As we prepare more of the paddocks for planting and keep on top of the seed sowing and transplanting schedule, we move closer towards our harvest season. Our CSA shares for the Summer season are now available through our online farm store!
We are excited that our CSA Summer Share boxes will be starting on Wednesday 30th November. The Summer Share will run for 15 weeks and then will be followed for a 15 week Autumn Share.
In taking the time last year to thoroughly evaluate our business - reviewing everything from the health of our soil, the quality and variety of our crops, our business model and our financial viability, we thought alot about our CSA model, pondering the advantages and disadvantages. We are often asked why we do not have a farm store? Why don't we sell our produce at markets? Why do people who would like to buy our produce need to sign up to our CSA?
Currently on the Mornington Peninsula, there is not a consistent weekly farmers market. There are many markets available throughout the month but they are in different locations on different days of the week. While we did consider trying to attend the accredited farmer's markets, it is impossible to grow produce for harvest on two days each month. And if we took to traveling to a different market each week, it would be very hard to establish a consistent clientele who would know and value our produce. This was one of the first reasons we choose the CSA model. We wanted to connect with those consuming our produce. And we wanted to provide them the opportunity to interact with where and how their food was grown.
Once we started our CSA, we realised that one of the biggest differences between this model and the way we had sold the produce from our first farm in 2003, was the concept of market value. We had experienced the stress of the rise and fall of market value with our first potato crop. There are many variables in farming which are completely out of the farmer's control. We could bear up to those that came with nature. But it was disheartening when the variables controlling the "worth" of your produce could offer you a fair income one week and then not even make it worth the effort to harvest the next. But market value extends to the consumer too. How is it that the first season tomatoes or zucchini or beans are so much more then those later in the season? We enjoyed that through our CSA model, our produce was removed from market value. Instead we have based the cost of the share on the actual true cost of growing the food, using biodynamic and organic methods, hand tending, hand harvesting. It has taken us several years to work out what this "true" cost is. And it has also taken us several years to become better growers. I feel as if throughout the process, our CSA members supported us and in return they received wonderful produce at a great price per kilo.
And here we are today with award winning produce. Why don't we open a farm store, making our produce available to our greater community without them committing to our season? While I appreciate that there are many people within our community who would like to support our farm but do not want to join our CSA, we cannot quite get our heads around having a farm gate. Firstly, we would need to build a farm stand closer to the front gate and then ensure it was always attended to protect the quality of the produce (and honesty in payment). But another draw back to the farm gate in our opinion is the first come first serve nature of it. At this time, our harvest is completely divided fairly between all of our members - whether they are the first to pick up their box or the last. They all receive the same. I love this concept of sharing. I also love that there is virtually no waste within this system. We are not left at the end of the week with extra produce. And if we do have a huge surplus, we give it away to several organisations within our community which offer meals to those in need.
Another reason why our produce is so tasty, nutrient dense and also why we can grow it without chemicals is our crop rotation plan. We have a ten year crop rotation which ensures great diversity and balance throughout our farm. While we have spent the past five years gathering information about what our CSA members like and what they would like less of, and we have used these guidelines to plan our crops, our crop rotation does limit what we can grow. The CSA boxes allow for the diversity. We are unsure if a farm stand would.
Commitment and shared value. Our CSA members pay in advance for their produce. Their payment comes when we have spent thousands on seed, have already invested hundreds of hours nurturing crops, have purchased additional specialised tools and/or new systems which allow us to grow better. All of these costs happen throughout Winter and early Spring. And in return for their commitment, we grow the best food that we can. We put row covers on and off each day...sometimes three times a day...to try and ensure early season warm weather crops. We shade crops to help them withstand the intense summer sun. We seek out the best tasting varieties. We share the triumphs and the struggles of the season. We establish a community that has the health of its food and of the system that grows it at its core. This is a very different system to that of a farm gate. It is quite amazing!!
I would like to have more options for the community to access local food. But for this year, we are only offering our CSA. Within that model, though, there are options. Members can receive their share weekly or fortnightly. They can share their box with a friend. They can choose the zucchini they want or the size carrots they like. They can swap items with other members at pick up. They can have a say in what we grow by communicating with us about what they have liked and what they would have liked more of.
This season, we have also made the decision to only offer our Market Style Farm Pick-up of our CSA boxes - no longer delivering them. While we understand that this decision may prohibit some of our past CSA members from supporting our farm – we feel that having members come to the farm to collect their produce offers our CSA members more choice and furthers our goal of connecting people to the farm, how it changes with the seasons, how the crops are growing and how the season affects the harvest.
Our farm continues to evolve. The CSA model is a new concept to most Australians. We have sought to educate the community about its benefits. We hope that the community continues to support a model based on reciprocity. Our experience thus far shows that farmers can grow great food in a sustainable manner which directly benefits the community supporting them.
If you would like to learn more about our CSA and join our Summer Share – the boxes are now available on our website Farm Store. We continue to reflect on how best to serve our community while farming in the way that we do. We feel supported by our CSA members who work together through joining our CSA for the season, sharing the pick ups and/or sharing boxes to make this model work for all of us. If you are interested in communicating with other CSA members about these options, please request to join the Transition Farm CSA facebook group
As our CSA season gears up, it is interesting to compare our small scale, regenerative farming practices and the hand tended vegetables we harvest to this NY Times Magazine photo essay of large scale industrial farming. The UN states that small scale farming can feed the world.
Sending our best wishes for a fruitful growing season!
Robin and Peter