“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”:

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Ouch.

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.

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