Want fresh vegetables, eggs, even bread? Subscribe to one of these programs at local farms.
The CSA is dead. Long live the farm box. OK, the switch is not quite that stark, but several area farmers tell us they are tweaking the Community Supported Agriculture concept into something more consumer-friendly.
Call it Farm Shares. Call it a Farm Box Plan or Program. Call it a subscription. It’s designed to give consumers a wider range of options and reduce the risk associated with traditional CSAs.
“It’s really the same thing,” says Aliza Kilburn, co-owner of Comeback Creek Farm in Pittsburg, Texas. “Three, four, five years ago, we decided to give it a new name. … We felt like using the term Farm Box Program simplified things.”
In a traditional CSA, you buy shares in a farm season in advance, which provides up-front cash for the farmer to spend on seeds and other needs. When the harvest comes in, members receive a portion of the bounty. But if for some reason the crops go belly-up, the members share the risk and go home with less.
This hasn’t dampened interest in Comeback’s Farm Box Program. The spring offering sold out in January, ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kilburn says, and demand picked up in March.
“We went ahead and opened our summer sign-ups early, and we’ve had lots of traffic, and a lot of new people.” The farm, one of the granddaddies of the North Texas farm-to-table movement, has drop-off points from Greenville to the Bishop Arts District in Dallas.
Unlike some producers, Comeback has maintained its restaurant clientele, including Homewood, Nonna and Petra and the Beast. And Comeback also will sell its produce at St. Michael’s Farmers Market when it opens.
Keith Copp, who owns D-Bar Farms in Ponder, is in the process of expanding his North Texas farm-box drops to include more options. “It’s similar to a CSA,” he says, “but I’m going to enlist other farms. … People can go online and customize boxes.” And it doesn’t ask consumers to take any risk.
It’s more like a co-op, he says. “That’s the new approach we’re going to take in these new times,” Copp says. People want more, he says, than what a single farm produces.
“The CSA model won’t grow tremendously,” says Aaron Reeves of Reeves Family Farm in Princeton, “because only so many people will take what they can get.” That has traditionally been whatever the farmer has sown ― and sometimes a lot of it all at once. Like 5 pounds of kohlrabi. How many people know what to do with that?
“I do a CSA,” Reeves says, “but it’s not a traditional CSA. I call it Farm Shares. People … pick out a certain number of items,” not necessarily limited to what Reeves Farm grows. The Farm Share entitles holders to 18 weeks of produce, including some from partner farms, with add-on options such as local grass-fed beef and honey. Folks will pick up their weekly boxes at the farm. “The CSA sold out in a week back in January,” he adds.
Reeves developed his Neighborhood Farm Box in response to the more recent, coronavirus-driven demand. It includes additional produce items not grown locally, bread from La Francaise Bakery, and eggs, when available. The boxes have four North Texas drop-off points and continue at least through May 1, when the farm store opens.
David Fisher, head of Fisher Farm and Ranch in Fruitvale, says his program isn’t a CSA in the traditional sense, but he does offer consumers six-month plans as well as one-time orders. “We always have options for the longer version,” he says. “We are farming on a large scale that allows for a very large membership.”
Fisher, like several farmers I talked to, is watching for what may happen months down the line as a result of the novel coronavirus.
“Articles I am reading show that in the next few months, the downstream consequences of this virus will tighten the food supply from outside the area,” he says. “How much is yet to be determined, but there is a very real possibility people’s choices are going to be more limited in the coming months.”
Kim Pierce is a Dallas freelance writer.
By Kim Pierce
9:21 AM on Apr 16, 2020