Community-Run Multi-farm CSAvegetable pic

Case Study - Channel Living

Channel Living is a sustainable living group based in the D'Entrecasteux Channel area south of Hobart. Channel Living wanted to find a way of making locally grown food available to their members and the community in general; of connecting growers more directly with customers.

In 2010, the group succeeded in obtaining a 'ClimateConnect' grant from the Tasmanian Climate Change Office, which amounted to just under $30,000. Channel Living appointed a project officer to co-ordinate the funded program which was entitled Local Food for Local People. The grant was used to cover salary and start-up costs for the initial 12 months, of which 6 months were spent planning and 6 months operating.

The model used by Channel Living was experimental, initially based heavily on Food Connect's model, a CSA-based Social Business, and later gleaning much from Local Harvest's multi-farm CSA model.

The big surprise for Channel Living was that although they had been expecting to co-ordinate produce supply from local growers to reach the subscribers, they discovered that in the Channel region, there were very few established vegetable growers. Thus the program changed its focus from supply to production, and the co-ordinator spends a considerable amount of time attempting to locate growers and support them in starting up and/or expanding their production.

Thirty percent of the program's income is used for running costs (mostly employment of staff, plus rent and administrative costs) and 70% is returned to growers. Two staff are employed (a Co-ordinator and a Packing Manager) for a total of 14 hours per week. Six hours of volunteer time are required on the packing day (2 assistant packers and one person to assist with pick-ups).

By August, the season's crops are planned and co-ordinated between growers. Growers nominate the crops they prefer to grow and are often asked to try some additional crops. Each week, growers let the Packing Manager know what they have available for harvest. The Packing Manager then confirms what will be needed from each grower. Growers deliver the produce on Friday mornings, and it is checked and weighed so that the box contents can be finalised.

The volume of produce included in each box is determined by the value of each included item. Values are currently based on market value, somewhere between certified organic and 'conventional' produce. In the first year, 12 subscribers committed to a full box ($50 in summer, $40 in winter) and 16 subscribers to a half box ($27.50 in summer, $22.50 in winter).

Subscribers come to the Channel Living co-op, where boxes are packed, to collect their boxes. They can exchange any unwanted items for items on the Trade Table and can purchase wholefoods from the wholefoods co-op if they wish. Subscribers often arrange to share pick-ups to decrease travel.

In the first year, the program had 28 subscribers (all members of Channel Living) and eight growers within a 20km radius of the distribution site, as the crow flies. In this first year, the program relied heavily on back-up supplies from a Certified Organic farm in northern Tasmania during the late-autumn/winter/early-spring months.

With an increase in the number of growers and scale of production, Channel Living is aiming for 50-60 subscribers in its second year, which will allow the business to break even at it's current rate of return to growers (70%). Without any advertising, there is a long waiting list, which would almost cover this increase, but the limitation lies in being able to source enough produce.

This model works well in this area due to the lack of established agricultural activity, making single-farm or multi-farm co-operative CSAs unlikely to establish on their own.

"The Channel Living Vege-Box scheme provided the incentive to move from dreams to actuality. I'd been toying with the idea of growing and selling vegetables, but it was the opportunity to be part of an organised scheme with ready income that got me out the door and into the dirt. A year on, I'm looking to the future with confidence, with thanks to the scheme." – Alex Taylor, grower for Channel Living