A Year in Review for The Central Michigan CSA

by admin on December 18, 2014

michigan csa shareWell it’s mid December and things are mostly tucked in and put away for the winter ahead.  It seems like each year I spend a couple weeks in December going over the previous CSA season to get new ideas, make improvements, and establish priorities for the season to come.  I’m a fan of efficiency and productive, so it’s great to see how insight and changes from last year impacted our members and improved the CSA this season.   The ”End of the Year Survey”  has been a great tool for members to share there experience and suggest changes.  A few members email me throughout the season or call. And then others mention ideas at the weekly drop offs.  Member feedback, by far, provides the most ideas that we can actually implement and improve the program.  I’ve recent updated the CSA page and membership form if you would like to renew your membership for the 2015 CSA the membership form is up.

CSA Improvements and Changes from Last Year

There were several good ideas we were able to implement this year that started as suggestions from our CSA members last year.  The top complaint last year was lack of communication.  This was because there were two drop offs we cancelled or rescheduled.  This problem was solved by not rescheduling any of the drop offs due to weather.  If bad weather was coming we picked the night before or just left and item out if it couldn’t be harvested in the rain.   Last year I would send a reminder text to the members who where picking up their food that day,  some people didn’t get the text, didn’t use texting, and others I didn’t have a number for.  So this year we just didn’t do the reminder text,  and it went great.   Another  suggestion we got was to set up in the same location each week so members could find us easier,  we were able to work with the market masters and get a spot we could count on every week.  This was an easy fix and our members, or someone they sent for pick up,  were able to find us each week.

Another concern we received from a few members last year was that the size (and cost of shares) be more distinct.  Sometimes the full share didn’t seem to be double that of the 1/2 share, so we made some changes how we packaged the weekly shares and that solved that problem.  Many of the other suggestion we got from the CSA members survey were for specific kinds of produce and getting either more or less of some items.  We tried to communicate to people this year that they could swap out stuff or decline items they really didn’t like or plan on eating.

CSA Changes for the 2015 CSA Season

The suggestions and feedback we received this year from the end of the season survey seemed to focus mainly on the actual produce.  A couple people mentioned the feltcentral michigan csa share they got too much of certain items.  Zucchini and yellow squash and kale seemed the top items that people felt could be dialed back some.  I think the most productive way to deal with this is to enlarge the variety of the weekly share, I’m working on that currently.  The early season drop offs are the most challenging as far as variety is concerned, but there is room for improvement.  Several people mentioned they would like to see more greens, especially lettuce. We increased our lettuce planting a lot this year, but I don’t really feel it was enough.  Lettuce is a good early season crop so I’ll focus on that more this coming year for sure.  A couple people also asked about carrots, which I have a difficult time with.  One idea I have for carrots is to grow them in a spot more suitable for root crops.   They just don’t do well at all in our current fields.

Another common suggestion/complaint that came up this year was not being able to eat all of the items.  Several people didn’t like composting veggies each week.  I’ve tried to accommodate this issue by offering different share sizes, but apparently it still needs work.  I’ll be giving this more thought over the next couple months and should be able to work it out.  I always as members if they feel like they received a good value in terms of money spent, 95% of those who filled out the survey did.  We had a couple crops that didn’t do well this year, basil was one of them.  Herbs in general  need more work and the plan is to focus on that early in March.  There are several perennial herbs and I’ve found a source to get those in the ground early spring.  We are planning on growing the annual herbs in containers this year along with companion planting them in with our heirloom tomatoes which provide a light shade and protection from the winds.  This makes the herbs (and greens) much more tender and keeps them from growing to fast or “bolting”.





weekly csa shareI grow produce in the Central Michigan area and provide food for families throughout Mid and Northern Michigan.  I do that via a growing CSA (community supported agriculture) program and two open air farm stands.  We are fortunate to have a number of great farmers markets in the surrounding towns and we do our CSA pick up’s there, the members really like that.  Each year we add several new members to the CSA along with the returning members, having a growing CSA is that simple really.  Many of the new members, especially those who have never participated in a CSA, don’t really know what to expect so I thought I’d write an article about it.  I’ll share this with our members on Facebook and via our Newsletter, but if you live in another part of the state or country, I think you’ll find it informative too.

Growing For a CSA VS.  A Farmers Market

If you visit a Farmers Market in the Month of May, where I live, you’ll like find beautiful hanging baskets, perennial plants, vegetable plants, flats of flowers, many other crafts and locally processed foods, jams, other goodies.  You usually won’t find a whole lot of veggies, but there will always be some lettuce, radishes, spinach and the like.  Most vendors at the Farmers Markets, grow for the opening of the farmers market,  which makes perfect sense.  While we grow the same early items, we time them slightly differently.  We plan for the first CSA pick up.  Instead of growing only the most profitable, simplest, or enjoyable varieties, we grow for variety. More specifically, we grow for a good variety in that first drop off.

The weather doesn’t always cooperate, and there is always more to learn, but for the most part we do pretty good at putting together decent shares for the first few CSA pick ups.  I always tell members, especially new ones, that the program starts lean.  There just aren’t that many 40-60 day vegetable varieties, and those are the ones that will be ready for harvest by late May or early June depending on the year.

I always like to check out the other vendors at the farmers markets.  I like to see what they have and what they like to specialize in.  Some focus on variety, but most seem to have one or two items they do really well at and they focus on that.  That’s one of the reasons you like to browse around and see who has what.  It’s pretty easy to tell a vendor who is really into what they are offering.

Eventually we may grow more specifically for the Farmers Markets we do the pick ups at, but for now, the CSA and our farm stands keep us pretty busy.  This year we added 5 more acres to our veggie production and I suspect we will have more extra produce to offer folks who are shopping at the farmers markets.

What to Expect from a Local Michigan CSA

Like I said, a mid Michigan area CSA or farm share is going to start kind of lean, there won’t be as much variety as main season and there won’t be as much volume.  We describe our 1/2 share as a 1/2 bushel of produce every week for the length of the program, which is 18-20 weeks.  The first few drop offs would be difficult to provide a full 1/2 bushel unless you really like radishes, lettuce, asparagus and peas.  But then again, by July, our shares have far outgrown the 1/2 bushel baskets.  Then, melons and sweet corn, cauliflower, and cabbage come along…  You see what I’m saying.

So if you are new to a CSA, I recommend reserving judgment until at least late July, you’ll be glad you did.  I consider late July thru the end of September to be the “Main Season” for vegetables in Michigan.  Here are some of the main season items we would typically have in one of our CSA shares, you may find something similar in other CSA’s as well:

Tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash and zucchini, green beans, lettuce, eggplant, beets, kale, peaches, carrots, sweet corn, early potatoes, broccoli, blueberries, cauliflower, cabbage, various herbs, swiss chard, bell peppers, sweet peppers and hot peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon, onions, etc.

These are some of the items that come to mind, I’m sure I forgot several.  The main season starts to wind down at the first frost, but we have a good selection of tender stuff in the greenhouse for our fall shares.  It does get a little boring toward the end though….

The late season crops tend to keep a lot better.  Things like butternut squash, buttercup squash, sweet dumpling squash, potatoes, apples, onions, and cabbage all keep very well and there isn’t a lot “new” varieties coming our except maybe late brussel sprouts and pie pumpkins.

I hope this helps those of you who are looking into joining a CSA or you have joined for the first time this year.  I think you’ll like it.  Good CSA farmers will stage their planting so you’ll enjoy your favorite veggies for much longer if you had grown your own.  We always have green beans, summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers for months instead of weeks and our members really like that.



The Central Michigan CSA Is Adding More Locations

May 2, 2014

In order to help make the Central Michigan CSA Program more convenient we’ve decided to add a couple more pick up locations.  While the final details aren’t  completely worked out yet, we’re adding Coleman Michigan and Alma Michigan to our pick up location list.  These two additional locations will have a weekday evening pick up, […]

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The Brix~Why Some Vegetables Taste Better Than Others

January 14, 2014

Every season we get a lot of comments from customers and CSA members about the taste of the vegetables we offer at the farm stand or deliver in the weekly CSA shares.  A few people ask why our vegetables taste so much different than the ones from the store or others they’ve eaten before.  My answer […]

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