Growing food is challenging enough, thanks to bugs, weeds and fickle weather.
But selling what you grow? That can be even harder.
Farmers have in recent years turned to Community Supported Agriculture, commonly called CSAs, help ease the uncertainty. Members pay up front for a share of the farm’s produce, and farmers get a cash infusion early in the season to see them through planting and growing. But the formula isn’t perfect.
Members might not like or know how to prepare everything in their bag, so it goes to waste. And the vagaries of agriculture sometimes make it hard for farmers to hold up their end of the deal.
That’s why producers like Klaus and LeAnn Karbaumer ofKarbaumer Farms
are turning to alternative marketing methods.
“Last year was a horrible year for growing vegetables the way we do,” LeAnn said. The couple doesn’t irrigate their horse-powered farm near Platte City, so “the heat really destroyed a lot of our bounty. It was a season of many sleepless nights.”
To make up for it, they allowed CSA members to select what they wanted from what was available. This year, they changed the program even more, creating a50-member Karbaumer Farm Guild
Guild members pay a $12 service fee. In exchange, they receive weekly emails detailing availability and prices and can pre-order ahead of their Thursday pick-up. Guild members also get discounts on wagon and buggy rides, access to a cider press and other perks.
The Karbaumers harvest only what’s needed to fill orders — plus extra for impulse purchases — and can also offer items that are just coming into season. The best part, though? Peace of mind.
“We don’t have people’s grocery money up front and then have to figure out a way to give it back in produce,” LeAnn said.
The Karbaumers’ farm stand is also open to the public, and they sell vegetables, fruit, eggs from their 300 free-range chickens and sometimes honey. They also supply produce to Grunauer, Eden Alley, Local Pig and Green Acres Market.
They’re not the only ones seeking a new market model, though.Pendleton’s Country Market
near Lawrence has both a traditional CSA and a punch card option, where members use pre-paid cards to make purchases at the farm stand or the Lawrence Farmers’ Market.
Howard’s Organic Fare Vegetable Patch
is a membership grocery store near Hospital Hill that allows members “24/7 access to the store allowing for good food, every day and anytime” in exchange for a $60 annual fee.
Stony Crest Urban Farm
offers Locavore Reward Cards, that give users $5 worth of free vegetables for every $50 spent at its stand at the Brookside or Waldo farmers’ markets. Its cool-season CSA runs from mid-October until late April — traditionally a farmers’ market dead zone — and requires members to pre-order produce ahead of their weekly pick-up.
Crafting a new approach to selling what they grow was a risk, LeAnn Karbaumer admited, but offering members more flexibility has so far paid off.
“We’re very pleased,” she said.
Anne Brockhoff is an award-winning spirits writer who writes a monthly column for The Star’s Food section, as well as food features. She blogs at food_drink_ life.wordpress.com .