More people are buying a piece of their local farm
Willimantic Chronicle, 27 May 2010
By MIKE SAVINO
ABOVE: Erica Andrews, right, the owner of Hurricane Farm in Scotland with her husband Christopher, allows Jasper Cote, 2, to hold a baby chicken.
BELOW: Andrews gives a steer named ‘Mert’ a rub on the cheek. The farm is part of an effort to increase community supported agriculture by allowing people to purchase a share of the crops at the beginning of each year.
WILLIMANTIC CHRONICLE, 27 May 2010
By MIKE SAVINO
Chronicle Staff Writer
With a shaky economy, people are looking for other ways to invest their money, ways that can get them more immediate returns.
In some cases, those returns are not cash — but food grown on local farms.
Many farms around the country, including some locally, are reaching out to residents for investments or volunteers, a collaborative effort known as “ community supported agriculture” — or CSA.
In a CSA, supporters typically provide funding to farmers in exchange for food. Some farms also welcome people to work on the farm a few hours a week instead of investing money.
“Every CSA is different, and it’s up to the farm,” said Erica Andrews, who owns Hurricane Farm in Scotland along with her husband, Christopher Andrews.
Andrews said she and her husband starting seeking investors last year and were able to purchase a grain bin for Hurricane Farm, which offers grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, maple syrup and other products to its customers.
She said the farm had 13 investors in the first year, but that number grew to 20 this year — including four who work two hours a month. She still has a waiting list.
“Lately, the curiosity has been growing, growing, growing,” Andrews said.
Steven Preli, owner of West Green Farm in Lebanon, said the idea is “just starting to catch on” in Connecticut, but other states have embraced the idea for years.
Preli, who also said he started selling shares last year, said he listed his on a web site www.localharvest.org promoting small local farms.
Local Harvest claims its database of CSAs — which also includes Hurricane Farm and Bird Song Farm in Hampton — has more than 2,500 farms across the country that engage in some form of a CSA. Investments typically are under $500.
Bruce Kittredge, owner of Bird Song Farm, said his farm is not a “classical CSA,” though, and he instead uses the site to help cultivate a list of customers who can purchase produce before he sells his produce elsewhere.
He said people can become “ overwhelmed” by farms sending the same item on a regular basis and he sends out newsletters notifying them when produce is available for purchase.
“This way here, they get what they want and pay for what they get,” he said.
Kittredge said he strives for diversity among the fruits and vegetables on his farm, which is no more than 3 acres.
He said a typical CSA would produce too much produce to focus on quantity and diversity.
Preli said a CSA is not a good approach for all farms, but he said he strives to avoid boring his investors by also planting a variety of fruits and vegetables.
“That box will be filled with what’s in season,” he said about his deliveries to shareholders.
Andrews, meanwhile, said farmers need to ensure they have enough products to meet promises to shareholders and other buyers, even if the farm experiences difficulties.
“I want room for failure,” she said. “I want room for that fox that takes out half my turkeys.”
Investors do risk purchasing shares during a bad year, which means they might not get back the produce or meat they expected.
But Andrews and Preli said they limit the number of shareholders to ensure they can meet, and even exceed, those promises.
They also said those investments, when collected in the winter, can provide money for supplies during the growing season.
Without CSAs, farmers need to focus more on budgeting their money throughout the year.
“It gets you income at a time when your not really getting any,” Preli said.
The town of Lebanon has even starting encouraging residents to invest by securing grants and dividing them up for residents to purchase shares at local farms.
Lebanon Town Planner Phil Chester said the conservation commission recently awarded two $500 grants and is in the process of looking for more grants.
“ I hope it’s the way of the future,” he said, adding a CSA helps farmers because it “takes away the middle man.”
He said investors benefit, meanwhile, because they can know get to know their farmer and know how their food is produced.
Preli, Andrews and Bruce all agreed they have seen an increase in consumers interested in knowing where their food comes from, whether it is at farmers markets, smaller grocery stores or through CSAs.
“I would say the number one selling factor is that they know the farmer,” Bruce said about his customers.