Selling At Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
CSA refers to a common form of direct consumer marketing for small farmers where customers become members of the farm. Today, let’s talk about ways to selling at community supported agriculture.
Most commonly, members pay up front for a season’s worth of vegetables so that they are sharing in the risks and rewards of the farm. Every week for a predetermined amount of weeks, each member receives a basket of seasonal vegetables from the farm. Many farmers today are operating CSAs in a customized form, where members can choose from a list of veggies from the farm.
New web-based software has made this a lot easier for farmers. The CSA has become a primary market stream for a lot of small- to larger-scale farmers because it offers stability and upfront income. If you want to offer a CSA, you must have a good variety of products to engage customers; this is why CSA is not ideal for an urban farm on less than a ½ acre of land. Growing crops like broccoli and winter squash are not economical on that size of land base.
Running a successful CSA depends largely on how educated your customer demographic is about CSAs. From what I’ve seen, in larger cities where local food is a lot more trendy and in demand you can sell shares for top dollar, and they will sell out fast.
You don’t have to offer any customization, and can have few to no options for box size and pickup time— definitely an ideal scenario for any farmer. In small to medium cities, it’s often a totally different story. Though a lot of people may shop at farmers markets, people don’t even know what a CSA is. If you have to educate your customers, signing them up can be a lot more difficult and time-consuming. In these cases, offering more flexibility for box size, customization, pickup times and payment options will get you way more signups early on.
The year we changed our CSA to offer this kind of flexibility, we received more than triple the sign-ups from one year to the next. There are a few software programs out there that allow for e-commerce shopping for your members; these programs can make things really easy, but some take up to 2% of your sales. We actually used Google forms that linked to a spreadsheet. Every week we published a list of what was available, and our customers would order it through the Google form link we’d send them through e-mail.
There are four things you can offer in a CSA that will help engage a lot more customers, especially if they are new to the concept:
1. Payment Options
Instead of people paying for a season’s worth of veggies and having to pick up one box every week, give them ability to prepay a certain amount of credit. Each time they order, the purchase amount comes off their credit total. This requires more administration, but there are software programs that can help manage this.
People no longer have to pay a large sum like $500 up front; they can pay $100 every couple of months, or however much they use the service. We found that we engaged a wider base of socioeconomic levels and ages, and this plan even allowed for vacationers to sign up.
We also offered an incentive to pay more up front by giving a discount based on how much you could pay. If you paid $250 or more at once, you’d get 10% added to your credit. So, if you paid $500 up front, you’d get $550 in credit.
2. Full Customization
Once your customers have a credit with the farm, they can order however much they want whenever they want.
As long as they have a credit, they could technically spend it all at once if they desired. In order to do this, you (as the farmer) have to be comfortable enough with your production systems that you can handle a lot of potential fluctuation in weekly demand.
If your members don’t order for a few weeks, it doesn’t matter. They are only charged when they order. You can set caps as well; we used a minimum order of $15, and you could also set a maximum if you desired.
3. A Referral Program for Existing Members
If a member refers someone new to sign up, give them a 10% credit bonus. So, if they signed up for a $500 box, give them a $50 bonus if they sign someone up. You can set this figure or percentage however you like. I find it’s good to have credits high enough to create a lot of incentive for someone to get more people signed up.
The cool thing is that, technically under this scheme, if one member signed up 10 additional people, they’d essentially get a $500 CSA share credit for free! That’s a lot of incentive for a customer to help you find more customers.
4. Multiple Pickup
Times We used to have boxes picked up only on Fridays between 4 pm and 8 pm. The next year, we set up a second cooler on an honor system, and people could essentially pick up their box whenever they wanted.
We gave a time frame so that people wouldn’t be showing up at 1 am on a Tuesday night, but the honor system cooler offered a lot more convenience for people— and that makes the CSA more attractive. We live in a small enough community that this system worked fine.
However, if you were worried about theft, you could install a combination lock on the cooler and give the code to all your members.