I started offering fresh Michigan produce to the public here in Central Michigan about 4 years ago through a roadside market. That has been successful and I've been surprised by the feedback and success that the farm market has had. I've been an entrepreneur on some level since I was a teenager and I've never seen a business get so much attention and do so well almost immediately.
I've met a lot of people in the produce and fruit market business and a great group of growers. I've learned a lot and I've met dozens of farmers, and market owners who were more than willing to offer tips and share advice, it's been fun.
One of the ways we would like to improve our Farm Market model is by offering a CSA program and I've been researching and planning for that for the last several months. When I've started any business I look for what I can do that isn't being done or how I can do it better. When I started the Markets I realized there wasn't a convenient way to get local Michigan produce that was fresh picked and grown naturally. Community farmers markets do offer fresh produce and some of it is locally grown, but they usually are only available a few hours a week. That schedule just doesn't work for everyone so I decided the best route to create a successful farm market would be an everday market that offered fresh produce.
The Central Michigan CSA
I admit that supplying this type of business model has been a challenge. I realized the only way to make it sustainable was to grow our own vegetables here on the farm, initially that wasn't the plan. Doing this is probably the most important factor that nudged me to start a Central Michigan CSA. I had found a few groups of growers who were really turning out some high quality food and prices were reasonable, so I thought that the buy and sell route would work. And it does, but the CSA program is better. And I won't have to spend so much money on Fuel, that started to get very expensive last year.
Success created the need to get more and more fresh produce and it had to be a daily thing. So obviously fuel was my main expense, probably more than the food in some cases.
This challenge and some other advantages I realized I could offer are what brought me to the conclusion that starting a Central Michigan CSA was a smart idea.
The Best CSA
It seemed to me, during my research that many of the successful csa programs here in Michigan were somewhat limited in what they offered. Many of them only offered vegetables grown on one farm or maybe a couple. Since starting our farm fresh markets I've developed a network of local producers, growers, and orchard owners to supply most every fruit and vegetable grown in Michigan. What if I could offer THAT through a Central Michigan CSA?
It seems to me this would create one of the best CSA programs available right out of the gate. There will be other items added, some we are working on right now. Eggs are one popular item we've found on some successful Michigan CSA programs and we want to offer them as well. When I do the math on the number of laying hens we would need, I start to think I might want to enlist the help of other local egg producers!
My Michigan CSA Program
One of the key elements to creating a successful business and servicing a need for the public is scalability. Success can be more destructive to a business than failure and I've learned that through experience. I've learned I'm a lot better off if my business can keep 10 customers very happy than if it were to keep 30 customers moderately satisfied.
When creating the plan for our CSA program we found ways to ensure that the program would be scalable. Obviously growing for 5 CSA member is predictable, but we wanted to make sure we had the opportunity to grow should membership interest warrent it, so we came up with a way to do that. What are we going to do? Well, we are going to plant more. The nice thing about our successful Michigan farm markets is that we can offer way more food through them than we can actually grow ourselves.
So we decided to grow here on our farm for a total of 75 CSA members and offer fresh produce for a minimum of 22 weeks. If we don't get the 75 members we will offer the vegetables at the Markets. That way nothing goes to waste.
Here is part of the offering plan starting Mid June:
- Farm Fresh Eggs
- Baked Goods
- Maple Syrup
- Green Onions
- Grean Beans
- And More.....
Moving into July we are looking at:
- Early Cabbage
- Cherries (sweet and tart)
- Egg Plant
- Green Beans
- and more....
Around August we will start seeing:
- Sweet Corn
- Peaches will continue along with blueberries and Cherries
- More Tomatoe Varieties
- Winter Squash
- Canning Quantities of: Beans, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Beets, Corn, and More.
- Winter Squash
- Pie Pumpkins
We usually end the season with winter squash, many varieties of apples, potatoes, onions, garlic,maple syrup, honey, pumpkins, cider, baked goods, and more.
I've also talked with a couple people about mushrooms. I love mushrooms and they are easy to pick large quantities, IF you know where they are. Problem is, I don't!
If you have access to a quality mushrooms and can provide them fresh at a fair (not cheap) price get in touch, I'd like to discuss offering them in our CSA program.
We also offer some canned foods at the market and will have some in our CSA program if folks are interested.
I'm always looking for feedback and much of what I've written about here is directly from feedback. If you've been a memeber in a CSA program or offer one, please let me know what you think. I appreciate your advice, questions or tips greatly.