relationship with food for health. One reason people join the Elmwood Stock Farm CSA is to learn more about how food is grown, not just who their farmer is. By investing in us, you can avoid genetically modified organisms lurking in the picture-perfect sweet corn, squash, and zucchini, or avoid food grown with the release of toxic pesticides into the environment, much less those toxins being applied to the food itself. You can eat in peace because we are diligent about organic!
Rarely does a weekend go by that a customer does not come to the farmers market and say, “My doctor told me to start eating what you have for sale.” Let the food be thy medicine. A recent University of Kentucky study shows CSA subscribers spend less time in a doctor’s office and lots less on pharmaceuticals than the average Kentuckian. We partner with several companies and institutions that subsidize employees’ CSA shares with our organic farm to promote healthy eating and, by extension, a healthy lifestyle, figuring it will pay dividends in the long run. (Contact us if you’d like to talk about a voucher program or employer-sponsored health benefit for your employees.)
Essentially, many of the top preventable causes of death are diet and lifestyle related. Be it sugar, bad fat, preservatives and additives, or residual toxins, you won’t find them in the food that Elmwood Stock Farm provides to you.
Your CSA investment places a stake in the ground, literally and figuratively. By uniting with other investors, there can be a shift in the local food economy. Collectively voting with your food dollars this way spurs organic methods research, gives us access to equipment and supplies, and ultimately economies of scale kick in to produce food the way we do. The tentacles of your investment reach well beyond the farm gate. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy – a paradigm shift in the making.
Early Season Start-Up
We have begun awakening the sleeping giant we call soil. Greenhouses are warm and starting to fill up with trays of seedlings. Boxes and bags of expensive organic seed are being delivered daily. The financial and moral support of our CSA members puts a little pep in our step. Our customers know those flavorful strawberries, tasty tomatoes, and the super sweet corn are waiting, a weekly birthday surprise, of sorts. Seems like a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship to us.
Mac Stone, his wife, Ann Bell Stone, and extended family operate Elmwood Stock Farm in Scott County, Ky. Mac was the executive director of marketing for the KY Dept. of Agriculture, administering the Kentucky Proud program among many others. He is former chair of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards Board. His focus is on farming and marketing organic foods for the family and working with non-profit agriculture and food organizations. Mac can be reached at 859.621.0756.