Thoughts on sales of produce for canning

I've posted before on the dearth of local market gardeners where I live selling vegetables in quantities for canning.

You can easily stop in at any number of different farm stands near me and buy a few tomatoes for a salad, but I don't know of any where you can stop in and buy a bushel or two to make your own sauce. The same goes for pickling cucumbers.

On the other hand, the CSAs nearby are largely potluck. You buy a share or a half-share, and you get what you get. There's usually a mix of different vegetables, some of which may be unfamiliar, and usually not too much of any one thing. You won't get a large amount of "cannable" stuff all at once, and you can't select what you want.

Here's my thought: is there enough demand for a market gardener to offer a CSA pre-season-signup-and-pay model where the customers choose a specific "cannable" vegetable and order enough for canning purposes?

So a typical hypothetical customer might sign up for a bushel of tomatoes, or two bushels, or three, without needing sign up for other veggies that may not be wanted. Perhaps that customer would also sign up for a bushel of pickling cucumbers to make pickles. The bushel would be of a variety suitable for canning, and would come all at once so that the customer wouldn't be trying to keep the first batch from going rotten before getting enough to can.

The grower would then plant enough crops to have about an 80% chance of having enough to fill the order. In a good year, the customer might get a little more than ordered. In a bad year, they might get somewhat less, just like a CSA.

Has anyone on TGN seen local growers offering this type of arrangement for canning vegetables? Have you used it? Did it work well?

I know I would sign up for this if it existed! I don't have enough space to grow a year's worth of tomatoes for sauce.


  • thelinda
    thelinda Posts: 21 ✭✭

    Same here, just a smattering of tomatoes. Some weeks I can't get enough for a salad.

    When I was a child we were driving by a farm with about 30 acres of tomatoes. My aunt sighed about how she'd love some tomatoes. I, a child of maybe 9 was sent to the front door, perhaps because I wouldn't appear to be a threat, to ask if we could buy a bushel or two. The farmer answered the door and came outside. In a jiffy he picked us 2 bushels. We promised to return his baskets the next time we drove by, 2 weeks later and we did. Be very careful about approaching someone's house. Better to go to a website such as OR your state might have a list of organic farms. Find out who is near you and start making phone calls or sending email inquiries explaining exactly what you want.

  • RustBeltCowgirl
    RustBeltCowgirl Posts: 1,403 ✭✭✭✭✭

    My local CSA has periodic special order items: such as a bushel of tomatos to can or just lately they had cukes available for pickling.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,623 admin

    I have come to know many of the producers in my area. I have standing orders for raspberries, strawberries, pickling cukes, apple cider vinegar, etc. Most of the producers have long-time customers on their lists and it can be hard for new people to find someone that has room for them.

    A lot of the roadside stands in our area sell in bulk. They have two prices. By the basket for 1-3 pounds and by the flat (20 lb boxes) or larger (40 lb boxes) for tree fruits. We have a lot of canning-freezing-dehydrating-preserving-minded people in my area (at least in my acquaintance) and sometimes we will go in on a purchase to get an even better price or bring in produce (that we can't grow) from a different climate zone.

    We have several U-pick market gardens in our area and you can pick as much as you want. So you can get more than enough for canning.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Posts: 3,537 ✭✭✭✭✭

    In the fall. a semi local farmer will let you pick cetain crops in bulk. You call ahead and let them know when you are coming and they will let you know if they have enough available at that time.

    We do have a few auctions that specialize in veggies and fruits in the summer and fall. Not knowing the farmer you do not know what chemicals may have been used.

    I love the idea of a CSA that could produce enough to can. Our CSA'a are very limited in this area.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I like the suggestion of you-pick. I don't know of many near me, though. I get blueberries in quantity that way, but haven't found anyone offering you-pick tomatoes, beans, or peas.

  • Tave
    Tave Posts: 952 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy Is there an organic farmers' market near you? Or at least sellers at the farmers' market that know what went into the vegetables? I have found that most sellers are happy to talk about their crops and are willing to arrange for bulk purchases.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Tave Many small towns in Vermont have a farmer's market. The market in my own town is usually only two or three sellers focusing on value-added products like jam. It's tiny even by small-town farmer's market standards.

    Some of the other towns around me have larger farmer's markets and might have more potential. Mostly I focus on the roadside stands of individual farmers. There are many of these around, and some have more products available than the entire local town farmer's market combined.

    If the goal is a special arrangement, the thing to do here would be to stop in and chat at one of the farmer's own stands.

    However, my purpose in writing the email was to see if more of the TGN community had run into this issue, and whether a more formalized approach might be a good thing for both market gardeners and canners alike.

  • Tave
    Tave Posts: 952 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @VermontCathy When I lived in the States, I used a CSA a couple of times but quit. I would have liked to support it, but the selection of vegetables wasn't as good as I could get at the local organic farmers' market.

    And it's true that there wasn't enough to can or freeze. When I calculated what I spent at the CSA and what I spent at the farmers' market for the same thing, I realized I was paying more than I needed to at the CSA. I want to support local farmers, but I have to think about economics, too.

    So, to answer your question at the beginning, I've never seen what you're looking for. However, I think it would work well if someone offered it.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Tave If I could not garden, such as if I lived in an apartment again, I would certainly sign up for a half-share at one of the local CSAs. It would be the only way I could get a steady flow of vegetables through the growing season, even if they were not the preferred types.

    As things stand, I am far better off growing as much as possible myself. But not everyone is in a position to do that. Those with very small plots may be able to grow enough plants to have fresh tomatoes and greens in season, but producing enough to can requires more space.

    You were lucky to have access to such good farmer's markets. Not everyone has good ones readily available.

  • Tave
    Tave Posts: 952 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I understand. There's a trade-off anywhere you live. I love living in the country, but work is in the city. I'm fortunate to have a big patio and access to almost locally grown food. At least it's from inside the country and not imported.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Ironically, I find some of the big cities to be the places with excellent farmer's markets, while small towns struggle to support a good market. The farmers go where the buyers are! :-)

    There is nothing in our local small towns comparable to Boston's Haymarket, for example.

  • karenjanicki
    karenjanicki Posts: 961 ✭✭✭✭

    I think that's a clever idea. Where I live you can buy large quantities of certain things and my mom cans them. She loves it. I would think people would appreciate being able to do this.

  • Merin Porter
    Merin Porter Posts: 1,026 admin

    I agree -- we tried a local CSA because we wanted to support the organic farmer down the street from us, but there are certain things (like squash) that I've tried to prepare about 100 different ways and that my family still doesn't enjoy. So we would end up with tons of squash or zucchini or something like that was hard to put into use, except through long baking sessions converting them into lemon squash bread or chocolate zucchini bread or something like that.

    But if I could have picked and chose, or if the farmer had had a way for me to exchange the items that I knew my family wouldn't eat, I would have been way more tempted to continue in a CSA. (I have wished multiple times that I lived near a CSA a la @LynnGillespie, because she has a reasonably-priced CSA where you can opt out of certain produce, exchange things, etc.)

    I will say that our CSA experience was the reason my husband and I discovered our affinity for sauteed shishito peppers ... and why I have them growing in my garden this year. :D

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    When you've been spoiled by growing exactly what you want in your own garden, it is really difficult to accept the constraints of buying from local farmers.

    These days I focus on expanding my garden and growing the things we love most as efficiently as possible, not seeking new suppliers from which to buy.

    I want to see local farmers succeed, but...

  • marjstratton
    marjstratton Posts: 1,132 ✭✭✭✭

    We like to you-pick our blueberries because we use a lot of them in a year. Mostly, I just freeze them and sometimes dry them. Probably should get a good no or low sugar jam recipe, and put some of them up that way. That would take up less room in the freezer and give me a more sure way of preserving them in case of a lengthy power outage.

  • annbeck62
    annbeck62 Posts: 1,019 ✭✭✭✭

    My brother belongs to the most amazing csa where he lives. He gets a "you get what you get box" but then each week certain items are available for unlimited upick at no additional cost. There is no pressure on the farmer to have a certain quantity available at a certain date. Whatever is in abundance that week is available.

  • gardneto76
    gardneto76 Posts: 528 ✭✭✭✭

    My mom lives in what we jokingly now call Amish country, which is really just rural Michigan. The Amish families have farm stands and she has been buying from them for so long now all she ever does is ask. They will grab the kids and run to the furled and pick whatever she wants. Farmers often don’t want to pick more than what they know will sell. They even Baker her special gluten free bread now. The point is, it never hurts to ask as most farmers want to sell to you. I have also seen larger farm stands that do sell by the bushel, but those are usually on major streets or closer to town.

  • Tave
    Tave Posts: 952 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @gardneto76 I remember the first time I went back for a visit after the Amish moved into rural Michigan. There are hitching posts in the grocery store parking lot now.

    I was so glad all that good farmland wasn't going to waste. We always go to their store when we visit. And it's true; they don't mind special requests.