Our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Scheme

Our Communuity Supported Agriculture Scheme members enjoy a weekly supply of local fresh vegetables, all grown without the use of artificial fertilizers or pesticides in Rushmere-St-Andrew, East Ipswich. Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between farmers and the local community, providing mutual benefits and reconnecting the people to the land where their food is grown.

Our Community Supported Agriculture Scheme is now fully subscribed for vegetable shares from June 2014 to May 2015, however new membership places for a veg share box from June 2015 for a minimum of one year are now available! Details of how to sign up are at the bottom of this page.

CSA schemes have been popular in the USA and Japan for many years, and are now growing in the UK.  We are the first Community Supported Agriculture Farm in Suffolk!

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CSA members enjoy an equal share of all the vegetables grown on the farm, for a weekly price of £8.50 per week (from June 2015). New members who join for a veg share box beginning start June 2015 begin their work commitment in March (though they are welcome to come along as soon as they join).

  • Members commit to work a minimum number of hours on the farm: at least two hours per week on average during the busy season (March – August), and one hour per week on average during the rest of the year (September – February). This work commitment is per share, i.e. may be shared between members of your household. For example:
    • a couple with a single share might choose to work one 8-hour day together once every eight weeks during the busy season
    • a single shareholder might choose to work two one-hour evening sessions each week during the busy season.

    This commitment may include work to administer/publicise the CSA if you wish (by agreement with the farm) .

  • Members and their families are welcome at free social events at the farm to celebrate changes in the seasons, including our annual harvest meal.
  • Minimum veg share membership one year from beginning of June 2015 – end May 2016- cancellation by written agreement with the farm only- and only if there is a very good reason for it, eg moving away from the area.  Payment annually in advance by cheque or bank transfer, or monthly in advance by standing order, from 1st June 2015.
  • New members pay a deposit of £25 on filling in their membership form which will be refunded at the end of the first year of membership (end May 2016) if all payment and work commitments have been met.
  • Members have the opportunity to buy a side of Oak Tree Pork, free-range pastured eggs in their weekly box, a weekly bunch of flowers in season, along with a Christmas goose (all subject to availability).

veg-box-wb10-09-12Find out what our members say about the Community Supported Agriculture Scheme on our Members’ Testimonials page.

Do you have a summary of what is happening when at the farm?

Yes, here are the key dates for CSA members.

Can you tell me exactly what vegetables I will receive each month?
No, except that it will be one 60th of the vegetables grown on two and a half acres by the farm professional growers with the help of CSA members.  To see what previous shares have included see our regular photos and descriptions of the weekly shares. And you can see the contents of the lastest box here We invite members to complete an annual veg survey to say what they would prefer to see in their boxes over the year to come. Here are the results for 2013.

We try to keep the volume of the veg in the boxes as even through the year as possible, but inevitably there are seasons of plenty, such as the autumn when we enjoy plentiful sweetcorn, beans, carrots, squash and more, and the summer when we enjoy abundant lettuce, tomatoes, courgettes, Swiss chard, among many other crops.  Wintertime brings parsnips, leeks, brassicas and more.

The really hard time is “the hungry gap” which is typically April/May when the winter crops have all but finished, and the spring crops haven’t yet started.  We’ll work hard to keep the shares as generous and varied as possible, crops include sprouting brocolli, Swiss chard, winter salads including rocket and spring greens.

In 2013 some of our members got together to create the farm preserving group. We will distribute the fruits of their labour among all our members in some of the hungry gap boxes in the spring!

We also run a members only Wild Food Walk free of charge each year in the spring.

Very occasionally we cancel the weekly boxes if the harvest is too small to justify distributing the boxes, or if the weather is so difficult that we can’t actually do the harvest (e.g. if the ground freezes solid without advance warning in the forecast) but this happens at most a couple of times a year, all being well.

I live miles away, is there something similar near me?

The short answer is we don’t know. There isn’t an up to date list of all the UK Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Schemes. That is why Joanne, who jointly runs The Oak Tree, is helping to run the new National CSA Network UK as an unpaid director. From December 2014 there will be a CSA Network UK website with a proper listing of the UK Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) schemes in the UK which we will link to here.

Can’t I just buy the veg without working?
As our entire harvest is shared between our members, we don’t have any veg spare to sell. If you don’t feel ready for the commitment of joining The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm Community Supported Agriculture scheme, or of you are waiting for a place to become available, we really recommend this fantastic local shop, Chris’ Fruit and Veg for local fruit, veg and much more!

Can’t I just volunteer without joining?
We no longer accept volunteers who aren’t members of the farm as we are already very busy coordinating the work of our members. Friends and family of CSA members are welcome to accompany members on the farm.

But I don’t know how to cook half of those vegetables!
Don’t worry, we share recipes on our website for unusual vegetables, and we welcome your ideas for other members on how to make the best of the harvest!

I’m interested in the chickens, cows, pigs and geese. Can I get involved with them?

Photo credit Jonathan Cherry

Photo credit Jonathan Cherry

Yes, absolutely!  The farm livestock is intimately interlinked with the veg production as our animals eat much of the waste veg from the farm (stuff that really is too damaged or past it to go in the veg boxes!) and provide fertility for the soil with their manure!

When can I work on the farm?

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Photo credit Jonathan Cherry

Any time during daylight hours!  For your first few sessions we suggest you join one of our sociable Saturday working parties.  Once you have learnt the ropes you are welcome to visit the farm alone, or with other CSA members, to complete jobs from the current task list.  You can also sign up to help with the harvest. Tools, seeds, fertilizers etc. are all provided, as is water, tea and milk.  Many of us like proper coffee so we ask members who are fellow coffee drinkers to contribute a bag of ground coffee from time to time.  Please bring a packed lunch if you plan to stay all day.

Hang on, you want me to pay and work?

Photo credit Jonathan Cherry

Photo credit Jonathan Cherry

We’re competing with cheap, oil-powered, EU subsidised, large-scale industrial agriculture (we are not eligible for subsidies as we are considered too small by the UK government to receive them, though the EU does not specify this).

We do our very best to offer good value, excellent tasting, completely fresh, locally grown vegetables and a very direct link between members and the farm. Above all, the CSA is a community of people growing food together, and many members find working at the farm not only satisfying, rewarding and sociable, but also good fun!

In the long run, our costs will stay moderate as the cost of oil, and as a result, chemical fertilisers, grow, so the long term aim is to offer excellent value.  In the meantime we do the very best we can.  The farm is a not-for-profit social entreprise, so you can be sure that all your money goes into developing the farm to provide excellent food for the benefit of CSA members. Farm growers Eric and Joanne currently earn less than the minimum wage (as self employed directors of the not-for-profit social enterprise) in an effort to keep the farm prices as accessible as possible.

How does one CSA share compare to growing vegetables on an allotment?
A standard allotment, which is intended to feed a family when cultivated by an experienced gardener, is one sixteenth of an acre.  By comparison one CSA share is grown on just over one twenty fifth of an acre.  Joanne was an allotment holder for many years, and her experiences were pretty similar to these from a Telegraph article which suggests a minimum weekly workload of at least 12 hours per week, compared with minimum 2 hours per week as a CSA member – with the added benefit of flexibility in the CSA so you can take time off without worrying.

Many newcomers to allotment holding fail to achieve good yields due to lack of experience and shortage of time or commitment.  As a CSA member your work commitment is far lighter than serious allotment holding, and you don’t have to worry who will water your crops when you are on holiday!  All seeds, compost, machinery, tools, etc. etc. are included in your CSA membership.

Can my children come along?
Children under 18 are welcome at the farm, however they remain the responsibility of their parents/guardians at all times.  Please remember that this is a working farm, so take care to follow any health and safety instructions given.

Can I bring my dog along?
No, sorry, we don’t allow dogs on the farm.

Isn’t this just another vegetable box scheme?
Well, the weekly shares will come in returnable ex-mushroom boxes, but that is where the similarity ends!

All the vegetables included in the weekly CSA share will be grown on The Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm, and while members share the risk of some crops failing, your annual commitment to the farm and your work on the farm ensures you get your vegetables at a better price than many organic box schemes.

You eat completely with the seasons, from fresh sweetcorn in the late summer, to sprouting brocolli in the early spring. Most box schemes buy in at least some of their vegetables, often from abroad during the difficult months. We never do as it is against our philosophy of ultra local, ultra fresh food.

Is The Oak Tree certified organic?
No, and we’re not allowed to use the “O” word because we’re not certified.  All cultivation at The Oak Tree is done without artificial fertilisers, pesticides or other chemicals, and we use only natural non-chemical pest control and fertilisers.

Organic certification costs around £500 per year and imposes considerable paperwork overhead, and might mean we couldn’t use the horse manure from our friendly neighbouring stable yard, and other similar constraints, which would in turn increase our carbon emissions.

Can I “share a share” with someone else?
Yes, no problem.  All we ask is that we receive one single monthly standing order, per share, and we will prepare each share in a single box – you’ll need to arrange delivery and split the veg between you yourselves.  This is simply to keep the administration and packing work down for the farm, so we can spend more time growing the vegetables.  Members who “share a share” are welcome to share their farm work commitment.

Can I come and have a look before I decide whether or not to join?
If you are interested in joining The Oak Tree Community Supported Agriculture scheme you are welcome to join us during a Saturday working party (held every Saturday between 10am and 4pm) to find out more. We’ll give you a tour of the farm and you’re welcome to join growers and farm  members for a wood fired tea or coffee and biscuits (maybe even home made cake if you’re lucky!) Please contact us in advance to let us know that you are coming. We ask you to make a £5 donation to our not-for-profit farm social enterprise on the day, which will be refunded against the £25 membership deposit should you choose to join. Please bring cash or a chequebook on the day.

Please note that we have found that members who live reasonably close to the farm (say, within 10 miles) find membership far more practical than people who live further away.

If you aren’t interested in joining the farm, or if you don’t live locally, please find out here how to visit to The Oak Tree Farm.

It sounds great!  How do I join?
Our Community Supported Agriculture Scheme is now fully subscribed for vegetable shares from June 2014 to May 2015. However we are currently offering new membership places for a veg box from June 2015 for a minimum of one year (until May 2016), on a first come, first served basis as always. To sign up please:

  1. Carefully read, complete and sign a membership form. Please contact us if you would like us to put a paper copy in the post to you.
  2. Post your completed form, along with the deposit of £25 (cheques payable to “The Oak Tree Farm”) to: Joanne Mudhar, 38 Lonsdale Close, Ipswich, IP4 4HD. Please don’t email scanned forms, we ask for a proper paper form (we’re old fashioned that way!)

Once we have received your form, if membership places remain available, our membership secretary will send you a welcome email. This may take a little while as she does this on a voluntary basis as part of her CSA membership. You may receive a weekly members’ email before your welcome email. If we are already full by the time your form arrives we will let you know, and return your forms and deposit.

Please note that there are only ever a limited number of places available, which are always allocated on a first come, first served basis. While your vegetable share would begin in June 2015, your work commitment (as described above) would begin in March 2015 – there is a lot of work to do to get the new crops established before they can be harvested!

As explained on the form, completing & signing the membership form is a definite commitment (other than in exceptional circumstances by written agreement with the farm) – we need this certainty to plan in advance for next year’s growing season.

Any other questions?
Please contact us.

 

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