CSAs keep going year-round
By STEVE BROWN
POULSBO, Wash. -- Keeping a community supported agriculture program going through the winter takes "twice as much planning for half as much business," but Cliff Wind says it's worth it.
He and Marilyn Holt work year-round at their farm, Abundantly Green Certified Organic Produce, so they offer shares in their CSA every season.
A fall-winter membership provides a box every other week from the first week in November through the first half of February. A spring membership provides a box every other week to the end of May and summer provides 20 weeks of fresh produce through October.
The fall-winter program has about 40 members, with many of them also in the year-round package, which locks in their produce costs for a year.
"I don't think our food is any more expensive than stores," Holt said. Repeat CSA members know there won't be as much variety in the winter, but they know it will be fresh.
"We had a couple of hard freezes, but we'll make it up to them later in the year. And there's a good variety of things -- we try not to give them massive carrots or all of one thing."
Wind and Holt were growing a variety of produce from their high tunnel in early January: collards, fennel, kale, salad mix, mustard greens, beets, spinach, carrots, chard, bok choy and parsley.
"It doesn't look like much now," Holt said, "but when the spring comes, this will really take off."
Trying to keep growing during Western Washington's cold and wet weather is only one of the challenges of a winter CSA, Wind said. "Some customers have high expectations. They're accustomed to what they can get at the grocery store. They say, 'If you can't offer it, we won't sign up at all.' A lot of (being successful) is educating, reaching people who are attuned to going local."
At Boistfort Valley Farm, near Curtis, Wash., co-owner Mike Peroni said he doesn't grow in the high tunnels in the winter, so it's difficult to get the product out of the field.
"Winter stuff tends to be heavier," he said. "It's tougher on the crew physically, and also getting equipment in and out."
Wind said the most obvious benefit of a winter CSA is cash flow.
"Winter can be a hard time otherwise. But if you can hook some people during the hard and thin times, they're more likely to be a summer customer, too," he said.
"Before we had a winter CSA, we'd cut the customers loose, and we'd hope they'd join again in spring," Peroni said. "This maintains that relationship."
A winter CSA also means year-round work for employees.
Planning a winter operation is "both easier and harder," Wind said. "It's a smaller scale, but harder conditions."
The high tunnel is in use year-round, but in the summer, about 4 1/2 acres are producing outside, adding such crops as corn, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, brassicas, leeks, squash, garlic, herbs and peppers to the CSA boxes.
One of the biggest needs at Abundantly Green, though, is bees. Without someone nearby to raise them, crop pollination can be inconsistent, Wind said.
Supplementing the produce side of the farm's business is livestock: beef cattle, ducks for eggs and chickens for broilers and layers. As a side benefit, the free-range poultry keep the slugs in check.