How To Fill Up Your CSA Membership

To stay afloat as a farmer, you need community support—but you need to make yourself known.

by Jesse Frost
PHOTO: Jesse Frost

The community-supported agriculture model of farming is arguably the most ideal way to sell food. In essence, you are getting paid in bulk for veggies you haven’t grown yet. You are securing part of your income (thus budget) for an entire year. Plus, you get the opportunity to develop a relationship with your customer, watch their children grow and become a part of their lives. Maybe ideal is not a good enough word—it’s perfect.

The reality, however, is that it’s not always easy to fill up your CSA membership slots. it’s a lot to ask of someone to pay upfront—even in part—for their food, and for that reason, you may at some point find yourself struggling to fill all of your CSA spots. So if that is the case, or ever becomes the case, here’s a series of questions you can ask yourself if the CSA just isn’t coming together. In fact, they’re great questions to revisit every couple years or so to keep your farm business moving forward.

Getting New Customers

How’s Your Branding?

I want you to step back and look at what you have now. Your logo, for instance: Is it clean and memorable? Is your website logical and navigable? Do your CSA flyers pop? How are your business card? All of this matters for attracting new customers. When you take this step back to analyze your branding, have a friend, an objective stranger or even an existing CSA member tell you what they think. The reason your spots aren’t filling up could be as simply as someone not feeling compelled to take your card from the coffee shop.

Are You Everywhere?

Do you have your flier on every community board in town? Have you sent out a press release to all the major local publications? Do you have business cards in every gym, CrossFit studio, brewery, bar and coffee shop? What about libraries? (Librarians are, in our experience, some of our most loyal customers.) Wine shops? Natural food stores? Health department? These are all free ways to get your name out. Anywhere you can put a card or flier is where you should be.

How’s Your Social Media Game?

Yes, unfortunately, a farmer now not only has to be a salesman and horticulturalist, but tech-savvy to boot. Luckily, the social media you need to understand in order to have a successful business is fairly straightforward. Facebook and Instagram are sufficient. Twitter and Snapchat aren’t a bad idea, either. Don’t go nuts, just posting pictures of your family and your farm every week with a little story about what you have going on is enough to keep people engaged. Consider even starting a Facebook group for CSA members to share recipes. If you keep a blog, keep the content short and apolitical. Pictures of their food and their farmers is what most people want.

Keeping Old Customers

Is Your Product Consistent?

Once you have customers, cherish them. Really make sure that everything you give, to the best of your abilities, is clean and of the highest possible quality. Rough weather years can make this difficult, but a good rapport will help them understand. People join CSAs for the experience as much as the food—but they still need to receive good food or else they won’t come back.

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Are You Giving Too Much Food?

Farmers love to share the bounty, but people hate to waste it. If a customer ends up throwing out lettuce after lettuce every week then they’re going to feel guilty and potentially skip the CSA next year. If you can’t help yourself, give them a way to bring their excess back to you. You could provide compost buckets or set up a food swapping system so they’re not wasting it, just turning what they can’t eat back into food.

Have You Involved Them In Your Farm?

Do you share your farm with your customers? I am not just asking, “Do they come to the farm?” Rather, I’m asking if you invite them to take part in some of the decisions— make them feel like farmers? Making a customer feel as though your farm is their farm is a great way to keep them coming back. They will see their decisions—perhaps more fruit in the basket, more asparagus or other perennials—over time and know they played a role in that.

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