May 2021 - 17

Pahl's Market aims for about 60 different varieties of fruits and
vegetables in their CSA offerings.
Miller Plant Farm is a century farm and has been growing vegetables
for many years.
are sharing them with you for your own garden. Practicing
what we preach has built a long-standing trust among our
farm community. Our customers know we pride ourselves in
caring for the soil and the plants to create nutrient-rich foods,
so it ties in perfectly with offering them those same quality
soils and plants for their home gardens. When talking about
challenges they may be facing in their garden, we have a builtin
farm to use for illustrating a point.
Miller: The CSA pickups begin around the middle of June
and continue through October. Season extension is a big
deal. Plants sell all summer if you can get the customers
to the garden center. Fall sales benefit, too. It also uses key
employees that are so vital in the spring season.
Pahl: I would say it complements it very well. A lot of people,
I feel, think of us in the spring for our flowers and don't really
think of us outside of that. Now with this CSA program, people
know that we farm. Farming is what we are built on and it
gives people more background, and I think that's important to
know our story to help our garden center grow.
L&GR: What challenges do you face with having a CSA?
Harvey: Some of the challenges include labor/staffing,
weather extremes ... having the income from CSAs paid
up front is a blessing but can make it more challenging to
continue that cash flow through the growing season. We have
always marketed our CSA program as not a one-size-fits-all
option and try to encourage customers to try different options
if they're afraid it might not be an appropriate fit (i.e., not the
variety they expected, too much or not enough of certain foods,
eating seasonally is different than what many think, etc.).
Miller: Our main challenge is weather and crop availability,
especially the first few weeks before the summer crops begin
to mature. That is why it is important to develop a network of
other farms.
Pahl: I would say the main challenge we face with having a
CSA is the perfect produce. The grocery store has put produce
on a pedestal that is almost too hard to reach. We throw out
hundreds of pounds of great produce just because it is not
perfect. For the CSA, I try to provide a perfect box, but if I
feel the produce is still edible (meaning a cucumber might
be bent or a bell pepper only has one lobe instead of four) I
will pack it. The majority of people understand that these are
still perfectly fine to eat, but others are expecting perfection
like the grocery store. I completely understand it because it
is a lot of money, but at the same time is frustrating knowing
that the produce is still fine to consume.
L&GR: What advice would you give other garden centers
considering starting a CSA program?
Harvey: It's a big, season-long commitment between you,
your staff and your customers. Quality, variety and flavorful
foods go far with your customers. If you're not growing the
food yourself, source the ingredients from producers as local
as possible, which helps your local economy. It's a lot of work,
but helps keep staff that may normally be more seasonal
employed during quieter times.
Miller: Start small and grow into it. You don't have to grow
everything yourself, but probably over half is wise. Social
media is a big deal. Use it. Provide online sales if possible.
Pahl: It's a lot of work and you need to be ready to have
tough skin. For us, summer is a lot of hard work and a lot of
hours. The majority of the time, I am working 16- to 18-hour
days and it's at the end of those days where I have time for
emails. Sometimes you receive some harsh emails that you
might not agree with. Know that these emails make your
program better and take constructive criticism.
Live to farm; do not get into it unless you are passionate
about it. Mother Nature is not very nice and you need to love
it to agree with her.

May 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of May 2021

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