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The community-supported agriculture (CSA) movement has served as a foundation of the local food movement.

Starting at two East Coast farms in 1986, the CSA sales model grew by leaps and bounds through the 1990s and early 2000s. Regionally-focused growers loved the CSA model for its ability to lock in their customer base for the season. Early-season CSA deposits helped small farmers overcome a lack of traditional financing options available for small farmers and survive the spring-time cash flow crunch until their crops came to harvest.

Consumers interested in local food loved the direct connection to their local farmers, the seasonality of their weekly box offerings and knowing they were guaranteed delivery (or pickup) of hard-to-find locally grown and raised food without fighting market traffic or farm stand crowds.

But, similar to the experience of farmers markets over the last decade, the popularity of the traditional CSA model has declined as the local food marketplace has matured with more local food availability.

By the mid-2010s, anecdotal reports from CSA farms across the country noted a significant drop-off in CSA renewals and a lack in membership increases. Many CSA farms closed shop or went to other sales channels.

The culprit was multi-faceted. Especially in more mature food-growing regions, local food was increasingly available at on-farm stores, local grocery stores, and online ordering. Shoppers had many more ways to find local food without pre-ordering it months ahead. The rise of shipped food box models, ordered by the week, from non-farm businesses served as another significant source of competition to traditional local farm CSAs. In some cases, those companies marketed themselves as ‘supporting farmers,’ even if they aggregated purchased crops from conventional distribution channels.

But even with modern-day challenges, the CSA model is far from dead. By embracing new technology, traditional CSA farmers can offer new ways to meet consumer expectations and stand out from the competition while retaining the advantages of the CSA farm model they have loved from the beginning.

Increase Your Farm CSA Profits

When properly applied, the same online technology that has diverted CSA revenue can be used to reinvigorate CSA sales and boost your farm’s profitability.

1)  Switch to a Subscription Model

The traditional CSA model requires full payment for the season upfront. But only a small portion of shoppers can afford that large upfront payment. And many will not pay out that much money without trying a CSA experience for a trial period.

Instead, offer shoppers a ‘subscription’ plan, something most are already familiar with from similar services via other industries.

Offering a subscription-type payment plan on a quarterly, monthly, or even weekly basis makes the CSA commitment more financially palatable. And a subscription option gives new customers a chance to try out your farm CSA before fully committing. It also works better for customers who travel frequently and know they wouldn’t need a box during the harvest season every week.

You can still lock in pre-season cash by offering a discount for full payment at the beginning of the year, but ongoing subscription payments open the door to new customers and future revenue.

Choose an online platform with capability for CSA sign-ups and ongoing payment plan options.

2)  Increase Your Market Visibility

Today’s shoppers don’t look for new places to find food in newspapers or by listening to radio ads. They may or may not see a farm roadside stand. Instead, today’s consumers find and purchase food by searching online.

A farm website and active social media channels are an essential part of your online presence, but inclusion in a local-food platform will significantly increase your farm or food business’s online exposure. When geo-location services are enabled on a local food platform, new-to-you shoppers will find your farm CSA simply because it’s close to them and they searched ‘local farm food near me.’

Make sure any online store you choose has geo-location capability that automatically directs customers to local sellers based on their zip code. Another essential element for market visibility is the ability to seamlessly embed an online store link into your existing business website and social media.

3)  Make CSA Sign-Ups as Easy and Convenient as Possible

If there is one thing that has acted as a detriment to the local food movement, it is a convenience. Shoppers are busy and don’t have time to spend hours looking for their groceries; the same applies to a CSA.

When customers do find you, they want to be able to place their CSA order quickly and conveniently. Anything that makes ordering difficult can potentially lose a customer’s attention, patience and, subsequently, the order. Consumers want to be able to order online by simply adding items to a cart and paying for them all at once. This includes CSA payments.

Ask a potential online store platform if they include a click-and-pay option for potential customers.

4)  Simplify Inventory Management

Inventory management can be a significant time suck for CSA farmers, especially if you have other sales channels such as individual items for sale, wholesale sales, selling your goods at a farmers market or offering multiple subscription options.

Trying to track inventory across multiple platforms not only takes time but risks errors and overselling items.

Before signing up for an online store or marketplace platform, explore their inventory management options. Can you separate retail and wholesale stores? Or easily participate in group marketplaces or online food hubs with other local vendors while still linking your inventory together under a signal management platform?

5)  Invest in Secure Payment Processing

Many farmers don’t offer credit card payments because they are concerned about hacking and fraud. This is a valid concern.

A technology platform should offer leading-edge technology to keep business secure, stable and scalable. But for all the reasons listed above, not having online payment available will limit your CSA sign-ups and revenue.

The answer is to use an e-commerce application that partners with reputable gateway partners to ensure security protocols are implemented and customers are kept safe. What payment gateway does the online store platform use? Are they considered secure and reputable?

6)  Reduce Credit Card Transaction Fees

Another reason many CSA farms avoid online payment is that high credit card transaction fees can take a significant chunk of a farm’s profitability. And most consumers don’t appreciate an additional ‘credit card’ fee tacked onto their payment.

But direct debit payment options reduce credit card fees by as much as two-thirds and are capped at $5 per transaction (there is no cap on credit card transaction fees which can equal substantial charges on large CSA down payments).

Ask if you’ll have the option of taking direct debit payment options.

7)  Save Administrative Time

Lastly, an online platform can save CSA farmers critical administrative time- no more spreadsheets!

Most CSA farmers are selling their harvest through many sales channels, which means they are managing the payment and inventory management of their CSA subscriptions in addition to all of their other sales.

In addition to enabling sales, what reports are available through a potential online platform? Can you easily generate pick sheets? Historic sales data? Accounting information?

Ready to Revive Your CSA Sales? Check out Food4All’s Free E-commerce Platform Today

Food4All’s free online store for farmers, ranchers, fishers and food makers enables online CSA sign-ups and payments and securely deposits payments into your bank account, making ordering and paying for a CSA easy and convenient.  Food4All’s geo-location capability automatically directs customers to local sellers based on their zip code. In addition, the Food4All store can be easily linked to your existing social media and farm website, increasing your website’s online visibility in Google searches.

Interested in learning more about how Food4All can help with increase your profitability?  Contact Food4All today for a free demo or to talk to one of our friendly staff members.