How a CSA Payment is Used
We've had questions from multiple people about how their payment / deposit for a Vegetable Share (or Flower Share) is used. Great question! Since we are open with all of our practices, we felt it would be good to post this info in black and white on the blog. This turned out to be longer than we like to post, but there are a lot of factors involved in growing a wide variety of vegetables (and flowers) for a local community! Each category of our expenses is in bold type, so you can just scroll down the list if you wish.
By participating in a CSA / Vegetable Share program, you are directly supporting the local & seasonal production of high-quality food, and turning it from an ideal into reality. It's turned from something that is being done in other places, to something that is being done in your community. It's turned from something that other people do, into something that you are an integral part of.
Without early-season support, there would simply not be a diversity or large quantity of food (and flowers) for us to share with you on a weekly basis. In exchange for your support, we want to give you the best possible experience with fresh-from-the-garden flavour, quality, diversity, and convenience.
The info below covers the biggest categories of expenses for this year, which have been covered with a combination of personal savings & credit, plus the CSA payments. Lots of other direct garden expenses (equipment, supplies, etc) were incurred last year, and long-term projects have been covered by personal savings.
Some of the immediate necessities for the year... purchases made from January to April:
1. SEEDS. Our vegetable seeds (and some roots) total around $3,000. Add another $600++ if we grow enough potatoes for everyone for the season (not likely to happen this year). This figure is the lowest possible - it was really hard to whittle the list down to fit within our budget! Quite a few crops were cut, to offer mostly the 'standards' this year.
Flower seeds & bulbs total $800 - 1500 this year. The reason for the wide price range is that there are other bulbs & seeds for popular flowers that we love to grow that we will still purchase this Spring if there is enough interest in the Flower Shares.
2. POTTING SOIL & TRAYS. Approximately $600 for potting soil, as we grow many of our crops from transplants (for better quality, making use of each seed, and earlier harvests).
We re-use trays and pots, but some need to be replaced each year. Plus, as we expand production, we need more trays to grow more seedlings!
This year's total for trays: $350
3. SOIL AMENDMENTS / FERTILIZERS / FOLIAR SPRAYS. $1,000 - 7,000.
We wish we could go all-out in this department, since we get higher-quality & better-tasting produce and better yields when the plants are well-fed. We are doing what we can as we can afford it, to get the results we're looking for (namely: nutrient-dense produce). There is more we can do to speed up the process to getting the very best quality food... we're impatiently taking one step at a time!!
This is actually one area that we spend money on first (after buying the seeds), because quality is the most important factor in our opinion. Lots of goodies, like compost, ocean minerals, kelp, fish emulsion, lime, soft rock phosphate ... read more here.
4. IRRIGATION. We use drip irrigation, and some spray irrigation. Total for this year: about $900.
Absolutely essential, and pays for itself in short order. We've had only a small and partial irrigation system the last couple years, and paid dearly for not having access to it in every part of our gardens. We are slowly expanding our irrigation system.
5. ROW COVERS & HOOPS. These fabric- or plastic-covered "low tunnels" make it possible to grow certain crops in the early spring and have them ready for the June / early July harvests. They are re-used to protect fall crops - we harvested from them until the end of December last year!
Cost depends on how many we set up... likely total for this year is $250 (because we are already re-using $700+ of these supplies). Could certainly use more. The row covers also protect crops like arugula and bok choy from flea beetles - the non-chemical way of achieving pest-free & pesticide-free produce.
6. TRELLISING & NETTING. For tomatoes, cucumbers, pole beans, some types of flowers, etc. $800-1000.
We are skimping in this area, and using free second-hand materials and lower-quality netting. Still, we need to find a supply of used T-posts at least, before June. The hunt is on!
7. TOOLS. We have most of what we need at the present, except we'll need to get a couple more hoes and pruners. Plus, a broadfork (to loosen the soil at a deeper level for crops like carrots and leeks). We also want to make a garden cart or two. Sort of like a wheelbarrow, but with a flat bottom. We'll use them to bring crates of harvested produce out of the garden to the wash area, and buckets of flowers to the cooler.
$200 - 500 for the hand tools. $200-300 for the broadfork. $200 each for building the carts (about half of that is for the wheels).
8. MULCHES. Biodegradable plastic to warm the soil and suppress weeds, plus organic mulches (hay and straw). We have some in stock, so all we need to get this year is a supply of 2nd-grade hay.
9. GREENHOUSE. This greenhouse will be used year-round: for early tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, and for fall & winter crops (harvested October to April). We also plan to grow some flowers in it.
We built the greenhouse ourselves from scratch, to save on the cost. The total for the pipe, lumber, screws & bolts (many!), and miscellaneous parts was about $1800. The plastic cost a shade over $350. Total $2150. (Not counting the labour cost for helpers.)
10. FUEL FOR THE GREENHOUSES. The seedling greenhouse requires electricity every night, and on cloudy cool days. The plant-in-the-ground greenhouse requires a bit of electricity for a fan, but is heated mostly by wood.
11. ADVERTISING. Because people need to hear about our project, in order to become Vegetable / Flower Share members! So far, we have spent about $350 on advertising this year + the design fee for the flyers. However, we are only at 35% Share capacity at this point, so we are considering what other [low-cost] advertising methods to pursue. (If you have any ideas, pass them along! And, thanks to those who have spread the word to your friends!)
12. WEBSITE. Total about $200 for this year. Online ordering system... cost to be determined once it is in use (depends on the number of users).
13. MISCELLANEOUS. Work gloves, min/max thermometers (for the greenhouses), rain gauges, etc, etc.
There are other necessities that will need to be purchased before the harvesting season begins in June...
A. WALK-IN COOLER. Absolute necessity. Most produce will go into the cooler as soon as possible after harvest to keep it in prime condition. With a cooler, we can:
- harvest all the produce at its peak ripeness, and have a place to store it for a day (or two at most) before you receive it. Especially important for broccoli and cauliflower - lost some last year because it was ready a couple days before delivery day, and no way to keep a quantity of it chilled. Plus, produce will last longer in YOUR fridge, if we chill it as soon as possible after harvest.
- harvest at any time of the day (especially early morning when it's best to harvest greens like lettuce, kale, etc), instead of trying to harvest everything at the last minute (like last year). In other words, a huge stress-saver to not be racing a deadline all the time!
- harvest flowers at the optimal time, and hold them in the cooler for up to a few days. This will prevent losses associated with having too many mature at once, especially when it's not a sale day.
To save on costs, we are building our own. Estimated total: $2,000.
B. WASH STATION. We were using a temporary (and very inefficient) setup, but will be building a wash station that will streamline the process. We will be buying cull lumber for the frame, and re-purposed materials for the rest of it. Likely cost: $300-500.
C. BARREL WASHER. A rotating barrel (basically) for washing root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, etc. We were doing it by hand until now; so inefficient and took so much time. This will save a pile of time, get more done, and do a great job.
We'll be building our own. Apparently it will cost $200-300, depending on where we find parts.
D. TOOLS. Especially harvesting tools. Knives (a few each of a couple types), some dedicated harvest buckets. Not sure of the total cost yet.
E. BAGS / BOXES / ELASTICS. For bunching greens, packing orders, chilling produce in the cooler, etc. $300 - 1000.
Higher end of the scale, if we get the "proper" boxes, but we will make do with what we have for now.
F. EQUIPMENT. It looks like these purchases will be made next year (or, as soon as we possibly can).
- 6-row seeder, for planting small seeds at a high density. In particular, this will be used for salad mix, arugula, carrots, spinach. Some of the most popular crops, and we could eventually offer them 10 months of the year. $600 + US exchange + shipping + duty.
- Greens harvester (for harvesting salad mix, baby spinach, etc).$600 + US exchange + shipping + duty.
- 5-gallon salad spinner for washing the above greens. $225 for hand crank model. $600 for electric model. We'll get the hand crank for now!
- Walk-behind 'tractor', 30" wide. The best equipment that I know of for prepping 30" wide raised vegetable beds and flower beds for intensive production. Easiest on the soil, and will save a LOT of time and physical labour over the course of a season. Plus, we will get attachments for flail-mowing and incorporating cover crops, which is a very important part of our long-term soil-building strategy. About $7,000 with the attachments.
F. PLANT & SOIL QUALITY TESTING TOOLS. We have a refractometer (for testing Brix levels) that is very useful.Other helpful tools we would receive regular benefit from:
- pH meter. Especially useful for testing the pH of our foliar sprays, as they are much more effective at a certain acidity.
- carbon dioxide tester (for compost, to know when to turn the pile)
- microscope, $350. For identifying the presence of healthy microbial populations in compost, compost tea, soil. One of the only ways to know if we have truly good compost - some things can't be guessed at.
- a couple other plant health / quality testers, including a chlorophyll meter, and an infrared meter. Detects plant stress before it's visible in other ways, so we can optimize the feeding program and get better quality produce.
G. WINDBREAK. A huge necessity, because we get so much wind here, being a relatively high point in the county. Most of our gardens are open to the prevailing winds, which is very hard on all the seedlings, and even mature plants. It slows down growth rates, reduces quality, makes it impossible to grow certain types of flowers, no sale-able harvest from some crops, etc.
We will put up something temporary this year (all ideas welcome); the current thought is to stretch burlap between T-posts. Not perfect, but better than nothing.
Best situation, especially long-term: a tree/shrub windbreak. This takes a few years to be effective, but we have to start sometime! The windbreak will be composed of evergreens, and eventually, as many shrubs and trees with edible fruits as possible. The trees / shrubs will be purchased in stages over this spring and the next couple years. Total length of the windbreak will be over 1000 feet.
I. COMPOST TURNER. We wish we could buy high-quality compost around here, but unfortunately, it's not available. We'd like to make our own, but we need a proper piece of equipment to turn it effectively on a regular basis. Ideally we can find a used model for $2000 - 3000.
One large item missing from the above list: wages. The figure will depend on how many team members we have this year. We hope to begin hiring in May, with additional opportunities beginning in June and July. Some part-time, some full-time. Hopefully the farmer will receive a living wage this year.
Other spring expenses related to the garden: fuel costs, oil for the tractor, vehicle insurance, internet & phone, etc. We have other long-term projects in mind... but this post only covers what is important for the short-term production of vegetables and flowers.
In conclusion, you can see why this type of market gardening requires a certain amount of financial support ahead of the season!
Banks do not support this type of farming / gardening because 'growing a wide range of edible crops for direct sale to consumers is not a "conventional" agricultural business'. I tried (twice) to get financing from a bank, but I was told that they will not consider it. Doesn't matter how many solid factors are in the picture. I have heard the same from quite a few other Canadian market gardeners.
Also, I was told that growing produce on a couple acres (vs. a couple hundred or couple thousand acres) is "too small-scale" to be considered. That is a topic for another day - "small-scale" food and flower production is no small thing!!
This is why we value each and every Vegetable Share and Flower Share member. We market gardeners depend on folks who want to buy the freshest, high-quality produce directly from the producer - and we want to give you our best, in return.
Thank you for every bit of support (including moral support) - we couldn't do it without you!