Assessing the economic and social viability of transitioning to Winter CSA production as an adaptation strategy to climate change - Seasons 2 and 3

Progress report for FW23-433

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $24,600.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Host Institution Award ID: G112-24-W9982
Grant Recipient: Red H Farm
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information


Farmers face impacts of climate change including heat waves, wildfire, drought and flooding, diminishing farmer health, safety and well-being and farm economic viability. We need ways to adapt centering environmental stewardship, economic viability and farmer quality of life to avoid small-scale farmer attrition. We need multi-year studies of potential solutions. This project will be season two of this research and include a shift in the second research question based on year one trends. This research will explore the following questions: 1.) is growing long season storage crops for winter CSAs economically viable on small-scale diversified farms without undermining sustainable practices, 2) what are the most and least compelling aspects of a MONTHLY winter CSA model, for actual and potential customers, and hw do we overcome marketing hurdles  and 3) can shifting to these crops and market channel support farmer well-being and farm economic viability? This research will be carried out through investigating economic, social, and environmental factors including: 1.) enterprise analysis and labor tracking 2.) customer surveying and 3.) qualitative field notes focused on on-farm practices related to stewardship, health and safety, and quality of life including ability to shift out of fieldwork in unsafe environmental scenarios, and overall satisfaction/well-being. This research will offer a case study of the viability of long season crops and winter CSAs on small, diversified farms to reveal if the crop and market channel shift facilitates health and well-being and adaptability to acute climate catastrophes, assess a new market niche for sustainable agriculture practitioners, reveal opportunities for farmers to collaborate through mutually beneficial CSA marketing center farmer well-being within diversified agriculture. Outcomes will be shared through a report, video and presentations for extension agents, agricultural professionals and farmers in collaboration with UC Cooperative Extension, Community Alliance with Family Farmers and Kitchen Table Advisors.

Project Objectives:

1. Determining the economic viability of diversified, long-season storage and dried
crop production on small-scale, high labor, diversified farms as an adaptation strategy
to climate extremes (heat waves, fires, and droughts) and the untenable work
conditions they create.

2. Determining the most and least compelling aspects of a MONTHLY winter CSA model, for actual and potential customers, to help ascertain and overcome marketing hurdles. 

3. A look into farmer well-being - determining if a shift in crop focus to long-season
storage and dried crops in a diversified system truly facilitates a reduction in fieldwork
hours and physical labor during the increasing hot months of summer, and expanded
fire season. Is this a viable system for farmers facing climate extremes and weather
changes that mean where they farm today is a much different climate than when they
initially began this work? Do these labor patterns feel more manageable, thus reducing
farmer attrition as climate extremes worsen?


Timeline: October 1, 2023 - March 30, 2024: Primary Research conducted (CSA season 2 distribution + season 3 growing season begins)


December 2023 - March 2024: Season 2 year end records organized and documented. Historical comparisons analyzed.


March 30, 2024- December 15, 2024 : Primary Research conducted on CSA season 3 growing season


February/March 2024: California Small Farms Conference Presentation on Season 2 growing/distribution and early season 3 growing


November 2024: Research update/presentation for farmers - season 2 distribution/season 3 growing progress


December 2024 - January 2025: Year end records organized and documented. Historical comparisons analyzed.


December 2024 - March 2025: Primary Research conducted on CSA year 3 distribution


January 2025-March 2025: CSA full season 2 and growing season 3 research compilation, analysis & report writing; Zoom and/or in person presentations to farmers and organizational partners (UCCE, CAFF, KTA); CA Small Farms Conference Participation; social media video reporting


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  • Lily Schneider - Technical Advisor


Materials and methods:

This research continues the investigation into whether transitioning to a winter CSA model improves economic viability on small-scale, diversified farms while maintaining good environmental stewardship and increasing farmer health, safety, well-being and quality of life in the face of climate change impacts in northern California. This research is being conducted on-site at Red H Farm and with some collaboration from other CSA farms in northern California. It begins to look at the customer perceptions of a monthly winter CSA model, potential resulting marketing hurdles, and how to overcome them.

Red H Farm's sales model is historically comprised of direct marketing through farmers market (75%) and restaurant or summer CSA sales (25%). Red H Farm is transitioning much of its growing space to longer season, lower value, diversified crops such as winter squash, potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic, dry beans, popcorn, drying peppers, herbs for drying, and tomatoes and strawberries for processing or freezing to be distributed through a monthly, winter storage crop CSA program. We are employing Google Suite (forms, sheets and docs) for tracking, data collection, field notes, and analysis, and are incorporating comparative analysis of historical farm records to determine if this is a viable business strategy that maintains or increases farm economic viability, decreases field labor during extreme climate conditions, supports good environmental stewardship practices and supports farmer health, safety and well-being.

Objective 1. Determining if growing lower-value, long season storage crops is economically viable on small-scale diversified farms without undermining ecological practices.

Methods and Materials: Mixed methods analysis will be used including enterpriseanalysis, literature review, recordkeeping via excel/google spreadsheets, comparative analysis with historical farm records (including outcomes from the first season of research), and qualitative field notes. This research question is being investigated through quantitative enterprise analysis taking into account existing, foundational research focused on cost of production including Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont’s Cost of Production Project, Pasa’s Financial Benchmarks for Direct-Market Vegetable Farms 2021 report, Know Your Cost to Grow and Oregon Tilth’s work supporting farmers using cost information for business decision-making. Most of this existing research does not take into account the added value that a CSA brings (community, farm connection, recipe sharing, newsletters, etc.) and how that added value can increase crop value when compared to wholesale or farmers market distribution. For this reason, these analyses do not directly translate to understanding if this crop selection and market channel is competitive. Overall year-end quantitative comparisons will bring tremendous value. Through careful record-keeping using excel spreadsheets and comparative analysis to years past of revenue, costs and labor-hours we will learn whether or not this business model is competitive with previous models focused on higher-labor and primarily spring-fall crops sold through farmers markets. We will ascertain if this model can pay a living wage. Through record-keeping, qualitative field notes and historical comparisons we will learn if we are able to maintain the same level of good environmental stewardship including using no-till methods, cover cropping, compost applications, straw mulching, ferment and compost tea applications, drip irrigation, dry farming and the integration of pollinator and beneficial habitat, despite the focus on lower-value crops.

Objective 2. Determining the most and least compelling aspects of a MONTHLY winter CSA model, for actual and potential customers, to help ascertain and overcome marketing hurdles. 

Methods and Materials: Surveys (online using google forms and in person). These surveys will NOT gather personal, demographic, or other identifying information. Monthly CSA models can work in a winter context because the majority of crops are held in storage and can be given out in larger quantities. Furthermore, it supports a work-life balance for farmers who do not have to go to weekly markets or host a weekly CSA pickup. Using google forms and paper forms we will survey current CSA and farmers market customers through our existing regional networks to determine why someone may feel compelled or disinterested in this unique model. What assumptions are there? How then, can a farmer create a marketing strategy to address otherwise unspoken concerns?  Survey questions will be formatted for narrative and numeric and/or Likert scale responses to facilitate data aggregation and trend analysis. This will help us determine if there is a market for winter CSAs and how a farmer might build their model with potential client interest in mind.

Objective 3. Determining if shifting to long season storage crops for winter CSA distribution supports farmer health, safety, well-being, and farm economic viability. 

Methods and Materials: Qualitative field notes and farmer self-survey via google sheets, forms and/or docs, comparative analysis between research data points collected, and comparative analysis with years past. Central to this research is an investigation into whether this shift in model increases farmer health, safety, and well-being as well as farm economic viability. This assessment will be carried out through daily and weekly qualitative and quantitative field notes focused on climate conditions, hours and labor-type tracking, ability to shift out of fieldwork when environmental conditions become uncomfortable or unsafe, ability to take time off (measured against historical trends of the operation and standard holidays, vacation, and sick leave for the general public), ability to earn a living wage and overall satisfaction/well-being. Field notes will be recorded through google sheets. Farmer survey questions will be formatted for numeric and/or Likert scale responses to facilitate data aggregation and trend analysis. These records can be qualitatively coded for major themes as well as translated into comparative charts and graphs showing trends, relationships between different factors and the relationship between climate events and farmer health, safety and well-being.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1. Determining if growing lower-value, long season storage crops is economically viable on small-scale diversified farms without undermining ecological practices.

When farming on a small scale, numerous successions of high value crops like lettuce, arugula, spinach and carrots will generate the most profit per acre. A study conducted by the Northeast Organic Farming Association revealed that lettuce and carrots, two crops that can be succession planted throughout the growing season, have a higher per acre profit than long season crops like onions, potatoes and winter squash. However it is important to note that those high value crops also often require more labor hours for cultivation, harvest, washing and packing. (NOFA, 2016) This is critical to take into account  when a farm/farmer is being heavily impacted by climate change and a farmers ability to work during increasing inclement weather is compromised. 

Every farm has different economic outcomes. For the purpose of this research and for the sake of consistency comparisons will be made only to Red H Farm’s historical records. See Figure 1. 

Year Acreage Irrigation Status Markets Labor Gross Sales Net Income
2016-2021 1.2 Half dry-farmed Farmers Market + Restaurants 1 full time + 1 part time (total hours: unknown, roughly 2800-3300) $40-45k $30k
2022 1.2 All irrigated Farmers Market + Monthly Winter CSA 2 full time, 1 part time (Total 3300) $55k $40k
2023 Scaled-down 0.6 All irrigated Monthly Winter CSA + limited farmstand 1 full time + 1 part time (Total hours: 1300) $22k $11k
Scaled-up Extrapolation 1.2 All irrigated Mostly Winter CSA + limited farmstand 1 full time + 1 part time $45-54k TBD


As the farm has scaled down since year one, the goal gross revenue is adjusted so that the numbers are relative. Based on season one 2022/23,  season two 2023/2024 and calculated extrapolations based on hypothetical crop planning and yield expectations coupled with crop trends experienced in season one 2022/2023 and season two 2023/2024, Red H Farm should be able to produce as much gross revenue relative to itself, under the Winter CSA model, as it did growing succession crops for farmers market. Hourly rates for the owner-operator increased in 2022/23 to $12.5/hour but went down to $10.5/hour in 2023/24 when farmers market was fully eliminated. These wages do not meet the very conservative living wage metric of $20.14/hour for Sonoma County, California (MIT, 2024).   It is worth noting that because Red H Farm is located in lowlands, some of the fields are not usable all winter - a farm growing on hilltops or slopes could likely serve more members per acre, or incorporate other sales models, like an on-farm self serve farmstand, thus grossing more.


Objective 2. Determining the most and least compelling aspects of a MONTHLY winter CSA model, for actual and potential customers, to help ascertain and overcome marketing hurdles. 

Research and analysis in process. 


Objective 3. Determining if shifting to long season storage crops for winter CSA distribution supports farmer health, safety, well-being, and farm economic viability. 

When considering a farm’s holistic context, not only is it critical to balance the profit potential with the labor potential, but in the case that a farm or farmer is significantly impacted by the effects of climate change, different weight may be given to these factors. For instance, longer cultivation and harvest hours, inherently taking place out in the field throughout hot summer days, may be a more critical factor to take into account than the potential profitability. Further, according to the USDA ERS “In 2019, 96 percent of farm households derived some income from off-farm sources. On average, off-farm income contributed 82 percent of total income, or $101,638, for all family farms in 2019.” ( In the case of a farmer suffering from climate impacts, the hours freed up by focusing on lower labor crops can assist in facilitating off farm income, helping off-set the loss in profitability from those crops. This is particularly useful to consider when those off-farm hours are required in most cases regardless of crops grown.

Switching focus to the winter CSA significantly reduced hours worked and facilitated more time away from the farm (10 weeks in 2023, compared to 3 weeks in years past) than have been viable in previous seasons. See Figure 1, above. While this is critical, and marked an increase in farmer well-being, it is also important to weigh with the details shared above regarding hourly wage.  Whether the time off and low hourly rate are viable for any particularly farmer will always depend on context. 

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

Recommendations for sustainable agricultural production and future research:

Farming for a monthly winter CSA may not generate as much net income on a small scale, however it seems to allow for more time off the farm to subsidize the farm with off-farm income, increasing farmer well-being. We believe that for farmers who are not seeking more time off the farm, the winter CSA can be a beneficial add-on marketing strategy for farmers.  We also believe that considering coupling the winter CSA with a small number of low-labor summer crops with a low-maintenance outlet (wholesale or self-serve farmstead) can provide a different potential balance for some farmers that will create a degree of cash flow over the summer. We will consider incorporating this for the 2024/25 season as our research continues. 

Education and Outreach

1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

30 Farmers participated
41 Ag professionals participated
Education and outreach methods and analyses:
Event Date Attendees Notes

English Language Zoom Webinar

2022 21  
Spanish Language Zoom Webinar 2022 13  
Agroecology Commons 2022

July 2022

Climate Farm School 2023 June + July 2023 17  
Civil Eats Article June 2023   Most read article of the week!
Sonoma State University  Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Spring 2024 30  
Year One Plain Language Report January 2024   Distributed via KTA, UCCE, CAFF
Small Farms Conference  February 2024 71 registered 22 live participants, recorded
Education and outreach results:

I find the best way to engage farmers and community members is to talk to them directly and with transparency. At the small farms conference I was joined by other Winter CSA growers from Winter Sister Farm, and participants conveyed a lot of appreciation for how transparent we were about our finances and the different goals we have for our similar farming systems. For agency partners, creating a clean, simple, plain language pdf report that is simple for them to share and distribute via social media and list servs seems to be the most effective way to collaborate. 

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Critical to reaching farmers across communities is ensuring that materials are translated into multiple languages, and that as researchers we work with organizations and agencies who have relationships within diverse networks of farmers. Materials and information need to be made available through multiple avenues (plain language written documents, in person conversations, webinars/conferences, etc.), in multiple languages. 

Stakeholders are curious and excited to learn about a unique farm model - it was particularly interesting at the small farm conference to hear from both Red H Farm and Winter Sister Farm. We both have winter CSAs, but we structure them quite differently and have different goals for farming in this way. This gives stakeholders - both farmers and advocates - a broader understanding of possibilities within the field, and how we can build sustainable farm models that are context-dependent. 

Perceptions and changes in knowledge participants experienced is still being gathered after the small farm conference. 

Key changes:
  • Information still being gathered

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.