Sales Channel Profit Margin Analysis Spreadsheet

My core mission at Small Farm Central / Harvie is, “make local farmers more profitable.”

As a local farm, you have many different sales channels available to you. For example, as some farms saw CSA sales decline, they shifted their sales to “small-scale wholesale” like aggregators or restaurant sales.

Or you may be trying to decide between running a traditional CSA and transitioning to Harvie — how will the extra costs and benefits effect profit margins? This spreadsheet helps me to be confident that I can help farmers be more profitable even as they pay us a higher fee than before.

Or perhaps you are considering moving to larger scale wholesale from direct-to-consumer channels: how will this change effect profit margins?

Each sales channel has a different cost and profitability profile and I realized that I could put this all on one spreadsheet so I created this “Sales Channel Analysis Worksheet” that is freely available on Google Sheets:

I have gotten feedback from several growers on this, but I would love more feedback and to keep improving this spreadsheet.

I have added comments to many of the cells to describe the thinking behind each assumption. Feel free to add your own comments and reply to mine! I think this can become an excellent resource for our community going forward.

To put in your own numbers, go to:
File > Make a Copy

I would love to see your work so share back with me!

The most interesting lines for me are row 38 with “Profit margin” and then extrapolating from that, ” Gross sales needed for farmer salary” (row 40). This data point describes, at a given profit margin, the scale of sales you need to drive through a sales channel to provide a fair farmer salary. However, “farmer salary” may also be paid through other line items like labor percentage (rows 3-6) or admin cost percentage (row 13), so that should be taken into account as well.

This spreadsheet does not tell the whole story of farm profitability of course and each farm will have different numbers, but I think it is a useful of making decisions and planning the long-term future of your operation.

How to Increase Lifetime Value of Member from $600.81 to $1,222.57 (+103%!)

I’ve talked for years about how retention is a key statistic for a farm share program. High retention means happy members, less work and marketing cost to maintain membership each year and it makes growth much easier!

There is also an argument I can make with math that makes it clear why retention is so important.

Here is a video describing the results:

Introducing Lifetime Value of Member

Lifetime Value of Member (LTM) is the measure of how much a member will spend with your farm over the life time of their membership.

Our newest staff member, Pablo is also a data guy so he has been digging into retention numbers on Harvie now that we have year-over-year data. We can compare that to data that came out of Member Assembler with the “CSA Farming Annual Report” that we did in 2014 and 2015.

In the 2015 Annual Report, we found the average year-over-year retention rate for CSA / farm share to be 46.1%.

For Harvie, we are seeing an average retention rate of 67%. That is a relative increase of 45% over a traditional CSA program.

This is a huge increase and validates the year of customer research that I did before developing the concepts that underlie Harvie.

So how does this translate to the bottom line or the “Lifetime Value of Member”?

So for a traditional CSA farm at 46.1% retention, on average each member will be retained for 1.29 years. Using the average cost of a farm share from the 2015 CSA Farming Annual Report of $465.75/year, the Lifetime Value of Member is $600.81.

For a Harvie farm share, to do a fair comparison I will use the $465.75/year and then add in 5% “delivery extras” sales because that is how much we see, on average, that members add to their share each week giving us $489.03/year.

At the average Harvie retention of 67%, each member will stay for 2.5 years. So the Lifetime Value of Member for a Harvie member is $1,222.57.

So this difference in retention takes the Lifetime Value of Member from $600.81 to $1,222.57. That is an 103% increase in LTM! Wow!

To be clear, this means that every Harvie member is worth twice as much a traditional CSA / farm share member.

Now take that increase, invest in marketing, invest in efficiency, invest in your employees, invest in your quality of life, or invest in spending time away from the farm with your family.

This is why I do the work I do. It is gratifying to see that my hunches and my research on how we can improve the profitability of CSA / farm share programs are being validated in the data.

“You’re Really Going to Pay That?” or How I’m Going to Make your Farm More Profitable

[Also in this series: The Albatross of Vegetables,  “We sold out 7 weeks before first delivery…”, Here’s how I help market farms  ]

(No time to read? Harvie is the kind of cost that makes you money.)

Dear Farmers and Supporters,

At the root, my work for the last 12 years has been about helping local farms achieve profitability. That’s my ultimate vision: that farming the way we do can and should be economically sustainable to the farm family and the people who work on the farm. (Read One Dollar, One Vote.)

I want to help farm achieve financial success, but to do that we need to charge for our services.

So, the case I must make with farms is, while you pay us, Harvie will at least maintain profit margins, if not increase them. If I can’t make this case, your farm should not adopt Harvie.

Here’s what farms using Harvie say about the cost of the service:

“The cost of Harvie seemed steep, and we definitely hesitated before signing up.  What we’ve realized is the cost isn’t just for great software, it’s for marketing assistance and customer service support, too.  I’ve spent significantly less time answering and solving basic questions like how to put a hold on a box, how to set a vacation hold, questions about payments, and so much more.  Our customers, even longtime members who would support us no matter what, have been extremely happy with the Harvie system, and tell us all the time how much they love it.  It’s hard to imagine going back to the old way of doing things, and I love giving our customers what they want.”  – Barr Farms

“We’re loving everything about Harvie. I initially was thinking my goodness a % of my sales goes to a tech company…and geez, another % to credit card processors??? In all reality, it works so well and the support that you receive with Harvie is amazing. You know when you finally get to that point that you can buy a really high quality tool that works so well in so many conditions….that’s Harvie. But that’s not it. They have people on their team that help create promo and marketing material for your farm. Its really exciting to be part of a great network of enthusiastic farm people. I’m a total cheerleader for Harvie because its helped my business.” – Sustainable Harvest Farm

“As a farmer using Harvie I can tell you that the fee is pretty easy to justify in saved time. I suspect I am one of the smallest farms using the platform, but this year for about $150/wk I’ve cut my share administration time down to about 30min/wk, increase customer satisfaction by miles and take two mornings off farming a week to spend at home with my toddler. I no longer have to track payments, deal with a complicated inventory system like when I used Farmigo, or even answer customer emails most of the time as Harvie support has usually answered and sorted requests or problems before I even sit down for lunch and check my messages. Best of all, almost all my work time is now spent farming! I haven’t tracked hours to be sure but I believe I’m saving several hundred dollars per week.” – Daniel, Country Thyme Farm

How much does it cost?

$500 one-time set up fee

7% of sales, with discounts for farms over $250,000/yearly revenue

3% fee for credit card transactions

Simple. We only get paid when you get paid.

What does this include?

  • The technology platform to run a high retention CSA / farm share program
  • Cooking Suggestion Engine: members get recipe and cooking preparation suggestions based on their box
  • We’ll set up your Harvie site for you
  • Marketing / sales assistance, consultation, and resources
  • High quality customer support both to you as the farmer and your consumers
  • Training from set up to setting delivery estimates to delivery logistics
  • On-going support from my team to make sure you are using Harvie

How to pay for it?

This is an increased cost, so you must account for this in your margins. There are a variety of areas you could look at to justify the added cost:

  • Many of our farms increase prices to cover the fee since this is a service to the customers.
  • Many farms give 10-30% more retail value in shares than members pay for. With Harvie’s technology and customized shares, members get what they want and they get retail value. This means that our farms can generate 10-30% more revenue off the same production.
  • Decrease in admin time means saving on staff costs – many of our farms report not needing a dedicated farm share manager.
  • Harvie helps farms grow membership so the same equipment can be used to serve more members which increases profitability.
  • Moving farm sales from low margin channels like wholesale to high margin farm share sales increases profitability.
  • Reduced marketing expense due to higher retention rates.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

If you are a “numbers” person you will appreciate this Cost-benefit analysis spreadsheet to quantify the added costs and benefits of Harvie. Download your own copy and edit with your own numbers using these instructions or I can work through this with you.

For example, an average 250 farm member farm will see a yearly net-benefit of $72,000 by joining Harvie.

Harvie is the kind of cost that makes you money.

Also check out:

Here’s how I help market farms

[Also in this series: The Albatross of Vegetables,  “We sold out 7 weeks before first delivery…”, “You’re Really Going to Pay That?” or How I’m Going to Make your Farm More Profitable ]

Dear Farmers and Supporters,

Hello, Stefanie here!  As Simon mentioned in the previous email, I’m the community manager for Harvie and my primary job is to help you sell more shares while simultaneously ensuring your members are the most successful farm share members they can be.

While it’s true Harvie certainly can “sell itself”, if your community doesn’t know, you’ve missed the opportunity! We realize farmers wear multiple hats and marketing efforts have a tendency to fall to the wayside when there is planning, planting and harvesting to tend to instead.

That’s where I come in.

I’ll work with you one-on-one to develop a strategy to meet your individual business needs. We’ll do a consultation call to get to the nitty gritty of your business goals and then we’ll work together to implement it.

Some of the key things we’ll help you with include:

Email drip campaigns

Social media strategy and images

Customized print materials like postcards, brochures, rack cards, and posters

Templates for press releases, lunch and learn presentations and farminars

Weekly marketing calls with Harvie staff and fellow farmers

Website reviews

“Why I Farm” social media campaign series

Want to hear it for yourself? Here is what Ford from Sustainable Harvest Farm has to say about the work we’ve done for him this year:

“Harvie not only provides a great software system for managing your CSA Shares, they also provide tremendous support on marketing. The team at Harive is there to help you promote and market your farm. In the past I would have had to hire a person to do that work, now I’ve got a wonderful team that helps me and understands my needs. Just this season alone the team at Harvie has created… farm place cards that are great for leaving with new contacts, a farmers market banner, a 3×4 sticker for my box trucks, a food storage guide for everything that we grow, a private Harvie only members FB cooking ideas group, and email content ideas for connecting with more customers. It’s so cool to work with a company that truly succeeds when you succeed. It’s a win win for everyone.  Thanks Harvie!” ~ Ford Waterstrat, Sustainable Harvest Farm

Think email marketing is dead? Think again! We generated close to 200K in sales from warm lead campaigns for the 19 farms who participated!

Joan at One Straw Farm said  “I would be very encouraging to anybody to try the warm leads (Harvie marketing lead) campaign. It blew me out of the water. I have people coming back from years ago. I’ve even been getting emails from people saying they are sorry they moved away. I’m happy all the way around. I’ve gotten 188 shares with Harvie’s marketing campaign.”

Diane Riehm of Riehm Produce Farm feels like we are part of her farm staff: “Stefanie has been a plus as the Harvie Farm’s community manager when it comes to marketing. She responds quickly. Works tirelessly to make sure that our farm gets the best looking materials and tutorials for our CSA customers so they are comfortable with the customization and personal profile tools. She has gone beyond our expectations with her skills in putting together for us drip campaigns and sales funnels tools. It feels like she is part of our staff here at the farm. If you want to bump up your CSA game just pick her brain and you will love what she does”. ~ Diane Riehm, Riehm Produce Farm, Tiffin OH

We also help your members be the most successful farm share members they can be: because what’s the point in spending all that time on marketing and sales if they never return?

A few key things we’ve done this year are:

Launched a Harvie Member private Facebook group that has seen lively daily conversation from members all over the US, Canada and Australia.

Provide your members with a thorough customer training series to get them familiar with the new system for you.

Ongoing creation of weekly recipe cards, storage tips, and videos to help members cook with their farm share.

Where to Store Your Farm Share Reference Guide

First recipe card

Harvie members being inspired by other Harvie members on the member Facebook group

When your farm joins Harvie, you are not only getting a great software system: you are getting a whole personalized marketing team right at your fingertips, because we don’t succeed unless you do!

Have questions about the marketing services we provide our Harvie farms? Feel free to reach out to me at

-Stefanie Jaeger
Harvie Community Manager

Also check out:


“We sold out 7 weeks before first delivery…”

[Also in this series: The Albatross of Vegetables, Here’s how I help market farms ,“You’re Really Going to Pay That?” or How I’m Going to Make your Farm More Profitable ]

Dear Farmers and Supporters,

In my last email, I talked about the retention gains of 15-30% that Harvie farms are seeing. However, there is a second question of equal importance: are farmers able to attract members and increase sales?


Robyn at Park Ridge Organics said , “We sold out 7 weeks before first delivery which was a huge relief and let us focus on farming. Harvie is worth every penny for marketing alone, let alone the efficiencies in managing members. It is saving me a ton of time.” She said that “Harvie sells itself” to members.

From Bart at Falcon Ridge Farm, “We completed our 10 week spring season back in June and are now nearing the end of our summer season.  Memberships are definitely up.  Last year for the summer season we were packing on average about 100 boxes per week.  This season we are averaging about 175.  So I am pleased with the growth.”

Heritage Family Gardens, “We are SOLD OUT for our 2018 summer season!”

Jade Family Farm, “I’ve exceeded my membership goals for the season…”

Looking at the numbers, between 2017 and 2018, the average farm increased their sales on Harvie by 235%. Part of this is huge growth number is due to farms bringing more of their existing business to Harvie, but every farm using Harvie increased sales by a minimum 20% between 2017 and 2018.

So how did this happen?

Two factors:

1) A more attractive program for members. It turns out, if you give people what they are asking for, they will pull out their credit card and buy. For example, custom shares, vacation holds, flexible share costs, payment plans, etc.

2) Increased marketing: Harvie is not just a piece of software, it is also a marketing service for the farmers. It’s like having a full time marketing staff behind your farm.

As I’ve said before, I think a major blind spot to grow CSA / farm share is that we don’t spend enough time and money on marketing. Harvie is giving farms a viable way to invest in marketing.

Also check out:

“The Albatross of Vegetables”

[Also in this series: “We sold out 7 weeks before first delivery…”, Here’s how I help market farms ,“You’re Really Going to Pay That?” or How I’m Going to Make your Farm More Profitable ]

Dear Farmers and Supporters,

The blunt truth is that CSA has a negative reputation in the marketplace. For example, there is this cartoon that calls a CSA membership the “albatross of vegetables”:



There was a vigorous discussion in our CSA Farmer Discussion group on Facebook when, in an article in the Chicage Tribune about the challenges faced by farmers competing with businesses selling “Imperfect Produce”, CSA was disparaged as a way for farmers to get rid of ugly produce saying,

“For years, farmers have been selling imperfect produce in boxes. It’s a practice known as community supported agriculture, or CSA…”

We’ve been customer unfriendly in general and it has led to this negative perception of CSA, especially now that there are many more opportunities for consumers to buy food they feel good about, resulting in declining membership numbers for many CSA farms. For an entry point into my thinking on this topic read “CSA: We Have a Path Forward”.

So “CSA is dead”? (This is a phrase I’ve heard from many long-time CSA farmers over the past few years).

Yes and no.

The old CSA where farms could pack a box full of whatever came off the farm, not worry about customer vacations, accept full payment up front, etc is dead, except for a few farms that have been able to build out that community and sustain it. In my experience, those farms are few and far between.

However, consumers still yearn for high-quality food from a local farmer they know and trust.

I’ve found through developing Harvie, when we listen to the concerns of members, when we learn why they have not joined, when we build a robust marketing and communication program, they will join and stay.

I can say this empirically now because I have retention rate data from farms before Harvie and now year-over-year retention data for farms using Harvie.

The farms that have adopted Harvie have seen a 15-30% increase in retention rate.

Retention rate has been my key metric for many years as I’ve thought about how to improve CSA programs. To see this number increase so substantially validates that I’ve been on the right track for the last four years. That is essentially what Harvie is: I’ve taken all my customer research and built a platform to fit the needs of the consumer while still retaining what is special about CSA.

I hate to use cliched terms like “game changer”, but this is a game changer for CSA.

Beyond being a true representation of member happiness, having higher retention rates makes it easier to grow or maintain membership and reduces marketing and customer acquisition costs because it is much more expensive to find a new customer than to retain an existing customer.

So, no more “albatross of vegetables”. There is so much room to grow our market. My analysis estimated 0.4% of U.S. households were in CSA programs in 2015. I still believe we can grow that to 5% over the next few years.

Also check out:

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 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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