Rose Among the Sunflowers: Rosie, pictured at right,
is Sunflower Fields' official mascot and the CED (Chief Executive
Dog) of "Rosie's Growers," the CSA's kids' club.
Thinking about starting
a CSA? Check out our 16 recommended resources
for insight and straight talk on cultivating,
managing and marketing with a community approach.
The New Farm® editor Greg Bowman saw Sunflower
Fields CSA on a list serve, and asked co-founder
Michael Nash and his wife, Linda, (shown above)
if they’d mind describing their operation.
It was such an interesting story that we decided
to share it with you. If you think you have an
equally interesting story to tell, please share
it with us.
We also encourage you to join our discussion
forums and raise questions about your own CSA
operation with other readers. Just click on the
TALK button at the top of the page, become a member
and join in!
Sunflower Fields CSA has a wonderful web site,
which introduces you to all the farmers who contribute,
and to Rosie, their wonder dog, who is the figurehead
for their innovative and imaginative kids program.
Check it out at www.sunflowerfieldscsa.com
GROWN Locally, their community farming cooperative,
also has a web site: www.grownlocally.com.
The web site features a product list, an online,
secure purchasing form, profiles of growers .
. . and it will soon include recipes from participating
institutions, and a list of institutions which
purchase their produce.
Finally, the Sunflower Fields CSA will be holding
a 5 day hands-on CSA workshop on August 9-13 this
season. It is for future CSA farmers and, as Michael
Nash told us, will include "everything you
ever wanted to know" about CSA farming--and
probably some stuff you wish you didn't know!
Chris Hill, Executive Editor
Posted April 23, 2003: Sunflower Fields
CSA is a seven- year-old multi-producer group of 10 farm families
in northeast Iowa--across the river from Harmony Valley. We
offer three sizes of vegetable shares as well as flowers,
honey, eggs, baked goods, apples, raspberries, strawberries,
hand-made soaps, culinary herbs, home made herbal body care
kits, home grown teas, chickens, turkeys and some delivered
"Theme Boxes," such as ingredients for soup, salsa,
pickling, fall baking, home made snacks and fall decoration.
We also have an "Additional Items Program" for
shareholders which is a unit priced buying method that folks
use to augment their regular vegetable share--for example,
a standing order of extra sweet corn, a bushel of canning
tomatoes or just an extra few cucumbers. The price on these
items is about 80% of wholesale and we use the money earned
to purchase "expendables" such as boxes, bags, fuel,
etc., thus supporting the CSA organization.
We also offer a kids' club called Rosie's Growers--Rosie
being the chief dog here on our farm. It is open to all CSA
kids, and they enjoy special events, Saturday garden days
and regular visits to all our collaborative farms as well
as receiving their own kid's sized share four times each season.
With their share comes their own newsletter full of farm news,
Rosie's take on things in general and fun food facts and recipes
that they can try with their folks at home.
There is no cost for the families to join Rosie's Growers,
but we feel that the children need to understand that food
does not just materialize on their plates each meal, so we
ask them to "earn their shares.” They "pay"
for their shares by earning "Rosie Bucks" through
participation in the club--attending garden days and events,
drawing pictures for our packing room, sending us recipes
and pictures of them in their kitchens or home gardens, etc.
What a blast!
It is rural here; the largest town is about 7,000 people,
so our CSA is a bit different from others. Our shareholders
are all within about 40 miles from the door which, of course,
makes the CSA demographics rural as well. This, in itself,
presents a unique set of challenges, but we find that serving
the populations within the communities in which we live is
the best return we can possibly need.
Because we do not market outside our geographic region--this
region being rural, and income reflecting this--our prices
seem low compared to other CSAs. We have found that, although
the share price is lower, it reflects a realistic image of
the local economy and allows our communities access to our
foods without running us out of business.
We need the educational and awareness tracks that all other
CSAs need, but we find that it takes a different spin here
in our rural area. And, to answer the three favorite questions
we are constantly asked: yes, there are enough folks to support
us; yes, they have enough money if we are also aware of our
unique economic situation; and no, they all do not have gardens.
We served 225 families last year. Ten percent were families
with identifiable limited resources. This number is not acceptable
to us and we are developing a better and more sustainable
program for this and future years.
Our front burner short term goal is to develop a "Buying
Club" which will be for the many families who have food
needs which the CSA does not match--those who are out of town
for portions of the season, those who want to supplement their
gardens, elderly and others who cannot eat all the CSA box
brings each week, or those whose palettes are not quite as
adventurous. It will be a web-based ordering system whereby
growers can upload products and members can order as they
need products. We are hopeful that we can have this in place
We love our CSA and all that it is becoming.
GROWN Locally--basically the same producer folks--is a legal
cooperative which sells our products to area institutions--hospitals,
nursing homes, restaurants, caterers, schools, colleges, etc.
We have an operational website such as described above for
food service folks to use for ordering and for information.
We deliver twice weekly and offer as much product as we have
at competitive wholesale pricing. The unique part of this
is that we do not deliver outside our 4 county area and are
hopeful that others see the benefits of this small, local
cooperative and want to form one of their own. We are in the
fifth season and have had success in deepening our local markets
as well as finding many institutional sales sources which
we had not originally identified.
We are putting the finishing touches on a licensed processing
facility and, when complete, it will give us the opportunity
to offer our local farm produce in lightly processed forms.
By custom processing our products, it will make them much
more accessible to food service buyers who are faced with
limited staffing and equipment in their kitchens and cannot
always utilize our products in their raw state. We will also
be able to, in future seasons, expand into freezing if we
find that there is need for this.