Growing New CSA Farmers: Conference and Mini-School for Community Supported Agriculture
The CSA conference and mini-school were completed in fall, 2006. Surveys to gauge their success, particularly that of the mini-school, were started early in 2007. SARE Grant support was for the mini-school surveys, one soon after the session, one at the end of the first growing season.
Performance Solutions, a firm specializing in surveys, designed and administered the first survey in early 2007. The survey instrument was sent to all participants, and it was designed to be anonymous. Commentary and results are given in Appendix A. [Editor's Note: To see copies of the Appendices mentioned in this report, please contact the NCR-SARE office at: 1-800-529-1342 or firstname.lastname@example.org.] Grant funds paid for this service at a significant discount. Funding also supported the mailings and some printing costs.
We administered a much less detailed and rigorous survey after the 2007 growing season, primarily via email. Commentary on this survey is also in Appendix A.
Support for the training manual for new and prospective CSA growers was another component of the grant. Work on this began soon after the conference, and proceeded apace through the spring of 2007. I took responsibility for much of the writing and editing, but several chapters were written by other CSA growers, and a large group of growers were asked to review and edit copy. The training manual was designed to be bound as a loose-leaf document in a paper portfolio, allowing for small print runs and ease of modification as additional information was added, or further editing needs were identified. Thus it is in a sense always in state of ‘final draft.’ We had a document ready for presentation at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference in Columbia, Missouri in early November 2007. Several minor modifications have been made since. A CD included has budgeting software from McGill University and crop planning software from the Michigan State University Student Farm, both used with permission, as well as many sample documents. PDF files of all of the chapters in the manual are available for download at www.csafarms.org. Grant money supported writing, editing and compiling the manual, as well as the initial printing.
The final component of the project is the pilot mentoring program. Our intent was to assign one or two ‘mentees’ to each of four experienced CSA growers. We used the CSA mini-school at the conference to recruit for the project, and selected growers with a minimum of five years of CSA experience. We suffered a set back in this program when, for different reasons, two of the relationships collapsed. In one case, the ‘mentee’ simply dropped out of the relationship, though he went on to start a CSA farm that is continuing to grow. In the second case, the two ‘mentees’ assigned to one of the growers both decided not to start their CSA’s in 2008. By the time this became known, it was too late to start with others. We sought and were granted an extension of the grant until the end of 2008.
The other two mentor/mentee relationships were successful and reports on this project from the people involved are Appendix B.
All of the basic grant activities have had results at this point, though as mentioned, an extension was necessary to finish the mentor project. The problems with this portion of the grant have indicated to us that we need to be more careful in the selection of ‘mentees’ to provide more assurance that there will be a CSA project to work with. Exactly how we will do this remains elusive, but probably by simply communicating more frequently early in the relationship (meaning, starting now) we can forestall problems or at least allow time to regroup if the grower decides not to proceed this year. Also, where possible we will assign two ‘mentees’ to growers, so that if one drops out there remains the possibility with the second.
The interest and enthusiasm about CSA, with new growers and those wishing to transition from conventional ag (or add CSA to an existing operation) is re-affirmed. We expect to see a measurable increase in CSAs in Michigan and nearby states as these projects come to completion.
WORK PLAN FOR 2008
All that remains in this grant is completion of the mentor pilot project. We have one grower selected and a ‘mentee’ application in as of this writing, and expect more as the CSA mini-school project (with partial support from another SARE grant) is completed. All of the panel members of the mini-school project have more than 5 years experience, so are eligible to be mentors, and applications will be accepted from participants of the mini-schools. If necessary we will promote the mentor program elsewhere.
Conference attendance was given in the 2006 progress report.
We have had three new CSA growers participate in the mentor/mentee project so far.
The training manual is being used in our CSA mini-schools (provided to all participants) and we hope to average 25 participants in those sessions. The training manual is also being offered for sale. Several have been sent to purchasers in several states. It was used in a mini-school in Missouri in early January, 2008.