Here at Greenshire we did a 22 member CSA, and for the most part it went well, especially since it was our first growing season. However, individually portioning and filling each share was a real time consuming pain in the ass sometimes. Also, there were some weeks where we couldn't eat some of the produce ourselves, because if we did we'd be short-changing some of our customers.
SO... I'm trying to think of how to tweak the model, to avoid those issues. So, as mentioned above, I've been mulling over the email list idea. I'm thinking that people can buy 'credit' at any time in the season but
I see the benefits of the email list over a standard CSA being:
-If we want to take a week off, we have that option (eg. Vacation, emergency, or lack of harvestable produce)
-We can start earlier in the year than the usual June date (eg. April/may for Fiddleheads, leeks) and then not deliver again until crops are ready
-We still get at least some up front money as with a CSA, (assuming people are willing to pay into the credit system)
-People don’t get a bunch of stuff they don’t want
- We don’t have to portion out every item (some yes, but not all)
-If we don’t have enough tomatoes for everyone we can at least accommodate some on a first come first serve basis. In this way
- We can make sure we have some of each item available for the farm to enjoy.
The email list model sounds good on paper but doesn't everything... Problems I could see are:
-people not checking their emails in time, some don’t even have email
-nobody liking what we have on certain weeks and no orders come in, or some but not enough to make it worth our while,
- depending on how many members we have, that could be a crapload of emails to receive and process
-people changing their mind about their order when they get to the drop off
-customers might not have a good enough idea of what the portions will look like and might be unpleasantly surprised when they pick up (eg. An ounce of mint)
-We’d have to station someone from the farm at the drop off for the duration of the drop off period,
Some possible solutions;
-In the email we could put a description of what each portion size equates to, maybe even pictures. Also, we could put taste descriptions and recipe ideas which might help sell the lesser known items.
-If we don’t get enough orders one week, we could let customers know, and maybe some could come to the farm for pickup, or wait another week
-We could make people sign a form which deals with changing of minds. (eg. You have a certain amount of time to back out of or change the order but after that you’re held to it.
Recipes, pictures, and so on are a good idea. Let people know how to use fiddleheads, and they will be much more likely to buy.
This doesn't solve your lack of demand issue though. If you have crops harvested and they don't sell, you will need a backup market that you can sell to. Worst case scenario, you end up feeding it to the pigs or composting it. Best case scenario might be that you find a local farmers market that you can set up a table at. Ultra-best case scenario, you have anticipated your markets desires correctly and you don't have this problem .
folks picked up their orders at the farm, and we didn't staff the register, we just put a box out for their money.
I think the website store is a good solution to some of the problems. get the money up front. otherwise, if folks stiff you, kick them off the list. unless you end up with a whole lot of customers on the list, it's pretty easy to just print out everybody's e-mails on harvest day to pick from. calculate totals of everything for a pick list, then reference the individual orders for bagging or boxing. the process would probably end up about the same if you set up a web store.
if somebody doesn't have an e-mail address, it would be relatively easy to call them with availability. I can't imagine you would have a huge number of customers in this situation, and it would probably be nice to make a phone call to a couple folks each week even if they do use e-mail.
the farm has a pretty long history and is well-established in the local community, which is a pretty huge advantage in this case. even so, the restaurant orders are consistently larger than the combined e-mail orders.
we did pretty standard units. by weight for most stuff and by the head for lettuce or cabbage and by the bunch for kale or chard or other greens. berries were by the pint. nobody seemed to have much trouble.
Probably more complicated than it's worth in your case, but I think it's the academic solution to this sort of problem. Also, I could see the software being worthwhile to quite a few operations.
Tamo; we did a weekly farmers market last year, we've got contacts with restaurants, chickens, pigs, interns, and two deep freezers so we should be alright to get rid excess in some way or another.
Joel; the auction idea sounds a bit too complex but its worth considering
Tel; thanks for that. I think it was you actually.
I have heard that the software to make this happen was developed with grant money, and that the software might be available to other producer coops who may need it. Contact Bob Waldrop.
Another one is here:
I also know a chicken producer who did a prepaid plan. He sells at farmers market, but got people to prepay a season in advance. They have a year to stop by the market and pick up meat, which is then deducted from their account. In this manner the farmer has enough capital to raise the meat, and the consumer can skip weeks whenever they like.
I've only been on the customer side of the CSA, and I remember thinking that I wished I could have just a little bit more choice. Like, maybe you could have boxes filled with slightly different offerings - things that mix and match stuff you have in abundance with stuff in more limited supply. People can choose between three or so options for the week? I dunno, maybe that's a more complicated than it sounds idea.
The farm I use to work on would have people get prepayed cards. They would sign up for their CSA "share" and it would be put on the card. Then they would shop at the farm stand and swipe their card. If they wanted more a certain week they could if they wanted less they could. If they ran their card to zero they could refill it. It is my favorite CSA model so far.
I really like that idea, but the whole plastic cards and reader sounds expensive and kind of resource intensive.
Could you do that with analog technology? Like, everyone puts money in a prepaid account ledger, and the farm subtracts from that account each week when the customers come in. More work for the farmer, not as fluid and quick as the card, but only requires a book and a pencil.
I'm liking the ledger idea. Simple, low tech, and you don't have the problem of people losing/forgetting their cards. Its hard enough getting customers to bring bags & boxes back.
The website idea is looking less feasible as I'm not sure we could make time to manage that.
Still apprehensive about changing the CSA model and having it blow up in my face but the normal model sure has significant downsides. Sooo stressful, especially at the beginning of the year.
The feedback I get is that people really like getting my emails. I've had a few people ask to cross them off my email list, but they're almost always people who don't order bags anyway.
I let people switch out stuff they don't like. More oranges instead of turnips, for instance. What I've found is that generally people are happy with what's in the bag, and only a few want a special order. No one who's ordered has ever changed their minds. There are pros and cons of course. Because there is no contract to sign, it's unpredictable how many deliveries I will have each week. My biggest worry is that I can't fulfill orders because I have too many and not enough produce. Hasn't happened yet, and when I expect to get tons of orders each week, I'll put a limit on how many deliveries I'll make. Tell folks it's first-come, first served. That will encourage those who really want my stuff to pay for several weeks at a time to ensure they get a bag.
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