CSA farms booming in statePublished 12:04pm Monday, April 8, 2013
As the owner of Bluebird Gardens for many years, Mark Boen decided in 2010 to make a switch from selling his vegetables along roadside stands to creating a community supported agriculture program.
The response, Boen said, has been “amazing” and “wonderful,” Boen said. It’s been exciting and the intensity of the program is good, he said.
“Word of mouth is terrific,” he said. “What we love is the intense connection people have with the farm.”
Bluebird Gardens is among the rapidly expanding roster of CSAs in the state, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
This year, there are more here than ever before, at least 100 compared to just eight in 2004 and 42 in 2009, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which publishes an annual directory called Minnesota Grown. The Seward Co-op in Minneapolis will hold a CSA fair on April 13 that will include more than 30 farms, including Untiedt’s. The co-op has been hosting the fair for 12 years and has seen a growing number of farms interested in participating.
“They have exploded,” said the state’s Paul Hugunin, who supervises the local foods directory. “We have seen dramatic growth sustained over a decade. It’s an appealing model and something consumers want. It’s a way to have the closest relationship with a farm.”
The CSAs for Boen’s program have grown rapidly over the past four years, growing from 452 members in year one to hopefully surpassing 2,000 this year, Boen said. He’s also excited about the boom across the state.
“People now want to knw where their food comes from and the CSA provides a model for that,” Boen said.
The CSA model offers practical benefits for the farms themselves, too, Hugunin said, since it adds a little predictability to an inherently unpredictable endeavor. The benefit is in “knowing how many customers you have, and knowing they’ve paid up front,” he said.
This can be especially advantageous to farmers when there is a weather problem, a drought, flood or early frost, the sort of dramatic weather events that seem to be more common as the climate changes. Generally speaking, customers who sign up for a CSA subscription are predisposed to cheerfully ride the ups and downs of farming.
“Last year, the weather affected every farmer at some level, depending on what they grew and where they grew it,” said Hugunin, referring to the drought that enveloped much of the state. “If you have a CSA, you are structured to handle that better. Customers are in with you.”
Jerry Untiedt, of Untiedt’s Vegetable Farm in Waverly, isn’t so worried about dramatic weather. His high tunnels protect his plants from hail, heavy rains and high winds. And whether the CSA bolsters his farm’s bottom line remains to be seen. “Since we had a lot of experience in retail, selling directly to the public, we thought this would be a good fit,” said Untiedt. “But it’s very labor-intensive. The jury is still out.”