The farmer’s market season is drawing to a close, but a partnership between six New England farms will make fresh locally-grown produce available long after the first frost.
Canton’s Bradley Estate is the newest pick-up site for Shared Harvest, a cooperative venture that pools area farms’ late-season produce and sells it directly to the public. Customers pay up-front to buy shares in the group and receive 40-pound packages of vegetables on a monthly basis through mid-December.
Gretta Anderson founded the organization in 2007 to give small local farms a profitable way to sell storage crops such as root vegetables late in the growing season.
“I love the idea of people coming to a farm even in the dead of winter to get food,” Anderson said.
Today the Shared Harvest group includes six farms including Riverwood Community Farm, which grows crops at two sites in Milton and Canton.
Shared Harvest is one of more than 200 community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs in Massachusetts, part of a broad movement to support locally-grown produce and small farms. They often represent opportunities for small farms to expand their distribution networks and receive higher prices than they would get by selling them wholesale to produce markets.
Shared Harvest member farms set their item prices and decide who will grow how much of each crop. Anderson deducts 10 percent for administrative and marketing costs. The three-month winter share at Canton costs $240 and will have distribution days on Oct. 23, Nov. 13 and Dec. 11. About half of the 150 shares are spoken for, with a deadline of Oct. 15. to join.
If one farm is having a poor crop season on one item, it can agree to swap the assignment with another grower, and vice-versa.
“The risk to the shareholder that the food won’t be good variety is really minimized,” Anderson said.
Finding a distribution site south of Boston was a priority, because customers from the South Shore and Cape had been making the trek up to the original pick-up spot at Busa Farm in Lexington. All 150 shares at the Lexington site are already sold.
Farm manager Dennis Busa normally closes his stand in late October. This fall, he’s planting lettuce and other greens in the greenhouse to supply the winter shares program.
“This allows me to make a little extra money later in the season and keep in touch with the customers,” Busa said.
Rob Lynch, a Scituate native who studied agriculture at UMass-Amherst, acquired Riverland Farm in Sunderland four years ago and joined Shared Harvest in 2009. He and his wife Meghan Arquin farm 25 acres along with a staff of five. The farm will supply the bulk of the root vegetables for this year’s winter share.
“The customer base in eastern Massachusetts is a lot more significant than here, so having the opportunity to move a lot of storage crops at that time of year is really helpful to the farm,” Lynch said.
The Canton location is a partnership with Milton’s Brookwood Community Farm, which raises dozens of types of vegetables on two acres in the Blue Hills Reservation and another two acres at Canton’s Bradley Estate. The Trustees of Reservations conservation group gave the farm permission to use part of the Bradley Estate last year.
The property is appealing as a distribution site because its barn will provide shelter for cold-weather pick-ups.
“The reason we don’t see a lot of these is because it really requires more infrastructure than most family farms have,” Anderson said.
Winter CSAs began to attract notice last year, when more than a dozen cold-weather markets opened across the state, state Agriculture Commissioner Scott Soares said.
The Shared Harvest financial model of selling shares to customers up-front makes sense because farmers’ spend more money early in the crop cycle than during harvest season, Soares said.
“This way, they can take the money when they’re expending the money to grow that crop,” Soares said.
Government grants are helping farms maximize their growing season. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 62 Massachusetts farms received a total of $615,570 from the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service to buy “high-tunnel” greenhouses that insulate crops from extreme temperatures in the spring and fall. Also called hoophouses, the portable tunnels can be moved from one crop or field to another.
“It’s an inexpensive way to extend the season,” Soares said.
Reach Steve Adams at email@example.com.