Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

CSA: The Next Generation

On Monday, I blogged about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). I was pleasantly surprised to hear how many people are participating in a CSA program. What I also learned is that many farmers are going beyond the traditional box of organic produce.

Many farmers are now offering bread, cheese, chocolate, wine, olive oil or jam, whether made by them or from a local artisan. I understand that this is ordered on a regular basis. This is an interesting phenomena because it suggests that these local producers have recognized the business potential of CSA. Where a few years ago, CSA was the maverick in the marketing family, it has now become an attractive channel for other producers marketing plan.

Sarah Henry, who blogs at Lettuce Eat Kale found that in addition, the local artisans are experimenting with the CSA business model to sell their own goods. “The jury is still out on if this is sustainable, long-term,” said Cindy Tsai Schultz, co-founder of Fresh Bite, a baked goods start-up that began with a community supported approach, but has since put the idea on hold.

Other companies who are experimenting with the idea of partnering with, or harnessing the CSA model include Soul Food Farm (chicken and eggs), Marin Sun Farms (meat) and Massa Organics (rice), which partners with produce CSAs to provide its products. Bellwether Farms and Cowgirl Creamery have cheese clubs, which essentially work in a similar way to CSAs.

Others have had a more rocky experience. Pandora’s Box is a bakery that enjoyed initial success but was unable to sustain it financially. Fresh Bite used this business model to market their baked-goods, but moved their business into offering complete meals, but finally settled on developing a wholesale line of products in popular outlets like Monterey Market and Star Grocery and will expand to the Solano Farmers Market.

There are local businesses who have been able to make the model work. Wine enthusiasts can pick up a six-pack (can you use this word for wine?) at Vintage Berkeley once a month for $60. The advantage of this is to leverage the experience of an expert, in this case, owner Peter Eastlake and Vine Street store manager Brent Fraker.

By the way, Vintage on Vine Street also serves as a CSA pick-up for the Fatted Calf Charcuterie. “We just figured it was a good fit,” said Fraker. “People who like artisan salumi, duck confit, and pork terrine are probably going to want to drink some wine with their meat. It’s working out really well.”

I was able to write this article because of the research by Sarah Henry at Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and become a fan of Lettuce Eat Kale on Facebook.

Now, please excuse me. I am suddenly very hungry!

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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2 thoughts on “CSA: The Next Generation

  1. I think it’s fascinating that the business model is catching on and expanding. Our local schools are using CSA as a fund-raiser. I’ve also heard about a Community Supported Brewery – something my husband can buy into.

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