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Workplace CSA's – Get Your Veggies While You Work

Pilot Program Increases Farmer’s Business and Employee Wellness.

By Laura McDermott
Despite an abundance of farmers’ markets and farm stands, consumers still purchase produce at grocery stores.  Let’s face it – people go to the grocery store because it’s easy.   So how can we make purchasing locally grown produce easier?
In early winter of 2012, Cornell Cooperative Extension and Adirondack Harvest worked together to attempt to answer this question.  The goal of the project was to increase customer access through a convenient marketing plan for locally grown food.

Download detailed brochures with info on getting started for both farmers and businesses at the Cornell Small Farms Program website. Photo by Laura McDermott.


CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  CSA’s have existed since the 1980’s and are an important market channel for many vegetable farms.  CSA’s are not limited to vegetables however – fruit, flower, egg, meat, cheese and many value added items are also part of the CSA model.
Historically, CSA’s endeavored to include the consumer in the process and risk of farming – the pre-purchase of shares was described as more of an investment in farming than an investment in groceries.  Customers were often required to participate in some of the farm labor – again as a way to assist the farmer, but also to help the consumer understand what took place on a farm.  A CSA consumer, or subscriber, purchased a share that promised to provide a weekly mixture of produce for approximately 20 weeks.  This weekly share could be picked up at the farm or another pre-determined location.  Usually the subscriber would receive a mixture of produce that would be determined by the availability of the crop.
Some CSA’s still operate in this fashion, but over time the CSA model has morphed into less of a ‘share the risk’ model and more of a ‘share the wealth’ model.  Farmers have worked hard to make CSA’s into a convenience driven market option for consumers by offering ‘free choice’ shares and even customizable shares using software like Farmigo (www.farmigo.com) to help them meet the individual needs of the consumer.
This project sought to inform employers that are mindful of wellness initiatives, about the feasibility of sponsoring a CSA.  Ongoing health promotion efforts set the stage for increasing consumption of locally grown produce while also helping farmers develop non-traditional markets.  Several informational meetings were held for farmers, businesses and consumers.  Because the timing wasn’t perfect – the last training was held in mid-April – we were very pleased to have one farmer able to offer CSA shares to 50 subscribers at three different businesses.  Deliveries were made on the same day, and the largest employer negotiated a Farmers Market to be held in their parking lot on the same day.

For Businesses: Creating a Workplace CSA

Getting Started

  • Get approval from the appropriate managers and facilities.
  • Spread the word! Inform your employees about the CSA model and determine employee interest.
  • Consider collaborating with a neighboring business to increase the number of participants.
  • Establish a point person to contact the farmer and answer employee questions.

Finding a Farm

  • To create a list of potential farms, visit http://www.localharvest.org/csa/.  Check out your local Farmers’ Market or contact your local Cooperative Extension office

The Right CSA for You
Each farm will run their CSA program differently. It is important to ask the right questions to find the farm that is best suited for your needs.

  • Logistics:  Where and when do you want the shares delivered? Will this work with the farmer’s schedule? Does the farmer already deliver to a site near your workplace? If the CSA includes meat or dairy products, do you have refrigeration available?
  • Produce: What types of produce will each member receive? Most CSAs deliver a pre-packaged box with a variety of produce that is in season. Some, however offer a varying degree of choice for their members.
  • Shares: Ask the farmer about the quantity of produce each member will receive per week. Some farms offer full and half share options to meet the different needs of their members.
  • Payment: Determine who will be responsible for collecting payments and establish a deadline for subscribing.

Subscription Length: How long do you want the CSA to last? Some farms offer an extended season, providing produce into the fall and winter months.

“There are a lot of businesses out there, and there are a lot of farmers. It’s a perfect match up,” said Adam Hainer, co-owner of Juniper Hill Farm in Westport, NY who also offered a Worksite CSA in Plattsburgh in 2012.  We wanted to increase the CSA component of our market, but because of our location we weren’t seeing much growth,” said Hainer. “We had to make it more convenient. We needed to make a decision to get more food to more people.”  Adam decided that for the first few years he would allow companies that had a minimum of 10 subscribers to be a drop-off location IF there were other businesses contributing to at least 50 total subscribers for a single day delivery.  The other requirement is that each business had to have an on-site coordinator to act as the liaison between the farmer and the consumer or the employer.  This position proved to be critical – especially during the first season.  “There were some problems” said Hainer, “like what to do with a share if an employee was sick – or forgot that they were going on vacation.  The coordinator really helped iron out those wrinkles.”
During the fall, the subscribers were surveyed.  None of the responders had ever been CSA subscribers before this project.  The majority of the responses indicated that the value and the quality of the produce delivered to their worksite exceeded that of a grocery store.  100% of the respondents said that their consumption of fresh vegetables increased as a result of being a CSA member.  77.8% indicated that they would definitely join a CSA in the future.  Some of the comments included, “Very convenient, drop off at work. I loved the variety and being able to choose from veggies that I wouldn’t ordinarily purchase in the store” and “I was surprised at the high quality of the product and the abundance”.
In 2013, Adirondack Harvest has continued to assist with promoting the Worksite CSA concept to local businesses.  At an April 4th meeting in Ballston Spa, NY several more farmers were in attendance and at least one of them has a Worksite CSA in development.  Cara Fraver of Quincy Farm in Easton, NY plan to offer CSA shares at a local YMCA, so that facility staff, members and general public could pick up their shares at a convenient time.  Quincy Farm has also made sales pitches to other companies, but with no luck yet.  “We seem to hit a block with liability and corporate rules prohibiting contracting with just one vendor” reported Fraver.  “We might be able to overcome that if we had the passionate employee that could act as our coordinator and advocate”.
At that same meeting Adam Hainer reported that he had finalized a contract with a firm in Plattsburgh and had sold over 100 shares through a payroll deduction format that was offered to him by the business owners.  His Glens Falls locations are all participating in 2013 and subscriptions look to be up by 15%.  He continues to stress the increased consumption of fresh vegetables as being the most important part of a corporate wellness plan.  “If companies are offering free memberships to gyms, why not access to a Worksite CSA?” asks Hainer.
Teresa Whalen, of Adirondack Harvest, is hopeful workplace CSA’s will become a popular trend.  “It’s all about education and awareness,” Whalen said. “The employees want this, and they understand the benefits. Now we need to convince the employers.”
For more information on this project, and to download free informational brochures for employer and farmer training, please visit the Cornell Small Farms website at: https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/grants/.  Click on ‘Promoting Workplace CSA in the Southern Adirondacks’.
Laura McDermott is the Berry Extension Specialist for the Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program.  She can be reached at 518-791-5038 or email her at lgm4@cornell.edu

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