Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Growing New CSA Farmers: a Michigan Conference and Mini-School for Community Supported Agriculture

Jo Meller and Jim Sluyter. Photo by Jay Raupp.

In Bear Lake, Michigan, Jim Sluyter and Jo Meller have been helping farmers, especially new, prospective, and transitioning farmers, learn about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and sustainable agriculture.

Sluyter and Meller have been running a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm in Bear Lake, Michigan, cultivating about ½ acre of mixed vegetables in intensively managed raised beds since 1994.

As their homestead and gardens grew, they felt isolated in an area with few other CSAs. They attended conferences in the Northeast and Canada devoted specifically to CSA in the late 90’s and became energized and excited by these events. In 2004, when there were several years without a conference, and no indication that another was forthcoming, they decided to bring that experience to the growing CSA community in Michigan.

In 2005, they submitted a proposal for a CSA Conference and Mini-School project, and were awarded $14,000 from the North Central Region Sustainable Research and Education Program’s (NCR-SARE) Farmer Rancher Grant Program. Their project was designed to help farmers, especially new and prospective ones, learn about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and sustainable agriculture.

With the funds, they developed a 'mini-school' for prospective CSA farmers, provided financial assistance to farmers for attendance at the CSA conference and/or mini-school, developed a CSA mentoring program, and created a CSA "startup" manual.

They had participation from almost 200 CSA growers, prospective growers and CSA advocates. Participants in the conference and mini-school provided evaluations of the experience. Mentors and Mentees were also asked to evaluate their experiences.

Also supported by the SARE grant was assistance in the production of the CSA Training Manual that was developed as a companion to the mini-schools. The text of that document is available online at and has been sent in hard copy to many growers, and used in other CSA training sessions in Missouri, Maine and Ohio.

“We have seen a strong upward trend in CSA in Michigan since the first conference in 2004, continuing to this day,” said Sluyter. “In 2003, there were 37 CSAs in Michigan that we knew of. Since then our count has reached 86, and that does not take into account farms that developed sustainable agriculture projects because of the conference but did not start a CSA. Many of these growers have told us that one of the big lessons from the conference, and especially from the mini-school, was to start small and start slowly. We believe this has benefited many growers, who started their CSA a year or more later than they might have, to gain experience in this demanding agricultural model.”

In addition to NCR-SARE, financial support was provided by: CS Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems, Michigan Farmers Union Foundation, Michigan Land Trustees, Madison Area CSA Coalition, Higher Grounds Trading Company, Michigan Farmers Union, The Community Farm newsletter, Michigan Catholic Rural Life Coalition and Crop Services International. In-kind support was provided by the Michigan Land Use Institute and the Manistee County Conservation District.

Read more about the Sluyter’s project online at, or contact the NCR-SARE office for more information at


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Unknown said...

Very interesting...One should read this post.....informative too......

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