There has been a rather vigorous rise in affordable technology for winter growing that has paved the way for more winter community supported agriculture operations to exist throughout the country. With a little bit of infrastructure, any farm can run a winter CSA, and maybe every farm should.
Why would someone want to farm in the winter, when its cod and plants grow extremely slow, even under cover? Well, there are several advantages that might not be obvious when it comes to offering vegetables throughout—or even through part of—the winter. So if you have a little cold-weather growing space, and you’re curious, here are some of the ways running a winter CSA could benefit your farm.
1. It Generates Winter Income
The obvious reason to grow throughout the winter is to have a little extra income in the more scant parts of the growing season. Running a winter CSA can offer a nice boost of funds to get you through until spring signups and markets, taking some of the pressure off you and your customers in the late winter.
2. It Reduces Summer Pressure
Knowing that you will have some income through the winter might relieve some of the stress of summer growing, when you are trying to make all your money for the year in a short amount of time. In this way, a winter CSA is a good option for people looking to get full-time farming within their first few years as it balances out the work and the salary.
3. It’s A Marketing Opportunity
The winter CSA also serves as an opportunity to market your farm and keep your CSA members thinking about you all winter. If you deliver vegetables throughout the winter, even if only one delivery per month, it will keep your members thinking about you and enjoying their fresh produce.
4. The Veggies Are Indoors
The winter isn’t necessarily an easy time to grow, per se, but it can be a significantly less labor-intensive time. For instance, a lot of your crops will come not from the fields, but from storage—potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage, garlic, rutabagas, carrots, beets and other storage crops can be harvested in the late fall and stored for months. These crops can then easily be cleaned and distributed throughout the winter. Another advantage is harvesting from a high tunnel or greenhouse that allows the farmer to step out of the wind, rain, snow, sleet or cold to harvest the greens needed for the week. Of course, some crops can be grown in the field without much trouble, depending on where you live—with or without cover—but so long as you take precautions to make sure they are safe from weather, you can do a lot to keep yourself warm and the veggies safe without a lot of work.
5. It’s A Chance To Share
Because you might not grow enough goodies to keep a winter CSA interesting, a winter CSA also gives you the option of offering products from other farmers in your area. Maybe you want to offer some eggs or meat from one neighbor. Maybe some goat cheese or apples from another. By putting some stuff you normally don’t produce into your baskets, not only can you make a nice income on the winter CSA, you can spread the wealth a little by buying items from neighbors. There will be an expense involved, but it could be a good investment. Customers will love the diversity of products at a time when the veggies can get redundant, but also perhaps those farmers you helped support will be there to recommend your products to their customers in the springtime.