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Sustainable Agriculture

Season-Long Harvest: Cooperative of Community Farms Serves 200

A group of New Hampshire organic vegetable growers seeking to pool their resources and expand their retail reach organized a cooperative marketing enterprise with help from a SARE farmer/grower grant. The eight-farm cooperative—which follows the community-supported agriculture model of providing a “subscription” service of weekly fruit and vegetables—was welcomed by Concord area families. The growers originally hoped to recruit 60 families to pay up front for a season’s worth of vegetables, but reached 140 in their first season. In 2004, they will deliver to about 200 shareholders.

“It was wonderful to get two big bags of vegetables every week—it revolutionized our diets,” said David Frydman, a Concord resident who joined the Local Harvest CSA in 2003. “We liked the idea of having locally grown, organic produce and supporting small farmers in our community.”

CSA farms, which have operated in the U.S. for more than a decade, create partnerships between consumers and farmers. Consumers share some of the risks by paying in advance, then reaping the harvest for months. While a CSA enterprise usually is run by an individual grower, the New Hampshire cooperative brings other farms into the mix, allowing them to produce what they grow best or substitute for others’ crop losses, said David Trumble, the co-op’s production manager. The farmers grow a wide range of vegetables, herbs, and flowers and include an option for shareholders to receive fresh bread.

The SARE grant helped the farmers incorporate as a cooperative, set rules, and promote the CSA in the Concord community. The 14-month process allowed the growers to work through myriad business details, from setting pricing—$425 a single share to $779 for a family share plus fresh bread—to co-op voting procedures. While time-consuming, incorporating was valuable, Trumble said. “Rather than the customer suffering through our mistakes, when we got going, we knew what we would do,” he said.

The Local Harvest CSA farmers helped each other, sharing information about production issues like seed varieties and fencing options. Moreover, they diversified their income and improved their profits. “We get a guaranteed market and know ahead of time what we’ll grow, with prices negotiated beforehand,” Trumble said.

After the first season, two more farmers joined the group. One of them had worked previously for one of the co-op farmers and leased land to grow crops for the enterprise. Frydman signed up for the Local Harvest CSA again in 2004. Not only did he relish the fresh food, but he and his kids also liked greeting their neighbors in the church parking lot, where they picked up their share every week. “We reconnected with people,” he said.

 

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