Workplace CSAs: Fresh Produce on the Job

4/13/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — For Adam Hainer, workplace community supported agriculture is an idea whose time has clearly arrived.

Last year, 26 of the 2,200 workers at a Plattsburgh hospital signed up for the program, and this year he expects more than 100.

Hainer, who owns Juniper Hill Farm in Westport, Essex County, recently led a workshop on how to run a workplace CSA, at Cooperative Extension offices in Saratoga County where he’s looking to expand his business.

“Our goal is to get food to you where it’s convenient,” he said. “We send out an order every week that says your order is ready to be customized.”

With CSAs, consumers pay a farm or farms a set fee before the growing season, perhaps $250 for 20 weeks. In most cases, people get whatever the farm has available each week, and go to the farm to pick it up.

But Hainer has a different model. He brings goods to the customers’ workplace and lets them customize their orders by choosing online what they want ahead of time.

“It’s all the stuff you would get at a farmers market and more,” he said.

One customer, April Fiorentino, said the arrangement is great because she doesn’t always have time to shop at farmers markets. She has a busy career, her kids have all kinds of after-school activities, and weekends are filled with family commitments.

Instead, fresh local produce shows up at her job site every week.

“Every Tuesday for me felt like Christmas,” Fiorentino said. “Wow! The truck is here.”

Hainer has gotten a handful of other farmers to join him so that he can provide products other than vegetables, such as fresh meat, cheese, yogurt, even flowers.

The concept has taken root in northeastern New York thanks to a Cornell Small Farms Program grant for $2,000 that funded a Workplace CSA Promotion Project last year.

The idea appears to be spreading quickly. The Vermont state government has endorsed workplace CSAs at all state offices.

“This year it’s a really big push, it’s really gaining traction,” said Laura McDermott, a Cornell Cooperative Extension agent. “The key to all of this is finding a person on-site, an employee, who feels passionate about this and can drive the program forward by working with their employer and local farms.

“Sooner or later we’re going to hit a tipping point and more and more people will get on board,” she said.

Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, with 2,700 members, is the largest chamber in New York. Kathleen Fyfe, vice president for community development, said the chamber has promoted workplace CSAs to its members through social media.

“We have some educating to do,” she said. “It’s a perfect match of convenience for everybody involved. The more people are thinking and buying locally the better off we all are.”

CSAs help farmers by giving them a new way to market their goods. By getting up-front payments, they also have more cash on hand in winter, when business is slow.

Consumers benefit by having a guaranteed source of fresh produce.

There’s a valuable advantage for employers, too.

Healthy living starts with healthy food, which can reduce the number of sick days people take, said Laurie Davis, an Essex County Extension agent.

She also coordinates an Adirondack Harvest project whose goal is to increase opportunities for profitable food production and expand consumer choices for locally grown food in the Adirondack region.

“Employees want this; they get it,” said Teresa Whalen, Adirondack Harvest board president.

McDermott said there is some precedence for workplace CSAs in the capital region around Albany. For example, employees at the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York buy goods from farmers who supply the food bank.

Also, Black Horse Farm in Athens, Greene County, supplies food to workers at a large General Electric Co. facility in Schenectady.

“We all need to be ambassadors,” Whalen said. “We need to get this word out. Access is what it’s all about.”

For information, call 466-5497 or taawhalen<\ Photos by Paul Post



Adam Hainer of Juniper Hill Farm in Essex County, N.Y., runs a CSA that delivers goods to his customers’ workplace.



Teresa Whalen, Adirondack Harvest board president, left, and Laura Davis, Essex County Cornell Cooperative Extension and Adirondack Harvest coordinator, man a display at a workshop on workplace CSAs.

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