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Case Study - Local Harvest

Local Harvest CSA, in New Hampshire, USA has been operating as a successful multi-farm co-operative since 2003. A single-CSA farmer, David Trumble, initiated the co-operative. When Trumble's wife started working off-farm, he became the main carer of their two children, which lead to severely scaling-down his operations. This resulted in a business that was no longer financially viable.

Initiating a multi-farm CSA meant that:

"(David) finally had a market that was profitable and secure, afforded him the efficiency required to be a grower and a fulltime parent, and provided a community of growers from whom to draw knowledge and friendship" – Jill Perry - Local Harvest – A Multifarm Handbook

With the assistance of a small grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), an initial group of growers spent a year in discussion and planning before the Board of Directors was formed, and then spent three or four years of regular meetings to get the business running smoothly. Now "Growers spend more time in the fields and with their families because meetings are shorter and logistics are clearer than in previous years" (Perry & Franzblau 2010).

In their first year, with eight growers on board, Local Harvest had 128 members, and for the first few years had a 50% retention rate. They now have 300 members and an increase to 60-70% retention rate, which they put down to greater customer satisfaction due to responding to surveys of what customers want and also finding customers who are committed philosophically.

Local Harvest spends around 20% of their income on employing staff (crop co-ordinator, book-keeper, membership co-ordinator, site co-ordinator, site assistant, and market table and bulk goods co-ordinator). Some staff are growers also.

The USDA has produced a handbook based on Local Harvest's experience, to help people initiate multi-farm CSAs. Although much of it is USA-based information, it is an invaluable source of ideas and inspiration for anyone considering a multi-farm CSA. The PDF can be downloaded free or ordered as a hard copy here: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/new-sare-handbook-on-multifarm-csas/