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CSA Workshop Retreat 2016: Summary

It was cold. It was snowy. Several cars needed two attempts at the dirt road’s final hill. But once the thirty-six CSA farmers had introduced themselves and settled in for some conversation, everything was on track.

Practical Farmers has hosted several CSA Mini-Schools in the past, most recently in December 2013. Those events were tailored to beginning farmers, led by a few experienced CSA farmers. This Workshop Retreat (not mini-school) intended to provide learning opportunities for both experienced and beginners.

To do this, the group was split during working sessions, but shared meals, breaks, and free time in the evening. The experienced group was self-led, loosely following an agenda of topics. Farmer experienced ranged from 3 years with a CSA (we call them veggie “tweens”) to farmers with 20-year CSAs. Over the two days, their fire-side discussion ranged from the importance of relationship building and education in CSA, to the best way to get water out of head lettuce after washing, to physical health regimens farmers use in the winter and summer months.

The beginning farmer group was led by Rebecca Graff of Fair Share Farm in Kearney, Mo and Rob Faux of Genuine Faux Farm in Tripoli, Ia. Their agenda included time for Rebecca and Rob to share their experiences and detailed information about their CSAs including packing lists, pricing information, and farm business planning advice. The sessions also left time for farmers to work on their own CSA plans, discuss plans with one another and Rob and Rebecca.

By the afternoon of the second day, attendees mutinied when I suggested another walk on the icy hills outside, instead opting to combine the groups and do an open Q&A session together. It turned out to be a pretty good idea.

Lauren and I thought we did a stand-up job cooking meals for everyone, including ingredients from Cory Family Farm, Onion Creek Farm, Lee’s Greens, Picket Fence Creamery, and the Berry Patch. But then someone’s homemade blueberry port and mead showed up in the evening and upstaged us. By the next morning when Tammy Faux appeared with her extraordinary pumpkin bread, we knew we were out of our league.

By the end of the retreat, existing relationships were strengthened, new ones formed, and everyone’s heads were filled with ideas for their own CSAs and hopefully, their importance to the growing population of CSAs in Iowa.

Enjoy this video of (most of) the group getting ready to take a group photo:

Thanks to all who came and made this event a fun and “spirited” weekend!