Letter to the Editor: Big Box CSA?

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"Get big or get out." That's the motto of the big box stores that come into communities and drive out mom-and-pop businesses. Could this become the reality of CSAs as well if "Green Giant" operations like Grant Family Farms corner the CSA market with their huge acreages, dependence on fossil fuels to transport long distances, and convenience model?

We are a 10-acre CSA in Lyons, Colorado, and the oldest CSA in Boulder County, and we have seen a significant dip in membership this year, as have the other two oldest CSAs in our area. We don't know whether Grant Farms has impacted our membership but we do know that they began delivering to our small community without any communication with us or seeming concern for how it might affect us. The situation feels a lot like Wal-Mart coming to town. Like Grant Farms, Wal-Mart would undoubtedly also say that there's room for everyone, but in a small town like ours, that's debatable. For example, our small farm could never afford to underwrite ads on our local progressive radio station, but Grant Farms can.

Given the cost of land in Boulder County, there is no way we could ever become as big as Grant-nor would we want to because we value our "smaller," to quote Andy Grant, relationship with our members. We also do everything we can to minimize our fossil fuel use, from biking our vegetables in from the field to helping members organize pick-ups from the farm because we don't believe gasoline dependence is sustainable. I worry, though, that the "big box CSA" model will become the consumer standard, that subscribers will expect convenience and farmtertainment with big name speakers as part of their membership, driving smaller farms out.

My deepest concern, however, regards the impact of a huge farm like Grant on the consolidation of farmland into mega-acreage farms rather than small farms that ring a community. That's no better than conventional corporate agriculture running out family farms anywhere. If "local" just means "not from California," what's the point?

I suggest that farms like Grant stop calling themselves CSA and use a term like RDA-Regionally Delivered Agriculture. The organic movement has become large enough that distinctions can now be made. That way, the conversation can expand and consumers can make clearer decisions about what kind of agriculture they want to support. I think Grant Family Farms has good intentions and has paid their dues as an organic producer, but the "get big or get out" model they're following may mean that the rest of us get left behind, leaving our food system little better off than before.

Kayann Short and John Martin
Stonebridge Farm

By: Cathy Crosson | Jul 6, 2010 01:30 PM | Permalink
As a small organic farmer, I heartily agree with Stonebridge Farm and the concerns they raise here. This is not just about Grant "Family " Farm and their god-given right to get endlessly bigger. It's about a business model that can be very destructive of a small-farm community. And, having initially been given some favorable exposure here on Local Harvest, that business model is fair game for comment.

The assumption that "bigger is better" permeates our culture. And as Stonebridge Farm notes, we small farmers are under increasing pressure to "get big or get out." The problem is, most of your true family farms a) treasure their role as small-scale, artisan growers, and b) don't have the resources to get big, even if we wanted to.

I do not run a CSA, but our Farmers Market has suffered from the same phenomenon. When we began, it was a level playing field -- all the vendors were mom&pop-type farms, or home gardeners. You could pretty much count on selling your goods in a morning, and customers appreciated the increasing variety of creative and different agricultural products.

Twenty years later, our Market has become in some regards a victim of its own success. It is sprawling, and overstuffed with product. Most of the original farms have remained about the same size, or with modest growth. But now some big farms have moved in, outfits that may hire 50-100 migrant workers. They bring in huge truckloads of produce; the exponential increase in product has far outstripped the growth of market patronage. Now, if you have a small amount of product, customers will hardly give you a glance, no matter how unique or interesting a product you have to offer. Whereas in the past, by noon the tables would start to look empty, now at the end of market, you can barely tell that we have started selling.

It's not hard to see where this is going. Small farms are getting pushed out, and it is extremely difficult for any new ones to enter the market. As Stonebridge points out, this is not a healthy trend for our local food/community-based agriculture movement.

Once the big farms have achieved enough market dominance, you can bet that they will behave in a more and more corporate mode. They will fight attempts by their workers to unionize, they will cut whatever corners they can in terms of organic/sustainable practices, they will treat animals like commodities. They may sell out to one of the huge corporations that go around gobbling up successful businesses of this nature (just look what has happened with Monsanto et al buying up organic/heirloom seed businesses). Once a farm business gets so big, there is just no way its initial values will be sustained over time.

At what point is such a farm not a "family farm" in a meaningful sense, why the drive to get so big once you are making plenty of money, and what are the effects on our local farms in general? These are the questions we should be asking.

By: Reed Hamilton | Jun 28, 2010 04:36 AM | Permalink
I sympathize with the upset you feel about your formerly stable situation. Unfortunately, competition and low prices go back to the dawn of commercial agriculture. Commodity producers are constantly gambling on weather, demand, outside competition, and cost of production. Though CSA's are supposed to be insulated from such vicissitudes due to their community support, the fact is that the CSA model has morphed into subscription agriculture where convenience, service, choice, and reliable supplies are expected. Realistically, we can't expect consumers to go to extraordinary lengths just for our sakes given how busy everyone is. That doesn't make it easy to be a full time farmer.

I have a small grain CSA and if some large farm chose to do so, they could easily put me out of business. Of course, they won't because you can't make much money doing what I do. As it is, I am marketing nonstop because i never know where I'm going to find a new vein of customers. I'm afraid that marketing again reigns supreme, though it's a more personal kind. I'm a baby boomer so technology isn't second nature to me, but my website, my Facebook site, and email have become vital tools in putting my farm out there. I'm afraid you have to do the same, and let you personality sell you products.

i remember in the 1970's when I was doing conventional farming there was a movement to have a national farmers union that could do bulk purchasing and marketing and get past the yearly uncertainty about whether the price of crops would let you make any money. It never gained traction and my father observed that there is something in the nature of farmers, out there every day by themselves struggling with nature, that resisted cooperation. Nevertheless, I think that in the long run, regional marketing groups that put together shares that include vegetables, fruit, grain, eggs, milk, meat, cheese, bread and all the things that everybody eats is the best model for the survival of small-scale ariculture. We have fledgling groups here in a few counties in California that are moving that way. Best wishes.

By: Paul Wilson | Jun 28, 2010 01:23 AM | Permalink
I'm displeased with the criticism for a successful organic farm. They should be applauded and supported.

If you as an individual are not as successful as you desire, then analyze your own actions and find where you got into trouble. Devise a plan to increase your success. Stick to your plan til completion.

Create statistics so you can track and visually see, on a graph, whether you're doing better or worse. Continue keeping stats. Update daily. Review daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly. Continue successful actions that create upstats. For down stats, consider what caused it and adjust your actions if necessary. L. Ron Hubbard created a booklet "Targets and Goals" which can help anyone achieve their dreams.

By: L'il Farmer | Jun 26, 2010 10:55 PM | Permalink
I hear ya! I run an extremely small operation of one farmers' market, 5 CSA shares and a little self-serve table, plus work part-time- all by myself. At market I compete with a few other medium sized farmers that do the work semi-solo with machinery; and one large farm with lots of workers, THEIR OWN STORE, and many greenhouses. I have always felt it was unfair to the smaller farmers to compete with this company at market. For instance, they have the greenhouses to use to facilitate the earliest peas, corn, potatoes etc. Plus they have such a big, full stand that people are drawn to it. So it is annoying and demoralizing because of its unfairness and the irritation of having the consumers not understand the situation and so fighting the desire to 'bad mouth' them to customers is really hard. There should be rules that a farm with X amount of employess cannot sell at a small market.

But as for the CSA, well it's just my first year, but the vibe I am getting from my shareholders is that they love the personal attention I am able to give them. I think smaller farms, especially micro farms like mine, can play up that attention to detail factor! I pack veggies with each family in mind by reviewing the taste survey I had them fill out. Newsletters with crop reports, information and recipes really add a lot. If you play up the personal side of your small operation it will win most people, normal people that is, over to you instead of huge farms. Also I tell them about all my farming practices and what is done out there elsewhere that is a bad idea. So normal people can really understand the difference from a Walmart operation to a mom and pop farm. Still, I'm surprised your numbers dipped, around here we seem to all sell out with people wanting to sign up mid-season. But CSAs are kind of new around here so it could be different. Good luck!

By: Barbara Everson | Jun 25, 2010 06:45 PM | Permalink
I participated in a first ever 'CSA Day' this year in MN at a health sciences U. I was very excited about it since I am an 8 acre CSA and do not advertise. The people organizing the event were super. One of the things that bothered me though is that they are thinking of reseting the date of the event to get some of the 'bigger' CSA's to come, because their memberships were already full when the event happened. I personally hope they do not move the date because it is the smaller CSA's that offer the really personal experience. I have nothing against the big farms because I think we all have our own vision of what a CSA is, otherwise we would be better off banding together into cooperatives and being just another version of commercial farming. I like the idea of a different distinction for really large CSA's because the general public needs to be able to make the distiction and choice for the type of farming they want to support. Even as a very small CSA I offer fruit/veg/herbs/flowers as well as lamb/poultry/beef. But I have almost no machinery and most of the work is done by me alone, without fossil fuels or any chemicals. My members respect and appreciate that and the variety of things that I plant and the livestock that I raise is in a sustainable fashion. I am all about a food adventure, is that not why we do this? I think as long as we all keep concentrating on what our vision is and sharing that information, our customers will be able to make an informed choice. I truly believe that if I can not sell my product on it's own merits, without putting down the competion, I should not be doing this. ((that attitude comes from years of work in marketing) I know what my vision is, my members and customers know what they want and it is bliss when we meet. It might help to try and get a CSA Day event together to show off all the wonderful differences that each CSA in your area has to offer and educate the broader community area about CSA's and what they have to offer. I know the event that I participated in will be much bigger next year and I hope it continues to grow and expose even more people to what we do. CSA's are not for everyone, but it never hurts to open a few more eyes to the possibilities we all offer, large and small. If we all support each other we will only be helping to further what we all want to do by increasing the knowledge of what people are supporting by joining what we do. I wish everyone a stellar year, from Funky Little Farm, MN

By: Cindra | Jun 23, 2010 09:12 PM | Permalink
As a resident of Los Angeles, California, I realize that we have a different challenge than you address here. We already have the large farming concerns, some of which have gone organic. So we can get both local and organic in many cases. However, a point was brought up recently that pointed out the hidden detractors of organic and the hidden benefits of local. So one of the things we're seeing happening in this huge urban area is a crusade for small, local urban farms. "Know where your food comes from" is a recurring battle cry out here. So I applaude your efforts at Stonebridge Farms and send up prayers for your success. I hold a personal belief that small local farming will always be the better route. Just because a huge farming concern has adopted organic practices doesn't mean it's the best solution. I agree it is a better one, but I am holding out for best! I think we all benefit from creating a community awareness of the food that nourishes our body and that our soul benefits from that awareness.

By: | Jun 23, 2010 04:05 PM | Permalink
I don't want to buy from a "Grant Family Farm" That is just slick marketing for a too big corporation that wants to squeeze out the smaller farms, or at the very best - just doesn't care. My understanding is that the CSA network is to help the smaller farms stay personal, produce high quality goods and be successful in a local setting. I will continue to look for and buy from the small, local farms in our area. I agree with Stonebridge Farm.

Rose Young Abilene, TX

By: jjat | Jun 23, 2010 02:29 PM | Permalink
Bill McKidden has written a book called Eaarth. And yes, that is the way he spells Earth. That may not be the entire title and I haven't yet read the book. But I did hear his talk on NPR about the book and he made some very astute and powerful comments about the current stresses on Earth today.

One of those stresses is that age-old addage that is so prevelent here in the USA and elsewhere that "Bigger is Better". He makes some very powerful points on becoming smaller, smaller is better, smaller is the only way we are going to sustain this earth, and these comments cover a large range of issues like travel time and cost, stress on the soil, etc.

Anyone who is considering becoming large, or is threatened by a large industrial complex should read this book, and perhaps use his message in their message.

By: | Jun 23, 2010 12:41 PM | Permalink
My first post vanished into cyber limbo, so I'll try again.

I have no problem with Grant Farms selling to whatever customers they can... but I disagree with their calling themselves a CSA. The whole behind the CSA movement was to help small, organic ( or nearly do) farmers who were at a huge marketing disadvantage to stay solvent.

This pre-dates the USDA's move to define "organic" as a marketing label, and opening up new niches for organic produce. There weren't any organic produce displays in supermarkets back in the early days, other than health food or co-op stores.

But community supported agriculture should be just that... local people supporting their neighbors who happen to grow food... paying the same school & property taxes & keeping the money within the community... as well as the open space in their area that comes with farming. Every small farm that can't stay solvent is one more piece of acreage that is vulnerable to development.

A wag once stated that the final stage of a field's crop rotation is a housing development.

Nothing against the Grant family.... but I'd rather see 3000 acres farmed by a dozen independent families that formed themselves into a co-op for marketing clout. What made America a great country was the fact that as a society, we were once far more self sufficent and self reliant.

Today, the majority of Americans are dependent upon a paycheck or the dole. Which is fine for collecting taxes, but lousy for making a strong independent nation of people.

By: Arthur Brock | Jun 23, 2010 06:29 AM | Permalink
I'm sorry your CSA is struggling to retain it's members, but the comparison to big box stores like Wal-Mart is beyond ridiculous!

A family-based, local, organic farm which drives the 50 miles to Lyons to drop off the food is no Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart destroys regional economies and supply chains by importing 72% percent of their junk from China and abroad, they drive down their vendors margins, they exploit labor laws by refusing to employ their workers full-time, they're publicly traded, their decision makers have no direct relationship with their customers, they extract local tax subsidies, etc.

I understand that the loss of CSA members is difficult, but pretending that Grant Farms is akin to that kind of store or even a big agri-business factory-farm is a kind of reactionary mud-slinging.

Are you suggesting that we could support the population of Denver Metro/Front Range (of which Longmont is a part) by defining local food as coming from less than 50 miles away? (Only if concrete is far more nutritious than we currently believe.)

When you consider that the average distance traveled for food on someone's plate is usually more than 1500 miles, 50 miles sounds pretty good. And even at 1500 miles, most of the fossil fuel use isn't from transportation, but from the production process.

I am hugely in favor of relocalization. Not only have we hosted a CSA drop for Grant Farms in Denver for the past 3 years, but we've converted our yard to a farm as part of a NSA (Neighborhood Supported Agriculture) project with Urbiculture Farms.

Even though you may be the oldest CSA in Boulder County, Grant Farms has almost a 40 year head start on you, and was the first organic farm in Colorado. Please don't confuse leadership with "get big or get out."

I think it's great that you fill a different niche than Grant Farms, but we'll never succeed in shifting people's perceptions and practices toward more local and sustainable options by throwing "big box" labels at leaders in local food production.

By: Marie Tedei | Jun 23, 2010 03:39 AM | Permalink
2 years ago, I was encouraged by past presidents of TOFGA to grow food since my land was so close to DFW and the need great in N. TX. How could I afford it? Enter, CSA....

I read one of THE most inspiring books of my life "Sharing the Harvest" by Robyn Van En, the woman who helped usher CSA in to the USA. She talks about WHY CSA is important - to help preserve/support small farmers within communities & to bring, fresh, safe, locally grown food into them.

I went with the original concept/model of farm budget divided by number of folks I could grow for and advertised that share cost with my vision for creating a local, urban farm that was going to be open to the public to educate, (had elementary school aged kids tour today in fact); help train new growers, (sent 2 back to Florida this spring to start a small csa); edcuate people about nutrition, (LOVE the part of seeing people finding new foods & get healthier); that was also in close proximatey to the DFW area, though not a bike ride away.

Had a rough start - nature was not kind to us for the first year and half. All uncontrollable, yet, we had enough people hang on & support the farm while others left because there wasn't enough food, they couldn't get it in their routine or other various reasons. That's turnover - part of any business.

This year, we're enjoying a bountiful harvest - finally - and while there are new cheap CSA's popping up all over the area, I have the same budget, same house/farm payment, insurance and taxes, etc. My CSA family comes first - my farmers only/clean food only on farm market day gets my surplus (I invite other clean, local producers), & last, would be any wholesale selling.

Admitedly, I started to get concerned about sign ups when I saw new, MUCH less expensive "CSA's", offering free delivery to Dallas, (which I do, just to be greener driving 1 truck to the city instead of several to the farm from the city, but for a small fee), but I worry more that it CHEAPENS what we as small farms are trying to do. As it has been said, "there is no such thing as cheap food".

Yet I know this is a free country - and I've not been in another group/industry of finer people than the farmers I know in Texas. We share info, refer customers to each other, encourage one another, and so far as I've seen, I don't think anyone is purposly trying to undercut anyone else, perhaps they are just diversified or have paid off farms or off farm income.

It is up to a consumer to support whatever farm/er they want - based on various things - price, (will be important for some, but let's face it, we waste a lot of money on much less important things than supporting the security of our food), locale, service, the farmer themself & their principals and vision.

I have to remain true to myself and what I want this farm to become and remain for the future and find those who agree and want to support that - while sharing in the harvest & accepting the risks of farming, too.

By: Cheryl A Spencer | Jun 23, 2010 02:46 AM | Permalink
I am sorry that the owners of this CSA feel so bitter about Grant Farms. I am a customer, and can say that they have a pretty well-run operation, and don't include any produce that wasn't grown in Colorado, as some other posters have suggested about other CSAs.

I am also at a loss to explain why this particular farm feels that lashing out and characterizing Grant Farms as embracing a policy of "get big or get out" will do any good. 1-I don't believe that Grant Farms espouses this philosophy, in fact, they are promoting two smaller CSAs (one in Fort Collins, and one in Loveland) on their website and in their newsletter for customers who live nearby and wish to support that size business. 2-As a small business owner, I can tell you that I would think twice about doing business with the authors (if I lived in their area) after this unwarranted diatribe. Although I applaud their efforts to utilize a minimum of fossil fuels, attacking others in your own industry is not the way to get more customers. It just makes you look whiny and jealous. Too bad they didn't use this opportunity to convince people that their farm is worth being a customer of -- convince me why you're better, rather than taking the other business down a notch for being "evil."

Several people have commented that there are too many CSA customers looking for "convenience." I just think that is silly. As anyone who is a CSA member can tell you, there is nothing convenient about getting pounds of produce each week that you have to turn into meals. Let's get some perspective here, Grant Farms isn't delivering hamburger-helper, we're talking about CSA shares. Having a drop-off location near where you live isn't convenient, it's realistic. If you want to keep CSAs a fringe-movement, then by all means, force your customers to drive or bike to your farm or carpool to pick up your produce. I wonder how many will be willing to do that?

I will continue to be a CSA member of Grant Farms. They provide a wide selection of food (veggies, fruit, eggs, mushrooms, poultry and meat and winter shares), and deliver it to a drop-off site that is on my way home from work. I bike commute, and don't have time to add some far-off pick-up to my route home. Does it make sense for me to drive 15-20 extra miles a week to pick up a CSA order, or bike to and from work and be able to pick up my produce along the way? I think the latter. I would love it if there was a more local CSA in Colorado Springs. But I can't justify driving far to pick up the shares. I would love a MAJOR upheaval of the food system, with a network of small, local farms everywhere that can reliably transport their goods to customers. Until then, I will remain a member of Grant Farms. While Stonebridge Farm's efforts in "helping members organize pick-ups from the farm" may work for some customers, maybe this is part of the reason for their drop-off in customers? There has to be some trade-off in convenience vs. reduced fuel use.

By: Mary ANderson | Jun 23, 2010 02:37 AM | Permalink
Although I feel your pain, to me, the most important is the overall availability of organic locally grown produce. I am a cancer patient and funds are short - if I can get the same quality produce at a cheaper price from a bigger farmer - than I have to go that route. Their are government laws that prevent the kind of vulturism that Wal-mart engages in. Best wishes to you and if you are truly better than the big guys you will come out on top in the end.

By: | Jun 23, 2010 12:23 AM | Permalink
I grew up on a farm - none of the kids wanted to continue it - so it's gone.

I believe in the ethical treatment of animals - but still eat meat.

I've been a CSA member for 4 years (a latecomer)

I support CSA's and buy meat and other items from local farmers so that MANY farmers can stay in business and earn a livable wage while also taking care of the land and treating their animals ethically.

I DO NOT SHOP at BIG BOX or MEGA-RETAIL stores - because I prefer to support small businesses, family businesses, and so on. However, there are many people in this country who love the big box stores and mega-retailers. There will be people who want what they can get on their terms - local that is also extremely convenient and a price that they want.

Hopefully there will be enough adopters of CSA's and local/sustainable agriculture that there will be room for both types of consumers (and the farmers that supply them)

By: Phillip Wages | Jun 23, 2010 12:06 AM | Permalink
I don't have a CSA, hell, I don't even have a farm! My garden is currently about 20 to 30 square feet, but we're really getting into gardening. We're soon going to be buying 30 acres which will make a huge difference. But right now, I am just a consumer.

Some of you said that people should be educated about CSAs. That may be true. Some of you say that the big boys are going to run you out of business. That may be true.

What I'm saying is this: you can try to fight what is coming, but know this, if local and organic continues to become more important, then corporations or corporate-like businesses will emerge. That's the problem with our capitalist society. So know this: a lot of education will go a little way. Therefore, the only way to survive is to reinvent yourself constantly. Figure out what works with the farmer's market. If everyone is selling onions, sell something else. The point is, look at your competition and offer something they don't. You can't beat them with price, but you CAN beat them with other things such as heirloom varieties, veggies that no one else has, services that no one else offers, great customer service, etc.

What else? Get on Facebook and post on it often. The more active you are, the more people will pay attention and look you up. When something comes in to replace FB, get on that. You have to keep with the times. Have festivals or events that get people to your farm to see that you are a good person. This has worked well for Maranathan Farms in West Plains MO. They host a sustainability festival, have Mother's Day events, etc.

To paraphrase a popular saying, It doesn't matter the size of your farm, it's how you use it. So figure out ways to connect with your customers and stay connected. Otherwise, they won't feel loyalty to you in any way, and then you'll have the Grant Farms situation.

Now, I've got to go eat my "as local as possible" dinner.

Oh wait, one more thought. If there are 10 farms in the area and they're all producing one thing, you're going to have stiff competition. My idea is that each farmer grows different things. If you can organize yourselves, then you can cut down on competition and provide your customers with a greater "supermarket like" selection. Maybe co-op CSAs are where it's at?

By: | Jun 22, 2010 11:51 PM | Permalink
I think this is such a great topic and I love Local Harvest for providing information about CSA's, local farms, etc. When I went on my quest to find a "co op" almost two years ago I did not even know what a "CSA" was. I didn't even know if a "co op" or "buying club" existed in my area of South Florida. I "Google'd" organic co op and was so excited to find out that this option did exist in my area. I went on their web site and contacted the couple who ran the co op to ask them some questions. I was told that "most" of the food was local "when possible" and that they did also source some of the organic produce from CA and elsewhere. My sister-in-law and I started a group and were off on a new adventure. Every other week the truck came to her house and delivered organic produce for the 15 people in our group to box up. We loved it! But as we settled into our new endeavor we began to notice that yes, the produce did come from FL, NC, SC and PA. Then we began to notice the we also received things from CA, Mexico, Israel and even CHINA. I was completely shocked when I saw our garlic from China and contacted the owner of the buying club. I was told that in order to keep the price down and give everyone the most for their money they used multiple sources. This was the beginning of the end. It was only after this occurred did I find Local Harvest and learn what a true CSA was. This is as much about education as convenience and making the best possible choices within individual means. I have since moved from So FL to the Atlanta area and have searched out local farmers markets and CSA's in my area. I am thrilled that there are more options nearby that fit my needs! Ideally, yes, we would be able to all grow our own food, at least to a degree. But the next best thing in my opinion is to support local farms/farmers and organic or natural farming practices. Any time we take a step towards more sustainable options it is a step in the right direction. My preference is to support the smaller farmers as I think that real farming (not commercial farming) is so undervalued and undersupported. I just don't think many people stop to take the time to really evaluate the impact of their decisions and the ripple effect. The more the word can be spread the more positive impact it will have on the small farms. And to those who dedicate their lives to farming- I salute you!!

By: bill welch | Jun 22, 2010 11:06 PM | Permalink
As a famer that has run a CSA for 3 years I have found some folks come back year after year and are very happy and then some think I should be cheaper then Walmart and give them the very best at a 80% discount, The farmer need to make the money to pay for the seed, land, insurance and all the rest of the junk that is needed to keep the farm going. Please remember that as you enjoy your local ( less then 100 mile travel) fresh (picked within 48 hours or less of delivery date) chemical free (if possiable) food. And if you would like to look me up in the upstate of South Carolina try Welch and Son Farm at welchandsonfarm.net

By: | Jun 22, 2010 11:04 PM | Permalink
I'm just learning about CSAs and hoping to get my husband on board with me in supporting our local farmers. I think that it's very difficult for the small farmer to compete with the larger ones and hate to see another small business hurt by it's larger competitors.

By: Jacqueline Rab | Jun 22, 2010 11:03 PM | Permalink
While we have a small family owned and operated farm in Texas, we are not a CSA. I completely agree with this letter! It is sad to see a CSA not be a CSA any more. My advice is to to get out there by using free advertisement. Let your customers know where you stand and what you stand for. The quality of your product as well as a customer's ability to see where their food comes from is most important. As a small farm our customers feel free to call us or come by and ask questions. They can come look around and actually see the chickens running around and the gardens growing. One on one contact is the best!

By: Noelle Taylor | Jun 22, 2010 10:57 PM | Permalink
The difference between Grant and other smaller CSA's in Colorado is the commercial aspect of it. Part of being in a CSA is sharing in the risks of the farming. Grant's risks are minimal because they have a contract with the local grocery stores. I'm glad that they are there when I need something local from the supermarket, but they are not a true CSA.

But they can out price the smaller and true CSA's. I wish all their members would be a little more educated about what a CSA is and how it is supposed to operate.

By: | Jun 22, 2010 10:34 PM | Permalink
It is possible that the "big, Grant" CSA is guilty only of bad manners - thus I believe all these negative comments are over the top harsh. Has anyone spoken with them directly and heard their views. One of the things I like most about CSAs is the community-basedness of it, as defined by geography or personal interest in support of local, organic agriculture. Nothing I read in the comments posted to date are of friendly, collegial or compassionate tone!

Really, could everyone calm down and express concern, interest, dismay or another less hostile emotion? Really, this discussion is so destructive and the antihesis of community building. Thanks for reading.

By: Leslie Lawson | Jun 22, 2010 10:07 PM | Permalink
I live on a small CNG (Certified Naturally Grown) farm in middle Georgia....produce and beef and lamb...

I believe that you should be able to visit the farmer and see exactly where your produce is coming from if you so desire.

Obviously here in the USA we never get away from the 'fossil fuel issue'......a mute point.

The idea is good clean food, naturally grown with no pesticides.

We have a fantastic "CSA" in the Athens GA area via Locally Grown.org. Locally Grown solves all these issues.....the customers can order online and choose from a huge variety of products and the tiniest producer (honey, vegetables, or even 'farm craft') gets exposure and access to this large customer base. The "CSA" box is then assembled at the drop off / pick up point and everyone is happy.

Locally Grown is nationwide and I am sure that I can speak for those involved in my Athens Locally Grown service.....it is a great way to have a "CSA" with convenience, variety, and provide opportunity for the smallest 'sustainable' producers.

There is no way to stop someone from becoming a large operation....it is a free country....the consumer needs to be well informed and the farmers need to do their 'marketing' well. Good luck to you all.

Leslie Lawson Blackbriar Farms Lexington GA

By: Amy Rutherford | Jun 22, 2010 08:32 PM | Permalink
I agree with Claudi's comment - "The trade off generally between the greater convenience and variety provided by larger vendors is personal service." However, as a Grant Family Farms member, I can say their service is exceptional(as is their food) and their community is active. I researched all options as thoroughly as I could and they were the only ones who came to Parker. Does that mean they (or I) am terrible because I enjoy this convenience? Or because they're not bicycling here? Of course not. I am doing the best I can and they are fulfilling my needs. Driving weekly at a set time 30+ minutes each way was not an option. Not environmentally friendly either.

I think Short/Martin hit it on the head when they write - "that subscribers will expect convenience". Um, yes. If I had all the time in the world, I would prefer to grow/raise everything my family consumes on my own. Short of that, I'm looking for a way to bring local, organic produce into my home weekly. I support Grant Family Farms 100% as they are the only farm to deliver to my area while providing great food.

By: | Jun 22, 2010 07:42 PM | Permalink
I have many friends that are joining the new fad...you get online and order your "basket" only to have it delivered to you at a local site. I thought this sounded promising until I saw their first baskets...these products were from all over the world...and while that makes them "local" to some folks...it isn't local to my friends. Now they believe that they are buying healthy, locally supported produce, but alas...they are just buying into the mass-market CSA-wanna-be organism. Now, I know nothing about the "basket" folks...so I don't know if they purport to offer Local produce...I can't assume so since all of the tags on the produce come from all over the world. They don't seem to be hiding anything, my friends are just not well researched or don't want to put the amount of time I spent to find my CSA. In order to find a good fit,you must spend hours making sure that they are compatible with your desires. I also made a visit to the farm before making the commitment....this is a CSA to me!

I would agree that I would love for there to be a division of CSA's...those that are local versus the regionally supported agriculture. I do not look forward to the Walmart-isation of our CSA's. Maybe our CSA's will have to find another terminology for what it is that they do and what I support.

By: Deb Dean | Jun 22, 2010 07:10 PM | Permalink
@ Luke, I agree with you, I think there should be CSA's (plural) in every community. Not everyone can garden, grow food, but many people can and if those folks can come together to do that, their community will be so much the better. We have a very small CSA, and don't have room for expansions. My goal is to create gardeners by teaching the value of local food and community. I hope my members will cycle through the program, leaving it as gardeners and creating room for me to serve more people and educate.

By: Janelle Ozeran | Jun 22, 2010 06:54 PM | Permalink
Not surprisingly, here in the Central Valley of California where we grow such a huge proportion of the nation's food, the buy local philosophy is well supported but the CSA is not. I have a small number of CSA choices locally, including a large operation that provides a no-choice box at any of more than a dozen weekly drop-off points, and, my choice, a more expensive, much smaller farm that delivers my choice of available produce to my door weekly or every other week. Neither is ideal, but with the business I've chosen I know where my food was grown, I don't have to drive to a drop-off or a produce stand hoping they've got what I want, and I enjoy a friendly exchange with the driver (often the farmer) every Thursday. I'd love to see more options here, perhaps more pick-your-own orchards or work-for-subscription opportunities, but I fear that, ironically, I'm living in the wrong place.

By: Luke Hall | Jun 22, 2010 07:00 PM | Permalink
What is a CSA, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture, but what is that. Here's my opinion of what it should be. It could be argued, that the recent shift in peoples' thinking in favor of CSA's is a response to globalization, climate change, and other negative aspects of modern culture, so when defining Community Supported Agriculture it can't be forgotten that the spirit of the movement is to change the world for the better. At some level all agriculture is supported by some community somewhere, so the definition of Community Supported Agriculture is only as relevant as the definition of 'community supported', and whether this definition stays true to the spirit of the movement which is to change the world for the better. If a community supports agriculture that is far away and requires shipping then it's not staying true to the spirit of the movement. CSA's should be in the neighborhoods; that's the whole point, to cut out the transportation. Therefore, only agriculture within walking or biking distance of the community is staying true to the spirit of the movement. This obviously limits the size of a CSA, and means that many, many CSA's are needed. Also, if a 'community' supports agriculture that is too big to recognize the needs of each individual member then it's not staying true to the spirit of the movement. CSA's should allow an intimate connection between the consumer and the grower; that's the whole point, to cut out the heartless, mechanized aspects of food production. If a CSA has no members it should not be able to operate, that is the simplest definition of 'supported'. Large growers who have been in business for years selling commercially prior to becoming a CSA can't claim to be community supported simply because they sell shares and collect money before the season starts, that's not staying true to the spirit of the movement. Can CSA's claim to be community supported if they still operate as a commercial farm, selling produce to large distributors and the mechanized system? As it is now, any producer can claim to be community supported if money is collected before the season starts, and 'shares' are distributed at some defined interval throughout the season. But we need to remember the spirit of the movement. A CSA should be different than standard commercial growing operations. A CSA should operate in the community which supports it, not ship the food into the community. A CSA should belong to the new system of localness, efficiency, sustainability, and respect for the earth; not the old system of profit, consumption, transportation, and mass marketing.

That being said, competition is what makes any organism or system strong, from a garden to an economy. So good luck to every one and lets all try to return each night to the spirit of the movement.

Luke ShireCSA.com

By: | Jun 22, 2010 06:36 PM | Permalink
I agree with kayann and John, and my heart goes out to them. I think this is symptomatic and sadly symbolic of the rest of what's going on in our world, today.

We live in a world of instant and immediate gratification and accessibility, and while the accessibility has its merits, it also seems to be creating a society of texting and constant sensory bombardment. My belief is that all this goes hand in hand, and I wish I had answers. I don't. I can only do my own part by signing up for a CSA, and for continuing to support local, small , farms in any way I can. There is a deeply personal relationship between those who are connected to the land, and the land and what we put into our bodies to fuel ourselves.

I have great respect and love for the smaller family farm. I think it takes a lot of courage to make things grow and to heal the earth in this way. I wish I had answers. Oh how I wish...

By: | Jun 22, 2010 06:00 PM | Permalink
The meaning of CSA has changed so much since the early days; I suppose almost any farm can call themselves a "CSA" these days if they do some sort of pre-payment plan. For me the essential thing about a CSA is that the farmer and customers should know each other (at least recognize each other, if not by name) and be able to engage in conversation. I like knowing the farmers are available to answer questions when I pick up my share. Delivery is often convenient but not always fuel-efficient or logistically efficient for the farmer. Each person/farm/community needs to figure out what is important to them. I hope that most people who join a CSA would not decide on price alone but would take these various other factors in mind.

By: | Jun 22, 2010 05:47 PM | Permalink
I think you should consider a marketing campaign that says no sea turtles were exploited to grow or distribute your products. Fossil Fuel Farms are not the Future, organic, local or not!

By: | Jun 22, 2010 05:42 PM | Permalink
I agree with the earlier poster. If you are running a business, then you have to sell what people want to buy, you can't make them buy what you want to sell.

Some people will surely value your products and services, a lot of what you write can be adopted into a spectrum of effective marketing messages, both positive and negative if you want to.

Just the same, it is unlikely any of your potential customer base is going to see the level of fuel use in delivery of your competition as the straw that breaks the camel's back, especially compared to every other retail shop, food related or not, in your area and everywhere.

In the end, you are going to have to set your expectations to match your own capacity, the prices the market will bear, and your own financial structure. You can manage each of those ins some way, but not in others. You have to find a way, just as the other farm has asked itself the same questions and came up with a solution that works for it.

By: Heather Harper | Jun 22, 2010 05:24 PM | Permalink
I think your community should count itself lucky that there are CSA choices available at all. Here in southern Indiana, we have exactly one organic vegetable CSA, one conventional fruit CSA, and one meat CSA, to choose from. The complaint that a larger CSA moves into an area without 'notifying' the smaller farms doesn't hold much water. I agree with the previous comment that in our free market economy, why would such a thing ever be expected? Create a niche for yourselves, focus on what you have that the mega-farm CSA doesn't, but don't think that because people choose theirs over yours it's because they are uninformed. Maybe it's about cost for them - that would be my guess, and why our family couldn't afford to continue the $600/year CSA we were part of last year, when weren't receiving nearly enough food for our family each week.

By: Brianne rohrer | Jun 22, 2010 05:21 PM | Permalink
Ugh, Big business! I love love love my CSA box and not because it is convenient. I love everything that it stands for and I feel good eating the food. My parents own a coffee roastery and deli and deal with the big coffee chains all the time. It's a shame they can't just let a good thing be a good thing without trying to monopolise. I just think people aren't as aware as they could be about big business and how that effects others.

By: Babs | Jun 22, 2010 05:18 PM | Permalink
I really support the writers of this letter, as a customer of a CSA, three years running, I always investigate where my food is coming from. I look into the farm, the business and the owners and really try to support local farmers. I have participated in a few different CSA's and really like when I know who the farmer is, that they are farming the land themselves, and have a small enough group to really take care in their produce.

I also strive to stay away from big-box stores in my shopping outside my csa and like being able to see the difference.

Thank you for ensuring that consumers are educated about our food and the difference between farms

By: Claudi Moergan | Jun 22, 2010 05:13 PM | Permalink
I've seen this complaint a lot from smaller companies - whether they're wineries, mom-n-pop grocery stores, or small farms. But, the truth is that most consumers stick with great service. The trade off generally between the greater convenience and variety provided by larger vendors is personal service. We have a Wal-mart is my hometown, but we also have lots of small shops on our historic square - as well as all around town. These little shops stay in business because of consumer loyalty. In a free market economy it is ridiculous to think that a larger CSA should notify smaller CSAs before they set up shop. Many consumers are going to be drawn to a smaller, personal experience - while others are going to prefer more variety and a little glitter. That's the way a free market works.

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