My name is Danny. I've always wanted to have my own farm, but after looking into how much the initial start up cost was, I quickly learned the risk might not be worth it. The most important thing you can have when starting a farm is experience and that was the one thing I had a lot of. I worked at the Zahradka Farm 7 years while i went to college in the winter. I learned everything about farming, marketing, planning, and how to run a CSA. The most important thing I learned was growing vegetables was the easy part. Selling what you grew was the hard part. Fresh Vegetables have a short shelf life and if they weren't sold quick enough, they would go bad and all that time growing and harvesting would be wasted.
My first year of farming was most challenging and rewarding thing I had ever done. After being laid off in January 2017, I decided to start a farm.The worse thing that could happen is it fails and I have to get a job. I already had a business plan so all I needed was land and funding. The previous 2 years I was denied a farm start up grant, so the only way I could do it was to get a business loan. I was able to find 2 acres of land to lease with free water and by March I was approved for my loan. By May, I had used most of my loan and planted over an acre of crops. I signed up for 4 Farmers markets and reached out to a few local restaurants. This was also when I decided to start a CSA(which ended up saving the farm for the first year.) I had no idea how I wanted to run it so i kept it simple. All the boxes are the same, and they would be delivered once a week. I was able to get 18 people to sign up and by mid June I started delivering their CSA. The farmers markets weren't working and by July most of the vegetables were going bad from not being able to sell them. I ended up dropping 2 markets. By the end of the year, I had to get a part time job and pretty much broke even. Everyone loved the CSA and I realized this is what I should focus on. It was the consistent income the farm had and it was a great way for me to connect to people.
I didn't realize at the time but the CSA model I created was working. All of the members loved the fact that I delivered the vegetables straight to their house. Starting a new CSA, I didn't know who was going to sign up and didn't want to limit myself to one area with a drop off location. Also if anything happened(which it did in the first year), I could switch the delivery day or even drop off at night. Also in the CSA shares weren't any greens(besides salad mix in the fall). I couldn't afford refrigeration and most of the greens i did grow ended up being eaten by deer. I was a little worried but with the abundance of other crops, I didn't need to fill the boxes with greens. The final thing I did for the CSA was give everyone my cellphone number and told them communication is the most important thing. If there was ever a problem call me and I will do my best to fix it. Everyone understood this was my first year but were very happy they could contact me anytime. I even had a few members tell me they belonged to other CSA's and the only form of communication was emails so when something was wrong it took a few days to get a response. The first winter we also did a Winter CSA which went really well. Same principle, but with more greens, root vegetables, and early spring crops.
In my second year, 2018 season, I found a new plot of land closer to my house, and changed my business plan to be more of a CSA farm. I went with the same model of all deliveries, few greens, and great communication. All but 3 members resigned back up, and I was able to get over 40 members. That's when the weather went non-stop rain. A few weeks the CSA boxes were a little light, but i still managed to have a great variety every week and even brought fruit to add to the boxes a few times. Towards the end of the year I had to drop a couple markets from not having enough stuff. I made sure the CSA got what I had available and even added in a couple specialty items throughout the year. The CSA saved the farm again and even made enough for me to pay off my start up loan.
Going into my third year of farming, I want to expand the CSA more by adding more specialty items, weekly news letter, and a way for members to come to the farm. I want to save the vegetables I grow but can't use. Such as all the bruised and unsold tomatoes, jarring into sauce or salsa. Making vegetable stock and then freezing into quarts Or cut, blanch, and vacuum seal peppers and then freeze. This year our members will be receiving extra items we save and we will be incorporating them into our weekly recipes. We hope to get a lot of positive feed back and want to find the best way to add them to the CSA. I also plan on building more infrastructure such as hoop house and purchasing more sea containers. Last year I was at the mercy of the weather and adding a few hoop houses will take some pressure off. A hoop house eliminates the weather factor. Also I am going to experiment growing hydroponic lettuce in a sea container.
Thank you for taking the time to read everything. You can reach me with any questions you may have via phone or email. A CSA isn't for everyone. But if you join, you can expect a non-stop supply of fresh vegetables during the growing season. If you don't have time to cook at least twice a week then our CSA may seem overwhelming. We do our best with providing recipes each week. Also if you would like a reference from someone currently in our CSA, I have two great people that have been with us from the beginning that are more then happy to talk to you.