What if picking up your CSA farm share meant stopping by a retail location on
your own schedule instead of meeting a truc in a parking lot during a 3-hour pick-up window?
That’s the idea behind a new experiment in “CSA retail” launched today by Clover Food Lab
(www.cloverfoodlab.com), a chain of fast-food restaurants and food trucks in Boston and
Cambridge founded by MIT alum Ayr Muir.
In community-supported agriculture (CSA), customers subscribe to a farm and pay a sum of money
(usually $500-$600) in the winter; farmers use the cash to plan, buy seeds, hire employees, and
grow food. As the harvest comes in from June to October, farmers divide up the produce weekly
among their shareholders.
“The problem with CSAs in urban areas is that they’re sort of hard to find out about and
inconvenient to pick up,” Clover president Ayr Muir says. CSA members in the Boston area often
need to drive to the farms or pick up their shares from the back of a delivery truck in parking lots or
behind grocery stores during very limited time windows (for example, Wednesdays from 4-6pm).
Muir wants to use Clover to spotlight CSAs front and center. He believes that if successful this pilot
program could pave the way for CSAs to enter the mainstream. Clover believes the market for CSA
membership could number in the tens of thousands in the Boston area providing vital support to
This February, Clover HUB, the 7,000-square-foot facility at 1075 Cambridge Street, will be
transformed into a pop-up CSA sign-up space. Customers can read information about five different
CSAs and sign up for whichever farm appeals to them the most or fits into their schedule best. The
pilot program will include Marshall Farm, The Food Project, Lindentree Farm, Drumlin Farm, and
Red Fire Farm, each dropping off on a different day of the week.
Once the growing season starts in June, shareholders will return to Clover HUB on a specific day
each week to pick up their box of vegetables.
Clover will host a public CSA Night at Clover HUB, 1075 Cambridge Street, from 7pm-9pm on
Friday, February 24. At the event, which is open to the public, customers can talk to the CSA
farmers, sign up for any remaining shares, and tour the area of Clover HUB where CSAs will be
picked up come harvest time.
Muir sees several benefits to customers who sign up. Customers will be able to stop by during
normal store hours, so they won’t lose out on their share because traffic or bad weather made
them a few minutes late to a pickup. Muir believes farmers will benefit from the increased visibility
and ease of drop-off. An indoor pickup area means that farmers will not have to wait around after
they drop off the shares. Clover will offer the service free to farms.
Clover expects customers to consider a variety of factors when picking their farm. Some customers
might pick a CSA with a Monday drop-off to have food for the week, or Fridays to have food for the
weekend. Others might select a CSA because they’ve seen the farm at a neighborhood farmers’
market (Drumlin Farm), because it is certified organic (Lindentree Farm, Red Fire Farm),
empowers local teens (The Food Project), or provides little gifts throughout the season (Marshall
Shares are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Some farms have many shares available;
others have sliding scales for payment from low-income customers; and one, Lindentree Farm, is
launching its first-ever Boston drop-off, creating 10 special shares just for Clover customers.
The CSA program fits into Clover’s long-term goals: to improve customers’ health over time; bring
money to local farmers, and make fresh food accessible to many people. On a busy day, Clover
serves nearly 20,000 people at two restaurants and four food trucks parked at MIT, Longwood
Medical Area, Boston University, and South Station. “If this experiment works, in a few years, we
could introduce CSAs to thousands of new customers and funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars
to local farmers,” Muir says. “The hardest part for us is going to be waiting for the crops to grow.”
Friday, February 24, 7pm-9pm
Clover HUB (1075 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA)
Open to the public
Schedule and Location of Clover CSA Pickups (June—October)
Clover HUB (1075 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA)
Monday: Marshall’s Farm (Gloucester, Mass)
Tuesday: The Food Project (Lincoln, Mass)
Wednesday: Lindentree Farm (Lincoln, Mass)
Thursday: Drumlin Farm (Lincoln, Mass)
Friday: Red Fire Farm (Granby, Mass)