From the farm to the table (The Belleville Telescope)

Scandia farm offers customers chance to share in growing business

By Deb Hadachek
Belleville Telescope editor

There was a day when food fresh from the garden was a mainstay on family dinner tables. Chris and Christi Janssen, Scandia, are putting a modern twist on that concept by offering consumers the chance to have food fresh from their gardens– C&C High Tunnels at Scandia– delivered to locations convenient to customers this summer. The Janssen are making their fi rst foray into Community Supported Agriculture, a concept introduced to the United States in the 1980s. Customers have the option to buy subscriptions into the Janssens’ business, in exchange for a weekly delivery of whatever produce is in season.

“Not everyone goes to a farmer’s market,” says Chris. “This is just another way for our customers to access our produce.” “From the farmers’ standpoint, it gives us support in the early spring when we have lots of expenses before harvest,” adds Christi. “It’s a commitment by customers that helps us cover our costs, but it also gives us more input from our customers on what produce people want to buy, and what we can do differently.”

Weekly packages to customers will include tomatoes–the Janssens signature crop–as well as a variety of whatever other produce is ripe for harvest in C&C High Tunnels and garden plots in Scandia.

Popular early

In the few weeks this spring since C&C High Tunnels began advertising the Community Supported Agriculture concept, nearly 25 customers have already signed on for the 12 or 16 week options the Janssens offer.

“I started out hoping for 10,” Christi laughs. “Now my goal is 40.”

Community-supported agriculture is an alternative, locally-based economic model of agriculture and food distribution, according to the Wikipedia website. A CSA refers to a network or association of individuals who have pledged to support one or more local farms, with growers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits of food production. CSA members or subscribers pay at the onset of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest; once harvesting begins, they receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruit. The Janssens will continue to market their produce through a half dozen farmers markets in the region, and also offer a “punch card” for customers who prefer to pick out their own produce. The business also provide produce wholesale to markets and grocery stores in places like Manhattan, Hutchinson, Lawrence and Wichita.

Labor intensive
In their 6th season in business, the Janssens note C&C High Tunnels is a labor-intensive business. Planting, weed control and harvest is mostly done by hand. Grass mulch or black plastic also helps  keep weeds at bay, as well as keeping moisture in. The high tunnels protect plants from wind, but unlike a greenhouse, aren’t heated. The season for cold weather crops like lettuce, spinach and asparagus is almost at an end.

Chris laughs that one customer called a membership to the Janssen’s new CSA program “a pretty cheap garden”.

Fewer people grow their own produce today, although the Janssens say they encourage home gardens and projects like the community garden that started in Belleville last year. Drought and the cost to water a garden, the time involved to grow produce, and busy family schedules all contribute to the decline in many home gardens, they say.

“There are opportunities for other growers and young people to grow produce in Republic County to sell to wholesalers and customers,” Christi says.

Particularly if they specialize in different crops “we could help them, and they could help us,” adds Chris. For instance, the CSA customers’ packages this summer may include berries or produce from other local growers that the Janssens don’t raise, Christi said. The CSA concept would also work for dairy, egg and meat producers, she added.

Although they are not organic growers, Chris says their 2,500 tomato plants and other crops are managed through “natural processes”. When they can, the couple uses beneficial insects or natural products to treat plants for blight or diseases.

“More and more people are asking ‘what are your practices’,” Christi says. “And they like it when they hear we don’t spray a lot,” Chris adds.

More information is available by emailing candchightunnelfarms@gmail.com, phone 785-335-2611.