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The community-supported agriculture model of selling produce, meat, flowers or other farm products has been around long enough at this point that it can be hard for new farmers in certain markets to sell shares. Customers have tried it or have already found “their farm” and plan to stay with it.
Don’t be discouraged, however. There is still a ton of interest in CSA-style products from customers who increasingly want to know where their food comes from. I have put together a few options for anyone interested in starting a CSA or who’s having a hard time finding members for their existing one.
1. Visit the Suburbs
One of the most neglected areas for good, local food is also one of the most populous—towns outside of cities. The suburbs can be a great place to find new CSA members who might not want to come back into the city on the weekends, or who might be interested in home delivery (described below).
2. Offer Delivery
Having delivered our CSA to members for three of the six years we’ve operated it, I can honestly say it’s my favorite option for distribution. For one, you can charge for the delivery so your time is paid for. Two, customers love the convenience. That said, keep your delivery range reasonable. I suggest you draw a circle around a town or city then ask anyone outside that circle to either meet you inside of it or find a drop-off spot (like the house of a friend in the area). This is a must for keeping it profitable.
3. Hit the Gym Then the Books
Yoga studios and gyms are a great place to find customers interested in eating healthier and in supporting a local farmer. CrossFit or any similar club—biking, hiking, running—will do. Reach out to them, bring some pamphlets by. Libraries are also an excellent place to hang fliers and find people concerned about their diets and sustainable food. In terms of profession, our farm has probably had more librarians than anything other.
4. Up Your Social Media
If you hit the streets hard and put flyers up everywhere, that work will be all for naught if customers can’t then easily find you online, via Facebook, Instagram and a website at least. Those are the requisite media to utilize. Including nice photos of yourself or your family is even better. Putting a face to the food is a really powerful selling mechanism.
5. Use Email Lists
Start and utilize your email list. Some people are more likely to open an email than click a Facebook link. Sites such as MailChimp offer a lot of assistance and analytics related to the process, so you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.
6. Ask for Help
One philosophy that has always served our farm well is that you never get anything you don’t ask for. If you are struggling to fill all of the needed spots in your CSA, consider simply asking your existing customers to spread the word, share a post, text a friend, whatever they feel comfortable with. Offer them a small discount or perk if you need to. Nothing will sell your product quite as well as word of mouth, so there’s no shame in asking people to start talking about it. If you are uncomfortable asking customers to contact people, just encourage them to share photos and tag you. That always helps.
7. Join Harvie
There is at least one service dedicated to helping you find and connect with customers—Harvie. This service can also help customize boxes for you or offer flexible drop-off schedules for farmers, among other things. There is a cost, but it might be worth it if really trying to expand your CSA business.