Well, the short answer is that it’s a work in progress.

Cool Beans CSA is a developing collaboration between two women who share a passion for growing safe, nutritious food on our respective farms and hope to share both the passion and the food with others through a CSA in south central PA, starting in the spring of 2010.

We met in the spring of 2009 through a Craigslist ad I placed for Bourbon Red Turkey poults.  I’m Katie, and I have five acres on Stoney Creek Road a little north of Harrisburg.  We sell tall bearded iris through a website (www.stoneycreekiris.com) and raise chickens, heritage turkeys, rabbits, greenhouse plants, vegetables, and Christmas trees.  I’ve always wanted to have a CSA, but don’t quite have enough land to produce the amount of food one would require.

But Judi does.  When Judi and I met for coffee after I placed my ad, we laughed and talked for hours, and I ended up asking her – someone I’d just met that day – if she’d like to share my farmer’s market stand this summer.  With a third friend, a soapmaker, we ran the Three Sisters stand at the Farmers on the Square Market in Carlisle.

Judi had her kitchen cleared by the state for baking for market, and used fresh stone ground wheat grown on their acreage in Perry County to produce incredible breads and addictive whole wheat soft pretzels.  I started with greenhouse plants (herbs and vegetables) and shifted to produce and baked goods as the season progressed.  We sold Diane’s soaps and shiitake mushrooms and asparagus.  Our stand was eclectic, our sales were good, our customers became our friends, and the other vendors became both friends and inspirations.

With a market stand already running, we began to explore the possibility of a CSA.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a CSA (community supported agriculture)  is a system in which the customer pre-pays in early spring for a weekly share in the produce. There are many variations, and we have many decisions to make in the next month about the specifics, which I’ll mention later.

Judi has all the pieces I’ve been missing for starting a CSA: a lot of land, an entire family experienced in farming on a large scale, tractors, and a couple of young children we cheerfully intend to exploit for labor.  🙂  She and her family raise pigs, cows, goats, poultry, and grow the feed for all of them on their beautiful farm in “The Cove” in Perry County, just across the river from us.

I thought at first that I didn’t bring as much to the table, being older and slower and still not knowing all the sorts of things Judi, who grew up farming, has known since birth.  But I have greenhouses to raise the starter plants, an attention to detail that will be crucial in the planning stages, and time to tend to the blog / website / customer orders, and a willingness to work as hard as necessary to make this work.  Between our many years’ experience in raising food and our own skill sets, we’re confident that Cool Beans CSA can work for you.

What are the benefits to a potential customer?  You’ll know exactly where your food comes from and how it’s been produced.  You’ll be able to see the gardens in which the food that goes on your table has been grown, safely, sustainably, seasonally, and locally.  Your food will be as fresh as possible, often picked the same day you receive it.  You’ll have the challenge of the occasional new-to-you variety, but with the safety net of printed recipes and suggestions.  You won’t worry about contaminants or the amount of fossil fuel used to truck your food across the country. You’ll get a box of produce each week that’s equal or higher in value to the pro-rated weekly cost of membership.

The obvious benefit to us is that your pre-paid membership gives us some consistency and the ability to plan things financially in a different way than selling at market, which is wonderful (and will continue), but can be a gamble.  It’s a lot easier to figure out how many row feet of sweet corn to plant when you already know how many people you’re feeding!  But a less obvious benefit is the relationship that develops between a farmer and a customer.  Just as you like to know where your food comes from, we like knowing who enjoys the results of our hard work.

You don’t want to be a CSA member if you’re not willing to share in the ups and downs of farming with us.  We can promise that we’re  going to work our butts off to make this work for our customers.  But farmers can’t make promises about the actual harvest, because there’s too many variables we can’t control.  It is entirely possible that we’ll be overrun with snap peas in the summer of 2010 and that the beet crop might not be a great one.  Our CSA customers will, in that case, get extra snaps and not so many beets.  We will work hard to insure a great variety every week, but we can’t promise exactly what each week’s basket will hold.

In December and early January, we’ll be making some crucial decisions about the Cool Beans CSA. For instance:

Pickup only, delivery only, or options?  Time is crucial during harvest season, and individual deliveries aren’t practical, but we’re looking into some options for group deliveries.  A lot will depend on where our customers actually live or work, so the answer to this will probably evolve as more people sign up.

What will we offer in addition to the basic package?  Many CSAs give customers the option of adding a weekly dozen free-range eggs, or purchasing meat, or bread, or jams, for an additional fee.  We can do those things, but we aren’t certain yet if it’s a good plan to do so in Cool Beans’ first year.

Can weekly baskets be tweaked at all?  If we can figure out the logistics, we hope to offer a CSA that is a a bit more personalized for our customers than the standard model, in which each member receives the same thing.  Some CSAs offer member the option of ordering extra veggies, or making some changes, a few days before orders are packed.  We’re weighing the pros and cons of a system like that.

Exact cost?  A full membership in CSA,  for four or more eaters in a family, generally runs between $500 and $550 locally for 24-25 weeks, or about 20-22 dollars per week.  Half shares are usually available for a bit over half that cost.  We’ll be in line with other local CSAs, and we’re considering offering a quarter share option for singles.

I suspect that input from our first customers will be crucial to helping us fine-tune the logistics.  Are you interested?  You can email me at katie@komta.com with your suggestions.  We’ll have more detailed information on this site as we figure out the answers to these questions, but your thoughts would be helpful and very much appreciated.  You can also contact me if you’d like me to hold onto your email address and let you know when the specifics have been worked out.

We have a website to design, planting schedules to fine-tune, and many procedural questions to answer.  But your summer bounty is already started:  there’s a couple hundred parsley plants already started in the greenhouse at Stoney Creek, and the garlic’s already planted.  Spring is on the way!

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>