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Allandale Farm is reaping the benefits of the “buy local, eat local” philosophy with its Community Sponsored Agriculture program. The Brookline-based farm’s CSA drew 255 Bostonians to its farm stand every Tuesday and Thursday for 20 weeks to pick up their shares of the farm’s seasonal produce, and guaranteed Allandale’s farmers and employees revenue to see the business through the winter months. The farm shares go for $600 each, and include varied produce that feed a family of four for almost a week. The half shares, at $350 each, were even more popular.
“We sold [the shares] out in a matter of minutes,” said John Lee, owner and manager of Allandale Farm.
The benefits for both customer (a range of fresh produce) and farmer (sustainable business through slower months) are some of the biggest draws of CSA programs. According to Lee, the program increased Allandale’s profits by roughly $5,000 since the program began in June. Many Massachusetts farms have jumped on the CSA trend already.
“One of the great things [about CSA] is that it allows you to concentrate on growing quality vegetables, because the sales part is already taken care of,” says Kofi Ingersoll, manager of the CSA program at Bay End farm in Buzzard’s Bay, MA. “In a good year, our CSA will cover the costs of running the farm, and we can concentrate our energy on growing.” Bay End farm has been running their 20-week CSA for 11 years, and Ingersoll says that despite weaker restaurant and farm stand sales this year, the CSA has still helped the farm cover its basic costs.
Keeping a farm up and running financially isn’t the only way a CSA can help a farm’s business, Lee says.
“One big reason we started up [the CSA] is to cut down our time on the road,” said Lee, who has minimized his sales to chain grocery stores like Whole Foods since phasing in the CSA. “Without the running around [delivering], we’ve almost doubled our income.”
Allandale’s community sponsored program, which is pickup only, also draws customers to Allandale’s large farm stand, where they can pick up produce as well as cut flowers, plants, locally-made breads, cheeses, and snacks. Lee estimates that almost two-thirds of the CSA shareholders were already farm regulars, some of whom had been frequenting Allendale for years before the CSA came into place last season.
“We’ve been coming here for 25 years, and we come because it’s convenient,” says Nancy Sullivan, a Newton native. “But we keep coming because it’s a very nice environment [to shop in].”
Allandale’s employees can attest to the loyalty of their customers. “We have customers who have been coming here forever,” Chelsea McNiff, a Boston University student who has worked at the farm stand for three seasons, says. “We constantly have people who bake us things with produce they bought here. This is the one place close to the city where you can get this kind of stuff.”
Allandale used to be a certified organic farm, but isn’t any longer, nor is it federally certified. However, Lee maintains that the loyalty of his customers is based on the farm’s honesty about its growing methods, not a stamp of government approval. “People more than anything want to know what we grow,” Lee said. “If we have to spray something, we tell them. We have a very straight relationship with our customers, and while we do use OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) certified materials, it’s very hard nowadays to come by a strictly organic farm.”
The CSA is drawing to a close at the end of October, as the farm gears up for the winter season. However, Lee still wants his CSA customers to get a well-rounded bushel of produce, will be including a few pounds of apples from an apple orchard in Nagog, MA and a free pumpkin with these last fall shares.
“I want people to have a sort of spiritual connection to the farm,” Lee says. “I don’t want people to feel the same way about us that they do about their supermarket. We work hard to give people a wide variety of produce, and I’m not going to sell people something that isn’t perfect.”
Boston and its surrounding area are full of farms that offer CSA programs at a wide range of prices. Many deliver, and some are still providing a winter CSA throughout the cold season. Definitely check them out here — just click on one in your area for more information.
– Talia Ralph