I 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.