How to create a good part-time income with a small CSA

Let's suppose you have a small property (even a big back yard)and you could use some additional part-time income. Creating a small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) market garden could pay you $20 or $25 dollars an hour, working part-time. Here's how to get started.

As always, it starts with planning. The first step is to determine how much income you need to make. Let's say you want to make an extra $10,000 over the summer. Use that income target to set a goal for recruiting CSA customers.

For example, if you plan to charge $1000 for a full share, you would need to sign up 10 customers to reach your target. And if you know 10 friends, neighbours, co-workers, community group members, sports buddies, etc who might be interested, your marketing will be very easy.

You can also offer half-shares for the 2-person families, at a lower price. You can read more about planning and setting prices here

Just approach this warm market and tell them you will be growing fresh, organic, local veggies for delivery every week, and if they hurry they can get on the list to get some!

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Imagine bring a basket like this to your small CSA customers each week

If they are interested, sign them up right away. Make sure you get part or even full payment up front (a common practice with CSA's). This up-front payment will cover your start-up costs and pay your salary for the season.

You next need to know your harvest season e.g. how many weeks can you provide veggies for. I usually plan for 20 weeks of delivery, beginning in June and ending October, because that suits my growing area and climate.

Figure out when you can start deliveries using your last spring frost date as a point of reference. For example, my last spring frost date is around May 10; I plan to start my deliveries about a month later. This allows me to have 6 or 8 cold-hardy veggie crops ready for first delivery.

Planning and scheduling your garden. Our first small CSA garden supplied 10 full shares, and was about 7,000 square feet. To produce this much food in a small space required good planning and timing. We used a lot of transplants, and re-planted beds when crops were finished.

And here's a lesson I learned the hard way: order your seed early. One season I waited a little too long and a couple of my 'old favorite' cultivars were sold out.

A couple of seed houses I can recommend, both family- owned SeedsNow and employee-owned Johnny's Seeds have a great selection, good prices and lots of 'grow-how' information on their websites.

We planted crops like lettuce, salad greens, bok choy, beets, carrots, broccoli, turnips, cabbage, and radishes every 10 days to 2 weeks. We planted beans every 3 weeks, and tomatoes, peppers, cukes and summer squash twice a season. This meant we were planting something new every week, as crops matured and were harvested. You can see a sample raised bed garden plan here

The easiest way I found to organize this was to create a garden planning spreadsheet, that showed me when and how much I had to plant and replant to keep the garden producing.

New Terra Farm Garden Planner SpreadsheetNew Terra Farm Garden Planner Spreadsheet

How much money can I make from a small CSA?

So, how much can I net from my small CSA market garden? A garden this size can be managed with mostly hand-tools. You can rent a rototiller to do the initial dig-up, or hire a contractor. Your other major expense will be for supplies - e.g. seed starting trays and plugs, row cover, drip hose for irrigation, seed. Your start-up costs should stay well under a thousand dollars.

Until harvest starts, you will probably spend 8 to 12 hours a week in your garden. You can expect that to go up to 20-25 hours a week once you begin harvest and delivery. If you spend 8 weeks before delivery getting ready, and 20 weeks of delivery, you can expect to invest about 400-500 hours overall. So Year One you can net about $20-$25 an hour.

Year 2, since some of your equipment is paid for, and your skill and experience has grown, you can do even better.

Making more money in Year One. Our first year, we increased our income by about 50% by selling pork and chicken to our CSA customers. Read about raising meat chickens here

Pastured pork is a premium product, we have customers ordering from us year after year. Read about raising pigs here

Free CSA Start-up Guide

The consumer demand for fresh local organic food has never been higher. Bad news on the supply chain is good news for local growers.

Get my free Organic CSA Market Gardener Start-up Guide and see if this is the right time to launch your CSA market garden business. Download it here.

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