CSAs: We Have a Problem

A thoughtful post about CSAs from Small Farm Central’s Simon Huntley is excerpted and linked below. His questions mirror some of the same that are being asked in the farmers market field about sales levels and how to build a regular, return shopper out of an occasional user or even some (of the majority) non-users. I am interested in his CSA research as the relationship between CSAs and farmers markets has yet to be studied in order to more fully understand farmers markets. The market box programs that he mentions are one great example of the shared characteristics that CSAs and farmers markets have that need to be better understood. I remember seeing this for the first time a few years back at the Lakewood Ohio LEAF market that used a CSA vendor as the anchor market vendor. That vendor had signs for their CSA members (how much of an item to take per share) but also a price for walk up non-CSA shoppers with a barter table at the end for CSA members to trade in items they didn’t want. The other vendors benefited greatly from this farmer being on site at this tiny weekday evening market. The last time I was there, the CSA/market vendor was only doing CSA shares (still managed by the volunteer market leadership) as the demand was high enough and other producers had been added to take care of market sales of produce. The whole thing was extremely well-managed, with a lot of opportunities for interactions for shoppers and vendors.
That is an example of a local organization using strategic thinking to build a market appropriately sized and structured for its growers and its shoppers. That thinking led to the organizers using the right type of place, products, people and procedures for their intention.
If only we had a list of the characteristics and projects for each type, we could shorten the learning curve and assist more partners interested in using markets as part of their program goals, and help producers by giving them better information on the outlets they can choose from, able to position themselves better to create the right business plan for those outlets.
As those who read here know, I am devoting my time to assisting FMC in building the Farmers Market Metrics program in order to gather data from the markets themselves that can help all of us find those answers. Certainly, the same framework can be used for CSAs and other direct marketing outlets to allow us to share the impacts on producers, shoppers and the larger community.

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 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.


Source: CSA: We Have a Problem

Local currency helps communities decide “Who tells your story”

This story is from one of my mentor think tanks,  the Schumacher Center for a New Economics on their community’s robust currency system:

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced a plan to redesign the $5, $10, and $20 to be more inclusive. Too bad we have to wait until 2020 to start spending money that reflects the diversity of our country… or do we? Residents of the Berkshire region of Western Massachusetts can already walk around with a diverse history of their region in their pockets – the local currency BerkShares celebrate some of the most important figures associated with the area.

One fan of BerkShares was inspired by the opening song from Hamilton to write his own introduction, in verse, for the woman that we celebrate on the 10! Thanks to Scott Grimm-Lyon for sharing his version of the story of Robyn Van En:

The ten BerkShare female farmer with just a prayer,
saw land controlled by the millionaire,
considered the general welfare,
knew food should not be grown elsewhere,
went into the town square,
preached against local laissez-faire,
and started the world’s first farm share.

Source: Local currency helps communities decide “Who tells your story”

How Veggie Co-ops and Ice Cream Collaboratives Could Save the Economy | Mother Jones

This entrepreneur throws some great numbers out in this excellent blog post and also entices us all with visions of local ice cream and veggies at what he, very interestingly calls a winter food bazaar. That typology term may fit in quite nicely to the project that we call Market CITY (Characteristics, Indicators and Typology)
His reference to Civic Economics and Ken Meter’s work is not surprising, since their reports (along with Michael Shuman at BALLE and Jeffrey O’Hara at Union of Concerned Scientists) make up much of the data that we are using to build the economic argument for local food systems.

How Veggie Co-ops and Ice Cream Collaboratives Could Save the Economy | Mother Jones.

CSA benchmarks

As many of you know, I am conducting research for a national indicator matrix for food systems. (See FMC story on this blog from a few weeks ago for more info…) so I am very much looking forward to this webinar and encourage you to register and to pass the info along to farmers as well.


CSA=Community Supported ARTS

How nice to see the alternative food system innovation spread to other cultural institutions.
Then Altheimer had her breakthrough. On an otherwise ordinary day, she rose from her cubicle. Racing across the office, Altheimer found her boss and blurted: “We should just do a CSA!” – only this time the “a” would stand for “art.”

Springboard partnered with advocacy group mnartists.org, and just months later, in May 2010, offered shares to Twin Cities collectors in the world’s first-ever arts CSA. Since then, the model has been reproduced in Chicago and Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s headed for arts organizations in Detroit, Miami, and Philadelphia this year; next year it’s slated for Akron, Ohio; San Jose, California; and Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Real Dirt on Farmer John-The Movie

How did I miss this movie?
A must-see movie for all food organizers. Farmer’s mind, farmer’s point of view.
Commodity farming, artist colonies, devil cult paranoia, homeopathic remedies, Rudolf Steiner, CSAs, body image remade by picking tomatoes, cancer, love, Mexico, giant bee costumes, community barn raising, and John’s mother Anna Peterson are all shared.
Independent Lens