Harvie Farms Local: An open-sourced model for online, home-delivered farm distribution in the age of COVID-19, and beyond

In January, I launched a partnership with a Pittsburgh based farmer and local foods distributor, Neil Stauffer, called Harvie Farms Pittsburgh.

The concept, that I call “Harvie Farms Local”, is about more than just Pittsburgh and is rather simple. It is a multi-farm local food distributor using the customer-friendly power of the Harvie platform and delivers direct to the consumer’s door.

The model has been very successful from a sales point of view. We have far surpassed our yearly goals already with very little marketing spend. In fact, we are working hard to just keep up with the demand for the program.

We have already started delivering, though the main season will start in late May. We are using Harvie’s “pop up farm stand” tools to run sales right now. The demand is huge. Last week, we sold out of farm boxes in 45 minutes.

My goal is not to compete with farms or existing distributors: what I want to do is build a successful farm product distribution system on top of Harvie that can then be used by farmers and other local entrepreneurs anywhere. In my view, figuring out this problem is what will truly change the game for local food economies. If we can perfect a distribution model that pays farmers to be farmers, rewards the costs of distribution, and serves the consumer well, local food can compete against national and international distribution.

In short, we need a viable business model for local foods distribution and I believe Harvie Farms Local can become that model. It is a business model, a spreadsheet, and a way of thinking that invites you to build a scaleable local foods distribution business from your farm or as a distribution business.

I conceived of this model before the threat of COVID-19 became apparent. In the meantime, this model has become even more relevant as demand for local food has surged, restaurants have closed, and online sales with home delivery is the preferred method for distribution.

Some key aspects of the “Harvie Farms Local” concept:

  • Multi-farm to fulfill a larger percentage of food for a household: a farm or small-scale distributor could fulfill this.
  • Goal of $1 million+ sales per farm distributor, because that is where the economies of scale start to get interesting
  • Thinking about distribution from a cost-of-goods-sold model — whether this is run by a farm or a distributor. 50-60% of the retail dollar goes to farm production, the rest needs to be allocated to the costs of distribution because it is costly and complex to run distribution as a stand-alone distributor or as part of a farm operation (ie packing materials, warehouse space, marketing, software, delivery, manager salaries etc). If a farm is running this program, there are essentially two distinct businesses: a production business and a distribution business.
  • Marketing is built into the model: 10% of revenue is ear-marked for marketing spend. This is very important for long term competitiveness in the marketplace.
  • Home delivery via a courier service
  • Simple for consumers to understand: One single large “farm box” with add-ons and a separate butcher box
  • Fully customizable to consumer via Harvie
  • Subscription + farm stand sales for one time boxes (with upgrade path and upsells for customers)
  • The free trial version of the program is that the potential customer simply puts in their email address, we give them a coupon code off their first delivery, then they get emails when a box is available for purchase. Harvie takes this raw traffic to the website and turns them into customers.
  • A packaging system using cardboard boxes with ice packs, liner bags, and insulating liners.

I want to “open source” the model to encourage you to build your own business in your local area. I want to share what we have learned so far, but understand that the Harvie Team will learn a lot more over the next 6-12 months. We want to learn beside you while we continue to develop the Harvie Farms Local concept and continue to develop the underlying Harvie software to further support the business model.

Let’s grow this model together. We can connect virtually and share a set of slides describing the business model, and a toolkit you can work with to adapt this to where you live.

Local food goes mainstream

Local food goes mainstream!
Local food goes mainstream!

Local food is no longer just for “foodies” at the fringe of the food system. Local food is now part of the traditional food system. This is a good thing! This is where the next wave of growth will happen in local food over the next 10 years.

This point was brought home to me in the last few weeks at the Farm to Table conference in Pittsburgh which joined forces with the Home and Garden show this year. The Home and Garden show brings in 100s of thousands of people from across the region to see 1800 exhibits in 10 acres of tradeshow space. It is a spectacle to see! And the Farm to Table conference is now simply part of it: we are rubbing shoulders with mattress salesmen, roofers, and European massage chairs.

Local food is for everyone now.

Local food is at Wal-mart and it is in our schools.

We are no longer an alternative to the existing food system. We are now the food system.

This is aspirational, of course. We are just entering the mainstream and there is so much work left to do, but I believe we need to act like we belong.

To continue to grow, we need to innovate. We need to think about convenience, price, and the offer we are putting in front of consumers. We need technology. We need farmers who are ready to take the calculated risk to scale up their operation. We need to spend more money and energy on marketing.

What worked for the “true believers” (0.5-1% of the population that has supported local farms) will not work as we aim towards 5-10%. This next slice of the market has different expectations and needs.

Harvie is my contribution to this effort, but it is going to take a multitude of innovations to make local food an every day part of our food system.

What are you doing at your farm, in your business, or in your organization to take local food mainstream?

Your friend in innovative farming and marketing,
Simon.

-Simon Huntley
CEO/Founder – Harvie
http://harvie.farm

A Vision for 5 Million CSA Members by 2030

By Simon Huntley

Originally published on the Small Farm Central blog on 02/17/2017 

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the future of CSA farms over the past few years. With CSA Day 2017 upon us, I wanted to take time to reflect on where we are, where we are going, and why we are doing this.

I am passionate about CSA farming because I see the special connection between farmers and eaters, but also see a path to an economically sustainable small-to-medium scale farm. I believe that economic sustainability is tied extricably to agricultural sustainability and that CSA is an important part of that puzzle because it allows a farmer to control his or her market with a degree of certainty and margin that no other marketing channel allow.

In addition, CSA is the most direct connection that an eater can have with his or her farmer and is a connection to the land that an eater can’t get in any other way. Through CSA, we imbue food with meaning, story, and connection. In a world of intractable problems, being a CSA farmer or CSA member is an act we can take to make life better for our land, economy, and community as a whole.

The CSA Market Right Now

However, CSA only touches a tiny minority of households. I was focused on this fact through the Local Food Marketing Practice Survey that was released in December by the USDA (hat tip to Elizabeth Henderson for emailing the data to me). This data is for the United States only, but I think the lessons can be applied anywhere in the world.

They list the total sales of all 7,398 CSA farms at $226,000,000 in 2015. In a lot of ways, I look at that data and think CSA has been a huge success in 30 seasons in the United States. This is a concept that has resonated with the public without any corporate, governmental, or moneyed interests behind it.

On the other hand, let’s look at that data in terms of the overall food marketplace.

If we take the average share price data from our CSA Farming Report of $450, then we get the number of approximately 500,000 CSA shares sold in 2015.

There are 124.6 million households in the U.S., so that means approximately 0.4% of US households purchase a CSA share each year.

So, despite the huge success of the CSA concept, it is still very niche. Looking at these numbers, I can’t believe that 0.4% is the ceiling of CSA.

I think CSA farming is so important for farmers and eaters, so I am setting a goal of growing the overall CSA market by 10x, to 5 million households, by 2030.

Even with this exponential growth of CSA, we will still be serving only 1 in 25 households in the United States. That is still a small slice of the population and I believe that is possible for us to get there.

However, what got us to 500,000 CSA members, will not get us to 5 million. We need to reimagine what CSA is to appeal to a much wider demographic and we need to get better at articulating the values of CSA. Your customers and potential customers work hard for their money too, so we must appeal to their values and their interests as we plot a way forward.

While we reimagine CSA, we can’t lose sight of what has made CSA such an impactful concept. I believe that if we simply compete with the grocery stores or the Blue Aprons of the world, we lose. CSA must be about more than a simple box of food.

What will this growth of the CSA market mean for your farm? What will this growth mean for the overall local food market? How do we get there?

I ask these questions, but I don’t have the answers. I have some guesses. However, I believe that reaching this goal it is possible if we all work together on the local, regional, national, and international scale. I want to start the conversation with you because I believe that this growth is essential for a thriving local food economy and, I worry that if don’t radically grow CSA, it will become more niche and eventually wither on the vine.

I firmly believe that when we all do better, we all do better. Your success is my success.

I would love to hear from you: how do you feel about this goal? Is it reasonable? Do you have ideas on how we can get there?

I can be reached at simon@smallfarmcentral.com. We can continue the discussion on the CSA Farmer Discussion group on Facebook (request access here), at winter conferences, and in the fields.

I look forward to growing with you over the next 13 years!

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