The New Farm® editor Greg Bowman saw Sunflower
Fields CSA on a list serve, and asked co-founder Michael
Nash and his wife, Linda, 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
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
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 next season.
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.