Grower Markets Vegetables As Health Benefit

A Utah grower is offering a twist to its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in which people pay an upfront fee in the spring for weekly deliveries of the fresh vegetables and fruit throughout the growing season. Black Island Farms, a fourth-generation farming operation north of Salt Lake City is contacting businesses about offering their employees a new benefit — fresh off-the-farm produce. Groups of at least 10 families or more are also eligible for weekly deliveries at a central location, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

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“Businesses have gyms and some pay for employees to stop smoking,” farm owner Charles Black told the newspaper. “It makes sense to offer fresh produce as part of a healthy lifestyle.”

As farmland is paved for housing tracts and other developments along the Wasatch Front, growers have turned to a variety of strategies to stay in business, including CSAs, farmers markets, corn mazes, and fall festivals.

“We’ve had to try a number of things to stay in business,” said Black. “It’s not easy making money in farming.”

CSAs are part of money-making strategies for farmers to partner with consumers who want fresh, local produce, said Jeff Williams, coordinator of Great Salt Lake Research, Conservation and Development, which helps coordinate Utah’s CSA program. To join a CSA, participants pay an upfront fee, money that allows local farmers to prepare the soil and buy seeds and equipment needed to produce their crops, helping keep area producers in business.

“If only 1% of our population enters into CSAs, that would be some 22,000 people,” said Williams. “So far, the number of members is 2,000 to 2,500, so there is lots of capacity for farmers to offer these programs.”

At Black Island Farms, a 400-acre vegetable farm that has been in operation for more than 45 years, membership fees for the season are $400 for families and $200 for couples. The cost includes weekly deliveries of 35 types of vegetables, both traditional and little-known varieties such as parsnips and Japanese daikon radishes, and some fruits, beginning in mid-June.

In addition to its pitch to businesses, part of the marketing strategy for Black Island Farms’ CSA is tied to its annual fall festival, which also generates income for the operation. The CSA package contains free passes to the festival, which attracted 45,000 people last year, as well as free days at the farm to help harvest vegetables, free hay rides and a Halloween decoration package that will include straw and corn stalks. In addition, a weekly package in the late fall will be full of vegetables that people can use during the winter, such as squash and potatoes, along with information on the best storage options.

“With our fall festival, school field trips and now the CSA, we want to give people the opportunity to come see our farm,” said Brandan Law, of Black Island Farms. “Everyone benefits when the community understands and is tied to agriculture.”