On March 15th, Small Farm Central will be presenting the CSA Expert Exchange - an online conference covering topics important to farmers running CSA's (it's only a week away -- sign up now!!) We are proud to have several Small Farm Central clients presenting during the event. Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt from Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook, NY will be talking about establishing a systematic approach to a diversified operation, including when and what equipment is appropriate. We asked them to answer a few questions relating to how they ended up in farming, their thoughts on educating other farmers and how running a CSA has affected how they farm.
Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt
Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to farming, how you ended up farming together and how Roxbury Farm came about?
Jean-Paul grew up in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. After a short stint in college he decided to WWOOF by bicycle through Wales and Ireland. When he returned to Holland he started homesteading. He quickly realized that he needed more education to make farming a career, so he enrolled in a 4-year biodynamic agricultural college called Warmonderhof in the Netherlands. After he graduated, Jean-Paul traveled to the U.S. to visit organic and biodynamic farms. He was asked to stay in the U.S to work at a Camphill in Minnesota providing the community with vegetables. After one year he moved to Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, NY to initiate their vegetable operation. In the fall of 1989, after three years at Hawthorne Valley, Jean-Paul started Roxbury Farm. In 1990 Jean Paul was approached by members of the Center for Anthroposophy in NYC to develop a CSA relationship with Roxbury Farm. In 2000, Roxbury Farm with the help of the Roxbury Farm CSA members moved to new land in Kinderhook to gain long-term land security by partnering with the Open Space Institute and Equity Trust, Inc.
Jody grew up in Iowa. Her first job at 13 was de-tasseling corn (pulling the tassels out of field corn plants for cross breeding purposes) and walking beans (spraying Roundup on the weeds in a soybean field) During college she studied botany and biology and worked at a flower farm and greenhouse operation during the summer. After graduating from the University of Iowa, her passion for agriculture lead her to move to the Northeast and work on organic vegetable farms. She met Jean-Paul in the midst of the transition of Roxbury Farm to new land. Jody became a farming partner in 2001 and they were married on the farm in 2004.
You have a lot of material on your website that is aimed at educating other farmers. Do you feel a duty to educate other farmers? Why? To what extent do you feel that sharing information with and educating other farmers is vital to the success of your own farm?
In the Netherlands much of the information we have on our website is available to all farmers through extension services. It is easy for Dutch farmers to find out how long it takes to grow head lettuce in June compared to August. Also by hundreds of years of collective experience of vegetable farmers the most effective procedures for harvesting and crop production are universally adopted. In the U.S., Jean-Paul found that the lack of infrastructure and specific support and information was not available to beginning farmers. He initially wrote up the Harvest and Crop Manuals for the Roxbury Farm crew members. When other farmers expressed interested in the material, Jean-Paul put them on our website. We hope sharing our standards and systems (written for Roxbury Farm conditions) helps other farmers to be successful and to provide a template to develop their own manuals. As a biodynamic farmer, working out of anthroposophy, we believe that competition in the marketplace causes economical, ecological and cultural decline, and that experience and knowledge should be part of the public domain. In order to restructure our agricultural system we need more successful sustainable farmers. If we can contribute to that in some small way, we feel it is our responsibility to share in whatever way we can.
How has operating a CSA affected the way you interact with your customers? How has it affected the way you operate your farm?
Our farm is centered around our relationship to our CSA customers that is based on a continuing development of mutual trust. Our customers provide us with the financial means to operate the farm as an organism. They do this by supporting the operating budget of the farm and finding us a sufficient membership to help spread the cost. The members share the risk and receive the bounty of the farm. This relationship allows us to stay on the farm (as opposed to attending farmers markets) and to concentrate on becoming better farmers. The farm has grown to 1100 CSA members representing approximately 1500 households. This cooperation allowed the farm to secure 375 acres of land (with extremely low debt load), providing our 13 employees with higher than average wages (with four employees year-round employment), and transforming the farm from a vegetable operation into a diversified and integrated farm through the inclusion of a herd of beef cows, a flock of sheep, pigs, chickens, and two draft horses.
To register for the CSA Expert Exchange, go here.
We have awarded 13 scholarships for the CSA Expert Exchange through our New Farmer Scholarships. Every dollar counts in the first years of a farm operation, so I am very happy to provide this valuable information from our experts at no cost to these beginning farmers.
(By the way, there are only 10 days left until the CSA Expert Exchange. Tickets are only $45 to hear from four experts in CSA over four hours in the comfort of your home or office! Get registered soon!)
Here are a couple of quotes from the farmers who received the scholarship:
"I really would like to attend the conference and hear what people have to say about member retention and different ideas about how to build that community long-term through the CSA model. I would love for our farm to be a community center, where people could come and participate in what we do and learn and grow and all that. It would be so good if we felt we were providing food for people on a basis that felt fair and equitable to them, and that they felt nourished by spiritually and mentally as well as physically. Really building a network of friends and good neighbors in our relatively rural part of population-dense Connecticut, that could support and nurture each other long term. I think that would be incredible!" -Colin
"In order to be sustainable we must grow our membership base (which has been around 30 members the last two years), while also getting our growing practices more efficient with the proper use of small-scale equipment, and work harder at customer retention. " - Stefan & Mike
" This workshop would help me to build a CSA that works well for me as a farmer and for members as consumers - I am especially interested in member retention. I strive to educate members through weekly "share letters," and am looking forward to helpful hints on that front as well. " -Megan
"I would love to be able to attend the CSA Expert Exchange conference at this point in my career especially while our CSA is just launching. The knowledge we've received by attending conferences has always positively affected how we farm and I know learning about CSAs from so many experienced farmers would have the same positive impact on our new CSA and the way we market in general. -Shannon"
I spent a couple hours yesterday afternoon with Chef Matt at Marty's Market taking video with the help of the folks at Lockerman Studios. We worked through two simple technique videos: braised kale with onion and garlic and broccoli techniques. These will be worked into 2-3 minute videos that you will be able to use to educate your customers on how to cook your produce.
I have already learned a lot about video production and I'm really excited for what we can do with this medium. I have learned, first off, that it takes a lot of equipment, takes, and time to produce a short video like this. I'll post results as they come available!
Hi! Just wanted to send out a quick note because many people have inquired about this. Member Assembler scheduled payment templates for Authorize.net can now be set to occur every two months, every six weeks, and every three months in addition to the weekly, monthly, and bi-weekly options you've always had.
You can change your payment schedule template at:
Member Assembler > Scheduled Payments > Schedule Template
Any new signups will be set for your new schedule. It will not affect currently scheduled payments from people who have already signed up this season. Remember, this is only if you are allowing checkout with Authorize.net!
We know the power of photos for a website to connect eaters to the farm, but we should also be thinking about video. I think video is a under-utilized in farm marketing. With the smart phone that is likely already in your pocket, you can start harnessing this powerful tool by taking short videos.
Farmer Dave's in Dracut, MA does a lot with video to educate customers from what a "choice-style" pick up looks to like to a new CSA member orientation video.
Here is a beautifully shot interview with a CSA farmer:
Try video this season. Let me know what you come up with!
I have been thinking a lot about CSA member retention in the last few months in preparation for our online CSA conference and in regards to some of the new projects we are pursuing here at Small Farm Central. Brian Moyer at Penn State has done some thinking on this too:
"According to a survey of shareholders of CSA’s in the Mid-Atlantic Region that was compiled by Lydia Oberholtzer for the Small Farm Success Project, on average, CSA’s have to replace 55% of their shareholders every year. This can be a lot of work and worry every winter when you’d probably rather spend your time planning and ordering seeds for your upcoming season."
Read his article, 'Finding and Keeping your CSA Members' for more information on this really important topic.
Member retention is one of the core concepts we will be exploring during the CSA Expert Exchange conference on March 15th. We'll look at this through the lens of CSA community, CSA education, and more. The conference is only $45 and spots are going fast, so sign up soon!
The four of us all worked at the same farm in western Colorado, albeit during different seasons. We (re)connected at the PASA conference in State College, PA and got to swap stories of the farm over the years. We are all still working in agriculture in one manner or another.
It's not just for Valentine's Day. We're always trying to show our love for our farmers by making improvements based on your ideas and needs. Thanks to a great suggestion by Karlin from Penn's Corner Farm Alliance, we've just added a small tool that might save you a good bit of time: default headers and footers for email.
If you've got a logo or some extra contact information or something you want to include on all of your mailings, this is a great place for you to do the work once and have it carry forward. Just navigate to Connect > Mailing List > Settings and you'll see some new settings down at the bottom that look like this:
You can set these up however you wish. From that moment on, any *new* emails you create in the regular mailing list tool, the Member Assembler mail tool, the automated pickup reminders, the payment requests, or the member renewals emails will have the header and/or footer automatically added on. You'll see it there so you can adjust it for that particular mailing should you need to. Newly created default headers and footers will not affect any saved messages you have customized in the past.
We've got pages of suggestions for improvements from you all and will continue to address them as we have time. Thank you for caring enough to share and please keep 'em coming. Happy Valentine's Day!
Small Farm Central and staff will be among the 2,000+ farmers and other interested parties descending on State College, PA for the Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture Conference's (PASA) annual conference. I've been to a lot of ag conferences over the years and, maybe I am biased because this is our home state conference, but I think this is one the best one or two conferences in the country covering issues in sustainable agriculture.
We are sponsoring the conference again this year and will have a centrally located booth, so you can't miss us!
Ask for one our nice mailing list booklets that you can stick on your farm market table to sign up members. We got these printed up a year or two ago and gave them away as a promotion and still have a few left over that we are bringing to the conference.
Special offer: on Thursday night the staff and a couple farmers will go to Elk Creek Aleworks just outside of State College. We have two spots left and we'd like to fill those seats with Small Farm Central farmers, so email me if you want to come along. We'll buy!
Small Farm Central, along with the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, is presenting the first ever online conference focusing on CSAs. Details below! I hope you will join us. More details to follow on this conference in the coming weeks, but please visit the conference website for more information.
Attention CSA Farmers! The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and Small Farm Central are proud to announce the CSA Expert Exchange, a one-day online conference that will bring farmers together to learn about the issues important to them. Topics to be addressed include member retention, member education, and certification and equipment. Noted CSA pioneer Elizabeth Henderson will give a keynote address about the importance of community involvement in creating strong and healthy CSA's.
The CSA Expert Exchange will be held on March 15, 2013 from 11:00am-4:00pm EST. The conference expects to engage between 500-1000 farmers nationwide. Participants will be able to access the conference using any web browser. The conference will utilize video presentations and slideshows with participants interacting via a chat function.
Registration for the conference is $45 (the first 100 registrants will receive a $5 discount). Twenty scholarships are being offered for new and beginning farmers. For more information on how to apply for a scholarship, please visit the website.
For more information on conference details, registration, and information about PASA, Small Farm Central and other conference partners, please visit: csafarmconference.com.