March 25, 2013

Worksite CSAs catching on

Northern New York is embracing the concept of community supported agriculture (CSA); it’s a business model that’s taking off. 

Farmers markets and farm stands still enjoy a prominent and well-deserved status in the local-food arena, but CSA offers an interesting option. I’ve written about the model before, but in this column I would like to encourage folks to think about “worksite CSAs.”

First, a quick review of community supported agriculture. 

In simplest terms, you purchase a seasonal subscription, or “share,” of the farmers’ products. Typically, you pay the farmer for your share in the late winter. This business model is particularly well-suited to direct-market farmers who are cash-strapped in the late winter/early spring, and it’s critical for the farm’s cash flow to sell shares at this time. The farmer needs to purchase seeds and many other supplies for the growing season. In our region, most of the farm income has tailed off in the winter months. 

In return for advance payment, you are given weeks of freshly harvested vegetables (your share) during the remaining three seasons. Many farms don’t stop at vegetables, offering shares of eggs, meats, flowers, maple syrup, honey, dairy products and more. Some are seasonal, some are year-round, some are conventional, some are organic — the options are yours to explore.

Adirondack Harvest recently teamed up with Cornell Cooperative Extension Capital District Vegetable and Small Fruit Program and the Cornell Small Farms Program to explore the opportunities for worksite CSAs in our region. A worksite CSA is a convenient form of the CSA model, in that all the members are in one location: their place of business.

Why would a business want to participate in a worksite CSA? Employers can support local farms and be a great community sponsor without any expense. The employees get added benefits of belonging to a CSA without the extra step of tracking down their share at the farm. Eating the fresh fruits and vegetables may boost employee energy levels and increase overall productivity. The good nutrition gained in the CSA share reduces the risk of chronic disease. Healthy employees will miss fewer work days and lower health-care costs.

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