CSA Success Secrets for your Small Farm

It's no secret that I think that Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a great model for farmers and communities, so here are 7 CSA success secrets to help make your CSA a winner.

CSA success tips:

1. Marketing, marketing, marketing

    CSA's may have a customer loss rate of 40% or more each year. This means you have to keep finding new customers just to maintain your current sales, and even more if you plan to expand. This means you you need a consistent and reliable method of bringing in new customers.
    Our first year of operating a CSA, our customers came from 1- our personal contacts, and 2 – a mail-out flyer we sent to a local community. Currently, we still do a flyer mailing each year, but about half our new customers find us by way of our website.

2. Grow a better veggie, get a better pay-cheque

    This is perhaps the most important CSA success secret. The smaller the farm, the more you need to concentrate on the quality and uniqueness of what you grow.
    It goes without saying that you should be as organic and 'natural' as possible. Since you aren't going to be shipping your farm goodies thousands of miles, you can grow veggie varieties selected for their taste and visual appeal, rather than storage and shipping characteristics.

More CSA Success Tips

3. Do the work yourself

    There are good reasons to do every job on the farm yourself, at least initially. The first reason is purely practical; you need to keep expenses down, and labour is the biggest expense you will face.
    The second reason is, you need to understand how every task needs to be done, so you CAN hire and train someone to do it, when the time comes.

4. Hire for enthusiasm

    Speaking of hiring, we have always valued enthusiasm and energy over experience when hiring farm workers. First of all, you are going to train them to do things your way, anyway.
    And, you are more likely to find someone you can afford if you don't insist on lots of related experience. Best of all would be an enthusiastic young person who wants to learn the business; some sort of intern or apprenticeship deal might be worked out to your mutual benefit.

5. Evaluate the cost-benefit of each crop.

    We don't grow sweet corn; it just doesn't pay for the time and energy it takes to get a crop. The same is true of potatoes; we only grow a few for 'fingerlings'; the main crop of potatoes I provide to my CSA customers I buy from a local organic farmer who is set up to grow acres of 'em.
    Another example; a 50-foot bed of head lettuce costs me about 4 or 5 hours of production time. If I put mesclun salad mix in the same bed, it costs me about four times the production time, because planting, harvesting and cleaning this crop is much more labour-intensive.
    It's better for me to grow head lettuces, despite the popularity of the mesclun. In short, this CSA success secret is about keep good records of what each crop costs (including your own time).

6. Visit other farms

    This is a BIG CSA success secret; make it a point to go see how other farmers operate. An hour or two spent with someone actually doing what you want to do is invaluable.
    I learn amazing things every time I visit other growers; I often leave saying “now, why didn't I think of that” (or Suzie will say it for me). But be respectful of the farmer's time; make an appointment for one of their 'slow' days, and stick to the time you agree to.

7. Layer other enterprises to add to CSA income

    One of the biggest advantages of the CSA model is the 'customer base' you have created. The folks who have subscribed to your farm veggies are also your best market for other farm goodies.
Our pigs clean up our garden area

Consider adding meat chickens, laying hens, pastured pigs, or honey bees to the farm mix. All these enterprises can add value and income to your farm.

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