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Demand for local food doesn't suddenly disappear at the first frost. Committed locavores want to buy local food year-round, providing new opportunities for fresh market growers who would like to increase annual revenue and cash flow during the winter.

Community Supported Agriculture is holding its own despite the economic downturn. In fact, demand is so strong that many CSA farms have started offering winter shares for members who want to eat local year-round. A winter CSA is a much different endeavor than a summer CSA, and it takes a lot of planning. If you are thinking about ways to build on the success of your current CSA, expanding into winter is the logical next step.

Winter CSA is possible in even the coldest parts of the country. Some of the trailblazers in the winter CSA movement are in New York, Maine, Massachusetts, and other very cold places. They are able to offer food in winter through a combination of storage crops, winter hoophouse crops, and value-added products. Because those types of crops have such long storage life, most winter CSAs distribute less often than summer CSAs, some as infrequently as once a month. Another common feature of winter CSAs is cooperation with other farms. Going into fall, most farmers know how many storage crops such as carrots, onions, and sweet potatoes they can offer to the CSA. But hoophouse crop growth is more dependent on sunshine and temperatures, and therefore less predictable. By teaming up with other growers and food producers, a CSA farm can fill any gaps in its own production as well as increase the value of the CSA share and the availability of local products. A farm might offer eggs, bread, jam, honey, apples, frozen fruits and vegetables, and salsa grown on the farm or purchased from other farms.

A winter CSA also provides a ready market for some crops that might not have been as useful to a summer CSA, such as dried beans, grains and flour, dried peppers and culinary herbs, soup mixes, and fall ornamentals. In that regard, winter CSA provides the excitement of growing something completely new! With all winter crops, planning well in advance is essential. If you're considering a winter CSA in the future, this winter is the best time to figure out what you'll include in every distribution. Come spring, you'll be ready to start planting new crops and larger quantities to accommodate a winter marketing season.

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Reprinted from JSS Advantage October 2011