Sunday, April 26, 2009

Calvert Farm - SAITA CSA Budgeting and Cost Recovery

Pam Stegall and her husband have owned the 17.5 acre organic Calvert Farm in Rising Sun, Maryland near the borders of PA and DE for 15 years. We had another good turnout for this highly informative and practical workshop: how to develop and manage a CSA.

Pam produces on 5 acres and with two heated greenhouses and constant crop rotation, her process is efficient and highly productive. While she did spread mushroom compost on the beds when first starting the farm, she doesn't use compost and tills all green waste back into the fields. Her Amish farm manager and some of his children help work the farm and she has one young assistant. She begins planting on St. Patrick's Day and this year held a potato and pea planting party with CSA volunteers offering their time.

Her CSA began with just 18 members, and Pam built her business by going out into the community to speak about organic farming and food production, sending out flyers, advertising in weeklies and using what we now call viral marketing (word of mouth) to alert people about the farm. She even once sold her chickens to a film crew working on an Oprah Winfrey movie. She is a big believer in giving back and donates food to local schools. Pam doesn't do many markets, her opinion is that they're too labor intensive. But she has doubled her large CSA membership this season.

Here are some of her tips about developing and budgeting for a CSA:

During the first two years, plan on no more than 50% retention. Pam now has 85% retention. Keep your customers happy, make sure your produce is clean and make a business plan. Know how much produce you'll be putting in each box, and budget per customer. It is helpful to have the customer come to your farm, meet you and be aware of your production and processes. Pam allots 2.5 boxes per customer and doesn't do half orders, again because of labor issues. Her logical reasoning is 'we're forced to choose what you get if we offer 1/2 boxes'. Her fee for the CSA is a very reasonable $450 per season, or $20/week. In the fall she offers another 7-8 weeks at $200.

Evaluate your own farm setup. How many customers do you want or need? What will they enjoy eating? Try not to offer unusual varieties unless you know your customer will appreciate them and plan accordingly. Pam packs 6-8 items per box and plans each week what will go into them. She weighs bags when she goes to market so that there is no question about what the consumer is getting. She plans for 3 tomato plants per person, 3 10' rows of beans and offered a handout from Rohrer's Seeds that suggests how much seed to plant for a family of five.

Marketing - reach your customer with your message. Do you direct mail, send out flyers? How does the general public find out about you? Relying on word of mouth when you're just beginning is not going to be very successful. You do need to have exposure, so plan for these expenses.

Season extenders- Pam uses row covers like Reemay and plants her strawberries in black plastic. She also rotates crops; every time one is finished, another goes in. Her methodology is impressive on such a small land area. Make the weather work for you!

Plan for product, week by week: Every activity is a cost, so work smarter. Break down each task into steps from buying your seed, to planting in the greenhouse, to transplanting, etc. Pam keeps meticulous records on nutrient management for each crop. She rarely direct seeds in order to control the growing season and rotations. She plants long growing crops to the sides of beds so that tilling can be accomplished more easily. Same with produce that will need heavier irrigation; keep them closer to the source.

She assembles boxes the day before market or delivery, everything but tomatoes goes into the cooler. For any excess, Pam will sell at market. She has 20 delivery sites and on-farm pickup, with the 30 week Baltimore market serving as her one big market; 8,000-10,000 people pass through the market daily.

Be sure you're able to do any of the jobs on the farm so you're better prepared to know what to ask of your own labor force. Always have backup products. Hers are potatoes, onions, herbs and mushrooms. She does source out some crops from other farmers; sweet corn, mushrooms. These are better left to others if you don't have the space or knowledge.

Keep labor records. If your staff isn't able to 'conceptualize' the task, shift them to another one. Don't waste time if they're not suited to a job. Drive the route so you have records for mileage. Pam avoids rush hours to save money and time.

Storing and packing: Pam built a cooler in one part of her barn, using 2x4's with blueboard, insulation and sealed it all with refrigeration tape. The door is a simple sliding barn door, that she suggests covering with a heavy vinyl flap curtain (food contact approved) to keep the temperature at an even 33-35 degrees when you're opening and closing. Her utility cost per season is $30-40/month.

Pam doesn't use any chemicals to deter pests, but relies on homemade bug busters like hot pepper sprays for harlequin beetles. Demonstrating how frugal and savvy she is about trends, she doesn't prune her pear, apple, plum or cherry trees until they're in bloom. Then she can sell the sprigs to florists, who will come to the farm for pickup. Hostas were planted to soak up excess water in a problem drainage area.

She enlisted a local fireman to drive their truck to market in Baltimore, and she's picked up her commercial grade stainless steel carts on the cheap from restaurant supply outlets and yard sales. Her fridge for storing flat boxes was free from a local health food store. Her boxes come from PCA near Manheim, PA and she suggests talking to Robert Doyle, their salesman.

Pam discussed safety issues and suggests diligence when hiring a driver (check their license with Motor Vehicles) and buying general liability insurance for the farm. She offers value added products like eggs and honey, and some products are bought from local farms. In managing the business, she plans up front to take 10% for seed and equipment, paying other farmers. Then on a weekly basis she allots a payment back to the farm, similar to an escrow account.

While she says 'This is hard work and it's not for the faint of heart!', Pam manages her farm smartly and safely. We all appreciated her generosity of time and her offer of fresh baked bread, veggies and homemade Amish mint tea.

Stay tuned for next week's posting from Willow Creek Orchards on the Economics and Season Extension of Greenhouse/High
Tunnel tomatoes!
Schedule here.

SAITA Coordinator

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CSA Update - Ben Stoltzfus orders


Just a quick note to let you know that Ben will be delivering on Thursday, April 23rd this week.  Please place your order with Ben using either our online system or by calling him directly at 717-768-3437

Also, Ben has begun to supply us with eggs (we have about 15 dozen in the fridge now), so you will no longer need to order them directly from him. You can just pick them up when you come!

Looking forward to seeing you all at the start of the season!


    "Think Globally, Eat Locally"
  Maysie's Farm Conservation Center

Sunday, April 19, 2009

North Slope Farm - SAITA Soil Structure Workshop

We had a great turnout of interns from Blooming Glen and Sankanac Farms and one interested future farmer for our first SAITA workshop at North Slope in Lambertville, NJ. The farmer and owner, Mike Rassweiler, was well prepared with handouts and a soil testing exercise on his 50 Acre farm in central NJ. Check his website for great information on fertilizing and his Flickr pages for his examples of profits and loss from his farm over the years. His greenhouses were full of baby greens, bright young basil and had some of the tiniest cell flats I've ever seen. 

He's been farming this property since 1994 and lives there with his wife Colleen and baby Casey. They offer housing and a 3 year training program to interns and currently have about four people helping out. 
A good lab to get your samples analyzed is A & L Eastern Labs in Richmond, VA. I had my own Atlanta garden soil sampled there about 15 years ago.

Not so great video from my little Canon, but worth viewing for Mike's notes on soil.

soil sampling-

Mike is aiming for no till on all the beds and uses 'living' shoulders between rows. He cover crops at the end of the season, and uses compost annually on most beds. Since one of his specialties is salad or field mix, he prefers to avoid cross contamination by not using any animal manure. He buys mushroom soil, and has used municipal deliveries of leaf waste in the past, from which he was getting a tipping fee. He does buy some organic fertilizer from Fertrell.

His main 3 acres is bounded by an electric fence for deer, a challenge is erosion and drainage; loss has occurred during heavy rains.


mixing soil-

water test-

Stay tuned for next Saturday, April 25th SAITA workshop notes on 'CSA costs - Recovery and Budgeting' at Calvert Farm in Rising Sun, MD. 

Hope to see you there! Schedule here.

SAITA Coordinator

Monday, April 6, 2009

CSA Update


The CSA season is quickly approaching! There are just a few items of interest to update you on.

We are in the process of changing the format of how you receive your weekly update. We have added a blog site to the website and all pertinent information will now be listed on the weekly blog.

There will be 2 ways for you to receive the information… you can either subscribe to the blog or check the website frequently for any updates. If you subscribe to the blog, the information will continue to come to you as an email. If you choose not to subscribe, please be sure to check the website, as this is where all of our updates will be. (You can bookmark the website for easy access!)

To subscribe, simply go onto and follow the links.
If you have any difficulty, you can contact Amy Guskin, our webmaster at We will put out another update to further explain this and to confirm that it is up and running! Ah, technology!!

In addition, our SAITA program (Sustainable Agriculture Internship Training Alliance of Southeast Pennsylvania) is getting underway. The program is an opportunity for farm interns and any interested parties to visit farms, experience farm tours and attend seminars related to sustainable agriculture. We hope you will take advantage of these programs, as it is a wonderful way to meet new people, expand your interests and visit some beautiful farms! There is something for everyone. Please pass the information along to others who may be interested!!

Lastly, word from Ben this week is that he will be delivering on Thursday April 9th instead of Friday due to the holiday. Please get your order to him by Tuesday evening, either by ordering from our website or by calling Ben directly at 717-768-3437 (Sorry for the short notice)

Have a wonderful holiday and we will see you soon on the farm!


"Think Globally, Eat Locally"
Maysie's Farm Conservation Center