Miami’s Institute for Food is partnering with local farms to bring a little more color to Oxford’s diet. A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project will allow people in the Oxford area to get farm fresh produce all summer. It will run from May 30 to Sept. 6.
The CSA project aims to build a symbiotic relationship between the Oxford community and local farms. Subscribers get locally grown, fresh and varied produce, and their subscription helps to lessen the negative impact that variables like bugs and weather have on the income of farms.
Co-director of the Institute for Food, Peggy Shaffer, has been heavily involved in the project since the beginning. In addition to furthering the mission of the Institute to promote sustainable farming, the project presented an educational opportunity
“We wanted to expand on our educational mission as to what does sustainable agriculture look like, what does healthy food look like and how can we help increase the capacity for that in the region,” Shaffer said.
After the Institute came up with the idea, the project received a grant from the provost to help support the endeavor.
After the university released an article about the project, Shaffer’s inbox was flooded with requests for subscription information. The minimum number of subscribers the project needed was 15, and they reached that goal within a week. Now, they have around 17 subscribers with a limit of 25. They are also planning a waiting list for this summer.
But the farm isn’t just about getting fresh vegetables to subscribers. It also serves as a hands-on way for students to learn about food, farming and running a business.
“We imagined it as a working laboratory — a research laboratory — but also as a working business,” Shaffer said.
The farm’s operation director, Charles Griffin, emphasized that a farm is about more than food production
“A farm is more than growing food,” he said. “It is also a business. A business that requires tools and machinery, a lot of site development, soil enrichment, fencing, irrigation systems, training for farm workers, product sales and food safety.”
Griffin also pointed out that most startups take four to six years to break even on revenue, but this project aims to do it in just three years because of the terms of the grant.
Miami students have been helping Griffin out on the farm for this project. Students in Environment and Sustainability 278, Food Studies and Food Systems, have been taking the crop plan (the shifting variety of produce over the summer), planting and caring for seeds and working in the field. This summer, the farm will have four interns working on the project.
Marketing 412 also joined this project. Robert Dahlstrom, who’s in charge of the course, says seven teams in the class are coming up with ways to market the CSA project to the community.
The goal of the marketing project, was to figure out a way to sell 50 shares of the product for $200 each. Teams worked on finding a target consumer, branding, promoting the farm, distribution and pricing. However these plans aren’t being put into place right now.
The marketing strategy that will hopefully be used in the CSA project has to be worked out in order to protect working relationships with competing farms, university staff and others.
“We need to work out a lot of things with the other contingencies — basically, who would be the competition,” Dahlstrom said. “We don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. We’ll be working pretty closely with Dr. Shaffer to make this a go.”
Not only do community members want to reap the benefits for the CSA project, but some also want to help produce them.
“I just got an email this morning from someone that said ‘are there opportunities for volunteering on the farm?’” Shaffer said. “So all of a sudden you’re getting these people who want to come together around the farm and around farming.
The organizers of the CSA project also hope they will have some subscribers who will donate the produce to the Oxford food pantry so recipients of the Summer Harvest program will get fresh vegetables.
This project not only provides people with healthy and fresh food, but it also strives to make people feel more connected and informed about what goes into the food they eat.
“I think that the thing that’s interesting is that it’s not just about provided access to fresh vegetables, but it’s really about getting people to become more connected to the food that they’re eating,” Shaffer said.
This summer marks the pilot run of the project. The fall session will start on Aug. 21.