I'll be doing CSA by the 2015 growing season. Any suggestions for good market varieties? Varieties that store for longer periods of time, maybe varieties that seem to sell well for you CSA people out there? (Why do you think they sell well?)
I took a look at the threads in the "Growing for Market" section. There are is some very helpful information on here.
Where are you located? In general you can count on places like Johnny's and Osborne to have done most of that kind of basic variety testing for you. If you take a look at the Johnny's catalog for example and pick out the varieties highlighted as "Easy Choice" that would be a great place to start if you haven't grown for market before.
I personally hate CSA, and cannot speak to the best specific varieties for them. But I would also recommend you try and get a sense of your local demographics. I have two cities nearby to me, one is a affluent liberal college town, the other is a more typical economically depressed conservative upstate city. The type of vegetables that would be readily consumed in the college town, with all the healthy, raw-food vegan types will not fly in the the other place.
I'd recommend finding another local CSA and getting some advice as to what people are likely to want so you don't waste a lot of energy growing something that will not be wanted or eaten. One thing about CSA I do know is the folks in general don't like to waste a lot of food they paid for. If you fill their shares with stuff they can't/won't eat, they won't come back next year. Even if they told you (and themselves) that they were going to eat all those veggies. What people think they eat, or what they think they want to eat, and what they actually do are often very different. This kind people management aspect is what makes my skin crawl about CSA in general.
Post by Joseph Lofthouse on Jan 9, 2014 15:19:50 GMT -5
I've done both CSA and farmer's market. I much prefer the farmer's market because of the freedom it gives me.
I agree with the skin crawling sentiment expressed by Oxbowfarm. People are fickle, unreliable, and don't eat the fabulous food that I grow for them, and don't pick up their baskets, etc. If I get sick or have major crop failures it doesn't matter at the farmer's market, but it matters in a CSA even though the contract says that it doesn't matter. In reality it does matter both emotionally and socially.
CSA is great for people that are happy-go-lucky and willing to eat anything and everything, but those type of people are hard to come by. The number one complaint against CSAs is "too much food". Some of the best CSA customers are people with deep social networks. If I give them something they don't want to eat they gift it away to someone who will eat it. They get brownie points and so do I. Other great customers for CSA are tightwads: People who will prepare whatever dish is necessary to use up every bit of food that they can get and wish that they had more. The worst CSA customers, and the most likely to sign up are the soccer moms. Mothers with young families who think that they want to feed them healthy food, but they are too preoccupied with after school events to actually take the time to prepare a home cooked meal for the family. A good screening question for customers would be something like "How many times per week do you peel a potato?" Or more generally, "How many times per week do you cut up a raw vegetable?" A similar question would be "How many soups or stir fries do you make per week?"
For an idea of varieties to grow, go to the local grocery store and look at what's on the produce aisle. There will be lots of space devoted to apples, citrus, potatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce, and tomatoes. Also to corn and melons in season. That's what people eat so grow those things. (At least in my culture and climate.) I'd don't recommend planting fennel, sage, mint, turnips, and other odd-ball crops. People don't know what they are or how to use them. If the display for an item is a couple square feet at the grocery store then it's a good sign that it's not a hot seller.
I am in a very rural area with several small towns nearby, some of which won't be on a map because of their size. There are plenty of small shops (mostly Amish) and larger stores around. We have talked to a few people in the local department stores interested in or looking for some of the more unusual vegetables (nothing found in most department stores). We have surprisingly sold more duck eggs than chicken eggs, which we didn't think would sell very well! So we do have some people interested in some of the more unusual stuff. Those people would be more than willing to eat a bicolor tomato. We do have a fairly high population of soccer moms, some of which are very unlikable people. And then there are the folks that will only eat the store-bought plastic-covered chicken. I will do some asking around, starting with the people that buy eggs from us. Another great place for that would be the nearby Malabar Farms. (Malabar is not what I'd consider to be a working farm anymore, it mostly functions on tourism. )
Now that I think about it, most of our local department stores DO carry turnips and all of those herbs you mentioned, Joseph. But the displays for these things are quite small. So maybe base how much of what I grow on how large the displays are. I've never seen fava beans around these parts.
Most of those duck eggs were sold by explaining to our customers how they were, and then describing their benefits over chicken eggs. So like I said, we do have some open minded people. We seem to be very lucky seem to be very lucky. I forgot to mention that many of the locals that are even involving in agriculture do mostly livestock, so there are probably many people out there that would be happy just to get some local, organic produce.
Thanks again for the replies, they are very much appreciated!
Post by philagardener on Jan 9, 2014 17:44:56 GMT -5
I found one duck egg substitutes perfectly for three chicken eggs in cake recipes and the results are amazing! Great rise, fabulous taste. That is a simple substitution to suggest to new "users" to help get them to try duck eggs. Enjoy!
Ok, so your in rural, central Ohio? I would say that any of Johnny's "Easy Choice" varieties would do fine for you for the most part.
As far as crop selection for a CSA in the rural midwest? I'd stick to the basics, cukes, tomatoes, green beans, red beets, onions, garlic, sweet corn (if you have the land and equipment). Rural midwesterners in general do not eat a lot of salad, I'd stick to leaf lettuce and spinach in the greens department. If you wanted to experiment with other greens, the asian greens are incredibly easy to grow, but you run the risk of feeding people a lot of food they don't know how to use or have any interest in learning about. I did a search for CSAs on Local Harvest centered on Mansfield OH and there were a decent number that popped up. I'd do a similar search for whatever your town is to find an existing CSA local to you that you can get good information from. Every area is a little different as far as what people like to eat.
I tried a CSA for two years and found exactly what Joseph was talking about. One thing I would like to mention is that I can't compete with supermarkets so I specialise in produce that you can't buy in supermarkets - the weird, rare and unusual vegetables - and I sell out at every market I go to. I live in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere surrounded by other small, conservative towns and I still find plenty of customers who want different stuff. It is all about your marketing and customer service skills as well as having information on how to cook and prepare veggies that your customers have not seen before.
Since what I see is not found in supermarkets I can put higher prices on and people can't compare for cheaper and I get interest from small restaurants who want to stand out by offering different menus for their customers.
I really recommend that people specialise as if you sell the same stuff as a supermarket it is just easier for customers to buy there while they are buying their other groceries.
Hi Blackox; I have exactly ONE - count her, ONE - CSA customer and mostly garden for myself and my family so take that into consideration when you read my blatherings.
People are right when they say stick to the basics. I mean, try out a few slightly unusual things because they are fun for you and will create interest in your customers. But even as a very adventurous eater, I would say 95% of the veggies I eat are fairly standard things. I also think sending out recipe sheets is a good idea - head off those cries of "but what do I DO with it?" at the pass.
We plant spinach in the fall and overwinter it under hoophouses. We sold it for a couple of years, but it was a lot of work so we stopped. But it was REALLY popular and people loved it. Two things here: standard veggie, and we supplied about 2 months earlier than anyone else around here had spinach. That's the second thing - if you can extend your season on popular items, particularly by getting them out early, that will be good. Bloomsdale spinach is the classic OP spinach, but I actually prefer Giant Winter - it's got a nicer texture raw for salads, and the flavour is more refined in my opinion.
People always complain about too many greens at the start of the season. It's true! The leaf parts of plants grow first, so the first couple months are greens, greens, greens, SO exciting the first week, not so exciting the 4th, 5th, etc. But realistically the only other options in that early period will be radishes and turnips - I would grow some, but people DONT love them, or at least are only willing to eat fairly small quantities of them, in my experience. Still, I suggest Cherry Belle radishes and Goldana turnips as really good reliable varieties.
Holly sent me some Broccolini last spring that was really fast (40 days!) It's still green, but at least it's a little broccoli-like. (I realized I already knew it as rapini. It was sweet and delicious in the cool weather, but got familiarly bitter once the weather got warm.) I would definitely look for the 40 day varieties to get them out early, while people are still keen and the weather keeps them sweet. Some people won't mind a little bitterness but even so - early is better.
I'd love to see Dau Miu available in the spring. I've never managed to produce it myself*, but it's basically the tender growing shoots of snow peas eaten as a green. You'd have to send out recipes with it, although it's mostly quickly steamed or stir-fried in Chinese cuisine. Of course, I'm originally from a city with a BIG Chinese population, and I STILL don't see it available at farmers markets. It seems to be strictly sold in Chinatown, and it's bloody expensive for what it is.
Snow peas don't seem to be as popular as Snap Peas, which ARE popular. Still, for variety, Norli is a good early snow pea. Carouby de Maussane is a good later one. Amish Snap is THE snap pea, as far as I'm concerned. It claims to have a 6 week picking period, but I think it's more like 3 or 4. I'd succession plant this one to have it as long as possible. Both C de M and Amish Snap need trellising. My feeling about trellising is it's more work to set up, but oh boy does it make picking easier.
As far as my family is concerned we have yet to grow anywhere near enough shelling peas, even though we've basically doubled the quantity planted every year for the last 5 years. WHAT a pain to pick, though, and they take up a lot of space. Still, if I had the space, I'd plant a bunch of varieties to get them early and keep them going as long as possible. I'd plant something really early like Strike under a hoop house for the earliest pea harvest.
I do think early determinate vegetables in general are a CSA gardeners friend. Plant 'em early, harvest 'em early, plant something else once they are out. We follow determinate peas with short season bush beans.
Zucchini are popular and get going quickly. Again, the earlier you can get them going, the better. We grew Ronde de Nice for the first time last year and really liked it. Striped zucchini are popular because they strike a nice balance between the familiar and a little unusual - there are a few options out there. A local grocery co-op told me that purple sweet peppers were a surprise hit with their conservative clientele - same principal, I think. On the other hand the guy who tried white cucumbers found they were a complete flop.
I recommend Amsterdam Maxi as a really fast growing, early carrot. I'm not sure that exact strain is available in the U.S.A., but look for the Amsterdam name and 50ish days to maturity. I'm pretty sure carrots in mixed colours continue to be very popular as well.
Tomatoes - gardeners go gaga over 60 billion different varieties, but I'm not sure that's so much the case with consumers. Little baskets of mixed colour cherry tomatoes are popular, but I don't think that the tender, delicate heirloom beefsteaks that don't arrive til the end of tomato season are worth pursuing too far. I'd start off by trying to get early tomatoes out early. We grew Mountain Princess last year, and it was a mistake for 2 people who don't eat a lot of raw tomatoes, but it would be great in a market garden - really early, high quality tomatoes, and lots of them, on a compact, determinate plant - pull 'em out when they're done, plant something else.
Tomatillos - can't give 'em away. YMMV.
I recommend sweet peppers like Doe Hill, Alma Paprika, Cubanelle and Sweet Banana. I wouldn't grow anything much hotter than a Jalapeno, at least not in any quantity.
Winter squash - easy to grow, easy to cook, not actually ALL that popular. Pumpkins sell much better, mostly for ornamental purposes to my complete perplexity, but there it is. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are really, really popular. Harder to grow in the north, but not impossible. Popular squash are the smaller ones, like Delicata and Acorn Squash. Thelma Sanders Acorn is a favourite here. Also Butternut squash. OH! And spaghetti squash is SUPER trendy.
People want things like cauliflower that are ABSOLUTE BUGGERS to grow. Good luck with that. Broccoli, yes. Cabbage maybe, but they are space hogs. Brussels Sprouts probably; they are in style after a long period of being "Out". But, they are ALSO absolute buggers to grow. Kale is also in, to the point that people eat it even in the height of the summer when I consider it tough and nasty, but such is the power of fashion, even in vegetables. At least it's easy to grow.
Swiss chard. Bright Lights (5 Colour) is still so popular and again, easy to grow. Lucullus is a less flashy but really tasty variety.
Strawberries and melons always got BIG! smiles. There are some nice little melons out there - better to go smaller and have more of them, in my opinion. Gnadenfeld (orange) and Early Hanover (green) seem to do the best around here. For watermelon, try Small Shining Light (like Sugar Baby, but keeps SO much better) or Sweet Siberian.
Best beets for us seem to be Early Wonder, Chioggia Guardsmark, and Touchstone Gold.
Eggplant have been a surprise hit, but mostly just Ping Tung. If I have Ping Tung, it's hard to get anyone to take any of the other ones that are ready at the same time. We plant twice as much Ping Tung as any of the others and still run out of them.
Green onions go out steadily but not in huge quantitis. Still, useful.
Nobody clamours for rutabaga, but potatoes are always popular. Again, slightly different varieties like the blue (All Blue) or pink (Alaska) ones make your basket a little different from the grocery store, but I'd still stick to about 80% fluffy white potatoes. Envol is crazy early, and I love good old Russet Burbanks. German Butterball is better than Yukon Gold, in my opinion, but Yukon Gold is almost certainly better known. Throw in a waxy fingerling like Pink Fir Apple for salad making, and you have a plan.
*Because once I've planted the snowpeas, it seems like MURDER to pull the plants apart before they've even flowered. Maybe you are harder-hearted than I am; I hope so.
Post by Joseph Lofthouse on Jan 9, 2014 20:31:24 GMT -5
I can compete with the supermarkets on taste... Some crops like peppers, cucumbers, and squash taste approximately the same whether they are grown locally or whether they are grown a thousand miles away. It's really tough to compete with the mega-national stores on those items. I remember how disappointed I was about taking home my first really glorious crop of peppers.
Other items taste much better from my farm than from the grocery store: I can compete very well on strawberries, peas, muskmelons, and tomatoes.
During corn season sugary enhanced and superweet corn is everywhere at very low prices. I compete by growing Astronomy Domine, a colorful robust tasting corn unlike anything else available in my valley.
I can also compete very well for loyalty... Corporations don't care about their customers, only about the dollars that they leave behind. I learn people's names and call them by name. I learn about what foods they like and save special things for them.
Oh yeah, corn. I didnt` mention it because I don`t grow it. When I grew it, the raccoons ate most of it, and the rats and squirrels got the rest. I asked a friend who grows 9 acres of corn for the farmers market what he does about raccoons, and he replied `They eat an acre`.
The only variety that was partly resistant was Bloody Butcher, which is really tall and leafy. But you will need to grow the modern varieties partly because they keep so much better once picked, and partly because people think corn has to be sweeeeet. Look for names like `Vanilla Fudge`, `Kandy Korn`, and `Diabetic Coma`. I kid, I kid. I think.
I don't grow corn because I'm interested in savings the seeds from it. I'll try time isolation next time I give it a go. Yellow and white are the two predominant corn types around here. We do have a lot of racoons, I haven't grown corn enough to see if they were a problem. Oh and Ferdzy, I did a google search on those apparently made up corn varieties and... Kandy Korn is a real one!
We have a woodsy photographer that lives next to us that stops to buy some of my tomatillos every year, he also buys my okra. He can't seem to grow them on his own property. (I should ask the Chipotle Mexican restaurant near us if they'd like to buy any of this kind of stuff, they're big on organic, local produce!)
I have had some pretty tough luck when it comes to Brassicas at the last house. I'm not joking when I say that there were flocks of Cabbage White butterflys all over the place in the spring, which means armies of Cabbage Loopers later on. Here at the new place, I've yet to see a Cabbage White!
Sweet Potatoes and Zucchini are big hits here for sure!
I was just looking at the Baker's catalog and found "Cream of the Crop", a white acorn type squash that starts to produce in about 55 days.
Oxbow, I live outside of a small town called Lucas. Probably a 5-10 minute drive to Mansfield!
Thanks for all of the useful advise Ferdzy, Joseph, Oxbowfarms, and Rowan! Nothing better than hearing it from the experts!
In most states it is legal to kill wildlife that is causing crop damage, raccoons in sweetcorn being a classic example. Raccoons are pretty difficult to hunt without dogs, being nocturnal, but they are extremely simple to trap. Despite being very intelligent, they are extremely curious and bold, and they are extremely comfortable around human habitation with zero wariness of human scent. It is quite simple to trap out a local population of raccoons with a few 220 conibear style traps in bucket sets.
Blackox, that's funny about the Kandy Korn. Or maybe it was stuck in the back of my mind already.
Oxbow, I'm not sure what the laws are abouting trapping raccoons are here, but I'm not sure it really matters. There are so many raccoons all over the place that trapping them would be like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon - you would barely leave a ripple. Hopefully other places are not quite so infested.