CSA is Ready for Business!

Contributing blogger Lucy Norris is Project Manager for Puget Sound Food Network. For more information, please see staff bios at http://www.agbizcenter.org/staff

Over the last few decades, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms have sprouted up all over the country responding to a growing desire for food that is good, clean and fair. CSA creates a direct link between farmers and consumers. Households typically purchase a “share” of a farm’s harvest, and receive in exchange a weekly bounty of fresh picked produce as it becomes available throughout the growing season. The money that CSA members pay upfront is an investment in that’s farms future production, and helps increase cash flow. Farmers spend a lot of money during the early months of the year repairing or replacing expensive equipment and purchasing seeds. Home cooks incorporate weekly shares into delicious and nutritious meals at home, but CSA shares can work for restaurants, too!

CSA for Restaurants

In 2005, Slow Food Portland hosted an event led by Chef John Taboada of Navarre and Laura Masterson of 47th Ave Farm. An early adopter of the “CSA for restaurant” idea, John bought shares from Laura who delivered produce once a week to Navarre’s kitchen. It worked well for Navarre’s budget and he was willing and able to change his menu around the contents of weekly shares. Chef Taboada influenced other chefs to incorporate CSA shares into their restaurants.  Navarre and 47th Ave Farm built a mutually supportive relationship that benefited both restaurant and farm businesses, but also Navarre’s customers.

Two years ago Chef Chris Johnson, Food Services Director of United General Hospital learned how to use CSA shares in hospital food service. Chef Johnson began bringing local food into the hospital for the first time through two CSA shares from Hedlin Farm in La Connor.  “Every Friday was like Christmas. That was the day CSA boxes were delivered.” United General is a small hospital serving about thirty-five inpatient meals per day.  About a hundred and fifty employees and guests visit their cafeteria, Coho Café, cafeteria.

Explore your options! If your restaurant doesn’t serve kohlrabi, don’t worry!  Some CSA farms are willing to customize the contents to meet individual tastes, provided there is volume demand. Competition with home delivery grocers like Amazon Fresh has increased in recent years and some farms have started to offer a hybrid mix of CSA farm products with specialty or pantry staples in order to stay unique in a competitive marketplace. The contents of a traditional CSA share can vary from week to week, season to season, and include the very best of what can be grown at any given time of year.

Not all restaurants are a good fit for a CSA. Before investing in a CSA for your business, consider the following questions:

  • Is your staff trained to cook from scratch, or are you able to preserve unused produce?
  • Does your menu change according to the seasons/ are you open and willing to change your menu weekly based on what’s in season?
  • Can you accept a weekly drop-off at your restaurant or able send a truck to pick up a share from the farm or market stall to collect your share(s) each week during season?
  • Do the math!  Explore the cost of an upfront investment for 1 or more shares as opposed to weekly invoicing.

Farms are transparent about growing practices, certifications and farm philosophies.  We encourage all restaurants to discuss needs and expectations directly with the farm before choosing a CSA the first time. PSFN has learned that some farms are willing to “plant to order” as long as the upfront investment is secured.

Workplace CSA

Although we think CSAs for restaurants is a very good idea, it’s catching on slowly compared to workplace CSAs in Washington. “I have found more businesses are offering their locations as drop sites, making it easy for their employees to participate in CSAs,” says Clayton Burrows of Growing Washington. “We basically utilize businesses and drop-off points for our CSA.  We ask that businesses have at least five people sign up for a box, and then we deliver their food to their place of work each week.  Some of the businesses pay a portion of the share some do it through payroll deduction. We also do Business Share Snack Packs, where we deliver snack type items (e.g. berries, cherry tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, salads, grapes, etc.), to businesses each week. Our workplace CSA program is going great!”

Recently Peace Health St. Joseph Medical Center joined forces with 10 Whatcom County farms to form a CSA subscription service offering St. Joe’s caregivers a convenient way to access to locally grown fruits and vegetables. “The PeaceHealth mission includes promoting individual and community health.  The St Joe’s Farm Share program does both.  We are encouraging our caregivers to enjoy healthy foods at home while supporting farmers and a vibrant local economy.  CSAs also help create a sense of community at the workplace. PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center offers employees CSA opportunities for all of these reasons.” explains Chris Phillips, Director for Community Affairs.

Businesses of all kinds are developing wellness and sustainability initiatives and this is great news for local CSA farms. “Working with business CSAs allows the farmer to maximize the amount of produce sales with one convenient drop off point.  It also helps develop the communication between farmers and businesses to help them think about their role in the food system and educate the work force about the importance of local agriculture and the relationship to personal health,” says Cheryl Thornton of Cloud Mountain Farm, and one of the 10 Whatcom farmers working with Peace Health St. Joseph’s.

There are a variety of CSA farms in the Puget Sound Food Network and they can be researched by clicking on the links above or by using your membership login at www.agbizcenter.org.  Before choosing the CSA that’s right for you, business owners should keep in mind that each producer is unique in terms of certifications, geography, delivery options, products offered, cost and seasonal share availability. They include:

  • Sol to Seed Farm
  • Willie Green’s Organic Farm
  • Hedlin Farm
  • Viva Farms Incubator and Grower Collaborative
  • Full Circle
  • Oxbow Farm
  • Raven and the Spade
  • Whidbey Green Goods
  • Willowood Farm of Ebey’s Prairie
  • Greenbank Farm
  • Growing Washington
  • Maha Farm

For more information about choosing a CSA for your business or restaurant, please contact info@agbizcenter.org or login to PSFN  with your membership ID and search CSAs in the member profiles, paying attention to the names of the above farms.  You can also find a directory of CSAs in the Puget Sound Fresh 2011 Farm Guide or online at http://www.pugetsoundfresh.org/csa.htm.

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