Lily Schneider and Matt Mccue raise fifteen acres of vegetables at Shooting Star CSA in Fairfield, California, just 35 miles from Berkeley on the edge of the Central Valley. Along with four employees, they provide vegetables for a 250-member CSA plus three farmers markets.
Matt and Lily have a couple of unique twists on their CSA operation, making the unusual choice in their area to not operate year-round, as well as to focus on guiding members towards purchasing a full-season, rather than monthly, CSA share.
We dig into these choices, as well as their histories before starting their own farm, how they found land and why they’ve chosen to stick with leasing, how they’ve worked to distinguish their CSA program from box-schemes, and how they use field preparation, bed layout, and a couple of cool tools to stay on top of the weeds.
The Farmer to Farmer Podcast is generously supported by Vermont Compost Company.
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Quotes from the Show
(Lily) Being able to be a farm manager on a farm that we didn’t own [meant that] all the mistakes we made were on somebody else’s dime.
(Matt) You can be a bad farmer, but you can’t be a bad marketer.
(Matt) If you’re going to cruise the internet, cruise the web soil survey, find the good soil that in good enough proximity to your market, and boot scoot around and knock on doors.
(Matt) You have to create serendipity for yourself.
(Matt) [Selling a subscription on a] month-to-month basis… creates a casual relationship between the customer and the farm.
(Lily) Getting beyond the size that we’re at [250 shares] it gets harder and harder to be able to differentiate yourself because you have less and less of a personal connection with each CSA member.
(Matt) There’s a lot of good reasons to go year-round, but there’s a lot of reasons to stay seasonal, as well.
(Matt) [The CSA survey] directly affects the crop plan, which gives our crop plan a direct link to the needs and desires of the CSA member.
(Matt) I’d rather lease a farm on flat land than buy marginal land and try to farm that.
Matt and Lisa use Survey Monkey to manage their CSA member feedback survey.
Shooting Star uses fertilizer from California Organic Fertilizers.
Matt and Lily love their finger weeder, a tool which was introduced to them by Nigel Walker of nearby Eatwell Farm. Finger weeders are available from K.U.L.T. and Sutton Ag Enterprises.
Shoot Star CSA uses CSA Ware to manage their membership.