Clarion River Organics
Expands its Fresh Produce Deliveries to Erie, PA
By Craig Schill
According to Zeb Bartels, manager of Clarion River Organics, the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) exists for "living soils, healthy plants, and vibrant life." This is true of all CSAs, as Community Supported Agriculture is a unique and valuable form of business, in which working members share the cost, risk, work, and benefits of the growing season. Supporting CSAs supports the local economy, and buyers receive freshly grown produce. However, this tenet is especially true of Clarion River Organics, as this CSA strives to put being green and organic above all else.
While this choice may seem only logical, given Clarion River Organics' name, the environmental stewardship of this CSA sets it apart from many other farming operations. Bartels believes that a great attribute of the produce sold by Clarion River Organics is that it is grown and picked with the use of natural farming to aid in the general plant and soil health.
With this focus in mind, Clarion River Organics chooses to use no pesticides in its process, keeping out insects by others means. Also, farmers maintain a natural, organic attitude towards the entire growing process. They utilize no tractors at all. All of the labor is done by horses or by the workers themselves. Many of these important green choices developed naturally, thanks to Clarion River's mostly Amish roots.
In 2001, a co-op of 10 farms joined together from multiple families living in the Sligo area. They began delivering their produce to local markets in 2008. In 2011, the Clarion River Organics CSA was developed from this 10-family co-op under the leadership of Bartels, who still manages the CSA today. In getting the Clarion River Organics started, Bartels spoke to others who have established CSAs in the past for advice. He quickly discovered that many early decisions had to be made, including:
Choosing an ordering system
Developing a packaging method and look
Planning delivery routes and drop off locations
The biggest obstacle, however, is a constant one: that of finding customers and marketing the value of CSAs to those customers effectively.
The workers involved are still members of local farming families. The hard-working farmers each work an average of 12 hours a day. Bartels works in the office about six days a week to help the program run smoothly and to keep on top of promotion. All kinds of vegetables that can survive the local climate are grown on the farm, but Bartels would like to grow more fruit in coming years once the plants are mature enough to produce good fruit.
The CSA is currently in its second year of service, and is attempting to expand beyond the Pittsburgh area. It now includes Erie and some surrounding locations. The project has flourished without the help of any outside funding. The fact that customers pay in advance helps to get the process started early in the growing season and to ensure that the farm will run for the entire season. In 2011, Clarion River Organics CSA had 50 customers, with the hope of having 250 in 2012 and more each year after that.
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