CSA shares per acre

suburbangreen(8)April 13, 2012

I know most of you guys are not CSA growers, but for those of you who are: For a 12-week CSA season, how many shares(roughly 2/3 a bushel per share) could I expect to get out of an acre. Judging from my research and limited experience I was planning on getting 50 shares.

I'm around Dallas Texas and the season will be this Fall starting the third week of September and running until the third week of December. The first 4 weeks will mainly be warm season crops and the last 6 weeks cool season crops, with overlap in the middle.

I'll have an additional 1/4 acre in production for extra food insurance and to pay an additional 6 workshares. The cost for each share is $30 per week.

I have the use of a collection of Farmall cub tractors with cultivators, plows, discs, hillers, etc. I have leaves from various landscapers and a compost pile started. I also have quite a bit of greenhouse supplies, row covers, and drip tape irrigation for 1/3 an acre(my current garden size).

The main source of organic material will be free horse manure. I am either going to make repeated trips with a trailer or hire a dump truck if the price is right. I'll be getting a tax id for discounts on bulk purchases. It will be tough, but I feel like I can do it if I work about 60+ hours a week. I'll also have a little help from my wife and kids if I get in a crunch.




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If you have not been market farming and have never done a CSA before cut that number by half. Especially if your soil and weather are not perfect.

Far better to low ball than to run short.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 5:57PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I have a half acre and do a 18 week share for $400. I will do 15 shares this season.
I start with $18-20 worth of produce per week in June and go up to $30-35 in the harvest time. I do not judge by size but value of the produce. It is sometimes a full cooler and a full half bushel basket per week.

There is no way to guarantee success and do you want 50 people pissed at you? I started with 5 people and one market in my 3rd year of growing for money and mid season added a 6th person. I did 10-11 last year and now 15 this season with one market still most of the time. To take some pressure off, I have some pay as you go shares that could be dropped if it gets to be a bad year.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2012 at 9:56PM
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Leaves take a while to compost. Horse manure should be composted a year before using (and ask if the hay, straw they feed and use for bedding was grown without herbicides - so many grass/grain growers are using some really nasty *persistent* browd-leaf herbicides - will pass right through into manure - and of course in bedding - you don't want to kill your veggies!).

I wouldn't think of offering CSAs until I had a couple years of successful market growing under my belt. I've grown successfully for family (with excess to give extended family and neighbors, and to can) but last year was my first year in business and the weather didn't cooperate, yield was way less than I've had in the past, and this year looks to be the same (dry, not wet). Don't want to start off with *anybody* mad at me, bad word-of-mouth will shut you down before you even get started!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 9:08AM
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My gut tells me that you are biting off a lot with 50 shares on more than one front.

With row cropping (which is what you will be doing with tractors) I don't think you will have enough land. More intensive planting will be required. Which is more labor intensive.

Have you ever practiced successive planting for a season? Planting lettuce every week? Bunching onions every week? Have you previously grown all the vegetables you plan on including in a share already?

Harvest days will be very very labor intensive for 50 shares.

Do you have your infrastructure in place? Germination/seed starting area and lights, pick up area, cooler space, bags/boxes, picking containers, wash station, etc.

Have you actually planned what will go into each share week by week? What constitutes a weeks worth of each vegetable for a share? Do you have a planting schedule, seed order, and row requirement for planting? Have you explored the software/databases that could help you plan this?

What I suspect is that you will be devoting too much time trying to make 50 shares work and will be neglecting marketing, website development, a newsletter, and community outreach.

As others with much more experience have said, it is important to your future to not have a bunch of pissed off customers in your start up years. Much better to start small and grow slowly.

But there is something to be said for just going for it. I guarantee long days and a very sore back, but it could work. Just be flexible and modify your plans as you go. And don't be afraid to ask for help.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 9:47AM
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If you do get 50 members (CSA's are not always easy to sell) i would strongly suggest doing 3 harvests days. i have done a harvest for 30 members and it takes me 2 days to get it all done (and I am a fast harvester) plus clean and weigh/bunch/bag the stuff for making into shares 9and it will take about 3 hours just to do what you have to do after you wash the produce to turn it all into a bunch of boxes of food ready for pick up. if you plan on delivery add another 2 to 4 hours to your day.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 11:07AM
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Maybe I came off as a total newbie from my post---not to say that I'm experienced though.

I grew 6 shares on around 3,000 sq ft last Fall and this year I have 12 shares on a third of an acre plus I'm adding another 6 for a short Summer vegetable share.

I spent last year and this year working on succession planting and I believe I have a pretty good calander worked out. I have done a whole lot of research online, read books, and attended a new farmer's workshop and believe I have some good systems in place.

I am not doing straight row cropping. Instead I'm growing on 30"-wide raised beds. So for carrots and lettuce I can get 3 rows per bed and two rows of bush beans and beets. I am using a system similar to what Eliot Coleman recommends.
The leaves are being used as mulch and the horse manure is being aged the recommended 180 days. I am also using some purchased compost, but the cost is really high. Soil testing is guiding my amending and fertilizing, although I have grown in this soil for the last 7 years.

I have some infrastructure holes, but also a foundation. As far as growing trasplants, the Fall season is easier to manage. After getting seeds germinated inside, I put them outside in low tunnels covered with shade cloth. Direct seeded items like beans are planted near drip tape to aid in germination. Carrots, of course, require special attention.

I have designs for a washing station which I plan to modify a bit.

Working out an efficient system for getting shares ready is crucial. Thanks Lucy, three harvest days seems like the way to go. Along with a helper, we spend between 1.5-2 hrs harvesting and preparing 7 shares. We pack the shares straight into iced coolers early in the morning and leave them in the shade until they are picked up(by next Spring I want to build a cool-bot cooler). So 15-20 shares would take a few hours, 3 days a week.

Fortunately we don't have to deliver, because we are in the city. I could not afford to deliver for sure.

Marketing has not been a problem so far. Again we are in the city and have had plenty of demand. As long as I keep producing the product I am now, I believe people will come back next year and recommend me to others. My biggest fear is not being able to deliver what I promise. And the biggest hurdle I see is labor. I plan on making the main job of the work share folks harvesting and getting shares ready as well as transplanting into the field. University of Texas at Dallas is close by and we have plenty of independent garden stores in the area. I envision environmentally-conscious or vegetarian college students doing workshares, with maybe 2 friends working for and spliting one share. I notice that most CSA's use interns, work shares or volunteers for much of their labor.

For weed control on the large crops I may use some plastic mulch---although for the time involed I could just lay hay or leaves.

Again, I know this will be a challenge, but I think it can be done. 50 shares is the lowest number I can go. Before finding out I was getting laid off, I had planned to work up to around 20 shares this Fall---a tall order with a full-time job. Instead of getting another job and postponing what I really want to do, I have decided to go for it. I know the job is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding at times. Then again, working for someone in an office is much worse in my mind.

I am really lucky to have so much in place to do this in the first place.

Could you recommend or share farm planning software? My wife is doing the books with Quicken.




    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 1:44PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

Pete it is awesome you are at this crossroads and ready to go for it. I recommend doing some of the shares as pay as you go like my $100/120 shares. That will give you leeway and less stress. My most stressed ever was my first CSA year when I didn't have the produce amounts from the year before and I was a wreck. It is all about keeping the customers you know.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 7:45PM
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Could you please explain what a CSA is? Those of us not familiar with market gardening have no idea what some of those abbreviations stand for. Thanks. Northwoodswis

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:49PM
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Here is how we explain it on our farm's website:

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSA programs are designed to build a relationship between the farmer and the community. A CSA gives its members the opportunity to have direct access to high quality, fresh seasonal produce (or meat & eggs) grown by a local farmer.

When you become a member of Chimney Creek CSA you are purchasing a “share” of a season’s worth of food from us. We commit to raising your food with sustainable and environmentally responsible practices. You also know that your food is grown locally, handled minimally, and not shipped from across the country or even across the world!

CSA members pay for an entire season of food upfront. This early bulk payment enables your farmer to plan for the season, purchase new seed, make equipment repairs, order chicks, buy feed, and more. Members also share with the farmer some of the risks and benefits that come with farming. A growing season can bring an abundance of food, but on occasion it can have less than ideal conditions (hail, insects, accidents etc.) that may affect some crops & animals.

Visit our website below for more information

Here is a link that might be useful: Chimney Creek Farm

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 10:34AM
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Personally, I would double what you are doing, maybe 3x. I found that by doing that, even with only market gardening, I had enough time to change the way I had to garden. The more you grow, there will be some changes that you will need to do. These changes can be very simple, and others are major.

I did a CSA for 1 year and had 3 members. I had trouble getting that many. This was about 10 years ago and CSA wasn't quite what people wanted. I lived near a good sized city, so the population was there.

Not knowing what the weather will hand you each year, is very difficult for farmers. Hopefully you will get members that are familiar with CSAs uncertainties. New to CSA members may not be too forgiving if it happens to be a bad year for you.

This is just my opinions and thoughts.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 2:03PM
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One thing I noticed both during our short csa year and since just growing produce for market was trying to figure shares per acre depends on how many different types of product you are growing. With the plants that produce several pounds of produce such as tomatoes and peppers you need less acres, but the plants like carrots and turnips take more acres. So my thought would be a large table like Territorial Seed has that tells how many plants per acre to start figuring how many acres needed. Then decide how many shares you can produce off those acres.

This might not read right but a little thought will tell you what I mean.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2014 at 12:14PM
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