Just because vegetables aren’t growing outside right now doesn’t mean that the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmers are just sitting around. Sam Oschwald Tilton, fresh market vegetable specialist from FairShare CSA Coalition provides insight into what those farmers are doing during the winter and how customers can prepare for this year’s season.
A big thing that CSA growers are doing now during the winter is looking at seed and equipment catalogs. These growers need to order thousands of dollars worth of seeds, not to mention supplies such as potting soil, roll cover, tractor tires, greenhouse plastic, you name it. So the winter means a lot of time in the office.
“The other big thing they’re focusing on is how much they want to grow, how they’re going to rotate where it is planted, how much fertilizer they need to apply, having their soil test ready and much more,” says Tilton. “There’s a lot of things to be doing in the deep dead of winter but the other thing is farming during the season is a rush and there’s so much to do that I hope they relax a bit too.”
At the end of February, some greenhouses are getting fired up to start the longer growing produce. Then in March and into April, the transplants will be started in the greenhouse. By the middle of April, depending on the weather, farmers will get into their fields and work the soil for the first time.
CSAs are a great way to connect the producers with the consumers to help create a more profitable and transparent food system. For those who want to sign up for a CSA, there are a few things they should think about. Key things to consider are what produce you want, how often, where you’re located versus where the pickup or delivery is, and how much you’ll need for how often you want to receive produce.
“Those interested should sign up sooner than later as different years the membership list can fill up faster or slower,” says Tilton. “Each farm will have a website to learn more and sign up on as well as there are also great resources available.”
FairShare CSA Coalition has a tool on their website called Farm Search. This tool has a map of all CSA farms and allows you to sort them by different criteria. You can search by your address to see pickup locations near you, share size or type, and by season.
“The reason that a lot of beginning growers look at CSA is the financial stability,” explains Tilton. “From a consumer perspective, what you’re doing is you’re allowing a farmer the stability that they need to start up. You can imagine how hard it is to start any business, but especially something like farming that requires so many skills and so much capital investment.”
When members invest in a farm they’re giving the farmer the financial foundations that they need for that year, and in turn, the farmer shares with those members accordingly all that produce.