Sometimes, people who start community supported agriculture farms think the key to a successful CSA is growing good food.
They’re only partially correct, said CSA farmer Lauren Rudersdorf.
Rudersdorf is entering her seventh season as co-owner of Raleigh’s Hillside Farm outside Footville. She said besides growing good fruits and veggies, a successful CSA farm requires marketing, customer service and customer education.
Put simply, it’s about relationships.
Rudersdorf will get a chance to share her knowledge with CSA farmers nationwide thanks to a $26,000 grant for a video project titled “Should I Start a CSA Farm?”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture grant comes from a program that promotes research and education for sustainable agriculture.
Rudersdorf and five other CSA farmers in the region, which extends into central Wisconsin and northern Illinois, are leading the video project. Right now, the group is conducting surveys of other CSA farmers to find out which skills are most needed for a successful business.
A typical CSA farm sells memberships to customers. Members receive boxes of produce within a given time period, often weekly or biweekly.
Rudersdorf had heard stories that the CSA model was faltering. People were entering the market and going out of business within a few years.
Those people might not understand everything it takes to operate a CSA farm—namely, the skills that go beyond food production.
That’s what the video project intends to fix. Farmers will learn whether their interests align with what it takes to build a successful network of CSA customers, she said.
The grant is fully funding videography, film editing and Rudersdorf’s time to facilitate the project. The video, which likely won’t be ready until fall 2020, will be free to watch.
Rudersdorf grew up on a conventional farm, and she bristled at the idea of relying on commodity markets for financial security. She would not have entered farming if it were not for the CSA model, she said.
She interned at FairShare CSA Coalition in Madison and then started her own farm with her husband, Kyle. Having an educational video would have been useful in the early days of their farm, she said.
Now she can share her own experiences with CSA beginners.
“I don’t think there’s any other way to consume food that’s better,” Rudersdorf said. “I fell in love with this model.”