Does your farm offer a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) program?
Connecting Farmers and Consumers in the Northeast Corner
Local food and agriculture took a spotlight in 2020 as residents avoided grocery stores and sought out contactless and close to home food options during the unfolding of COVID-19. Coincidentally, just months earlier, UConn Extension launched a new federally funded project to increase direct-to-consumer sales for farm businesses in Northeast Connecticut.
Working with farms across 23 towns in the region (see map), the project aims to increase direct-to-consumer farm sales by 15%, increase customers by 20%, and expand market opportunities for at least 70 producers over the course of three years. A 12-member Farmer Advisory Board is guiding project activities, which include new marketing tools, trainings, and branding.
The project tracks farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) to see if there is an increase in customers and sales over time. “Everyone who lives in Northeastern Connecticut knows it is a beautiful place to live, but many miss out on supporting local farm businesses because they lack information about what farms offer and where to purchase their products,” explained Jiff Martin, Extension Educator in Sustainable Food Systems.
As part of this work, UConn’s team is developing a brand to capture the unique identity that agriculture has in the region. With over 100 farms in the 23 towns, there are a wide variety of products consumers can purchase, and the region takes great pride in its agricultural landscapes. In June 2020, UConn Extension put together a guide that showcases this strong agricultural identity, while helping consumers see the variety of what farms offer and how accessible it is for them to purchase locally. This guide has seen a fall update in September and a winter iteration in December.
Printed versions of the summer guide were quickly snatched up by the community from farmers markets, local business, and community centers. The online magazine version has seen plenty of traffic as people looked to this resource on the go, or to plan out their purchasing of weekly groceries. A postcard mailing to thousands of households in the region and strategic social media marketing around #heartctgrown helped broadcast messaging about local farm offerings in the region.
In addition to consumer education and outreach, three marketing training sessions were held in late fall to help farmers acquire new skills to reach more customers and expand their product reach. The topics included online marketing, using point of sale to increase your market, and relational marketing for farm stands and farmers markets.
Looking ahead to programming for 2021 and 2022, plans are in the works to start promotions of the area’s CSAs, including a searchable online map and a postcard mailing to targeted households. The project will continue to offer marketing trainings for farm businesses, publish shopping guides, and distribute marketing materials. When the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided and public events are safe, the project will employ local food ambassadors to travel the region educating residents about the reasons to buy local food and where to find it.
Article by Rebecca Toms
As we understand more about the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 worldwide, we are constantly updating information and resources to help guide the fruit and vegetable farming community in Connecticut. Please use this resource document with links to information relevant to CT farmers.
It can be easier to adapt to a constantly changing scenario if there are studies or examples to follow. Some farmers markets have changed the way they do business to implement some of the best food safety practices. Here is information from what some farmers’ markets and CSAs are doing. The following was adapted from information compiled by Chris Callahan, UVM.
- Carrborro, NC Farmer’s Market Case Study – NC State Extension has posted a summary of what the Carrboro Farmers’ Market has done. Briefly, this included communication with market customers, physical distancing by rearranging the market layout, rounding prices for limited use of coins, running a “tab” for customers to minimize cash transactions, no samples, no tablecloths to ease sanitation, and the addition of a hand washing station among other things.
- Minimize the Number of Touches (CSA) – One CSA has decided to change how they distribute to an urban market. They have previously trucked larger bins of produce to a distribution site where customers would select their own produce to fill their share. They have decided to pack the shares to order at the farm prior to distribution to minimize the number of people touching the produce. Another alternative would be packing shares to order at the market.
- Minimize the Number of Touches (Farmers’ Market) – The Bennington Farmers’ Market in Vermont has shifted to online ordering and pre-bagged orders from each farm that are combined into larger collective orders delivered to each customer via a drive-up system. The biggest decision was deciding that they’d actually continue to have the market. The new approach required the addition of an on-line ordering system (Google Forms for now), coordination among farms and some serious organization at the market. Orders are organized alphabetically; pickups are scheduled with a quarter of the alphabet every 30 minutes. People won’t get out of their cars.
- What are some other farms doing? Some farms have written and implemented specific response plans or taken other measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. For example, Two Farmers Farm in Scarborough, Maine have developed a detailed, yet flexible farm plan available online.
If you would like to share what your operation is doing to ensure food safety and have suggestions for the community to combat COVID-19, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, stay healthy and safe and we will keep you updated with the latest information as we learn more.
Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus & COVID-19
The situation with current COVID-19 pandemic is escalating unpredictably and as we are monitoring the virus spread in CT, here are some tips for farmers to practice safe food production.
This information is adapted from a blog post by Chris Callahan from University of Vermont.
Considerations for Fruit and Vegetable Growers Related to Coronavirus & COVID-19
The current COVID-19 pandemic is a common concern and many are wondering what they can and should do. The information here is intended to help guide the fruit and vegetable farming community. If you have concerns or additional suggestions please email us (email addresses at the end) or the CT Department of Agriculture ProduceSafety@ct.gov
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (“the novel coronavirus”). Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and may appear 2-14 days after exposure. While the majority of COVID-19 illnesses are mild, it can result in severe and fatal illness, particularly in the elderly and among those with severe underlying health conditions. Federal and State agencies are working hard to better understand the virus, how to control its spread, and how to treat those infected. One of the key things we can all do is to limit and slow the spread of COVID-19 to provide time for this understanding to develop and to not overwhelm the medical system. Much more information is available at the CDC Situational Summary page.
What Should Growers Do?
- Stay Away from Produce if Sick – If someone is sick, they should be nowhere near fruit and vegetables that others are going to eat. This is likely already part of your farm’s food safety plan and policies, but this is a good reminder to emphasize and enforce the policy. Make sure employees stay home if they feel sick and send them home if they develop symptoms at work. Consider posting signs asking customers not to shop at your farm stand if they have symptoms.
- Practice Physical Distancing – By putting a bit more space between you and others you can reduce your chances of getting ill. This might mean limiting or prohibiting farm visitors or reducing the number of off-farm meetings you attend in person. Avoid shaking hands and other physical contact. This also reduces the risk of your produce coming into contact with someone who is ill before it heads to market.
- Wash Your Hands – Reinforce the importance of washing hands well when arriving at work, when changing tasks (e.g. moving from office work to wash/pack), before and after eating, after using the bathroom, before putting on gloves when working with produce, and after contact with animals. Soap + water + 20 seconds or more are needed to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers thoroughly, then dispose of paper towels in a covered container.
- Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Drying –Viruses can be relatively long-lasting in the environment, and have the potential to be transferred via food or food contact surfaces. In this early stage, there is no indication that this virus has spread via food of any type. However, there’s no better time than the present to review, improve, and reinforce your standard operating procedures for cleaning, sanitizing, and drying any food contact surfaces, food handling equipment, bins, and tools. Remember, cleaning means using soap and water, sanitizing is using a product labeled for sanitizing, and drying means allowing the surfaces to dry completely before use.
- Plan for Change – Many produce farms are lean operations run by one or two managers and a minimal crew. Do you have a plan for if you become severely ill? How do things change if half your workforce is out sick? More business and labor planning guidance is available at the Cornell Agricultural Workforce Development site.
For more information on how to protect yourself, please visit CDC How to prepare for Corona virus
What Should Markets and Farmers Markets Do?
- Everything Above – Growers, retail food market owners, and farmers market managers should do all the things above. Does your market have a hand washing station? More guidance for food and lodging businesses is available from the Vermont Department of Health.
- Communicate with your Customers – Consider reaching out to your customers and recommend they stay home if they are ill. Have you informed your customers about any changes in your hours or policies?
- Consider Alternative Delivery – Some markets are taking this opportunity to launch pre-ordering and electronic payment options to enable social distancing at market. Some markets are moving to a drive-through pickup option.
- Reinforce the Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables – We are fortunate to have so many growers who do a great job with storage crops and winter production. This means our community has access to fresh fruits and vegetables that are important to their immune systems at this time of need. Be sure to promote the nutritional value of your products! But, keep in mind that promotion of your products should be within reason. Avoid making overly broad or unsupported health claims. Fresh produce contains many minerals and nutrients important for immune health which may reduce the severity and duration of an illness. Fun Fact: Pound for pound, that storage cabbage in your cooler has as nearly as much vitamin C as oranges.
What should CSA Farmers do?
- Communicate with your CSA Members – Consider reaching out to your members to let them know of any payment plans you can offer, to help ease the burden for families that are coping with unexpected loss of income or childcare costs. Remind members of your commitment to food safety, but don’t make broad claims about the risk of unsafe produce in grocery stores which most people in our communities still rely upon.
- Consider your CSA pick up – Members this year may be more concerned about the space and flow of their CSA pick up, looking for more distance between each other and their produce bags as they gather their veggies. Customers may prefer pre-bagged greens and appreciate other pre-weighed items for ease of selection. There could even be renewed interest in the CSA box model over the CSA mix & match model. Prepare for the need for modifications in order to ease concerns members may be feeling after weeks or months of social distancing.
Please stay safe and stay tuned for further updates as this is a constantly changing scenario.
UConn Extension Team
(Indu, Mary, Shuresh and Jiff)
By MacKenzie White, UConn Extension
Another great annual conference is in the books for UConn Extension and the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station. 266 growers, agricultural exhibitors, and educators came together Monday January 11th at Maneely’s in South Windsor for a session filled with valuable information in which growers will take back and apply to their operations.
Topics covered included how to comply with labor laws, heat treating seeds for disease management, the effects of environmental extremes on crop physiology, weed management in berries, irrigation, how to grow for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB). The crowd was also given some great updates on risk management and crop disaster assistance programs from USDA-Farm Service Agency given by Bryan Hurlburt, grant opportunities from the Department of Agriculture given by Commissioner Reviczky, Worker Protection Standards given by Candace Bartholomew of UConn Extension, and updates on the Food Safety Modernization Act given by Diane Hirsch, also from UConn Extension. The growers who were licensed Pesticide Applicators received 3.5 pesticide credit hours from this event.
Not only were the talks great but so was the tradeshow. Coming from all New England states, New York, and Ohio 43 exhibitors represented 26 organizations. These ranged from seed companies to agricultural service providers as well as the UConn publications stand where growers could purchase beneficial publications such as the “2016-2017 New England Vegetable Management Guide”.
The crowd also enjoyed a delicious locally sourced lunch on Monday. Locally grown and made products were provided for the conference from 8 businesses in Connecticut. The conference received outstanding ratings and positive feedback through the evaluations where 95% of the recipients rated the program as “excellent” or “good”.
2014 Price Study of Community Supported Agriculture Operations in CT
By Molly Deegan and Jiff Martin, UConn Extension
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): an arrangement whereby customers pay growers in advance of the growing season for a guaranteed share of the season’s harvest.
Background: In summer 2014 we investigated CSA prices that farm operations advertised on websites and producer association listings. Our goal was to have a better understanding of prices that farmers were charging for a standard summer vegetable share. This is the third year we have collected CSA pricing data, so we are able to track how pricing has changed, and also make county comparisons. Below is a SUMMARY of our findings, as well as a FULL LIST (pages 2-5) of the 92 CSAs and their prices that were included in the study.
We found CSA pricing data for 92 farm operations. Standard summer vegetable shares were typically listed as July to October, and featuring vegetables, herbs, and sometimes flowers or small fruit. We did not attempt to compare the contents of CSA shares, nor did we evaluate pricing for add-on items such as flower shares, fruit shares, meat shares, egg shares, etc. When a range of weeks was promised for a given CSA share price (i.e. 16-18 weeks), the average number was used (i.e. 17 weeks).
Average weekly price of 2014 Summer Vegetable CSA = $31 Maximum price = $50
Minimum price = $15
Standard Summer Vegetable CSA Pricing in CT: $31/share
Fairfield County- $31
Hartford County- $30
New Haven – $32
New London- $33
To download the full summary and a listing of CSAs in Connecticut, please click here.
UConn Extension (Jiff Martin, Jude Boucher, Joe Bonelli and Mary Concklin), the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) and CT NOFA sponsored a CSA School on November 28th, at the Middlesex County Extension Office. A total of 81 people attended the event and 49 (60%) filled out an evaluation form. Eighty percent of the participants grew vegetable crops and many also grew flowers, small fruit and had greenhouses. Eight growers, two Extension Educators and one “Typical Customer” made presentations about their CSAs’ at the workshop, while four more farmers led discussion groups on how to get started, get better and deal with regulations. Presentations included a ‘Typical CSA Vegetable Share’, ‘Multi-farmer CSA’, ‘Multi-season CSA’, ‘Partnering with Chefs’, ‘a Meat CSA’, ‘Tips & Tools for CSA Business Management’, ‘Insuring a CSA’, and a farmer panel of first-year CSA growers who shared what to do and not to do when getting started.
Seventy-nine percent of the folks who answered the evaluation rated the program as “excellent” while the rest rated it as “good”. Participants all received a CSA school booklet and all rated it either “Excellent” or “Good”. The full booklet has been posted on the UConn RMA web site at www.ctfarmrisk.uconn.edu/. Of the respondents, 86% said they learned something to change their marketing practices, while 80% said the program will improve their farm profitability. Almost everyone raved about the locally-grown lunch from River Tavern and some said it was worth the price of admission all by itself. Four respondents said they would start a CSA next summer while 10 claimed they would add a farm credit-style CSA option to their operation. Others said they would start an entertaining CSA newsletter, begin office or church deliveries, increase their crop diversity, partner with restaurants, add items to shares, write up shareholder agreements, plan production to meet share requirements, start a swap box, change the amount in each share, and have more personal contact with shareholders.