Published on January 2nd, 2014 | by Derek Markham1
Green Business Ideas: Organic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Everybody eats, and with more and more of us choosing to eat locally grown and organically grown foods, entrepreneurship is booming in the new food economy. Those who love to nurture the soil and feed their community will find that green business ideas to support those passions are all around us, from starting a community garden to growing food at a scale that will benefit families in and around the neighborhood.
For those who think big, starting an organic community supported agriculture farm could be a way to not only feed your green-thumbed soul, but to also feed your friends, families, and communities.
1. What is an organic CSA?
A Community Supported Agriculture farm (or CSA) is supported by its members, who pay for a ‘share’ of the farm’s produce at the beginning of the year, and receive a portion of whatever is harvested regularly throughout the year. This model assures the farmer a living, even if disaster strikes (flood, earthquake, locusts) and the farm is unable to produce. In most cases, members receive a weekly portion of produce for pennies on the dollar compared to what they would get at a supermarket, and are assured of local, fresh, and, typically organic produce. The model is so successful at creating community and providing a market niche for small farmers, that some credit it with the resurgence of small scale organic farming in the U.S., as a means of providing a competitive advantage over large scale agribusiness.
There are a variety of business models of CSA, ranging from small-scale operations to vertically integrated, and from farmer-driven (subscription) to consumer-driven (shareholder).
2. What required knowledge or skills are necessary?
It is highly recommended that anyone wishing to start an organic farm CSA be knowledgeable in organic farming practices. If you are interested in this type of business but have no farming experience, start by volunteering for another organic farmer, either locally or as part of an experiential travel program like WWOOF’ing. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms, and at WWOOF.org, you’ll find a list of farmers looking for volunteers to help them grow, harvest, and market their goods. If the work suits your fancy and you decide to pursue this as a career, you may choose to enroll in a 6 month training program, like the apprenticeship program offered by the University of Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Or… just keep on WWOOF’ing!
3. How much money is required to start?
$$-$$$$ (on a scale of $ to $$$$$). This is highly dependent on the nature of the land you plan to use and therefore extremely variable in terms of startup costs. For those who are growing on large plots of land, an investment in some machinery, such as a tiller or a small tractor may be necessary, and investing in a greenhouse or cold frames can extend the growing season quite a bit. If you don’t have access to a large plot of land, purchasing a containerized urban farm could be an option to get started.
4. What is the income potential?
$$-$$$ (on a scale of $ to $$$$$). This also largely depends on the nature of the land you’re using. If you decide to purchase your farm, for example, you may be able to offer other services, such as education facilities and holistic health retreats. Planting more food than you need for your CSA shares can help boost income by allowing you to sell the extra at your local farmers market or to restaurants.
5. What is the best location for an organic CSA?
Urban (fair), semi-urban (fair), suburbs (fair), rural (best).
6. Three best questions to ask yourself to find out if this business is right for you (if you can answer yes to all three, this business might be for you):
- Are you knowledgeable of organic farming practices and methods? If no, see #2, above.
- Do you enjoy working with your hands, working outside, physical labor, and working long hours?
- Is there a fairly popular farmer’s market in your area where you could sell your goods (including subscriptions/shares, as well as extra produce)?