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Grow Your CSA Online

by Dan Livingston

Though the internet has the potential to help grow a business, many farmers have trouble finding the most effective ways to utilize their time and energy online in order to get the best return on their efforts.

Farm CSA’s use Wholeshare to attract new members, and retain the ones that they’ve already got.

Wholeshare (www.wholeshare.com) is an online marketplace for local and sustainable foods that allows groups of people to buy local and sustainably produced food from wholesale distributors and farmers.  Wholeshare works together with food hubs such as Hudson Valley Harvest and Regional Access to bring the products that they aggregate into the CSA programs of farms throughout New York State (as well as in areas of PA, CT, VT, MA and NJ).  This allows farmers to attract new members, and retain the ones that they’ve got.  It’s an adaptable and versatile system, and each Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that uses it (currently over a dozen) is using it in a different way.

What follows are profiles of two CSA farms in which the farmers themselves describe how they are using Wholeshare to grow their CSA program, to strengthen their connection to their shareholders and communities, and to save time while bringing in more each season.

Bernie with the three goats of Three Goat Farm CSA. Photo by Denise Szarek.

Three Goat Farm CSA, Westmoreland, NY

In 2005, Denise and Bernie Szarek launched “Old Goat Salsa” using hydroponic tomatoes grown in their greenhouse.   As the economy started to tank in 2009, they decided to look to a CSA model for the farm to secure a better market for growing vegetables. Bernie says, “We believe we are one of the few CSA’s in New York State to grow our veggies using hydroponic methods. We use a mineral based nutrient solution to feed our plants, which allows them to take up those minerals directly by their roots. No pesticides, herbicides or fungicides are used on the farm.”

They began offering Wholeshare as an option to CSA members in June of 2012. Their Wholeshare group is open to their CSA members as well as to anyone in the area. The group now has 70 members and is growing. According to Denise, “We do monthly Wholeshare pick-ups on the farm, and this seems to work with all of the members’ busy schedules. In 2013, we will be adding a physical structure we’re calling the ‘Farmshed’ to the farm to make it more convenient for members to pick up their CSA shares and Wholeshare orders. It will also serve as a place to hold workshops on topics such as how to buy local food on a budget, food storage and preservation, and recipe exchange.”

Their CSA members enjoy having Wholeshare as an option because it means access to a broader range of healthy and local products at their pickups.  Denise adds, “The idea was always to include value added foods with the fresh vegetables available through our CSA. From the very beginning, we have partnered with other area farmers to offer meat, eggs, yogurt and additional veggies to CSA members. So, when we were approached by Wholeshare last winter to offer food from many regional farmers at wholesale prices, it was a no brainer.”

Bret, Stephanie and Hazel operate Hemlock Creek CSA. Photo by Stephanie Roberts .

Hemlock Creek CSA, Stevens Point, PA

Bret and Stephanie got into farming after college. They were looking for a way to do something practical with all of their passion for food.  Farming was their way of doing something to make the world better.

Their farm is in the Endless Mountains region, and straddles the Twin Tiers with 300 acres sprawling across the NY/PA border. They grow vegetables on 5 acres for a 60 member CSA, with the rest of their land kept as pasture and woodlands. They have a small dairy herd of 3 cows and growing. Their plan for this coming season is to grow their CSA up to 100 members.

That’s where, Stephanie says, Wholeshare fits in. “Wholeshare has drawn in new members through word of mouth who aren’t usual market customers and so I think that’s helping the CSA-side of our business by giving us more exposure and drawing more members into our CSA through the idea of bulk ordering.”

Farming vegetables in a remote area between Binghamton, NY and Clarks Summit, PA can be difficult. A trip to a quality grocery store can take the better part of a day, which often seems impossible during the growing season, while in the winter because of harsh weather, it often is impossible. “To me,” says Stephanie, “Wholeshare means access to good products at a good price and in bulk, which is invaluable.

Bret and Stephanie have also found Wholeshare useful in retaining CSA membership and interest throughout the winter.  Stephanie says, “One of the main reasons we chose to use Wholeshare after our season ended was to keep in touch with our members, as well as to attend the Clarks Summit Essential Eating Farmers Market, and to sell some storage vegetables that wouldn’t have been enough to make the trip otherwise.”  She adds, “It’s been really great these past few winter months getting to see everybody and catch up with them and share good food. It’s a good way to keep in touch.”

To bring Wholeshare to your farm and your community go to http://www.wholeshare.com.  For more information about the farms featured in this article, go to http://www.threegoatfarm.com or www.hemlockcreekcsa.com.

Dan Livingston’s past experience includes working for a small non-profit online farmers market called Central New York Bounty, as well as the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY).  Dan now works as the Director of Community Outreach for Wholeshare.com. He has helped connect over 60 communities throughout New York State to local and sustainable foods, and is shaking up the food system by empowering individuals and groups to put good food at the center of their communities.

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