CSA pick-ups banned at Adk farmers markets

Should CSAs be able to distribute their shares to members at the farmers market? Photo: Joanna RichaFarmers who run CSAs – which stands for Community Supported Agriculture – can no longer distribute their weekly boxes of fruits and vegetables to their members at ten farmers markets in the Adirondacks.

The Adirondack Farmers Market Cooperative board voted 5 to 1 earlier this month on the measure.  Board president Dick Crawford told me over the phone Sunday that the cooperative's by-laws prohibit the distribution of products not being sold at the market proper.  Crawford said "we're not against producers selling the produce."  The cooperative operates ten farmers markets in the Adirondacks and Champlain Valley.

The decision angered some CSA owners.  In an e-mail to its CSA members, Fledgling Crow Vegetables in Keeseville called the measure "unjust", saying:

We are working for our local community to produce high quality food, and actions like this seem like a backwards step.

Farm owners, Ian Ater and Lucas Christenson, wrote that no CSA farmers were present at the vote.

Crawford says CSA owners were given 10-day notice of the meeting.  But he says no one knew the issue was going to come up until a board member brought it for a vote.  Crawford says "there's lots of misinformation on both sides".  He said the issue will be on the agenda of the cooperative's annual meeting this Sunday, March 3rd at the Saranac town hall.

Fledgling Crow CSA member Melissa Gerdes, who forwarded me the CSA e-mail, wrote that picking up her share at a non-cooperative Saranac Lake farmers market (run by the Au Sable Valley Grange).  So her pickup wouldn't be affected.  But what she says in the e-mail, that a local pickup is far more convenient – and uses less gas – than driving to the farm in Keeseville is relevant.  She adds she also frequents other farm stands while she's there:

Of course, I found myself buying local cheese, meat, bakery items and crafts (and other produce) since I was at the market to pick up my CSA share anyway.

In CSAs, people pay up front for a share in a farm's bounty, and get a weekly portion of that share.  Farmers like the system because it helps with the upfront costs of the spring and gives them investors who share the benefit and the risk that goes along with farming.

"In or out" debates rile many farmers markets across the country – whether prepared food vendors should be allowed, or, how far produce can be trucked and still be considered local.

CSAs are new and growing quickly in popularity.  According to Adirondack Harvest, there are more than a dozen CSAs operating in the Adirondack region, with another dozen in nearby St. Lawrence County.  They'll need new rules to govern how they're folded into the local farming industry.  The town of Canton, for example, is writing up new zoning rules that could allow CSAs to farm in residential areas.

Of course, this issue can be resolved one way or another before CSA members actually show up at any farmers markets this spring.  But it seems that the last thing the local food movement wants is a rift within its ranks.

An interesting side story in this issue, one that stokes the debating fires of the farmers market movement like few others, is the difference between the two Saranac Lake markets.  The AFMC one allows 30% of produce to come from off the farm.  The Au Sable one is 100% grown on the farm by the grower.  We'll try to hit that story on the future here on The Dirt.  If you have any thoughts about that, please comment below or e-mail me at david@ncpr.org.

NOTE: I've corrected a part of this post to clarify that there are two different Saranac Lake farmers markets, only one of which Fledgling Crow Vegetables uses as a distribution point for its CSA.

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  1. It's too bad you ran this story before getting all the facts straight.
    You've also confused the markets as the Saranac Lake market to which you refer is not part of the AFMC.
    Really too bad you've chosen to stir this pot and rile everyone up unnecesarily!!!!

    • Not sure which facts you're talking about, Kirby. The AFMC lists Saranac Lake as one of its markets. And the CSA member said she picks up her share there. If there are any incorrect facts, please let me know.

      • The Saranac Lake Farmers' Market where she picks up her CSA share is on Saturday and is sponsored by the Ausable Valley Grange. I know because I participate in that market. AFMC's market is on Tuesday and there are no CSA pick-ups there.

  2. Wouldn't a simple answer for the farms involved be to collect payments for their CSAs at the farmers markets where the goods will be distributed? If prepayment of a portion of the CSA is needed before distribution begins, that could be sent directly to the farmer but for payments made after that, the customer pays at the point of pickup.

    • There is no need for some overcomplicated shell game to get around a bad decision by the board based on anti-competitive, self-interest. Their silly statements about why they did this make it clear what this decision was about. Something good is going to come from this. New board members, new vision, producer only, healthy, local farmers' markets. The retailers can find a place along the highway to park their trucks. They don't belong in a farmers' market.

  3. David, Kirby is correct. There are two markets in Saranac Lake; CSA pickup happens at the Saturday market, which is not one of the 10 markets mentioned above.

    If your motive in putting out this post is to help the local food movement "work together" you might want to think things through a bit more. This is a hot issue right now in the farmers' markets, and you might be surprised to learn that there is more than one side to this story. As you say, it may well be resolved before any farmers' markets open in the spring. If you are interested in covering this issue I urge you to take a more journalistic approach before you publish the next post.

  4. it seems as though the best decision for the AFMC to make is to turn all of there markets into producer only markets and allow CSA pickups. it is sad as a faithful marketgoer to think I would have to not support the AFMC markets for such a silly reason. CSA's are a great way for me to show up to the market everyweek to get honey, coffee, meat, syrup, eggs etc. I know the board of the marekt will make the right choice.

  5. I hope the hairsplit details all end up in the right buckets, and the broader issues come clear. For instance, what would be wrong with CSA pickups at the booth of a farm that is also selling retail?

  6. David – what is the rationale for banning CSA's? (also Sarah Prince's question) If its a by-laws problem, they could vote to amend the by-laws as easily as vote to enforce them this way. There must be some issue here we dont know about.

  7. I find myself baffled and asking "why?" I need more information here.

  8. Seems to me the solution is pretty simple. If a farm has bought a booth at the market and is actively selling produce there, then CSA pick-ups are allowed for that farm. After all, the radishes being sold out of the farm's booth came from the same field as the radishes in the CSA boxes!

    If the farm has not paid for a booth, then they can't use that farmers' market as a central "meet me in the parking lot" pick-up point for their CSA subscribers.

    Change the by-laws to reflect this, in the spirit of serving the community.

  9. This seems like a good topic to continue to explore among the farmers and consumers in the region. The Whallonsburg Grange Hall is hosting a panel discussion of farmers in the Champlain Valley on Tuesday, March 5 at 7:30. The program is called "The Future of Food" and includes CSA farmers and other growers from Fledging Crow Farm, Essex Farm, Full and By Farm and Manzini Farms. It's part of an 8-week series of lectures on the history and future of farming. You can get details on this and the series at http://www.thegrangehall.org/home/lyceum-series

    • I wish I could have gone to this! How did it go?

  10. I feel that this is ridiculous and if CSA's are banned from the markets I will bet that there will be a lot of people that will stop supporting this great local event.

  11. The job of a journalist is not just to tell a story, but to inform people of important happenings in the world around them, so that they can act and make informed decisions. This piece will help to inform people who will be directly affected by the changes mentioned and who might not have heard about these changes otherwise. Kudos to David Sommerstein for getting this article out in a timely manner and giving the public a chance to weigh in. I've yet to read an article about any subject I'm intimately familiar with, without finding mistakes or inaccuracies. It's the nature of the beast and kudos to David again, for making changes as necessary. Hopefully many of the people reading this article will make it to the meeting on Sunday!

    • David, thank you for clarifying the point of the two Saranac Lake markets.
      As for the AFMC allowing 30 percent off farm products, those products must be so labeled as per the AFMC rules.

      • Kirby, you know that doesn't happen. I have asked the retailers directly if they grew their produce and they either avoided the question or in one case lied . Most consumers know the deal and avoid them, but to the uninformed, it is reasonable to assume that at farmers' markets vendors are actually farmers. People who buy from retailers because they have things out of season or are cheaper than local farmers are also hurt. They could get the same things cheaper at Hannafords. Consumers deserve honesty legally and ethically.

        • None the less, those are the rules and there are procedures in place should the rules be broken. I know from experience that other market sponsors have their own problems enforcing their rules too. For the most part we expect our fellow marketers to be honest. Some are not, unfortunately. Hanafords may be cheaper but i'd argue that its not the same.

  12. Farmers' markets were set up to allow customers to come to one location to find the best and freshest produce from local farms. Customers at these markets browse the booths and buy a little from several different farms. This is what keeps those farms coming back week after week.

    CSAs are a great thing, but they can unintentionally disrupt the flow of a farmers' market. "Shareholders" are guaranteed a nice big bag of produce every week, so they are less inclined to spread out their purchases. They may buy other items like baked goods or crafts, but keep in mind that the mainstay of farmers' markets are the ones selling farm products.

    Most likely this is a problem that can be solved. If we really want a diverse local food economy we need to find a way to support all of the farms in it.

    • You're right the mainstay of these markets is the farmers. That means people who work year round to produce fresh, healthy, local food. Let's consider the Elizabethtown market. The mainstay of this market is not the man with the large truck of produce he had nothing to do with although he is happy to let people believe he does. Check the list of board members and see if there could possibly be a connection.

  13. Kirby,
    Stir THE POT! the board did that when they voted! How about having a board that is made of consumers and other parties. What good does it have to only have vendors on the board. Banning CSA pickups certainly helps many vendor think they are going to get more business b\c they ban it.

    The AFMC bylaws state that a farmer has to label the product that is not produced on the farm but in practice this is rarely done. Havig attended AFMC markets for over ten years I have rarely seen it done and have heard many vendors telling blatent lies to their customers b\c there is no way they have heated tomato greenhouses in JUNE and I would love to go on the inspections that rarely occur to check this.

    Also kirby what does 30% mean. By weight, by volume. Let's get real and make these AFMC markets producer only. That is not stated and no one knows the answer. It seems to be it would be easier to be a producer only market than have to segulate Mike agony bringing in 92% of his produce. Let's get realistic here, it's a farmer's market not a grocery store.

    • This decision was very much about Mr. Agoney and the other retailers. We all know that. A board member has a legal and ethical obligation to recuse themselves when they have a conflict of interest. Was that done in this case ? This is not going away. I am confident that in the very near future these markets will be producer only.

      • I make no appologies for useing the term stir the pot. This matter should have been handled within the AFMC. It is not a public entity. In my opinion, going to the press before exhausting alternatives was simply unprofessional and immature and I'm on the side of the CSAs..

        • Stirring the pot keeps everything fresh, that's what mom kept me doing until i was 16. The interesting part of having an ethical obligation to recuse themselves is the fact everyone on the board is a vendor. This institution needs to change, consumers should be on the board as well as vendors, after all the consumer is the one these decisions affect the most. In no way shape or form will this matter hold up to the membership, but lets make it even better at the annual meeting and change the 70/30 rule, rally the troops,and if we don't change this rule lets institute a full blown inspection of fields, everyone's. no complaint needed, everyone gets inspected. not in may, in july, fines handed out to those not in compliance. Lets be accountable to our consumers not just pretend compliance exists. I wish everyone was honest kirby, sure make politics go away!

          • Make the motion

    • John, I agree on most of your post. Rules need to be enforced and they need to be clear!
      I was upset because as far I was concerned the matter wasn't over. We had yet to hold the AFMC annual meeting and knew that the issue would be raised then.

  14. David,

    Thanks for bringing this subject to light. As a farm that is affected by this I'm glad to see the support. We have share pickup at the Elizabethtown Farmer's Market and Keene Valley market. Our shareholders are very disappointed and will be at the meeting to speak their mind.


  15. Many consumers do not realize that area Farmers' Markets are run by 2 different entities. The Saranac Lake Village Farmers' Market (in Riverside Park on Saturdays and this Fall and Winter in the Harrietstown Town Hall) and the Lake Placid Farmers Market (at LPCA) are NOT Adirondack Farmers Market Cooperative markets, but markets run by the Ausable Valley Grange. Farmers can bring their CSA shares to these markets. The Adk Farmers Market Cooperative, which runs the market at Fusion Market in Saranac Lake, The Wild Center in Tupper, the VIC in Paul Smith's and the big market in Keene Valley (as well as others outside the tri-lakes region) run on a different set of rules. This decision by the AFMC board is incredibly short sighted and I fear will lead to their demise.Lots of people are angry about this. I hope they revisit the decision.

  16. I am a vendor at both AFMC and The Grange markets. CSA members are also my customers. If they can not pick up their CSA shares they will not come to the market are buy from other vendor like my self. Why would any organization try to chase customers away from any market.
    The Grange markets (Saranac Lake on Saturday, Lake Placid on Wednesday and others) allows CSA pick ups.
    AFMC members let your voice be heard and change this STUPID rule of no CSA pick up at market!

  17. It's always interesting to see what an organization's talking points and rationalizations are as oppposed to a more believable explanation. There are two issues here. Not allowing CSA pickups and continuing to allow people to retail produce they did not grow often while being less than forthcoming to uninformed customers. Are we supposed to seriously believe that this is about " the flow of the market " ? The young, hard working farmers who have loyal CSA customers are a threat to the retailers as simple as that. That is why they are also not being allowed at the Plattsburgh market and others. CSA pickups bring more people to a market and these customers have no intention of buying produce that is no different than the local grocery. This misstep by the board has energized local producers and consumers. When this decision is overturned and it will be eventually, we need to keep going and make all farmers' markets producer only. That's what customers want and deserve. Methinks they overplayed their hand.

  18. I am a member of all three Farmer's Market groups in the area- yes there are three. There is the Ausable Grange Markets, The Adirondack Farmer's Markets and the Plattsburgh Farmer's and Crafters Market. While I have asked to be notified of all board meeting, the only one I reliably get notice of is the Ausable Grange one. The statement about letting all members know of all meetings is bogus condcerning the AFMC. I never get notices about the meetings. The only one I ever get is the annual one which is held 4 miles away from home. The PFCM I get the same annual notice. Conveniently these two markets have the same man for President and he runs the markets well but with a stiff fist in my humble opinion. Even one of the oldest members of all these groups was turned down in her request to even try to promote her CSA and give out CSA shares while at the annual meeting of the Plattsburgh group. The President said that all members received notice that the board meeting was taking place, but the secretary and Farmer's Market Manager admitted they had sent the notices to nobody in the general membership. How can I get notices of the annual meetings but not the board meetingsa- my e-mail doesn't change.

    The meeting this Sunday promises to be a very interesting one for the AFMC in Saranac at the Town Hall. I will try to be there even though I am scheduled for chemotherapy the next morning, These meetings need to be open to all members, not just the ones the board decides to tell.

    • Richard,
      As a member of the plattsburgh city farmer's market how is that ruled? WE have been turned down in all requests for the minute meetings, board members, by laws, and rules and regulations.

      It seems to me the Plattsburgh farmer's market is closed for new business. How can we deny any and all farmers space. New enterprises are turned away, in fact i was just convinced not to even apply because there was no room.


  19. If you are planning to attend the meeting, it is a pot luck so bring a dish to pass, your plates, silverware and beverage. Otherwise you will have to watch a bunch of people eating and socializing before the meeting starts.

  20. Hope to see everyone at the meeting this coming Sunday at the Saranac town hall, 1pm, to really make a difference in this situation. remember to bring $35.00 if your not already a member. I'm sure that both parties will walk away calmer and happier so we can have a lovely little market season, just like nothing every happened!!

  21. During recent years when farmers markets were riding a nationwide wave of enthusiasm, conventional wisdom declared that more vendors equals more customers. Because this was true, for a time, in major market towns like Ithaca, Madison and Austin, those of us at smaller farmers markets believed it was true for us as well. The fact is that most farmers markets have long found themselves pressed up against the ceiling of customer support and as vendors join to get a slice of the pie, each vendor ends up with a smaller piece. The issue at hand here is that the vendor/board members who have banned CSA distributions at their markets are exhibiting signs of financial stress. They have been rooting around in their by-laws for something to help reduce their stress and increase the size of their pie piece. Often, CSA farms are the most successful vendors at a market and thus are easy targets for less successful vendors. This story is offensive because rather than innovate and adapt, the less successful vendors have chosen to attempt this power grab. Those of you who are planning to attend the upcoming meeting should ask the board to own up to this as being the rationale for the decision. Its not wise to use the word "greed" here to describe what they have done because farmers marketing anywhere in the North Country is an economic activity that lay on the extreme edges of financial viability. An understanding that all vendors are feeling the same stresses will be helpful in resolving the issue.

  22. Farmers' Markets should be about supporting FARMERS, not vendors. If farmers' markets are being taken over by retailers whose product is not grown by the vendor, farmers' markets will die. The last word that should be associated with a farmers' market is the word "scam". Keep the movement honest (or restore its honesty if it's already been compromised.)

  23. Well said Dan Kent. I have seen similar reactions in vendors when a farm sells and also has a CSA pick-up. Stress in these financial times brings about a great enemy…fear. Fear that someone else is getting more of a slice, fear about paying bills, covering costs etc. The easiest way to undermine any situation is to point fingers and attack each other. Open discussion and an understanding that we are all working at the hardest job on the planet, that pays the smallest wage, can go a long way. Policy can be changed and rules can be changed if everyone values equal input. I hope this opens a discussion for these markets and a resolution that works for all small farmers involved.

  24. Plain & Simple: Greed.

  25. I'm not a member of any of these organizations. I'm just a CSA member who was not directly affected by this decision, but who values the availability of real, local food for all of us – and who believes that open discussion is essential to open society.

    I think our farmers are a local treasure and I intentionally support them – even if it means eating more kale than lettuce at certain times of the year. I enjoy Kirby's lamb, Tony's maple syrup and Adam's vegetables and flowers more often because as a CSA member I have a specific reason to attend the market every week.

    After reading this post and the many comments, it's clear that this issue has many aspects of which I was not previously aware.

    The Fledging Crow model is different from many CSA's. Last year they experimented with a "make your own share" approach. You get to choose your produce each week in a way that is more like regular shopping at the market than just picking up a crate. At the same time retail customers can make purchases in the same space. The success of this approach really depends on the market environment.

    Perhaps the voting members of the cooperative were only thinking of a situation where a farmer or other provider was at the market exclusively for CSA distribution and didn't have anything available for retail shoppers at the market. If this was the case, I can see how the CSA might be perceived as an exclusive click by retail shoppers, but I think it would still benefit other vendors because CSA members attend the market routinely – regardless of weather.

    The discussion really brought to light that we don't always have the structure in place to deal effectively with change. The Crows are pioneers in many ways and we're the beneficiaries of that spirit. Our institutions need to have the imagination to make room for pioneers so we can all move forward. That movement is a threat to the status quo, but most of us appreciate the benefits we've received from past "threats." Do we really want to go backward?

    • A thoughtful and welcome post. Thank you.

  26. I write this in hopes of offering a different perspective on this issue.

    We've contacted a number of vegetable growers who had been long term members of the Grange sponsored markets who have dropped out over the past couple of years. These are growers folks not resellers and they grow organically. We dropped out of the Lake Placid & Saranac Lake markets because decreasing sales made it no longer viable for us to go. The "Growers" we talked to said the same.
    We didn't complain. We didn't go to the press. We simply stopped going. Theses other growers did the same, so using the terms "Greed", Fear", "Misguided", "Ill informed" etc. etc. in your responses is really uncalled for and not justified. I must say, that every grower we talked to, pointed to the CSA sales & pickups at the markets as the primary reason for their decreased sales and for them eventually leaving the markets. Long term loyal customers had been sold CSA shares and then stopped buying from these growers totally. These growers said they witnessed time after time, market after market, people walking straight to their CSA partners booths to get their shares, then turn and leave the market without even a glance at other tables. The argument that these people will buy from other growers has proven not to be true.

    We've talked to vegetable growers at the Adirondack Farmers Market. Their sales are down by significant percentages as are ours. If this trend continues much longer, we will drop out of these markets too. Not based on greed or fear, but because it makes no sense for us to continue going. We won't complain, we won't go to the press or start an email campaign. We will simply leave and find other markets for our produce.
    When enough vegetable growers & meat producers drop out, you will end up with 1 or 2 co-ops (friends) providing you with a pickup point for all your farm product needs. You will no longer have a choice. There will also no longer be any incentive to keep prices low as there will be no competition. Is this the vision you have for your Farmers Markets of the future? It was never the vision of the people who worked hard establishing them. This I am sure of.

    • Michael, if you are going to the meeting on Sunday, would you read your post during the discussion. I think it makes points that need to be heard by the people at the meeting. If you are not, would you give permission for someone else to read it?

      • If anyone wants to read my post, they certainly have my permission.

        • Thank you someone will.

  27. It would appear to me the real emphasis of all these markets is to help people get good quality food at a more reasonable price and help local farmers market their goods more efficiently and, possibly, profitably. This sounds like it should be a win-win proposition. Why is everyone bickering and splitting hairs? How about just all working together and sharing the pluses. It seems to me that an awful lot of people would benefit from making another perusal of the sermon on the mount.

  28. The goal of a market is, presumably, to create a space where the public can come shopping for locally produced food and other goods, and to support the growth and health of our ag community. CSA shares are just another way to package our products. If some producers feel that they lose their customers to CSA sales – then use that model! It is easy to speculate that the motion to ban CSA pickups at markets is born out of competitiveness. I do not feel that it is the role of market management to limit the consumer/producer exchanges that happen at the market, but rather to encourage any and all of those exchanges and connections. Competition is a sign of health! It raises the bar, and draws attention. A producer who does well at market will continue to do well because of customer loyalty.

    • "Where the public can come shopping for locally produced foods" This doesn't sound the same as receiving a dividend on ones investment from the previous winter.

      "A producer who does well will continue to do well because of customer loyalty". Disproven in my previous response based on interviews with long time growers not speculation or assumptions.

      "If producers feel they lose customers to CSA sales, then use that model!" This model doesn't work for all growers, and I'm sorry sir but I don't believe it is up to you to dictate how others conduct their business.

      Are CSA sales & pickups good longterm for farmers markets? There is a growing number of us that believe they are not and there is growing concern that small markets especially, cannot succeed if they are allowed.
      Only time will tell I suppose.

  29. Hi all. If anyone's still following this post, I'm interested in talking with people who were at last Sunday's AFMC annual meeting for a follow-up to this issue. General questions – what you heard, what you said if you spoke, what you thought. Please email me at david@ncpr.org if you can a take a minute to give me your thoughts. Thanks!

  30. We have always allowed CSA pickups at our producer-only market. On days when we have had terrible weather the CSA members have shown up at the market, often buying other items while they are there.