On Saturday, January 20th Western Nevada College hosted a workshop focused on the evolution of Community-Supported-Agriculture in the 21st century. There were around 25 participants representing farms and ranches from all over rural Nevada, Lamoille to Winnemucca, Fallon, Wadsworth and Reno. Every participant was dedicated to figuring out the formula in which CSAs can compete with national meal delivery services and farm box programs. It truly is a conundrum. Participation in local farm-based box programs has declined over the last decade—while in the same period the societal values of supporting local businesses, responsible ingredient sourcing, respect for the environment, and sustainability are on the rise. A decade ago, farms with CSA programs were the only source for locally grown fresh produce—now the market is flooded with companies that offer home delivery of farm boxes and meal kits that claim to support local farms, invest in communities, and maintain sustainable environmental standards.
On the eve of the workshop, Walmart sent out an email promoting the new availability of subscription-free meal delivery programs and farm crates delivering seasonal produce sourced locally at small farms. The truth of these claims is suspect at best. I reached out to Farmbox Direct, Walmart’s partner in their farm crate program, with an inquiry about their sourcing. The response was non-specific—the claim that they sourced from local partner farms from around the country was re-iterated with the caveat that they did have to purchase produce from outside of the country to meet demand and to provide ingredients that are not available in the United States. I asked for a list of local farms that were suppliers for their crate program—and they replied that they do not disclose their partner farms. The problem with companies like Farmbox Direct and those offering meal-delivery services is that their marketing is misleading to a casual subscriber—they are not honest. The challenge for a small farm in competition with these national behemoths is combatting their HUGE marketing budgets.
The take-aways from the CSA workshop include that small farms need to sell their story, we need to support each other, and we need to expose the fallacy of claims made by national box programs. In 2017, the Fallon Food Hub began administrating the Great Basin Basket CSA program. Twice a week, staff and volunteers would gather together in the barn at Lattin Farms. First, we would assemble boxes—sometimes as many as 100 at a time. Then, we would fill the boxes with produce grown by our friends at Lattin Farms, Pioneer Farms, Mewaldt’s Organic Farm, The Green Man, and more. Frequently, our box assembly was interrupted by the arrival of Churchill County farmers delivering their produce for the boxes. During the summer season, it was not unusual for the pick-crews to pull up to the barn with a truckload of freshly harvested melons that we loaded directly into the NevadaGrown boxes. That is a true demonstration of collaboration, supporting local, and being environmentally sustainable.