Crowdfunding helps sow the seeds for new CSA in Chesterfield

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May 3, 2016
cows in meadow

Brittany Dooling and Michael Reardon didn’t know what to expect when they launched a GoFundMe campaign early in 2016, the year they planned to debut their Mad Radish CSA farm in Chesterfield, New Hampshire. Spring was on the horizon and they needed funds before the planting season could begin in just a few months. They needed a heater for the greenhouse they had inherited with their rented property. The truck needed repairs. They needed seed and starts and soil.  

“I kind of just decided to do it [GoFundMe] on my own,” Brittany explained.  “It was looking pretty bleak, like we weren’t going to make it without having any loans or anything backing us up front. I knew this could be a way to get some cash pretty quickly and that the cash could really help us.”

The GoFundMe campaign would seek $3,000 and its page was set up to explain “our goals for the farm and what we dreamed of accomplishing as young farmers. We explained that we wanted to grow healthy food for our community as sustainably as possible, increasing the health of the land in the process,” Brittany said.

With the campaign page set up, Brittany then put it out on Facebook.  “Of course, our friends and family shared it. And shared it.  It was surprising how quickly people responded to us and we got so much positive feedback,” Brittany said. “People were donating to the campaign, but they were also sending us messages asking how they could help.”

Soon they could see the campaign was reaching beyond their friends and family to people they didn’t know.  “It was just incredible to see the response; it shocked us,” Brittany exclaimed.

Ultimately the campaign brought in $500 over the goal in less than two months, largely due to one of Brittany’s really good friends who wanted to see them succeed.  “She just kept asking and asking people,” Brittany said.  “I just kept posting to Facebook and showing people photos of what we bought with their money.  I personally thanked everyone who donated.  It was just so successful in different ways.  Getting feedback from everyone really boosted us so much.”

When Brittany and Michael found the Chesterfield property for rent in late 2015, they knew it was the right choice for them.  Its infrastructure was such that it could be economically feasible for them to start their CSA farm.  

And then they found Nancy DuBosque, the NH SBDC business advisor and regional director of the Keene office. The farmers began meeting with her in January this year, right about the same time Brittany started the GoFundMe campaign. 

“She gave us so much advice on marketing strategies and general advice for a start-up,” Brittany explained.  “But since we were new to the area, she really helped us know who was here and who could help us, and we began making connections with others.  And that just really snowballed. We desperately needed those connections in the beginning.”

Nancy put the couple in touch with local and regional organizations such as Monadnock Buy Local and the NH Farm Network. She helped to connect them to the right media for their marketing, including ways to advertise through various online sites. “She showed us where to get our website listed and how to get our name out there,” Brittany explained.

Brittany had had experience farming in Vermont, while Michael is from Pennsylvania and had farmed in Massachusetts last year.  “We both wanted to get back to New England; we love this area,” Brittany said. 

Mad Radish CSA had 17 members signed up by mid-March. Their goal is a total of 50.  “We’re planning to grow enough vegetables to serve as many as 50 families, but 35 may be more realistic,” Brittany admitted.

Building projects have started.  Planting has started.  The farm will offer vegetables only, to begin with, but ultimately they hope to sell eggs from their chickens, plus lamb, beef and goat milk.  Sheep and lambs will be purchased in the fall. 

Brittany and Michael have continued to meet with Nancy periodically, often focused on marketing. As Brittany explains, “She has just so helped our outlook and our morale. That’s been one of the main things we’ve gotten from her.”

For now, Michael and Brittany would like to avoid seeking business loans for Mad Radish, but at this moment there are things they can’t do until they have the capital.  “It would be great to have a loan, but we just haven’t been focused on that at this point,” she stated.

They’ll also continue meeting with Nancy “as long as she’ll have us,” Brittany said.  “Our needs are going to shift, so we’ll need to shift our focus with her.  We’ll need help in tracking and budgeting; there’s plenty of room for improvement there, and we’ll probably talk with her about finding a loan or grant.  We’ll have to build capital down the line.”