Farmers have always been reliant on friends and neighbors to help out during hard times. With the COVID-19 pandemic shifting market outlets, halting sales to schools and restaurants, and drastically changing the landscape of local farmers markets, members of the Rio Grande Farmers Coalition jumped to action to create an aggregated, farmer-run Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
In under two weeks, Better Together CSA was launched, offering a four-week pilot project to 45 members with produce coming from seven participating farms, with the option to add on eggs, pickles, jam, bread, and beef from local producers. The response was huge, and their waitlist soon grew to over 250 interested community members. BTCSA is now in the process of launching their 4th and final round of service for the 2020 season, offering 75 weekly shares delivered Fridays from August through October, with the option to pay with EBT/SNAP.
Though the demand for farm to home delivery services like Better Together has soared over the last few weeks, the logistics and labor required to move produce through these systems is substantial. Building public health and food safety plans for packing and distributing shares takes time, and navigating delivery is a challenge as well.
Many of the farmers participating in Better Together depend on selling large quantities direct to restaurants or through the farmers market, and the income earned from the CSA does not fully replace the income that they would earn from these other outlets. Though there is customer demand to scale up, there is also a substantial amount of extra labor required of participating farmers. Things like streamlining weekly orders from at least seven different farms, bagging and bunching individual vegetable shares, aggregating and building the individually packaged CSA shares, and delivering to over seventy individual households, are all factors that make this kind of market outlet more complex, expensive, and laborious for the farmers involved.
Targeted funding for farmers growing for local and regional markets in the next round of Covid relief would support members of BTCSA to make up the losses that their innovative community model is not covering.