There’s no greeting card to celebrate Community Supported Agriculture Day.
But on February 22, farmer Tom Wadson will mark the day recognising the importance of farm product subscriptions services or “farm shares”.
The day, started by an American organisation called Small Farm Central, is growing in popularity among farmers, and is often used to recruit more customers to farm share services.
Mr Wadson, owner of Wadson’s Farm in Southampton, has been running his “Fresh and Famous” farm share for almost nine years, and is currently signing up new subscribers for the spring season, which kicks off on March 15.
“CSA is important to farmers because it is another solid marketing avenue for us,” Mr Wadson said. “It tends to make us more visible to our retail customers generally. Being paid ‘up front’ helps us with cashflow. It also allows us to showcase our latest and freshest harvest very quickly.
“Bermuda farms are continuously harvesting. In North America they are in their planning stages, so marketing before they plant gives them many more planning opportunities.”
One of the lessons he has learnt over the years, is that people crave variety.
“You can’t be putting bok choy and fennel in the package every week,” he said. “We have pumpkin. We have pawpaw. We try to really mix it up.”
The farm puts so much emphasis on it, that last fall they “canned” their subscription programme when they couldn’t provide enough variety.
“We had a lot of people on vacation and weren’t getting work done and there was a little adverse weather,” Mr Wadson said. “So we had to make the call.”
Now they are halfway through a successful winter season, and preparing to launch their spring season in March. They have 50 subscribers receiving fruits, vegetables, eggs, broiler chickens and herbs each week, and room for more.
Wadson’s Farm subscribers pay up front to receive bundles of farm goods, for eight weeks.
The advantage to the farmer is a guaranteed stream of revenue in an industry vulnerable to weather and agricultural pests. The customer advantage is access to a steady stream of fresh, reliable fruits and vegetables, and a relationship with the people who grow it.
“A lot of people sign up for health reasons,” Mr Wadson said, “and a lot of people say ‘we like to support local business’. And there are a lot of people who like good value.”
Wadson’s offers small, medium and large bundles, so that small and large families, and even individuals, can take part.
A typical bundle might contain celeriac, fennel, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, orange sweet potatoes, bananas, carrots, cauliflower, pumpkin and sweet marjoram. For those who didn’t know what to do with marjoram or celeriac, a recipe is included.
“Sometimes we have been asking to go from the large to the medium package,” Mr Wadson said. “But more often it’s the other way around and people want more vegetables.”
Mr Wadson makes a wry face when people ask how to dry the herbs included.
“That’s the whole point, you don’t dry them,” he said.
Mr Wadson built a store on his farm nine years ago, and the farm share followed soon after.
Before that, Mr Wadson sold a lot of his goods through roadside stands and Saturday morning farmers’ markets.
Martin Hatfield, who runs the farm share at Wadson’s said these avenues are labour intensive and often weather dependent. They were also exhausting for Mr Wadson.
“We’d be up until late the night before getting everything ready,” Mr Wadson said. “When I finished a Saturday farmer’s market at Bull’s Head my legs felt like jelly.”
A lot of farm share subscribers are environmentally conscious, so Wadson’s has been working to reduce the amount of plastic it uses.
They tried putting their produce in brown paper bags, but often found that with chilled goods, the wetness soaked through the bag quickly.
Now they use old chicken feed bags. which are made from a tough brown paper.
“We were going through 300 chicken feed bags a month,” Mr Wadson said. “It was becoming a liability because someone would have to take them to the dump.”
The bags are so durable, he has seen some of his customers reusing them to take ice to their boats.
Subscribers can pick their bundles up from the farm on Luke’s Pond Road on Fridays from 1pm to 6pm and on Saturdays from 9am to 10pm, or from the parking lot of St Paul’s Church in Paget on Saturdays from 9am to 11.30am, or from the Rose Hill Esso Station in St George’s from 10am to 7pm.