LocalHarvest Newsletter, January 28, 2010

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

In most parts of the country, winter is CSA sign up season. With this month's issue of the newsletter, we're starting a four-part series on all things CSA, which will include articles on how to choose a CSA (February), what happens when CSAs go big (March) and how one farm's members are creating an alternate economy within the CSA community (April).

Earlier this month we participated in a workshop about the future of CSA at the EcoFarm Conference in Pacific Grove, CA. Putting together our presentation gave us the opportunity to dig deep into our CSA database and pull out some numbers we found quite interesting. Like: the average sized CSA in the U.S. has 96 members, but the median is 47. If it's been a while since statistics class, that means that half of all CSAs have more than 47 members, and half have fewer. There are a lot of small CSAs out there! What we notice from talking with a lot of CSA farmers is that many people start small with their CSA and then increase the number of shares they offer — sometimes quite rapidly — once their systems are in place and tested. From our vantage point, both the slow and careful start and the eventual growth are important elements of the economic viability of the model.

For those who like numbers, here are a few more. Of the 3,229 CSAs listed with LocalHarvest, we have 'size' data for 2766. Of those, 2,202 have 100 or fewer shareholders, another 504 offer 101 - 500 shares, and finally, 60 farms have more than 500 CSA members. Extrapolating from those numbers, we see that CSAs of 100 shareholders or less serve 25% of all CSA members in the country. Those in the 101 - 500 braket serve 52% of CSA members, and large CSAs of 500 or more supply 23% of all subscribers.

To put this in context, the total number of shares offered by our CSAs is about 390,000. That number represents one-half of one percent (0.5%) of all households in the U.S. That might not sound like a lot, but when we mapped out the growth curve, it was impressive! If the number of CSAs keeps growing at the same rate as CSAs have been joining our site over the last three years, by 2020, there will be over 18,000 CSAs in the U.S.

For even more fun, Guillermo animated the growth of CSAs in a little movie, which you can see here. Each green triangle represents one CSA farm, and the dates shown are drawn from data reported by the farmers themselves. It's a neat little visual, and takes just 12 seconds of your life.

Many of you are among the country's 390,000+ CSA members. If you've had a good experience, maybe you'll consider talking to a few friends about joining a CSA in your area. And if you have never given CSA a try, would like to be part of a local farm, and enjoy eating veggies, like to cook, you may be a perfect candidate for CSA membership! You can find one near you with our search engine.

To the start of a wonderful CSA season!

Erin Barnett

From the LocalHarvest Store:

It's the best time of year to think about your spring garden and start ordering seeds. Whether you're looking for your old favorite varieties or something new and different for this year's garden, our farmers have great things to offer. Over 1500 varieties at last count, from seed growers all over the country.

We have starfruit from Fresh Gardens in Homestead, FL on sale for the next two weeks – buy one five pound box, get a second for half price!

Food from the Farm: Cheese and Potato Tart

This tart recipe, shared with us by Agnes Devereux of The Village TeaRoom Restaurant and Bake Shop, is delicious winter food -- dense with potatoes and heavy with cream and cheese.
(Recipes and More...)