We are three months into our experiment: the aim is to help the rural communities along the Peak to Peak Highway in the Colorado Rockies achieve greater health and wellbeing. Our method is to increase accessibility of fresh, organic produce by organizing a co-opertaive buyers club to purchase fruits and veggies in bulk and share the benefits of picking up produce closer to home (folks up here drive an average of 20 miles to the nearest grocery store!) at wholesale prices.
Since our launch in February, we’ve gone from one pick-up per month to two – a much more feasible way to plan how you are going to eat all those fresh veggies; we’ve gone from 10 members to 20; and the BEST feedback I’ve gotten so far is that folks are eating MORE veggies! Eating more fresh fruits and veggies is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health.
Granted, the produce business is not my forte. I consider myself more of a holistic healer and health care advocate – so negotiating with produce brokers, understanding how much to order and how to get the best quality and value has been a quick and steep learning curve! After three months, I actually feel like I’m getting a hang of things – and our members are reaping the benefits!
Make sure you read CSA FAQ (part 1) to get a better sense of where we’re coming from. And now, more answers to your wonderful questions!
Why are you calling it a CSA…when it’s more of a co-op?
I got this question from Monroe Organic Farms when I was researching places from which to source our produce – and they are right. (AND they have an AMAZING CSA of their own, check it out!) A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is traditionally structured to run Spring through late Autumn – or the extent of the local growing season. CSA members pay $400 to $500 in February or March to reserve their share of the produce from a single farm. CSA’s will also commonly include milk, egg and meat shares, or other locally produced goods like culinary oils and honey. Another feature of a traditional CSA is that everything is REALLY local – like within a 50 mile radius of where you live. The pick-up format varies – some CSA pick ups are directly at the farm, others are in church basements or community centers where the farmers will deliver their produce once or twice a month.
While there are some amazingly skilled farmers in these mountains, I have yet to meet some who produce enough of a single commodity to supply a CSA with 50 pounds of potatoes or apples. Most of the family farmers that I’ve met here grow enough variety and quantity for their families. Additionally, our growing season is fairly short living between 8,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level (my cabin is at 8,500′, the Homestead is at 9,200′, and there are tiny, isolated clusters of mountain dwellings hiding higher up the mountainsides between Idaho Springs and Estes Park).
Our solution is to source most of our produce from Colorado Fresh Produce – a family farm & broker located in Greely, Colorado. In the Summertime, they source the bulk of their produce from Colorado, and in the Winter leafy greens and fruit comes from small organic farmers in Arizona, California and Florida.
Travis Lease, the proprietor of Colorado Fresh Produce, shared “Bananas are coming from a farm in the Phoenix area, and the tomatoes from the hydroponic farm in the Eastern Plains of CO. The farmers that aren’t certified organic still use organic practices to grow their produce. I checked the produce that you got last Saturday, if we got everything the same but it all came from Certified Organic Farms, then your invoice would have been just over $500.”
To add variety without going over budget, the Mountain People’s Co-Op in Nederland has been supplying us with between $40 and $60 worth of mixed produce every delivery. CSA members love having the option to pick between kale, chard, cucumbers, peppers and beets (for example) to round out their produce selection at our pick ups.
The Homestead and the Mountain People’s Co-Op have always been mutually supportive, and I have to say we wouldn’t be where we are today without their encouragement. One hour before our first pick up back in February, I realized that we didn’t get enough root vegetables! In a panic, I called the Co-Op and asked if they had any root veggies to spare, and if we could come pick up 20 pounds within the hour. Amazingly, they said, “no problem” and one of our mutual volunteers and CSA members brought a huge box of turnips, parsnips and beets just in the nick of time. Thank you, Mountain People’s Co-Op!
One feature we have in common with traditional CSAs is that you get what you get. It’s not quite like going to the grocery store and picking whatever you want, and so far we haven’t been getting avocados and pineapples. It is Colorado, after all – and we are trying to stay as bio-regional as possible. The more members we get, the more variety and options we will be able to offer.
One of our CSA members posted a photo of her share on Facebook, encouraging her friends to sign up. One friend commented, “The last time I signed up for a CSA, we got weird veggies that I won’t eat. Other than that weird leafy green thing in the back, that all looks great! Maybe I’ll try again.” To which our CSA member replied, “That weird leafy thing is kale. Surely there are kale eaters in your house. If not, I’ll swap you an orange for your kale.”
While this may still sound more like a Co-Op than a CSA, guess what? Local farmers are taking notice of the increase in demand, and are encouraged at the prospect of being able to sell their produce locally and year-round. We have three local famers who have volunteered to specialize in growing more of one crop – garlic, potatoes, and tomatoes – and “we’ll see how it goes.” They know they have a ready market with the Homestead.
Additionally, we do have plans to offer seasonal subsidies with grant money to our local farmers in the near future – right now we are just getting started and building momentum! That helps us keep this resource affordable and accessible to our neighbors, and that’s the whole reason for our monthly CSA membership.
Can we add another pick-up in Nederland? (or Idaho Springs, or Central City, etc.)
Yes! When there’s 10 or more shares from a unique area or neighborhood we will work with that community to facilitate what’s called a “Round Robin”. Community members take turns picking up the shares for everyone, and bringing it back to your house to split up there or delivering to your neighbors. This is working well for our Nederland members so far. If we have more interest from Nederland we will be happy to deliver crates directly to Nederland for a community pick up there – times and locations TBA.
What do I get?
You get fresh, organic produce at cost, and close-to-home. Full shares go home with between 11 and 12 pounds of produce each pick up, and a half share gets about 6 pounds. Poundage is not the best way to measure the value of what you get, a 3 pound cabbage one week and a bunch of kale the next – but you can be sure you’re getting a great value. Our orders so far have focused on staples like onions, potatoes, tomatoes, apples, oranges, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, radishes, etc. I encourage you to send me your preferences, and as we grow we will be able to offer more variety.
What is the Homestead’s long term vision with the CSA?
A nonprofit is a business like any other – except there are strict regulations that ensure a tax-exempt charity is in the business of doing good things. (Of course, I think all business should be not-for-profit, and committed to improving the world, but that’s just me). So our vision is to fulfill our mission of improving the health and wellness of our community while growing our business. Our biggest and most immediate plan is to grow the CSA to 50 members or more, and rent out the 700 square foot retail space at 972 Golden Gate Canyon Rd. We will keep the CSA going as long as there is interest and participation, and we will keep it volunteer run, and the basis of our fresh produce offerings. When you sign up for the CSA, you can count on this being an enduring legacy of grassroots initiatives, community building, and greater health and wellness.
With the foundation of our current membership, we hope to offer incentives to our local, mountain farmers to grow more and bring us their produce! Our main retail location will be a year-round indoor farmers market, cafe and wellness center right in the heart of Gilpin County. We’re also looking forward to facilitating drop-off locations in other communities.
It’s about so much MORE than your shopping list…
When you join a CSA you are not only bringing more fruits and veggies into your kitchen, but you are helping to make this precious, health-giving resource to your whole community. Now that we have a few months under our belts, I’m able to order a little more each time ensuring that #1: our CSA members get the best quality, variety and selection possible; #2 that we are able to cover our costs (gas, delivery fees, ice, and space rental) by selling fruits and veggies piece-by-piece at retail prices; #3 that we are truly able to serve our community by adding a delivery service to our elderly and disabled neighbors and donating the rest to the Gilpin County Food Bank.
Fa real, this IS happening in our tiny, rural community – and all it takes is the support of you, your family and neighbors. Tell everyone you know about the amazing produce you are picking up from the Homestead twice a month! Feel good about being an integral part in this grassroots food system revolution! Enjoy the health benefits of not only eating more fresh fruits and veggies, but of volunteering, and getting to know your community better!
Can I sign up for the CSA without becoming a member?
No. Membership dues are an important part of how we keep the doors open and the lights on, plus there are more amazing benefits of membership with this awesome little nonprofit – read more here and become a member today!
In all honesty, I must acknowledge a loophole we cannot control: if you know somebody with a membership, you could just give them some cash every month and ask them to purchase an extra share for you. This could happen – and I’m not entirely opposed to it. I think there are some mutually beneficial ways that we can collaborate creatively with larger groups to facilitate more buying power – and more fresh produce to go around. One suggestion might be if you plan to do this with ten or more people, purchase a membership at the $100 collaborator level. (The super-hero powered Board of Directors will commune with the produce goddesses to arrive at a wise and balanced policy about this!)
I am hearing your feedback loud and clear – it is not really straightforward to sign up for this thing! While I am working on streamlining the process, for now this is how you join the CSA: First, click here to become a member. When you buy a membership through PayPal, I get an e-mail telling me you are a new member. As soon as I can I will reply to you with a Thank You and Welcome! e-mail, with the link and password to see behind the scenes on this website, and do cool things like read our newsletter and sign up for the CSA. Thanks, truly, for your support of this awesome grassroots health and wellness movement, and for your continued encouragement and patience. This is a wholly volunteer run endeavor!