Join Our Team: Support Specialist

Harvie (http://harvie.farm) connects local consumers with local farmers who deliver shares of farm fresh products customized to their personal preferences.

The company behind Harvie is called Small Farm Central and was started in 2006 to meet the technology and marketing needs of local farmers across the US, Canada, and internationally and has served 1000s of farms in the last 12 years. Harvie was introduced in late 2016 to address the changing landscape of food buying and to help farmers grow sales and profit by making local food more accessible through a customer friendly CSA / farm share model. The concept has grown rapidly. In 2018, Harvie will help 35 farmers deliver over 100,000 shares with much more growth in 2019 and beyond.

To keep up with growth, the Harvie Team is hiring two Harvie Support Specialists.

The Harvie Support Specialists work as the front line of customer support for both assisting our partner farms as well as their customers.  Support requests come in through several channels, primarily email, but also phone and online chat. Support for our partner farms includes everything from setting up new accounts to training farm employees on software features to everyday problem solving.  Supporting our farmers’ end users often involves more mundane tasks such as helping them get signed up, scheduling vacations, billing questions and other account management issues.

As with any small company, this position will be multidisciplinary and will occasionally include work involving other aspects of the company including marketing, product development and testing.  

This is an exciting opportunity for independent, self-starting individuals who are ready to grow with Harvie.

Important details:

Full-time position with some flexibility (32-40 hours/week)

Competitive salary adjusted upward with experience

Health benefits, retirement plan, and paid vacation

Harvie farm share paid for by the company and delivered to the office by Rivendale Farms!

Office on North Shore of Pittsburgh, 10 minute walk from downtown, free parking

Relaxed dress code and office environment

Regular weekday schedule with some regular weekend coverage required

Equal Opportunity Employer

Requirements:

Highly organized to manage multiple goals simultaneously

Puzzle-solving — deductive ability to get to root causes of problems

Comfort with friendly phone support — support is unscripted and requests are often unique

Ability to explain technical concepts in a non-technical manner

Comfortable running demos and speaking on the phone

Ability to write courteous, friendly, and clear support emails

Ability to learn or have experience with web-based utilities such as Google Suite (Gmail, Google Docs, Hangouts, Google Sheets), Zendesk, Atlassian Suite, Slack, and Skype

Apply

Send resume and cover letter in PDF format to qroth@harvie.farm with subject line “Work at Harvie”.

Join Our Team: Harvie Graphic Designer Position

Harvie (http://harvie.farm) connects local consumers with local farmers who deliver shares of farm fresh products customized to their personal preferences.

The company behind Harvie is called Small Farm Central and was started in 2006 to meet the technology and marketing needs of local farmers across the US, Canada, and internationally and has served 1000s of farms in the last 12 years. Harvie was introduced in late 2016 to address the changing landscape of food buying and to help farmers grow sales and profit by making local food more accessible through a customer friendly CSA / farm share model. The concept has grown rapidly. In 2018, Harvie will help 35 farmers deliver over 100,000 shares with much more growth in 2019 and beyond.

Harvie is seeking a part time graphic designer to work closely with the community manager to create:

Harvie brand guidelines

Harvie brand identity

Marketing materials for all Harvie farms to include social campaign images, brochures, posters, postcards, etc.

Marketing materials for Harvie to include social campaign images, email campaign images, blog images, farmer resource, videos, member resources, etc.

Other design tasks as projects come up

Required

Experience with creating brand identities

Experience working with food and/or farm type businesses

Other Details

This position will be a contracted, part time position with hours ranging from 10-25 per week with seasonal fluctuation.

This position has the chance to grow into a full time staff position as the needs of our business grows and evolves.

Office on North Shore of Pittsburgh, 10 minute walk from downtown, free parking

Relaxed dress code and office environment.

Open to remote working location.

Ability to collaborate with other team members in real time on projects.

Strong interest in local farming, agriculture and/or cooking.

Ability to learn or have experience with web-based utilities such as Google Suite (Gmail, Hangouts, Google Docs, Google Sheets), and Slack.

To apply, send a PDF resume, hourly rate requirements and portfolio to stefanie@harvie.farm with subject title “Harvie Design Position”.

CSA: We Have a Path Forward

By Simon Huntley

Last August of 2016, I wrote an article entitled CSA: We Have a Problem detailing my research into the struggles of CSA farmers to retain existing members and attract new ones. If you have not read that article yet, I suggest you go back and read that first. It still feels very relevant over a year later.

A lot has happened since:

Elizabeth Henderson spearheaded the development of the CSA Charter laying out our common values.

The 4th annual CSA Day brought together 1500 CSA farmers.

Amazon bought Whole Foods to form what I am calling Whole Amazon.

I called for 5 million CSA shares by 2030.

Blue Apron went public and is in a lot of trouble.

For our fledgling industry, the signs are not positive. CSA still serves just 0.4% of U.S. households. Blue Apron and the 100 other copy-cat meal delivery services have taken the food-in-a-box model and reduced it the absurd level of shipping to your door a tablespoon of butter or a single egg in a carton. Growth of CSA farms within our data set has leveled off. Whole Amazon is in a price war with the grocery industry. Wal-mart is advertising local food.

So why am I optimistic about the survival and growth of CSA?

For one thing, look at all of the competition in this market! The fact that big business wants in tells us that we really have something here.

Listen to the Blue Apron ads. What is the first thing out of their mouths? They claim to support local farms, which is an obviously false claim (at least exaggerated) since they put together the meal kits in centralized factories and ship them throughout the country. So by definition, they are not supporting farms local to their consumers. However, with their millions spent on advertising agencies and analytics, they still feel like “local farm sourced” is their strongest lede.

The difference is, in CSA, we actually are farm direct. 

CSA will not be exactly the same model as the one that thrived from the 1990s to the early 2010s. Almost every industry has changed radically since 1990 and ours has too. I believe that the “classic CSA share” is becoming a relic of the past.

I believe we need to understand our members better. Even more importantly, we need to understand our non-members better. What is it going to take to get the next 5% of the population to consider joining a CSA? It likely needs to be a different “CSA product” package and different marketing message.

As I look towards the future, I am aware that the CSA model has been remarkably successful since it was introduced in the United States in 1986 and we must not lose the essence of CSA as we innovate. If we try to compete with grocery stores, aggregators, or Whole Amazon, we will lose. We cannot compete on price, variety, or convenience, though we do need to consider those factors. We can compete on relationship, taste, quality, and freshness. Blue Apron can’t compete with that. Wal-mart can’t compete with that. Whole Amazon is no longer interested in competing on anything other than price and convenience.

What is a CSA?

If we are going to innovate, we need to know what a CSA actually is. The CSA Charter released in February of this year goes a long way to describing that. In my article “CSA: We Have a Problem” I listed the following characteristics that are essential for me:

Direct connection between one farmer and the member.

The majority (> 75%?) of the share is grown on the farm. Any off-farm produce is clearly labeled as such.

The customer commits for the season and pays some amount ahead of time.

The customer is flexible about what is in the box each week based on what is harvested from the farm.

This framework allows us innovate to make CSA more customer friendly without forgetting what has made this model successful.

Based on my research here are some innovations on the “classic CSA model” that make CSA more customer friendly and will help us reach the next 5% of households:

Box choice: the standard box just doesn’t work for people, and in the era of choice and convenience, a standard box is no longer good enough. This is the big one based on my research.

Flexible weeks: every-other-week options, switch delivery days and locations based on vacation or other factors.

Flexible share sizes: smaller shares for single person households

Keep the farm front-and-center: how do you get people to know you? Members form the relationship with the farmer and that is what keeps them long term.

Payment plans: reduce up-front cost, take payments throughout the season to decrease sticker shock and open CSA up to more people. Emphasize the weekly cost over the seasonal cost.

Online payment: if you are not taking credit cards, you are losing customers, especially young people.

Cooking education: connect the dots between the box and dinner table. If the member does not get food on the table, nothing else matters.

Delivery convenience: work into people’s lives. That could mean home delivery (though I’ve found that members are often not willing to pay the extra price for this), workplace drop off, grocery store drop-off, or simply more drop-off locations.

Communication: make sure the member knows everything they need to know to be successful with their share. Give a weekly farm update, consider video. 

CSA is not expensive: the average CSA shares costs $25/wk or $100/month. That’s less than most people’s cell phone bill or cable bill. It’s less than buying a latte at Starbucks every day. One month of CSA is less than cost of one single meal for the whole family at a quality restaurant. We need to find a way to change the conversation around price of CSA and put it into the proper context.

In addition, there is a general problem that CSA by-and-large serves a very thin slice of the population: 30-50 year old, educated, white women (see Ryan Galt’s data). How do we grow beyond this demographic? How do we pull millennials into this? How do we serve less well-educated, less affluent populations? How do we make non-whites feel welcome in CSA programs? I think it is a huge gap that we need to overcome. In fact, in terms of health outcomes of CSA membership, the biggest gains are to be found among people with negative health indicators, who least likely to join a CSA currently (source Tim Walls from University of Kentucky).

Marketing and customer acquisition

Blue Apron is willing to spend $144 to acquire a single customer. I’m not suggesting that you should do this, but most CSA farms are spending $0 on customer acquisition and relying on word of mouth to bring in customers. With so much competition for these food dollars, that’s not going to be enough. Right now is the time to start working on a marketing plan for 2018. You are almost certainly not investing enough time and money on marketing.

Over the past year, we have been working on a new platform to address these issues and help our farms thrive over the next 10 years. We piloted this platform with 8 farms and 500 end consumers, delivering over 10,000 boxes this season. Look out for an email soon with further details.

Whether you decide to join us or tackle these issues on their own, this off-season is the time to get to work. These problems will not fix themselves. CSA is a genuine connection between a farmer and consumer and is more than the sum of its parts for both farmers and consumers. I want to see more consumers be able to take advantage of the health and well-being advantages of being a CSA member. I want your farm to be economically successful with the high-margin sales of CSA memberships so you can take care of your land, your family, and increase your quality of life. I want you to farm for the long term and not burn out. I want your kids to be excited to join your farm some day.

I know many farmers shy away from the intricacies of marketing and business. You likely did not expect that your work as a farmer would be as deeply tied to spreadsheets and advertising campaigns as it is to soil health. To serve your land, your customers, and your family well you need a solid business. That’s no easy task.

-Simon Huntley

Founder, Small Farm Central

CSA: We Have a Problem

By Simon Huntley

Since CSA migrated to the United States in 1986, this model has been remarkably successful. It has now grown to over 6,000 farms (estimated) in the United States and many more in Canada and the rest of the globe. All of this growth occurred despite the very grassroots nature of CSA, asking customers to pay up front, and the non-consumer friendly nature of the program. The current state of CSA would look like a huge success from the viewpoint of the CSA pioneers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 1986, however there are problems mounting in our community.

CSA still only serves a small minority of families. In my local market of Pittsburgh, I estimate that  5,000 CSA shares are sold per season in a metro area of 988,000 households. That means only 0.5% of households in this region buy a CSA each year. What a huge opportunity for growth! Of course, we won’t convince everyone to buy a CSA share. That’s fine, but even if CSAs grow membership by 10x, that’s still only 5% of households. I believe that we can get there, but it will not be easy.

As I have discussed in the past, big business has noticed the success of CSA. CSA is beset with competition from alternatives for access to local, fresh food like farmers markets, grocery stores, grocery delivery concepts, and more. I covered this in more detail in my article WILL BLUE APRON (AND OTHER MEAL KIT DELIVERY) REPLACE CSA FARMS?

Exactly 30 years from the founding season of CSA in the United States, I think we are at an inflection point. Anecdotally, many farms are reporting declining CSA sales, though I should note that this decline has not yet shown up in our data.

Will CSA exist in its current form in 5 or 10 years? I honestly don’t know. I think it could easily go either way: CSA could grow substantially or membership may continue to shrivel.

I want to make sure that CSA does thrive because I love what CSA does for farmers and for eaters — and CSA is a big part of what we do at Small Farm Central and Member Assembler! With this goal, I’ve spent the last six months digging into the research and doing 1-on-1 interviews with eaters to understand how we can reinvigorate the CSA model.

Retention is Key

Over the past couple of years, here at Small Farm Central, we have compiled the CSA Farming Annual Report and one of the most interesting findings of this report is the average retention rate of CSA members from one season to the next. In 2014 it was 45.2% and in 2015 it was 46.1%.

It took a while for me to recognize this as a huge issue, but I now see that it points to a profound disconnect between what a CSA customer thought they were going to get and what they got. Certainly, you will never retain 100% of your customers. People move, money gets tight, they try another CSA, but if your CSA is churning through half of your customers each year, you have a huge problem. Your business is on fire.

With a low retention rate, a CSA will have trouble maintaining membership, let alone growing membership to the desired scale. To me, it is about profitability. A high retention rate makes the life of the CSA farmer easier in marketing, it points to a happy customer base who will recommend the farm, and it creates conditions where farm profitability may exist.

Think of this: a new member has a huge hurdle to jump to join a CSA. They need to hear about the CSA model, then they research different CSA farms in their area, then they look to see which ones deliver near them, then they need to understand the model and which share type makes the most sense for their family, and finally then they need to reach for their credit card and make a commitment. So, clearly most potential customers never get to that last step. The ones that do are fully sold and fully committed to the idea.

Now they go through a full season and it doesn’t work for them for one reason or another (I’ll talk about this later in this article) and they cancel. What a tragedy for the farm and for CSA in general! We’ve lost another customer who likely will not come back to CSA.

Even on a macro scale, this is a huge problem. If a household tries a CSA and they are not satisfied, they decide they will go back to the grocery store, farmers markets, try a delivery service, or buy at Whole Foods. They likely will not seek out CSA again. We’ve lost that customer. Ouch.

As I’ve spent more time over the last year talking to folks about CSA, I have come to realize that in some circles, among certain eaters, CSA is known as the place where the farm dumps the produce seconds or where you’ll get a whole box of kale that you don’t know what to do with. This is not fair for most CSAs, but I’m afraid that the “brand” of CSA is starting to become tarnished. If this accelerates, we are really in trouble.

However, one study from California gives me hope for these lost members: former members were asked if they would join a CSA again and 74% said “Yes”, 23% were “Unsure” and only 3% said “No”.

Joining a CSA is about the Customer

If we want to see CSA continue to grow, we need to get a lot more customer-centric. I know a lot of CSAs are already trying to figure this out. First off, I suggest that you must talk to your customers more about why they join, why they quit, and spend the time to really understand that — don’t assume you know anything!

I’ve spent a lot of time knee-deep in the university research on CSA and doing one-on-one interviews with current and former CSA members so I’ll tell you what I have learned, but there is no substitute to actually talking to your customers. You must listen to their concerns with an open mind.

It can be really easy to get stuck in the way we are doing things now or having a producer-oriented approach — thinking, “I worked so hard to grow this food and build this farm! Why won’t people join?” But it is important to remember that everyone works hard for their money and they are buying something for themselves, not for you. A CSA farm is not a charity.

What makes a CSA a CSA?

Before you think about innovating on the CSA model to become more customer-centric, you need to determine what is non-negotiable in your CSA. What makes CSA special? Because key to this process is figuring out how we retain what is compelling about CSA while making it more customer centric. If we try to compete with grocery stores, I believe we always lose.

I did this exercise last year after the Midwest CSA Conference as I began thinking about what it would take to grow CSA memberships by 10x. You may agree or disagree with these attributes (and I’d love to hear your feedback on this part of it), but this is my concept about what makes a CSA a CSA:

1. Direct connection between one farmer and the member. 

2. The majority (> 75%?) of the share is grown on the farm. Any off-farm produce is clearly labeled as such.

3. The customer commits for the season and pays some amount ahead of time.

Everything else about a CSA feels negotiable to me. Within this framework there is a lot of room for innovation and we’ve seen a lot of innovation here at Small Farm Central through Member Assembler as we work with hundreds of CSAs across the country. Lots of farms are trying to figure out ways to attract and retain customers.

One concept that I have left out of my definition on purpose is “shared risk” that comes up in a lot of other definitions of CSAs. I leave it out because I think it is misunderstood: there is almost never true shared risk in a CSA. It is not shared risk in terms that the member may get nothing in their box during the season. In a diversified vegetable operation of an experienced farmer, the shared risk is that the member is being flexible about what they get in the box. For example, it may be a bad year for tomatoes due to blight, but there will likely be another crop that thrives in that same season and the customer will get more of that crop. To speak to this, I’ll add a fourth tenet of CSA:

4. The customer is flexible about what is in the box each week based on what is harvested from the farm.

For other viewpoints on this, check out California’s legislated definition of a CSA and the USDA definition.

Why do members leave?

I have been focusing my research on the CSA members that leave because these are the people that have expressed their dissatisfaction with the CSA model by not joining again. My thinking is that if CSAs are churning off 50% of their customer base each year, over time there are many more ex-CSA members out there than current members. These are people who “get it”, but were put off for one reason or another.

In Confessions of a CSA Failure published in the Chicago Tribune in 2015, Barbara Brotman writes eloquently about her first season in a CSA,

“..you can’t just throw [the vegetables] out — or at least I couldn’t. This wasn’t store-bought produce grown by some faceless, far-off corporation. These were vegetables grown by my CSA, lovely people who packed the boxes themselves and sent emails with pictures of their farm.

I felt guilty about all the spoiled produce we were throwing out. I felt a constant pressure to cook or eat our vegetables. I chafed at the loss of control over what foods we would get, and perplexed that you can have that much food in your house but nothing for dinner.

My summer in a CSA was a learning experience. I learned that kohlrabi doesn’t taste as scary as it looks. I learned that I really like beet, goat cheese and honey tarts. And I learned that my CSA also sells its produce at farmer’s markets.”

In this specific case, it sounds like the CSA just gave her too much produce and this definitely does happen. The worst experience for a member is to get their CSA box, feel guilty about not eating it, let the food rot, and then throw it out three weeks later.

Be careful not to think of this in too simplistic of terms: it may not have been too much food overall. Rather, it was too much of the wrong kind of food. One high retention CSA farmer told me that he looks at what sells quickly at the farmers market to know what to put in the box: if it doesn’t sell at the market, members don’t want it in their box.

So why do members leave a CSA? What can we do to improve retention rates?

As I started my deep dive on this issue, I had theories. It’s about paying ahead. Or it’s about convenience, they want home delivery. Or it’s about wanting more choice. Or CSA is too expensive.

However, I left my theories at the door and started talking to folks. In one of my 1-on-1 interviews with ex-CSA members, I talked with an 87-year-old woman who lives alone. Her main problem was that the pickup location was on a back porch with stairs and it was too hard for her to go get the share or to arrange for someone to pick it up. In addition, since she lives alone, she just didn’t eat enough produce to go through the entire box, so a lot of it went to waste. In this case, a CSA is probably not the best option for her! That’s OK! Remember, we’re not going to be able to serve everyone and we don’t need to.

Or there is Kathy who lives with her husband and two kids. Her main problem with CSA is that her husband is out of town every other month for work. She loved the CSA, but when her husband was out of town, most of the box would go to waste and it did not make sense for her. Perhaps if she could pick the specific weeks throughout the summer when she would get a box, CSA would work for her.

So as you can see, the problems are specific to each person’s circumstance so while there is a lot you can learn from these 1-on-1 discussions, we also need to zoom out to see the bigger trends.

There is a wonderful study out of the University of California by Ryan Galt that surveyed 1,149 current and 409 former members in 2015. I think the answers are in this study!

There is a lot of great data there including who buys CSA shares (gender, economic levels, and race), reasons for joining and more, so I encourage you to take a dive through the data yourself if you are interested. One really interesting point is willingness to pay: on average members said they would be willing to pay 19% more for their share. I would like to write more about value and price in a future article.

However for now, my focus is on ex-CSA members because this is where I see the greatest room for growth, so I focused on the slide titled “Reasons for discontinuing”.

The top four reasons in the study were:

Lack of choice about products included (41%)

The product mix did not meet my needs (47%)

Too little diversity in products in the share (33%) 

Lack of choice about quantity and/or frequency (23%)

So the top four reasons in this study for members who leave were all related to choice.

This is what came up in my 1-on-1 interviews as well. People wanted the ability to choose what they liked and what they didn’t like. I looked back at my CSA philosophy and I don’t see anything in there that means that everyone needs to get the same one-size-fits-all box. Some people like cabbage and other people don’t.

Choice is not part of the traditional CSA, of course. I see the standard box as a matter of convenience for the farmer rather than something that is key to the CSA model. Why does everyone need to love cabbage? That doesn’t mean that person does not support the farm any less. We just don’t have any mechanism to keep cabbage out of that member’s box and give it to someone else who loves it.

In addition, the feedback that you get at the farmers market is blunted in a traditional CSA. If a product is not favored by your customers at a farmers market, it’s obvious because it is what you pack back on your truck at the end of the day. In a CSA, you will likely end up hearing about it on an end-of-season survey, but the damage is already done by then and it may be easy to ignore that feedback. The product that was not favored rotted in the refrigerator and the member already has decided to shop at the grocery store or farmers market next season. So building better feedback in the CSA model is vital to improving year after year.

This comes up often in my conversations with farmers when they talk about survey data: the farmer reports that one member loves green beans and another hates green beans. What do you do with that information? You can’t do much in the case of a prescribed boxed share. You need to get more flexible if you want to serve both of these customers. Alternatively, you can focus on the more adventurous customers who are happy with the box as it is. If you are able to find and retain these members, then maybe choice is not an issue for your members.

A cross current to this “give them what they want approach” that came up in my interviews with CSA members is the CSA members value the adventurousness of being in a CSA program. Each week the box is a little surprise gift. It’s exciting to find out what is new and different, but there is a balance here. Too much adventure is overwhelming and the food ends up spoiling and ends with “veggie guilt” as one CSA farmer described it to me. To make it more complicated, each member’s “adventurous quotient” is going to be different. Some members will want just the basics while other members will cook everything you throw at them.

All of the other reasons that members leave CSA pale in comparison to the choice issue based on my research. This is encouraging because I think we can do something about choice without fundamentally changing the nature of CSA or the growing practices of CSA farms.

Always Be Educating

The issue of choice is complex because we don’t just want to give people what they know they already like — there is some chance that you can educate your members into liking beets for example. Maybe they just didn’t know how to cook them yet!

We need to remember that a huge hurdle to being successful in a CSA program is cooking. We are delivering a box of uncooked produce to a public that is not used to cooking with raw products. It’s a huge leap to take. One farmer described this to me saying, “people pay me to make their lives more difficult.”

Clearly, anything the CSA can do to educate members on what to do with the products in the box will go a long way. Videos, recipes, newsletters, cooking demonstrations and whatever else you can come up with! The cooking education can even turn picky eaters into adventurous ones over time.

It may not sound like your job as a farmer to do this kind of education with your customers, but if you want to retain the member you must focus on their success. Especially that first season is going to be a big adjustment for members, so provide as much support as you can to your first season members.

I think we can do a lot more in the cooking education end of CSA. It’s absolutely essential. There are companies out there assisting farmers with this including Local Thyme or Cook with What You Have.

CSA 2.0

In technology terms, “2.0” describes the next iteration, the next generation of a technology product. I believe we need “CSA 2.0” for CSA to thrive over the next 10 years. There likely will continue to be room for traditional CSAs in the marketplace, but to grow the number of families that participate in CSA, we need to become more customer focused. We need to serve eaters better because that is what makes happy members, keeps them coming back, and recommending CSA to their social circles. I know change is hard, but I hope to be a part of modernizing CSA and helping you be profitable with your CSA.

My research leads me to believe that it is fundamentally about providing more choice to members about what is in their box. There are many models out there already that provide that already.

A really simple and effective method is what I term the “market style CSA” where vegetables are put out in bulk and members are to box their own share (for example, Appleton Farms describes how their CSA works). Most often the share is prescribed to make sure the farm has enough of each product but some farms just tell members to take a certain number of items or fill their bag. A trading bin can be put at the end of the line to let members trade an item they don’t like for one they will eat. Though this is more labor intensive because each site needs to be staffed, this tends to lead to high retention rates. A few years ago when I studied three of the highest retention farms that use Member Assembler, all three were employing some kind of market style model.

I have ideas on how we can improve on the market style model, using customized boxed shares that retain what is strong about CSA while increasing retention.

I want some feedback from farmers before I am ready to release my ideas publicly, so if you are curious about where CSA goes from here or you are looking to make changes to your CSA, email me back and let’s talk!

P.S. As I look towards the future of CSA, I want to make sure I honor the past: one of the founders of CSA in the United States, Trauger Groh, died in July.

What is Harvie?

What is Harvie? It’s an online platform that connects local consumers to local farmers through a customer-friendly CSA / farm share model, including customized shares, payment plans, a Cooking Suggestion Engine and more! We want you to love your farm so your farmer can build a thriving business that takes care of the farm family, their employees, and their land. It’s been a long journey for me to get to this point: the story of why I created Harvie started almost 13 years ago.

In 2005, I helped a fruit farmer in western Colorado start a CSA / farm share program.

(CSA or Community Supported Agriculture refers to a model where local consumers buy a membership in a local farm and get deliveries of produce from that farm throughout the growing season. Harvie is based on the CSA model. For the rest of this article, I will refer to this concept as “farm share.”)

Thomas, the farm owner, was inspired at the Tierra Madre conference in Italy to start a farm share. With some good local connections, we got a story in the newspaper and the local TV station came out to do a segment. In a few weeks, we had over 100 families in the area signed up and we were up and running!

At Rancho Durazno with CSA members.

The community was hungry for fresh, local, and tasty fruits and vegetables. The appeal is obvious: get just-picked fruits and vegetables directly from a local farmer who you know and trust. There is no better way to eat seasonally and ensure that your kitchen is always stocked with high-quality delicious food.

For me, as an aspiring farmer, the appeal was obvious too.

I grew up on a small farm in southwestern Pennsylvania and all the farmers I knew had off-farm jobs as coal miners or teachers. It was clear to me as I learned more about sustainable agriculture that it is not a part-time job. To really steward the land and grow a thriving farm business takes 100% commitment which is difficult while juggling off-farm employment. In farm share, I saw a path for farmers to be full-time farmers.

In 2006, after two seasons spent on the farm in western Colorado, I started my company, Small Farm Central, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania joining my passion for developing technology products with my passion and experience in agriculture. In the intervening 12 years, we have served 1000s of farmers with our technology products that help farms directly connect with their customers.

In those years, farm share programs grew dramatically across the US and Canada. In 2015, there were an estimated 5,000-7,000 CSA farms in the United States alone. This model was becoming an integral part of keeping small and medium-scale farms in business.

From a set of early ad images I had done for Small Farm Central, our websites-for-farms business that was the first product I released.

Everything looked rosy through 2012 and 2013. Farms were able to grow their membership and replace the members they lost. However, around that time I started to hear rumblings of trouble from certain farms that never had trouble filling their membership and growing each year — they were losing members year-over-year. We released a report based on farms using our software that showed the retention rates of farm share programs was 50%.

Clearly there was a problem. Members were joining their local farm and then not sticking with it. Why were members leaving? In 2015, I started to take the problem seriously because I realized if I didn’t figure out a solution to the problems my farmers were facing, I was going to be out of business too!

First off, the food buying landscape had really changed since I worked at Rancho Durazno in the mid 2000s. The consumer demand for local food had changed the marketplace. There were a lot more farmers markets than ever before. Whole Foods had stores around the country. Local grocery stores were touting their local produce. Meal kit delivery services like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh were big news. Smartphones and apps had become ubiquitous. Two day shipping from Amazon Prime was becoming the expectation.

I spent time with the research papers on farm shares that came out of universities, I did large scale surveys with current and former farm share members, and had 1-on-1 long form interviews with members. I talk about my findings in-dept in “CSA: We Have a Path Forward”, if you are interested in more detail from the farmer perspective.

I was trying to find solutions. My idea was that to help the farmers I work with, farm shares had to better fit into people’s lives.

In my research, some common barriers to farm share membership came up repeatedly:

Too much food / wrong kinds of food / food waste

Almost all farm share programs use a standard share model where each member gets the same items in their box. However, none of us are “standard”. We all have likes and dislikes. If you don’t like beets (for example) and you get beets in your share, then you are either forcing yourself to eat the beets, giving them away to a friend, or throwing them away. All of these are bad experiences and I don’t blame you for leaving a farm share program because of this!

Shares from Harvie farms are customized based on your preferences and even allows you to swap items in and out of your box and purchase extras if you like! We have developed a system that makes this easy on the farmer, in the past this providing customized boxes was too logistically complicated to be viable.

Up-front commitment

Many farm share programs require paying the seasonal balance of the share up-front because this gives the farm capital to buy seeds, start field work, and get through the months before harvest actually starts. However, this high up-front payment is difficult for many families to afford.

Harvie allows you to purchase a share for 25% down and the rest of the cost is spread out over the season to keep the up-front commitment as low as possible. This a good compromise between giving the farmer some capital to start the season and member budgeting needs.

Figuring out what to cook is challenging

Cooking should be fun and simple, but we live in this fast-paced world with long hours at work, hectic child activity schedules, and everyone is begging for more of our time. It is difficult to carve out the time to focus on cooking and if you buy a farm share, you will need to do a little cooking!

Harvie’s Cooking Suggestion Engine provides storage tips, simple preparation techniques, and easy-to-cook recipes delivered by email based on the contents of your share each week so you can cook with confidence! The great news is with fresh, delicious ingredients that start with, it’s easy to be a good cook.

Changes expectations around technology

Members expect to sign up online, pay with a credit card, get regular emails related to their share, maybe even use a mobile app to communicate their preferences with their farmer.

Harvie farms sign-up is online, accepts credit cards and more is coming in the future. For example, we’ll send you a text message when your share is delivered and a native mobile app for Android and iOS is coming this year.

Vacations / schedules

When members go on vacation or cannot pick up their share for any reason, in a classic farm share program the member simply misses out on that week. That is not a good member experience and many people leave or do not join because they cannot commit to be at the pickup site each week.

Harvie allows members to move their delivery schedule around vacations or place shares on hold. Also more complex delivery schedules like every-other-week are available for members who travel more often or don’t need as much food.

With these barriers in mind, my team and I started development of Harvie in late 2016.

How Harvie works.

In the 2017 growing season, Harvie farmers delivered 7,000 shares. In 2018, we are growing quickly with over 100,000 deliveries scheduled and it is only May! Our farmers are selling out of shares early and increasing their retention rates. This keeps them in business so they can steward their land, take care of their employees, take care of their families, and keep growing food for you.

Clearly, there is still a hunger for accessing fresh and local food and I believe that farm share is the best way to do that for both farmers and consumers. Harvie aims to make it easier to be in one of these programs, we want you to love your farm share.

In addition, when you buy a share from a Harvie farmer you can be sure you are buying from a real local farmer (at least 75% of the share must be grown on the farm) and the farmer has the experience and infrastructure to deliver a quality share to you each delivery of the growing season. If you ever have any issues with your share, reach out to Harvie support or your farmer and we’ll make it right.

Not only are you getting the highest quality local food in your kitchen each delivery, this is a purchase you can feel good about. The USDA just released their most recent “Farmer’s Share of Dollar” report which looks at the amount a farmer is paid for each $1 spent at a grocery store. It reached an all-time low this month of 7.8 cents of each dollar. With Harvie, 100% of your dollar goes directly to the farm.

Mitch at Rise N Shine Farm in the Atlanta region was the first farmer to fully complete a Harvie delivery.

Our mission at Harvie is two-fold: to bring you local food as conveniently as possible so you continue to buy from your local farm. Your purchases help us fulfill our second mission, to keep small and medium scale local farms in business.

Not yet a member? Find your Harvie farmer: http://harvie.farm/farms

I always welcome your feedback on how we can improve. Please be in touch and tell me why you choose to support your local farm!

Happy eating!

-Simon

P.S. You might be wondering why the service is named Harvie.. It is a play off the word “harvest”!

Introducing Our Harvie Farm Share + Member Starter Pack Giveaway!

Welcome to our first ever Harvie blog post! To kick it off, we wanted to offer something extra special for all of you.

Enter to win this incredible prize of:

A farm share from your local farmer (up to a $500 value)*

Bounty from the Box Cookbook ($35 value)

Cook With What You Have Menu Planning Service 1-year Subscription ($35 value)

Custom Harvie Cutting Board ($35 value)

Harvie T-shirt ($20 value)

Harvie Coffee  Mug ($10 value)

Contest closes on May 8th with the winner being announced on May 9th!

Harvie Farm Share Giveaway + Member Starter Kit

Don’t forget to let your friends and family in on how great farm shares/CSA’s can be – share with them and you’ll get extra entries for yourself!

Happy Spring!