CSA, dairy partner on deliveries

John O'Connell/Capital Press Spencer Johnson weighs potatoes to pack in a food box for his family farm's community supported agriculture business, which utilizes an Idaho Falls dairy for delivery service.

Capital Press

BLACKFOOT, Idaho — Richard Johnson’s community supported agriculture service instantly gained 100 customers in Idaho Falls, where he’d never previously sold produce, thanks to a partnership with a local dairy.

Alan Reed, owner of Reed’s Dairy, can now offer more product variety to customers on his dairy delivery routes, while making a bit of extra income to defray transportation costs.

Following an informal conversation at the state fair in the fall of 2012, Reed sent an email to his roughly 1,500 delivery customers, offering them the chance to also buy home-delivered produce boxes from Johnson’s Grove City Gardens. Through CSAs, customers who make a long-term commitment — 18 weeks in Johnson’s case — routinely receive an assortment of seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Half boxes of produce sell for $10, standard boxes are $15, and family boxes are $25. Reed receives a small payment on each box delivered.

In the trial year of their partnership, they limited participation to the first 100 customers to respond. They intend to expand CSA deliveries next season. Reed is also seeking additional producers to aid through his delivery service.

“I think we could grow that in a lot of different directions — anything locally produced,” Reed said. “Anything we put on those trucks is good for us because it helps us cover the overhead.”

Reed believes the customer base he offers is perhaps as important as the truck space. Johnson, for example, can reach out to an audience willing to pay a premium for local and fresh foods and products. Johnson has also benefited from advertising, placing information in each box about his farm’s Wild Adventure Corn Maze and other farm services.

Johnson had just 32 CSA customers prior to the arrangement with Reed, offering weekly pickups of produce boxes on his farm and at farmers’ markets in Pocatello, Rexburg and Jackson, Wyo. Seeking to expand, he consulted with his Oregon-based greenhouse equipment supplier for marketing suggestions. They mentioned a Seattle organic grower who bought delivery vans to provide door-to-door service.

“I thought that would be cool, but I couldn’t afford to get a van and a driver,” Johnson said.

Reed had tried delivering produce for another supplier a few years before. He liked the concept, but the produce didn’t meet customers’ expectations.

Reed knows of dairies in Denver and Salt Lake City that buy produce to deliver customers, but he believes his arrangement with Johnson is unique in that two independent farming operations are working together.

“Some companies wouldn’t want somebody like Grove City Gardens talking to their customers. I have a trust in Richard,” Reed said.

Johnson’s children fill the boxes and choose what to put in them. His 16-year-old daughter, Marissa, oversees the delivery program, including handling any customer complaints. She’s saving her earnings for college.

“After this season, we’re going to talk with (Reed) and see how they liked it, and we’ll talk as a family and see where we can go with this,” Marissa said while filling boxes Oct. 14 for the final week of deliveries. “Then we’ll make our decisions as to how much to plant next year.”

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