harvest: Mariquita CSA offers 5 different varieties
of artichoke, which they start harvesting in May. Pictured
here: Purple Sicilian. >
I met Andy Griffin and Julia Wiley, pictured
above in a wedding photo, at the Eco-Farm conference
in Monterey, CA in late January. Like Linda Halley,
who’s column debuted last week, Julia was
on the same “Married to a CSA” panel,
and offered similar insights into the nuts and
bolts of managing a CSA. Later in the conference
I met Andy at a workshop on agricultural journalism.
Impressed with their passion and insight, I invited
the couple to provide CSA perspectives from central
coastal California, with its amazing climate and
The range of crops Andy and Julia grow each season,
in collaboration with their CSA partners at High
Ground Organics, is stunning. For a visual tour
of the fruits and veggies they grow, check out
the Mariquita web site at www.mariquita.com.
You’ll learn more about Julia and Andy
over time, but their web site also features stories
by Andy that give a history of their farm experience.
In addition, the couple publishes a beautiful
seasonal ag journal called ROOT, which is mostly
Andy’s entertaining musings on farming,
farm labor issues, farm history, food, cooking,
and more. For more information about ROOT, check
out the web site, at www.rootjournal.com.
Here are some of the topics Julia and Andy hope
to cover in future letters: Newsletter 101, Charity
Boxes, Marketing, Year Round?, Fruit, Different
Styles and Flavors with Different CSA Farms, Popular
Customer Policies, Marketing Revisted, Customers
Share the Risk or Not, Pick Up Site Etiquette,
Farm Days/Field Days/Farm Dinners, and CSA Farmer
Networking. Let us know what
topics you would like to see
covered in this column.
Chris Hill, Executive Editor
Thinking about starting
a CSA? Check out our recommended resources
for insight and straight talk on cultivating, managing
and marketing with a community approach.
||To read Linda Halley and Rich de Wilde's
column on their Wisconsin CSA, click
checking out Mariquita Farm's online newsletter?
Posted May 12, 2003: State and federal governments
have not yet jumped in to regulate, license, certify, or otherwise
gum up CSAs, so those of us who practice community supported
agriculture still have lots of liberty to define for ourselves
what community, support, or agriculture can mean.
To a potential CSA customer who may be used to the generic
uniformity offered up by the big box retail world, such an
elastic concept as CSA may seem disturbing ... or liberating.
To any of you thinking about starting up a CSA--either as
a farmer or as a community activist--defining a workable program
starts with understanding the community you are hoping to
The support, financial or otherwise, that the target community
can provide will be a function of their expectations, their
imaginations, and their pocket books. In the end, the supporting
community will not measure the harvest solely in units of
pounds, bunches, bushels, or bales but also in terms of how
well their values were cultivated.
Describe your CSA ... in 10 words
It would be an interesting exercise to ask CSA farmers to
describe their CSAs in five phrases or less. Comparing these
little pseudo-haiku-like thought fragments one to another
might tell a bigger story about farms and society and the
possibilities that lie latent. The briefest synopsis of a
CSA approach can suggest wider avenues for promotion and growth.
I’d say of our Two Small Farms CSA program that we’re
“organic, educational, seasonal, fresh bounty, and service-oriented.”
(Then again, I’m only 1/2 of the two small farms in
this CSA. I wonder what my other three partners would say?)
Just for fun let me shoot off some quickie impressions of
a few of the other CSAs in our area.
the field (from Andy):
In May we are transplanting
out peppers, eggplant, basil (abaove),
charantais melons, cucumbers.
We will stake tomatoes and cherry
tomatoes. We are direct sowing summer squash,
arugula, radishes, carrots, green onions, and
We are erecting an acre of movable
hoop houses to cover our mid-June late pepper
We will be sowing our third planting
of tomatoes, our third batch of melons and our
second planting of peppers in a neighbor's hot
house for transplant later.
We are harvesting artichokes,
favas, spring garlic, arugula, herbs, lambs quarters,
nettles, radishes, and broccoli di cicco.
Fertilizing is over for the moment
but we used Cal Organic 12-0-0 and Cal Organic
8-5-1 as preplant. We will folier feed some crops
with phytomin 800. Also, summer cover crops will
be sown as soon as winter broccoli is turned under.
We are hilling potatoes, hand
weeding onions and roguing a seed crop of orach.
( from Julia):
Check email twice a day 6 days
Try to get a few more CSA members
on our under-populated route
Host the fava bean u-pick and
Kids Day at the farm (two different days)
Host 4 different field trips
in Spanish with our local Spanish immersion school
Host the farm/chef dinner on
Attend the farmers' market and
convince shoppers stinging nettles are good to
buy! (pictured above)
Order hats and bags with our
Write a column about learning
Spanish in the field
PLUS, us all the regular stuff I
do every day with Quickbooks, newsletters, etc.
There’s a CSA farm neighbor that might be poeticized
as “fruity, biodynamic, connection to farmer, waldorfy
moms, and fresh bounty." (Don’t sue. We love you.)
Another CSA farm in our area could be called a "city
limits, non-profit, educational, university demonstration
project." I’ve heard of CSAs that are quite literally
meat and potatoes and others that dance around the fire pit
to honor the solstice. The options are almost endless.
A perspective from the other side of America was illuminating.
My friend Judy moved to New York state last summer after living
in the greater bay area of northern California for over 12
years. She and her husband started looking for a CSA program
to join the day they arrived in their new home. They found
one at localharvest.org. Here were their two options:
1. Join as members and drive forty plus minutes to pick up
their box at an already established pick up site.
2. Start a pick up site at their house, which is located
on the campus of a Lutheran church.
Great! they thought, since they had had a pick up site at
their church back in California. The farmer then made it clear
that what he does is grow the stuff, and that’s it.
The pick up site host has to get the members, keep the data
base, take the money, distribute the produce after the farmer
delivers the various crates.
It would take at least eight to ten hours a week of their
time as volunteers to start a new pick up site. Andy and I
were amazed. Here in our part of California such a concept
could never fly. People have far too many produce choices
here and far too little time for us to depend on that much
Don't think of
other CSAs as
There are already a fair number of CSA programs in our area
compared to some parts of the nation, yet we don’t feel
like we’re in a competitive environment. First of all
only the tiniest percentage of the millions of people here
in the San Francisco bay area belong to, or have even heard
of, a CSA. Secondly, each CSA program seems to be working
at attracting different communities, defined by geography
Because there is a little knot of CSA farms close by us we’ve
occasionally gotten together and informally discussed what
we do. These other farmers are our true peer group, in one
sense, and it’s fun to get to know them. It’s
also good business to exchange information and strategies.
Precisely because CSAs are undefined, we have an obligation
to ourselves as a tiny community to help out our fellow competitors.
The middle path between the needs of a grower and the desires
of the community supporting them can be a difficult conundrum
to solve to everyone’s satisfaction. When a farm makes
a stab at the concept but misses and, say, delivers to its
community little more than a bill, some grubby beets, and
hot air, all the rest of the struggling CSAs get their reputation
tarnished by virtue of a small, undefined acronym. Most CSA
farms presently are so small that word of mouth, besides being
the best advertisement available, is often practically the
only advertisement that’s affordable.
Whether you are already a CSA farmer, or thinking of becoming
one, or a CSA member, try encapsulating the values you hold
in a few words. Now you have the beginning of a press release.
We’ll talk about that and other promotional ideas in
our next column.