This month’s column contiues a discussion of how community supported agriculture developed in the Fredericksburg area.
DOING A community supported agriculture effort has dovetailed into my farming operation better than any single marketing tool I have ever known in my 51 years of retail farming.
There has never been a problem selling all the produce I can grow and pick Thursday through Sunday mornings, retail. Those are the days when the vast majority of retail produce shoppers are shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables at roadside stands and farmers markets. During the ’90s a farmer could sell excess produce picked the first part of the week to chain stores at a price at or just above the cost of production.
Around the turn of the 21st century, competition between chain stores and big-box stores began to really heat up. At the same time, out West and around the world, large farms became even larger. From an economies of scale point of view, this became very efficient. Big-box stores could price their “purchases” (with the advent of the Internet and computers located at their warehouses) across the global market.
In other words, they could find the cheapest price for an airplane load or a tractor-trailer load of produce from a mega-farm anywhere in the world, and expect you, as a small local farmer, to match the price they found in Timbuktu. Not likely.
Big-box stores have won out over chain grocery stores and smaller big-box stores. So, now the real goal of big-box stores is no longer to beat competitors on price, but to beat themselves on price.
That means the wholesale price is never cheap enough, so the price farmers receive from the big-box store is always going down. Consequently, the retail price a consumer pays for produce in a big-box store generally has nothing to do with the wholesale price the farmer receives for the produce sold to that store. It’s a total disconnect.
That’s why farmers need to directly reconnect to consumers. Many thanks to people who are fed up with their produce coming from Timbuktu.
And so the localvore/CSA movement was born. I was able to create a new weekend day on Wednesday (CSA pickup day). Besides the fruit and vegetables that are given out weekly to the CSA, a la carte sales at the roadside on Wednesday are now stronger than any weekend day.
The “double weekend” setup allows me to have a constant, even flow of fruits and vegetables for full-time retail sales without having to sell wholesale below the cost of production. The only occasional complaint I get is, “Why [or how] do you put so much fruit and vegetables in your CSA?”
I can answer that question with a question: If you were me, and you could choose between selling produce below the cost of production to a company that pays you when it feels like it and doesn’t care if you live or die–or you could put it in your local families’ CSA share who paid you in advance and would like nothing better than to see you and your family succeed at farming–which would you do?
I have told all the farmers I know that they should be doing a CSA. The more CSAs the better–because it keeps more family farms in business and gives families more choices and locations to choose from locally.
You’ve heard the saying, “High tide raises all ships.” Well, family farms now have a business model that can beat out the biggest of the big-box stores on price, quality and value while keeping local money in the local economy. Slaying Goliath is almost as much fun as farming itself.