by Michael Wren
FONDA, NY— Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a common way for vegetable growers to bring in a cash flow in the winter months as well as building an outlet for their produce during the growing season. Community Supported Ag allows the farmer to share a bit of the risk of growing as well as maintaining a customer base, creating a relationship with those customers and offering local products. This is a technique that Jamie Sammons of Jayflora Designs has put into use over the past few years at her farm. However, instead of providing the community with vegetables, she is providing them with locally grown cut flowers.
Sammons studied horticulture at SUNY Cobleskill, spending much of her time in the greenhouses. After taking a design class at the college, she knew that she wanted to make a career out of growing and selling flowers. Four years ago she began growing flowers on nearby Sand Flats Orchard where she decided to start her own business, moving to her current location in 2014.
This CSA promotes a better connection with her customers, and so far she has only needed word-of-mouth for her advertising.
Sammons provides a bi-weekly pickup and also holds farm tours for her customers. This allows her customers to see the process unfolding, from starts to blooms, and have the opportunity to purchase flowers. In fact, that is what Sammons is striving for in her business; not just to sell flowers, but to provide the atmosphere and sentiment of owning and operating a small local flower farm to all who visit.
“My main goal is to bridge the gap between flower farmers and consumers by establishing a personal connection and giving customers an insight to life on a flower farm,” said Sammons.
Sammons was recently awarded a seat at the Seasonal Floral Intensive workshop at Floret Flower Farm in Mt. Vernon, WA. This is a three-day event instructing beginners and professionals alike about natural floral design and using seasonal flowers. There, she met Erin Benzakein, of Floret Flowers, who helped Sammons learn about, and work with, peonies and seasonal flower combinations. She hopes to use this knowledge to create new and unique flower combinations.
“I’d like to make flower-buying a more personal experience, and allow consumers access to products that aren’t typically available at flower shops.” She does this because most flowers found in stores are grown elsewhere and shipped to flower stores and then on to the consumer. This practice limits the available selection of flowers to only those that ship well. In an effort to counter this and offer a wider selection to her membership, Sammons has added flowers such as chocolate Queen Anne’s Lace and Icelandic Poppies to her gardens.
Along with the CSA, Sammons also provides flowers for weddings, events and has a roadside farm stand where she sells bouquets. The day-to-day sales in a flower business can be unpredictable and these methods of diversifying her sales allows for a little more stability in the field.
Since moving to her current location, Sammons has installed a new well and expanded her CSA membership. This year she has planted a new rose garden and laid the groundwork for a studio Sammons is building next to the flower fields. She hopes to finish construction of the studio this year. From this new building she hopes to build the wedding aspect of her business as well as use it for the new weekly pickup location for her CSA.
Sammons has also added a few hundred peonies to her farm and be planting 2,000 tulips and daffodils this fall in preparation for next spring. All of this expansion means a lot more work, but also means she will have much more product to offer her customers.
If you currently own a vegetable or flower farm and have thought about starting a CSA to boost the offseason cash flow or just a way to find another outlet for your crops, you can start one fairly easily. While some areas have different rules and regulations on CSAs, a quick search online will let you know about the area specific regulations. Many CSA’s are privately run and share the risks associated with farming with the consumer. Most CSA’s set up a size and frequency of pickup or drop-off. They also communicate the risks associated with CSA membership to the consumer. There is no way to predict what will happen year-to-year, so the consumer should know this risk beforehand. Consumer Supported Agriculture is a great asset to small farms and local communities and if there isn’t one in your area, it might be worth looking in to starting one.