after 15+ years of doing farmers markets 2011 will be the last year we do this as in 2012 Boulder Belt Eco-Farm will go over to doing CSA as its' main source of income. This will be a huge change for us but we have found over the years that farmers markets have made us less and less money for the past 3 years and we find we really don't like the "crap shoot" at market as far as marketing goes. By this I mean we have no way of knowing what will sell at a particular market so if is rare that we harvest just what the market demands and too often go home with a lot of produce, much of it that needs to be tossed onto the compost pile.
With a CSA that does not happen. The farmer knows exactly how much to harvest so there is little to no waste. And the farmer knows what to plant as well because the farmer knows how many share holders they will be growing for months before the season starts.
We have been doing a CSA on and off (we took off 2 years after we moved to this farm) for the past 14 years. We are one of the oldest CSA's in the state of Ohio and yet until very recently we really did not take the CSA part of our market strategy very seriously. We would tend to give more emphasis to the farmers market as we saw that as our cash cow and the CSA as a back-up. And until this year I feel this was the correct thing to do as we would usually struggle to get and maintain members. And we were making 75% of our income from the Oxford Farmers Market Uptown and only 25% from the CSA (or less).
But 3 years ago this started to change. We were finally able to get more than 10 members and we were retaining over 80% of our members from year to year and taking on new members each year. And we noticed this year that the CSA was taking in a lot more than 25% of our annual gross income. AND we were getting unsolicited requests to join our Farm Share Initiative towards the end of our season. Unfortunately due to a horrendous growing season this year we could not take on any new members to our FSI but we are able to take new members for our Winter Share Program and so far have picked up 5 brand new members.
The fact that we now have a waiting list was what pushed us into doing the CSA full bore for 2012. This is a brand new thing for us and we like it, a lot. In the past we have been slow to change. For years we did part time work at a horse barn (me giving lessons, grooming horses, training horses and catch riding for shows. Eugene was repairing fences & building, running tractors and other maintenance jobs). We did not think while we were working at that farm that it was keeping us from expanding the farm. But once we quit Boulder Belt started growing fast and we became full time farmers. Granted we were not getting rich from the farm and we still are not) but we went from netting, say, $4K a year to making a more livable wage (okay, for many it still would not be a livable wage but we live very, very cheaply so it works for us as long as we stay away from most luxuries like vacations.). We expect the same phenomena will happen now that we have made the decision to drop our last farmers market and concentrate on the CSA. Only time will tell.
If you are looking for a CSA home and are in the Greater Dayton (OH) region check us out at http://www.boulderbeltfarm.com and click on the Farm Share link in the side bar