CSA Drop Sites: Stories of Growth and Community
A lot of things in life are best shared over a beer, so why not a CSA share? Signing up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share is a great way to support your local farmer and ensure that you’ll have a box of delicious, locally grown products week after week. As the demand for CSA grows, businesses around the state are coming together to support each other through utilizing drop sites for CSA shares. And in some cases, you can pick up your share while enjoying a pint or finding the perfect bottle of wine to pair with your CSA inspired dishes.
As CSA grows in popularity, the need for drop sites is becoming apparent. Since many of our farmers live outside of city limits, delivering food to town is usually one of the best ways to engage customers. Delivery, however, can be very cost-prohibitive, especially for new farmers. Time spent delivering food to multiple locations or managing a pickup location is time not spent completing farm tasks which, as you can imagine, are never-ending.
That’s where businesses like Structures Brewing come in. Structures has been operating in Bellingham since 2015. Seizing the opportunity to take advantage of the delicious berries that come out of Skagit Valley, they connected with Anna Chotzen at Viva Farms to create their flagship IPA: Raspberry Fuzz. Johnny Wilkerson, who wears many hats at Structures, including coordinating the CSA drop site, tells us, “We got started with her, and a couple years into it, she reached out because she was doing CSA and wanted to see if we would be a drop site.”
Amy Frye, co-owner of Boldly Grown Farm and previous incubator farmer at Viva Farms, also reached out to see if Structures could host them for their winter CSA. “We started in 2015 which makes this our 8th year in operation. We’ve grown a lot over those years,” Amy says. While growing fall and winter vegetables was the hope from the beginning, Amy mentions that “Winter CSA was kind of an afterthought,” but it turned out to be a winner. “It doubled every year for the first five years, and CSA became really popular during the pandemic.”
Utilizing drop sites helps Boldly Grown and Viva expand their reach and exposure as well as bring customers into Structures. Johnny recognizes this win-win situation. “We get to meet some people who come in who didn’t know about us. About half stop and have a beer while they pick up their stuff, so we all get exposure.” And those folks who are just there to enjoy a Raspberry Fuzz witness the joy of CSA customers who pick up their boxes. “Customers would come in and get curious, and all of the fliers or cards for the farms we have would always disappear.” The exposure for both businesses creates a beneficial relationship that allows great opportunity for cross-promotion and community building.
Anna from Viva Farms agrees. “Having drop sites throughout the community is a great way to get brand/organizational awareness, which is obviously beneficial.” So, how do farmers and businesses form a relationship that is beneficial for each other and their customers?
As it turns out, a lot of these relationships form organically. Emily Tzeng of Local Color Farm and Fiber in Puyallup found her drop site at Field Bar and Bottle Shop when going in to buy a bottle of wine. “With Field, they had initially opened their space as a bottle shop during the pandemic. I had stopped by to buy some wine and started to chat with the owner Brian. We ended up having some acquaintances/friends in common and I approached him about using the shop as a drop site. They were also trying to support local farms during a period that they couldn’t operate as a restaurant.”
For Brian Hibbard of Field Bar and Bottle Shop, this was a no-brainer. “The primary ethos running through the veins of Field Bar is to support, contribute to, and encourage others to support sustainable food systems.” he says, “We believe that humanity shifting habits and priorities towards a Slow Food model is vital.”
Emily also mentions the benefit of a long pick-up window. “Field is open for retail hours during our pick-up period and CSA members can come anytime from 1pm until 10pm.” This allows ample time for customers to pick up their shares and, while they’re at it, grab a bottle of wine to pair with their fresh vegetables.
And while CSA has been a popular selling method among vegetable and fruit growers, they aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the opportunity to utilize drop sites. When the pandemic hit, Kyla Gunstone of Johnson and Gunstone Shellfish in Sequim was seeking out public places to sell shellfish but so many businesses were closed. “COVID pushed us to think outside the box,” she says. Her goal was to find a business where she could sell her product in a way that didn’t compete with what the business had to offer but still fit the clientele and had a pick-up time that made sense for customers. Turns out, breweries were a great fit.
To make this relationship sustainable, Kyla knew she had to find a way to sell the shellfish without putting too big of a burden on the breweries. Since the drop sites are located in different cities, Kyla decided to hire people to represent J&G who lived close to the drop sites. “We hire Ambassadors to show up and distribute so the business employees don’t have to deal with it,” Kyla says. This establishes a stronger community connection by hiring local people to promote the product to customers they may already know or have a relationship with.
Lori Engdahl, co-owner of Lantern Brewing and one of J&G’s drop site partners, is happy to partner with J&G. “A bunch of our customers are really into supporting local and are big foodies,” Lori says, “It’s a big part of what we do. We want to support local food systems, so it was a good match.” Lori also mentions how important it is that businesses hoping to form this type of partnership communicate well. If customers and business partners know exactly what to expect, then everybody wins.
And while J&G Shellfish used to have a more traditional CSA model, they’ve moved to a new system that they call Farm Drop. “The program provides a lot more flexibility,” Kyla describes, “You pay as you go and get a percentage credit off your total spend.” With this model, for every $50 a customer spends, they get $5 in store credit for future Farm Drop seasons. This not only incentivizes customers to buy shellfish now, but also gives them a reason to keep buying from J&G to get the discount. Not to mention, the breweries J&G partner with offer discounts to Farm Drop participants as well.
With all of the versatility it has to offer, CSA is popular among growers of all kinds, especially for those who are just starting out. It’s a way to guarantee some up-front capital to pay for things they need without having to wait until the first harvest to do so. With that comes a big responsibility on the part of the farmer. Standing out among the competition is still a challenge but if farmers can expand their reach through drop sites, they can engage more customers. And when farmers are better able to reach their customers, the local food movement can grow. That means more local dollars get spent and invested here.
Over 140 farms across the state of Washington are currently accepting sign-ups for CSA (some are already sold out!). If you don’t already subscribe to a local farm share, but want to, use our CSA Finder to search and filter results to find just what you’re looking for. If veggies aren’t your thing or you grow enough for yourself, there are so many other options. Consider CSF (Community Supported Fishery), a bread, cheese, fruit or flower subscription, a meat share, and add on some farm fresh eggs! Collaboration is at the heart of CSA, so you’ll find that many growers and producers work together to share products across their shares resulting in larger variety and diversity of products.
Do you own, or know of a business that might be interested in hosting a CSA drop site? Let us know by filling out this brief interest form.
Viva Farms’ CSA is currently accepting sign-ups, offers sliding scale pricing, and accepts SNAP/EBT benefits for shares at various pickup locations.
Boldly Grown Farm’s CSA is just wrapping up for the season. Keep an eye out for when registration opens for their awesome winter CSA.
Local Color Farm and Fiber is currently accepting sign-ups. Add-ons include flowers and eggs.
Johnson and Gunstone Shellfish are just starting their next Farm Drop season. Orders are accepted until the Monday before the drop day.
Structures Brewing is open 7 days a week. Creative beers abound, follow them on social media for updated tap lists.
Field Bar and Bottle Shop is open Wednesday-Saturday. Pop in to grab a bottle of wine or make a reservation to dine in.
Lantern Brewing is open Wednesday-Sunday. With an emphasis on using Washington grown grains, hops, malts, fruits, and veggies, these folks love local.