Without a doubt, the community supported agriculture model of farming has gained popularity over the past decade, and as a result, the density of CSAs has increased, creating competition among farmers in this realm.
For the uninitiated, the CSA acts like a subscription to a farm, where the farmer sells his or her food up front—like perhaps a magazine or newspaper would—then distributes it throughout the season. The customer gets a wide variety of produce (or meat or dairy products, or flowers—a CSA can be for any farm). The farmer, of course, gets a lot of income at the beginning of the season, which is pretty attractive.
With the popularity of the CSA and the resulting competition, farmers need ways to find and retain members. So let’s talk about how you can stay ahead of the other farmers and make your CSA stand out in the crowd.
Plain and simple, CSA farmers do not advertise enough, especially considering that advertising is simpler and cheaper than it has ever been. Moreover, you can now focus your advertising efforts on exactly the people you would like to reach, and in real time you can watch your ads via analytics and adjust them to be more effective. What I’m talking about are tools like Facebook and Instagram advertisements. You can create ads, or simply boost an existing post, and direct these small expenditures ($2 to $5 per day) to exactly the kinds of people interested in joining a CSA. That is definitely not something you can accomplish with a billboard.
2. Offer Home Delivery
Your competition with the CSA is not just other farmers, but very sophisticated (and well-funded) delivery ingredient services such as Blue Apron that send all of the ingredients for a meal, already portioned, with a recipe. Don’t try to compete with that, necessarily, but you can definitely compete with the convenience by offering some form of home or neighborhood drop-off locations. Bringing your food directly to the customer not only attracts people who can’t spare a lot of time yet want to support local food, it also attracts those physically unable to make it out to the market for pickups. Plus, if customers are not home during delivery times, they can simply leave out a cooler to be filled. This makes it even easier for busy people.
3. Create a Feedback Loop
Whether it is through surveys or simple conversations, engage with your customers on how you can improve your service. Ask them what vegetables they would like to see more and less of. Ask what other items they would like to see in their deliveries. Then let them see the results of those conversations. On our farm we like to say, “This is your farm, you help us decide what to grow—you shape it.” And customers really respond to that level of engagement.
4. Host Events
Customers who don’t get to see your farm and family might not feel as much incentive to support it. So bring them out! Have a field day or small potluck to get members out and tour the farm. Make what and who they’re supporting real for them—the farm will do much of the work of making it fun. The engineer-minded customers might love seeing all the tools. The kids will love the animals. The foodies will love seeing the plants that produce the tomatoes they get. Farms have something for everyone. When customers feel like they’re a part of the small farm they’ve visited, they’re more likely to continue supporting it through your CSA.
5. Offer Recipes and Storage Advice
One of the most important services you can provide with you CSA, especially for new customers, is offer them not only plenty of ways to cook the food, but also to store it. Far and away, the single greatest query we get from our customers is not “What do I do with chard,” but “How do I store it?” No matter what it is, this is where new customers, especially in the spring, get overwhelmed. Does it go in the crisper drawer? Can you leave it on the counter? Find ways to address these issues through a newsletter or videos, or links to articles, and that will certainly help increase the value of your CSA.