Press-Republican

March 25, 2013

Worksite CSAs catching on

By LAURIE DAVIS, Cornell Co-op Extension
Press-Republican

---- — 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.

Why would a farmer want to develop a worksite CSA? For all the reasons mentioned for regular CSAs. And if the farmer is making share deliveries anyway, he or she can deliver the worksite shares in one easy stop. It’s easier to increase customers within a worksite CSA, since other employees will be curious about “What’s going on down in the lobby with all that fresh food?” Talk around the water cooler is an affordable way for the farmer to advertise.

As a business owner, why not make it easy to access healthy food by providing farm-fresh produce directly at your workplace? You’ll need to do a bit of coordinating, initially, to get approval from any managers and facilities. And you’ll need to determine whether there is interest in a CSA. Do you have a wellness program? Perhaps this could dovetail nicely with the existing program.

Consider collaborating with a neighboring business to increase the number of participants. There’s probably someone in your office who would like to be the point person, contacting the farmer and answering employee questions. 

Perhaps you could host an open house and invite farms to come speak about their CSAs. Employees could then help choose the farm they want to support.

We are fortunate to have many CSAs spread across the North Country. Adirondack Harvest is an organization dedicated to connecting our local farmers with consumers and can help you in your quest for local foods. For a listing of CSAs with contact information, visit www.adirondackharvest.com/csa.html.

Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest. Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: lsd22@cornell.edu.