PHOTO: Shutterstock
Jesse Frost
February 21, 2019

The community-supported agriculture model of selling produce—commonly referred to as CSA, where food is sold up-front similar to a magazine subscription—has undergone some changes in recent years, with increasing competition coming from grocery stores, home-delivery services and several tech companies. For some, this has made the CSA model a little more challenging to sell.

So if your farm is among those struggling to fill your CSA, here are some things you can do to boost sales. Some cost money while others do not. In a step-by-step fashion, let’s look at what you can do to get that CSA to capacity before spring arrives.


Step 1: Use an Email List

If you don’t have an email list, you should start one today. Email is the most neglected of all media these days as it was the most abused of the past decade. But studies have shown that a well-crafted email message will get more opens than your average Facebook post. Send an email to your previous CSA members and make sure thy know signups are open and that the season starts soon. Also ask them to share your CSA with their friends—remember, you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

Step 2: Build Relationships

Online apps and modern retailers are almost always more convenient for the customer than you—deliveries, same-day shipping, on-demand and so on. In terms of convenience, you probably can’t compete. But those same companies can’t compete with you when it comes to building a relationship with the customer. Especially in recent years, customers like to know where their food comes from, but they also just enjoy having that connection to your farm and family and seeing both grow because of their support.

Step 3: Advertise

Advertising does not have to be expensive. In fact, these days with Facebook and Instagram, you can easily reach thousands of people for $50 or less. Boost your Facebook posts about the CSA. Set up advertisements that you can specifically aim at a certain audience through keyword selection.

Step 4: Circulate Flyers

One of the best complements to your advertising dollars? Back up the effort with flyers posted throughout the area you are targeting. Coffee shops, libraries, gyms—these are all great places to post your info. Someone might passively see your advertisement online, but then when they see the flyer in the real world it might remind them to sign up. Make sure your ads online match those you put on flyers so its easy for a customer to identify the brand as the same.

Step 5: Re-evaluate Your Brand

If none of the above works, ask yourself why. Is the price too high? Are your photos too blurry? Do they contain enough pictures of you? The latter can be essential. Going back to step two, customers like building relationships. Including people in the ads is definitely beneficial to making that connection. Ask customers you know and trust for feedback—learn what they think is holding you back. Is it a lack of options? Too strict of a pickup window? Too expensive? Be flexible and try to accommodate, but also never accommodate if it means not making a profit—if it can’t make you money, it might not be worth doing.

Step 6: Check Your Area

Some areas have a lot of CSA operations and have for years. Could you be servicing a suburb or other area where local food might not be as readily available? Untapped markets can provide great opportunities, even if they seem significantly smaller.

Step 7: Ask for Help

If you’re struggling with your CSA, you can always sign up for a service such as Harvie that will help you to grow your CSA and keep up with your customer payments as well as add customizable shares if you’d like. It does come with a cost, but it can be a great service for new and established CSAs alike.

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