This year (2017) is the third straight that we have offered a poultry CSA. (You can check out particulars here.)
The share consists of a variety of table birds at a variety of ages: heritage chickens (as 1-lb. poussin, 2-lb. broilers, 3-lb. fryers, and 4-lb. roasters), duck (Pekin and Muscovy), guinea fowl, heritage turkeys, and geese.
The first year, we set a goal of 12 lb. per month. (Depending on the bird, it was a certain number at a certain weight, varying month to month.). This was somewhat arbitrary, but it seemed a reasonable amount. Because this was (it turned out) too much for some folks, we offered a full share and half share the next year. For year three, we did away with the roaster chickens, and moved some things around a bit (duck in early spring as well as fall, guineas twice instead of once). We also changed the pricing structure so that the upfront payment covered only the smallest possible turkey and goose; the customer would pay the balance upon pickup. This made it more fair, as each customer would then pay for exactly what he or she received, rather than paying for the average and getting something larger or smaller. Lastly, we offered an a la carte option, so people could order precisely what they wanted rather than the pre-determined share. One out of thirteen customers chose this.
Pros of this model:
* By having a set price for each share, the cost per item and cost per pound is effectively hidden. It's no secret that it takes money, and a fair bit of it, to produce poultry in this particular way. Maybe some folks work out the math anyway, but there is some pricing psychology at work in keeping individual amounts somewhat hidden.
* Folks seem to enjoy the pre-set shares. I don't know if this is because it's simply easier than selecting everything oneself, if they're just happy with the amounts of what's in the share and have no desire to deviate, or what. I expected the a la carte option to be employed more widely, but alas.
Cons of this model:
* It binds us to a quota. This is what precipitated our looking afresh at the whole concept. On a farm, things die. Predators, weather, disease, no reason whatsoever. They just die. It's stressful enough when those deaths amount to monetary loss, but even more stressful when we still owe our customers those birds, or an equivalent value. (Yes, part of the CSA concept is "shared risk," but I don't think that reaches here. It's one thing to say, "Gee, the beets failed, but you're still getting a lot of other stuff." It's another to say, "Well, we don't have birds for you this month. Thanks for the money, though." Especially when we feel that at least part of that loss could have been avoided.)
* It is concerned with only part of what we produce, and we are left to market everything else through other channels. In other words, it doesn't recognize the whole farm and its interrelated components.
So what we are considering for next year is a complete shake-up. Rather than offering a Poultry CSA, we'll offer a whole-farm CSA, a la carte. Folks would pay a certain amount up front (we'll set a minimum), and they can purchase what they want when they want, and we'll deduct it from their balance. They can add more money at any time. We will develop a chart that shows what we'll have throughout the season.
Pros of this method:
* Flexibility. Customers can get as much as they want (within reason), when they want it. If they're out of town, no problem. They can avoid things they don't like and stock up on things they do.
* Competition. Most everything would be sold first come, first served, which will hopefully incentivize spending.
* There is no money changing hands. All actual "sales" took place at the beginning of the season. This makes it more likely that customers will be more free to add things to each order/pickup, since they're not directly paying for it.
* Ideally, this will help us move away from the drudgery of the farmers market.
* Matching production with sales. I'm not concerned with the possibility of overselling shares/dollar amount, but with the possibility that some folks are particularly stingy with their balance and rarely redeem it. In other words, we're producing lots of X, but people are holding out for Y. Hopefully this is avoided by points two and three above. If we still have problems, we'll just have to explore other sales outlets, which will probably be required anyway.
* The exact price per pound is clearly seen, which might turn people away from some items that they might otherwise want.
There are other pros and cons, but I'm feeling done typing on this little phone, and I think those are the main ones anyway, so I'll leave it at that.
What changes would you make? Suggestions? Other thoughts?
So, a list of things we can sell, now:
stewing hens & spent roosters
ready-to-eat (e.g. duck confit, duck prosciutto, rendered goose fat)
Other poultry products:
feathers (guinea feathers are particularly attractive)
goose and duck down
ready-to-lay pullets, breeding birds
Other livestock products:
beef & veal (probably only by-the-cut)
pork (preferably wholes & halves)
lamb (preferably wholes & halves)
skins/hides/skulls/bones (from farm-processed animals)
sheep fleeces & wool
corn & cornmeal
greens (dandelion, lambsquarters, chickweed, chicory, amaranth...)
cut flowers (wildflowers)
bread (whole-grain, sprouted wheat sourdough)
hides & skins from wild critters (rabbit, squirrel, coyote, raccoon...)
grapevines wreaths (with or without cedar greenery)
corn shocks (for fall decoration)
small bundles of hay (have you tried cooking with hay? it's unique)
fruit wood for smoking/grilling (from pruning the fruit trees)
I made a list a few days ago, and I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting some things, but that's a fairly decent variety if I do say so. Some of those things we have in abundance, some would be pretty limited quantities, but I think that makes a good little bit of production. The idea is not, I will note, to offer a "whole diet" CSA, but a "whole farm" CSA.
Then there are the things that we have produced in the past, that we could do again, and things that we are working on scaling up:
winter kale & cabbage
How to get people to sign up? We've had a return-customer rate that is right in line with what I understand national averages are. There are some folks who I'm pretty certain will continue to sign up. One upside to the proposed whole-farm a la carte CSA is that our current Poultry CSA customers can sign up and only purchase poultry, if they so desire. Nothing need really change for them.
Looking around at other farms, I have noticed that a few who offer a la carte shares will add a bonus dollar amount (say, 5% or 10%) for customers who sign up early. That seems a reasonable incentive.
I mentioned before my concerns about matching production with sales, with the potentiality of folks signing up for the CSA but not redeeming their dollars regularly. For starters, I like to think that the people who would be interested in such a CSA and who would be willing to pay a significant amount of money up front would simply be unlikely to do that. The fact that they're able and willing to sign up surely indicates that they're more than happy to purchase from us regularly. Even so, I wonder if a minimum regular usage amount wouldn't be indicated. Say, CSA members have to spend at least $50 per month, or they lose a certain amount of their balance, say $5. (This is similar to what companies that offer gift cards do--eventually they expire.) We would be understanding if someone were traveling overseas for a month, for example, but I think that requiring regular purchasing is reasonable. Do you?
Some of this is is me just thinking 'aloud,' but a larger part is me seeking feedback. I want to get this thing ironed out sooner rather than later. Since we're making such a big change, I want to be sure that we hit the ground running next spring. We will surely need to make adjustments in subsequent years, but I want them to be minor in nature; I don't want to have to make any major changes because we overlooked something we shouldn't have overlooked in the first place.
So what advice have you got?
(On a side note, here is a great read from a CSA farm that has helped to refine my idea of what our own CSA could--and probably should--be: https://biodynamicsbda.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/csa-as-involvement-in-the-whole-farm-a-letter-to-shareholders/)
In addition to your standard CSA, why not just have everything available a-la-carte, instead of an a-la-carte CSA with a minimum purchase? Maybe one person (or chef at a restaurant) will want a whole bunch of your least selling item. I'm thinking out loud here, perhaps you've already tried this and it didn't work out as well.
Wes Hunter wrote:. Say, CSA members have to spend at least $50 per month, or they lose a certain amount of their balance, say $5. (This is similar to what companies that offer gift cards do--eventually they expire.) We would be understanding if someone were traveling overseas for a month, for example, but I think that requiring regular purchasing is reasonable. Do you?
If I signed up and was subject to this I personally feel like this is penalizing. People hate losing money, or even worse having it taken from them as a penalty after making a deposit. Instead of taking money from those who don't spend $50, how about "rewarding" those that do with a free something-or-other. Something that doesn't cost you much, for example maybe a couple cucumbers or one head of garlic? I never studied economics but I do know that I personally would choose a program with "incentives" over an identical program that could possibly penalize if I failed to meet a requirement.
This is kinda ramblings from my brain and I hope it helps you
The poussin will most likely be going away. We have to charge substantially more per pound than fryer chickens just to make the same amount for our time. And, we switched to dry plucking this year, and at the appropriate age (8-9 weeks) their feathers are at a stage in development where they don't pluck nearly as cleanly, so then we have even more time sunk in them. Plenty of folks like them, though. They're tasty, the size is perfect for an individual, and they're quick and easy to cook (roast 'em for 30 minutes at 425F). But nobody seems to really love them, so we feel less compelled to keep offering. The biggest advantage, really, is that they give us a bird to offer early in the year. That, and because they're slaughtered younger we can somewhat avoid predation.
We sell more preset CSA shares than a la carte. We offered both in 2016 and had no a la carte sign-ups (with 12 standard shares), and we've got one out of 13 this year.
The thinking behind the whole new CSA is to incentive buying multiple things. Our current customer base lives on average 30+ miles away. Nobody, or next to nobody, wants to drive out here, even once a month, to pick up just a couple birds. If they were, we might offer the poultry share with a la carte options of everything else. Then again, our primary reason for moving away from the dedicated poultry share to an entirely a la carte share is to eliminate the quota that causes so much stress. But if we offer a CSA with all of the products mentioned above, then that probably appeals to a greater number of folks who'd be willing to make the drive, and it could wean us off the farmers market. Or, we might end up offering an in-town drop off, at least to get started.
I appreciate your thoughts on incentivizing frequent purchases rather than penalizing infrequent ones. I think you're spot on there, and it didn't even cross my mind. Thanks!
As for the first problem, if you're worried about oversupply, maybe you could offer 'end of season bundles' or something for a reduced price that might entice people to spend rather than hold out. If I were a costumer, I wouldn't be very wild about automatically reducing my balance if I didn't spend enough...
Skandi Rogers wrote:I Think people here would be very interested in the al a cart model, but I fear that is way beyond my website writing skills!
I've seen a couple websites with a la carte ordering forms, but that isn't the direction I'd go. Ideally, we'd have farm pickup and have everything displayed farmers market style, with all the produce and certain misc. items laid out on tables and in crates, (fresh) meat, milk, and eggs in the fridge, and some meat in freezers. Then it's just a matter of tallying each customer's pickup; I would not relish the task of aggregating all the online orders and boxing them up and whatnot.