Upon unpacking a weekly delivered box of freshly grown, local produce some people may find themselves asking: How many carrots is too many carrots?
People may say there is nothing better than local fruits and veggies. But a single person with a subscription to a Community Supported Agriculture program, or a CSA, from a local farm might find themselves knee deep in carrots and kale, with no idea how to eat it all.
“CSAs were these really exciting things when they started 10 years ago,” said Megan Mix, owner of Hopscotch Farm and Cannery in Port Townsend. “But lately it seems like the amount of people signing up has tended to drop down, at least in the rest of the nation.”
Mix decided to take a different approach to the traditional veggie box. Beyond selling the vegetables she grows, she also includes one or two canned items, whether that is preserves, pickles, or relishes, and dried goods like bundles of herbs.
“The problem with traditional CSAs is that people can sometimes get overwhelmed with the amount of vegetables that comes in each box,” she said. “This way people can get shelf stable vegetables. They are eating the fresh stuff now, and then they can save some of the canned goods to get locally produced vegetables throughout the rest of the year.”
Now in her second year of doing a CSA, Mix has found her model to be successful. From last year to this year, she had a 70 percent retention rate of her customer base.
“It’s pretty small scale,” she said. “I have 12 customers right now. I’m hoping to get to 15. I really wanted to work directly with consumers and have that connection.”
Starting out as a new CSA farmer in Jefferson County, where there are already a host of local farmers producing veggie boxes each week for dedicated customers, Mix knew that doing something different was important in order to stand out from the crowd.
“It’s hard to say whether or not the market is pretty tapped for veggie boxes,” said Kellie Henwood, the small farms coordinator with the WSU Extension in Jefferson County. “I think newer farmers might have to get a little more creative.”
Like Mix, new farmers in the county are looking for ways to get creative. At Kodama Farm and Food Forest, farmers Ben Thompson, Grace Thompson and Matt Montoya are working in a geodesic dome greenhouse.
“We are growing many different varieties of citrus —lemons, limes, kumquats, blood orange—bananas, pineapples, and some other tropical plants such as yerba mate, starfruit, and guava,” Thompson said. “People are amazed that tropical fruit can grow in our climate here. We always welcome people to walk around the dome when they visit the farm.”
Meanwhile, farmer Lacey Allred skipped veggies altogether and created a flower CSA, where customers can pick up a weekly bouquet of freshly grown flowers.
For Chris Llewellyn, owner of Serendipity Farm in Quilcene, having a loyal customer base is the key to a successful CSA.
“We prioritize our CSA customers,” she said. “We prioritize people who invest in our farm. They come and visit the farm. It’s a way to have community with people, so we know what they want us to grow.”
Each week throughout the summer Serendipity Farm’s 50 CSA customers receive a wide range of veggies, fruits, berries, apples, and occasionally flowers or salad dressing.
“It’s a great way for people to try veggies that they haven’t tried before,” she said. “We include recipes in there sometimes as well.”
A small box with Serendipity Farm costs $500 and goes from June 1 through November 16. The farm also offers an option to sign up for certain weeks, at $20 for a small box.
“CSAs started from farmers trying to innovate ways of diversifying their cash flow when market season hasn’t started yet,” Henwood said. “They are a really great model for not only getting local food to local communities, but also for supporting farmers through their Spring to Fall season.”
When the upfront cost of a CSA is a problem, Henwood said many farmers offer the opportunity to pay monthly, or, like at Serendipity Farm, to choose specific weeks to buy a box of veggies.
For Llewellyn, her base of CSA customers has stayed steady over the years, as her customers have gotten invested in the well-being of the farm.
“It’s a two-way street,” Llewellyn. “We are a family and employee owned farm. Everyone has a vested interest in this farm. When people invest in us, we want to give them the best of what we grow on the farm.”