Scott Foster, owner and president of Providence Farms LLC, says he truly believes that Community Supported Agriculture — also known as CSA — is “the wave of the future.”
“People are starting to develop an awareness that good, wholesome food is important to the body and it’s a better way of eating,” he said. “It produces a better way of living.
That leads into an awareness of where our food comes from and the health benefits that we can be afforded by it.”
Providence Farms is a family-run, 640-acre farm property near Fairbanks in Sullivan County. The Fosters have owned this growing business for close to nine years. They have three employees in addition to Scott Foster and his 22-year-old son, Jake, the farm manager.
“Our biggest hurdle that we’re just about to stride over is to have a good, consistent supply of produce that can satisfy a broad customer base with a surplus,” Scott continued.
“That includes building up a cattle herd that generates enough product to satisfy the demand that you’re going to create with your advertising. With the orchard coming online in the next 12 months, we ought to have a reasonable amount of fruit on the ground.”
Meanwhile, Jake Foster attempted to define CSAs for people who haven’t heard the term.
“CSA is when people in the community buy shares into a farm up front,” said Jake Foster, a 2014 graduate of Sullivan High School.
“They’ll buy a share in a certain part of the farm, like produce. If it were a hundred dollars, they would pay a hundred dollars each week for the seasonable vegetables. As the vegetables are in season, they would pay us up front in February, or somewhere around then, and that would help carry the farm through the year while it produces the produce. ... In return, the customers would expect a certain quantity of vegetables per week.
“The whole idea about CSAs is, you’re going to the guy who grew the food.
You’re going to the guy responsible for growing the food that you’re going to eat and [the grower] is going to look you right in the eye and say that this food is good for you, your kids, your wife and your family.”
The types of products that Providence Farms provides for CSAs are produce, eggs and meat. Typical customers are families.
“Stores and restaurants would probably contact the farmer and do some kind of wholesale deal there,” Jake Foster said.CSAs have not been an overwhelming part of Providence Farms’ success so far, but the Fosters think that could change in the future.
“We’ve been doing delivery routes in Sullivan County [along with a few in Vigo and Greene counties] and it just hasn’t taken off,” Jake said. “We’ve been door to door with all of our neighbors ... and it’s just too convenient to go to the grocery store around here, I think.”
He said Providence Farms has discontinued its Saturday morning egg and meat deliveries, although they could be brought back if more interest is shown.
“We probably had about 40 customers on our egg route,” Jake Foster said.
“That’s what CSAs are all about — catering to customers in the community.”
When all is said and done, it profitable to run a CSA?
“It’s getting there,” Jake said. “When we can move the goods at the fair price, that’s fair for organic produce, it will be profitable.”
A typical summer day for Jake Foster starts at about 7:50 a.m. with taking care of the day-old chicks.
“We check their food, their water and their bedding,” he said. “Then we tend the incubators that have the new chicks in them. They’re hatching and we add water for humidity ... and move eggs to the hatcher.” At 8:30, Jake turns his attention to the garden before checking on the cattle around 9:15 or 9:30.
“We’ll go move them while it’s still cool outside,” he said. “We’ll set up enough area where they can graze.”
Specific projects — such as building fences, bailing hay or mowing grass — take up several hours. Fast forward to the late afternoon, Jake Foster and other employees usually gather, wash and package eggs that were laid during the day.
His work day generally ends anywhere from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Jake Foster emphasized that all 640 acres of Providence Farms property are used for CSAs. “The woods are all tapped for maple syrup trees,” he explained while walking toward a large field of tomato plants. “We make maple syrup. There’s some tillable acres that we grow grain for the chickens. A neat thing is, we actually hatch our own chicks. ... We also have all of our grown calves here.” The sale of beef, using South Poll cattle, is the Fosters’ most reliable source of income. Jake accompanied a Tribune- Star reporter and photographer to a broode where they keep 200 chickens.
Along the way, Jake mentioned that each food item on a grocery shelf typically travels 5,000 miles to get there, then the distance the buyer travels to get it home is usually significant.
CSAs are designed to eliminate the middleman.
“We’re doing it on an order-by-order basis,” Jake said. “We were ignorant of the term CSA when we started [in 2012],” Scott Foster said.
“We knew we should be serving our local neighbors first. We knew we were learning so much about the goodness of well-raised food — both for the people, the animals, the plants and the environment — that it was a great opportunity that we shouldn’t be forsaking to personally deliver the food and talk with our customers. We wanted to make sure they knew where their food was coming from.
"That’s really the CSA in a nutshell.”