To help producers tap into their community, increase their marketability and profitability, the University of Wyoming Extension Service and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture will be hosting a workshop on how to start a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) venture.
“We live in a highly refined food system,” said Cole Ehmke, an Extension agriculture entrepreneurship specialist with the University of Wyoming. “Most consumers don’t know where their food comes from.
“We are seeing an increase in Community Supported Agricultural ventures around the country and here in the West,” he added.
The planned workshop is free and will be held from noon, Tuesday, Feb. 12 until noon on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at the Best Western Plus Plaza Hotel in Thermopolis, Wyo.
“Community Supported Agriculture has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer,” said Ehmke. “There are around 19 operating in Wyoming, for instance.”
To prepare for the workshops, Ehmke and his staff contacted a variety of successful CSAs around the intermountain West. “We wanted to learn how they were operating their ventures,” he said.
There are certain principles that underlie the concept of CSA, the main one being that people can directly support a farmer across a season and become more aware of where their food comes from in their communities.
CSAs started in Europe, where local farmers would sell part of their produce to their neighbors and communities. It has since spread to the United States and is becoming more and more common. Community members and organizations, such as schools and restaurants, purchase a “share” of the produce and then, each week, they receive a delivery of fresh produce such as vegetables, fruits, eggs, meats, grains. It is what the grower can offer them that week. Each delivery is different with every CSA.
“CSAs give people a connection to agriculture through good times and bad times,” Ehmke said. “If there is hail or a pest problem, they don’t receive as much produce – they share the effects with the grower. For the farmer, he or she is assured a market before planting and received operating capital up front.”
The workshop will cover the things producers will need to know to think through a CSA and how to organize and start one in their community. These are not farmers’ markets but, rather, personal enterprises of connecting with the community on a more individual basis.
“We interviewed managers of CSAs in the Mountain West to get their perspective on how they ran their operation and compiled it into a manual which we’ll release at the conference,” Ehmke said.
“The workshop will focus on the types of shares, how big a full or partial share should be, the length of the growing season and ways to extend that season, options for adding on other ventures, getting members of the community to help with the work, pricing, and communicating with customers,” he explained.
“Communicating with customers is a big deal. The more they are informed, the more satisfied they are,” he added.
The workshop will also explain how to recruit customers, prepare the sold food, and address food handling and safety.
“We are not going to talk about the varieties of food you can grow and sell. This isn’t going to be a production conference. This is a management conference. There will be information on financial management, records and general business principles for running a CSA,” he said. Ehmke noted that many CSAs are set up so the customers pay in January and February, giving the grower the money he needs to buy the seeds and start the planting. They will also discuss the three key ways to make it community sustainable, environmentally sustainable with soils and extended seasons, and financially sustainable.
“All it will cost is just an investment in time,” he said. To register, simply e-mail Ehmke at email@example.com or call him at 307-766-3782. The workshop will be held at the Best Western Plus Plaza Hotel in Thermopolis at 116 E. Park St. Refreshments will be provided.