Back on March 6th and 7th, Small Farm Central along with the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture held our second annual CSA Expert Exchange online conference. This year's event was held over two days. We had about 130 people register for the event overall. About 50 people attended the event live during the Thursday night sessions and about 90 attended live during Friday's daytime sessions. The sessions were recorded and are available for all registrants to watch and re-watch at their leisure.
The Thursday night sessions were focused on new farmers and those new to Community-Supported Agriculture. We had two sessions – one featuring Dave Liker from Gorman Produce Farm who talked about the first five years of his farm and CSA in Columbia, MD. Dave discussed the challenges of taking his farm from just a couple dozen CSA members their first year to over 400 over the next four years. Then Shannon Jones from Broadfork Farm in River Hebert, Nova Scotia presented on their experience finding proper farming land to purchase. Her story highlighted many of the challenges faced by farmers looking to find land including water and soil issues and the indifference of banks and other lending institutions in helping out young farmers.
Friday's sessions began with Karla Pankow of Bossy Acres farm in Northfield, MN, talking about how best to use marketing and social media to get the word out about your CSA and building connections with your members. Chris Brockel from CSA FairShare Coalition in Madison, WI talked about what it means to be a CSA coalition and the projects that their group has worked on to improve CSA's for both members and farmers in Wisconsin. Then there was a session on the legal issues faced by CSA farmers presented by Rachel Armstrong from Farm Commons. Pam Dawling, who writes for Growing For Market, talked about crop planning with an eye on ensuring the necessary timing of product and growing the right mix of product to meet your customers' needs while still making a profit. The day's activities were capped off with Michael Kilpatrick of Kilpatrick Farms in Middle Granville, NY, talking about the growing trend towards customizable CSA's and some of the different models that are currently being used.
We've learned quite a bit over the two years of doing this conference. We feel strongly that this is a great way of using technology to bring a variety of people together to learn about how to continually improve the CSA model. The online conference model allows farmers across the US, Canada and beyond to get together without the time and financial costs associated with going to an in-person conference. Over the course of the coming months we'll be analyzing how we can make improvements to the conference. We'll be looking for our next batch of “experts” to work with for 2015 and we'll be looking for new ways to make the conference engaging and educational for the CSA community.
We want to again thank all off the presenters for sharing their knowledge and PASA for their help in making the conference happen. This year we also worked with some great farming organizations that have helped get the word out about the conference including AgSquared, Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES), FairShare CSA Coalition, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, the Land Stewardship Project, and the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. Thanks to them for their support.
Here's some feedback from our post-conference survey:
“How useful was the CSA Expert Exchange? What was your overall impression of the event?”
On a scale of 1 (not useful) to 5 (very useful), 35.7% of respondents said it was very useful, with an overall rating of 4.0.
“Based on the price you paid for the conference, do you feel this was a good value?”
On a scale of 1 (not a good value) to 5 (very good value), 26.9% of respondents said it was a very good value, with an overall rating of 3.5.
“Do you feel the material was appropriate for your experience levels?”
77% of respondents said the material was “just right” with the remaining 23% saying the material was “too basic”.
“Did you find the format of the online conference worked well? Did you have any problems?”
While there were a number of concerns and suggestions about how to improve the online format, 76.% of respondents said that the “Format worked out well.”
“Would you register for another CSA Expert Exchange?”
70.4% of respondents said they would attend another CSA Expert Exchange.
The archived video version of the event is still available if you are interested in still checking out the conference. To purchase the archived version, go here.
If you didn't attend this particular event but have feedback on what you'd like to see from future online seminars and conferences, please get in touch at email@example.com.
Here is a roundup of information that can help you with your final membership push as we close in on the beginning of CSA season. (If you haven't started already!)
- Member Assembler has a great tool for sending renewal reminder emails to past members. Read about it in the Member Renewal Time blog post from last March.
- The article "Finding and Keeping your CSA Members", from the Penn State Extension, outlines how your marketing tactics should be driving potential members to your farm website so that they can learn more and sign up.
-Facebook and Twitter are great ways to get quick messages out to your followers about how many available shares you have. Try a countdown campaign to push people to sign up before your CSA is sold out. Knowing that there are only a few slots left can encourage people to act quickly. Not familiar with social media tools yet? Check out this list of resources from The Land Connection.
-Tap your network. Encourage those members who have already signed up to reach out to their friends and family and offer them a referral incentive. Maybe it's an extra item in their first box, or credit they can use at your farmstand. Check out Norman's Farm Market's customer referral program. To make it easy for your members to encourage friends to join, send them an email which includes pre-written text about your CSA that they can easily forward on to their contacts. Don't forget to include instructions for the new member on how to name their referrer (You can add a "Who referred you?" question to your Member Assembler custom form). You might even want to include an incentive for the new member, just to sweeten the deal.
Good luck filling those last few slots!
Earlier this year we announced the development of new Member Assembler tools that allow you to set up a "Buy-Down" or "Market Style" CSA program. We also mentioned that more options for custom programs, like a "You Pick" CSA, were on their way. These new tools are now live in your Control Panel and we're hosting a webinar tutorial this month, so that you can learn how they work. Join Small Farm Central Senior Developer Mike Cuccaro on Wednesday April 23rd from 2:00pm to 3:00pm EST for a live demonstration on our new Buy-Down and Customizable CSA tools. The demonstration will cover the following topics:
-What is a buy-down/market-style CSA?
-How to create a buy-down Member Type
-The auto-assignment of Store Credit
-Departmental privacy settings
-Demonstration of shopper experience
-What is a customized box CSA?
-How to create items with $0 prices
-Enabling/disabling departments & privacy settings
-Setting checkout rules
-Reporting methods: MA Pickup lists, E-commerce new options
The demonstration will also include helpful tips and a question and answer session.
To register for the demonstration, click here or visit:
If you can't join us, read all about these new features in the following articles found in the Small Farm Central Knowledge Base:
Configuring a Buy-Down or Credit Style CSA
Ecommerce Advanced Checkout Rules (Configuring Customizable CSA Options)
There are a lot more farmers markets these days and lot more choices when a family wants to buy fresh, seasonal food. It's great that the rest of world has caught on to the fact that eaters want high-quality food on their plates, but this buffet of choices is one reason that farmers market sales are slack these days at some markets. This is not a foregone conclusion -- your sales at market can get better.
Farmers markets (in addition to CSAs) are still the best way for eaters to connect with farmers and get the freshest local food. It's just that a new approach is needed to get customers to come to the market.
This Spring, we have a new approach for you: FarmFan. FarmFan is a loyalty rewards and text message notification app for farmers market vendors and retail farm markets with the goal of helping you sell more to your best customers.
FarmFan will help you launch and manage a loyalty program where customers get points for shopping and then rewards at farm-generated point levels. In addition, as customers join the FarmFan program, they can opt-in the receive a short text message from you right before each week's market. This combination of rewards and communication drives traffic and sales to your stand.
We are currently in beta testing with 20 farms across the country and FarmFan will be available for anyone starting on May 1st. I encourage you to check out the website at:
Or, sign up for the 5-day email course where I'll teach you how to sell more the FarmFan way:
If you manage a CSA program that has been running for at least two years, please consider taking just a couple of minutes to weigh in on the National CSA Managers Survey. This survey will help document the changes that have been taking place in the CSA business model across the country. Participation is needed from as many CSA operations as possible in order to look at changes across regions and by characteristics of the CSAs themselves.
Don't worry, the survey is short! You'll answer 19 questions and it should take less than 10 minutes.
Here is the link to the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CSAManager
The target closing date is March 31, 2014, so don't wait!
This national project is funded by USDA-AMS and conducted, in part, through the University of Kentucky. A summary report will be made available by the end of May, posted to the USDA-AMS site and also at the UK Center for Crop Diversification, www.uky.edu/ag/newcrops. Small Farm Central will be sure to post about the results on the blog, so stay tuned!
Here's a little farmer love from one of the folks working on the study:
"I’m grateful for your commitments to local food and the CSA business model and hope you will help reflect your perceptions and experiences here. Questions about the survey itself or subsequent reports can be directed to me here: firstname.lastname@example.org. Many thanks!" – Dr. Tim Woods, Extension Professor
The CSA Member of the Year Award brought us many stories of outstanding CSA members and the many ways that they support their farmers. You can read about the nominees on the CSA Expert Exchange website. While we want thank all of them for their commitment to Community Supported Agriculture, we chose J.R. and Ashley Hernandez as this year's winners. They will be recieving a $400 credit to use toward their CSA share at Riehm Farms.
J.R. and Ashley were nominated by their farmers, Diane & John Riehm, who had many examples of how the couple has made the farm an important priority in their life and helped out in times of need. Here are a few examples:
"JR and Ashley Hernandez approached us at the Bowling Green Farmers’ Market in 2011 to volunteer there services. JR was a line chef at the Bowling Green State University and could help along with his wife for the summer. They quickly became an advocates for our CSA. Ashley helps with display tables and seems to know a lot more people in the community than we do making the community connection for us. JR used his chef skills to help CSA members with recipes in 2013 and prepared samples for them to try each week during the CSA season. Ashley also took over writing the weekly newsletter, recruited CSA renewals to join the following years’ CSA, plus the weekly 4 hours they spend each week with us at the pick-up sight. All done after her full day at work."
You can read more about what the Reihms had to say about J.R. and Ashley here.
Thanks again to all the farmers who took the time to recognize some of their most passionate CSA members. These champions remind us all of how fantastic Community Supported Agriculture is!
The 2014 CSA Expert Exchange will quickly be upon us. The "Beginning CSA" sessions will be Thursday, March 6th in the evening and the "Main Event" will be Friday, March 7th during the day. We hope you will join us.
You've probably already received a variety of emails and updates about our speakers, but if you haven't checked them out yet, we encourage you to do so. See the CSA Expert Exchange website for profiles for the DAY ONE and DAY TWO presenters. You can also check out the CSA Expert Exchange blog for some short Q+A sessions we did with many of our presenters.
To see the full schedule of conference sessions, go here.
Deadlines for registration for the live event is Thursday at 4pm Eastern time for the "Beginning CSA" session that evening and Friday at 9am Eastern time for the "Main Event" session on Friday.
Remember, if you cannot attend the entire event live, the sesssions will be recorded and archived and will be available for registrants to view online over the coming year. So even if you can't be there live, we encourage you to register to get access to these sessions.
We are also really excited to announce our first ever "CSA Member of the Year" award recipient. We received some great nominations and you can read about the candidates on the Small Farm Central blog. The winner will be announced on Friday.
We look forward to gathering online with you all over the coming days. For more information on the CSA Expert Exchange, please visit the official website at www.csafarmconference.com, email us at conference [at] smallfarmcentral.com or call 412-567-3864.
Thanks to all our farmers who submitted nominations of their CSA members for the CSA Member of the Year Award. We have a full crop of outstanding nominees which will sure make choosing a winner hard for the crew at Small Farm Central. Each one of these CSA members has gone above and beyond to help their farmer in some way, so we want to recognize all of them for their support of local small farms. Click here to check out the nominees and read a quote from the farmer who chose them.
Don't forget to attend the second day of the CSA Expert Exchange online conference on March 7th to find out who wins!
Dave Liker and family. Dave is one of our presenters for this year's CSA Expert Exchange.
Dave will present on surviving the early years of your CSA.
The 2014 CSA Expert Exchange will take place on March 6th and 7th, 2014. That's less than a month away. We're very excited for this year's event and feel we've put together a great panel of presenters covering a variety of topics relevant to CSA farmers. Remember: these sessions can be attended live as they are happening or your registration will also give you access to recorded versions of the sessions to watch on your own schedule in the future.
The Thursday March 6th event is our “Beginners CSA” session focused on a couple topics relevant to new farmers and farmers just starting up a CSA. There are two sessions that will take place in the evening starting at 7pm Eastern time. Dave Liker from Gorman Farm will discuss surviving those critical beginning years of your CSA. Shannon Jones of Broadfork Farm will talk about land acquisition and will share their story of leasing and then purchasing their farmland.
The Friday March 7th event will focus on topics relevant to farmers of all experience levels. There will be 5 main sessions beginning at 11am Eastern Time. The event runs until 3:30pm Eastern. Karla Pankow of Bossy Acres will discuss marketing and social media. Rachel Armstrong of Farm Commons will present on legal issues related to CSA's. Chris Brockel from the FairShare CSA Coalition will talk about the value of building a CSA coalition. Pam Dawling, writer for Growing For Market and the book Sustainable Market Farming, will demonstrate her crop planning system. And Michael Kilpatrick from Kilpatrick Family Farm will discuss CSA customization and the future of CSA.
It will be a packed day but we've planned for some small breaks in between presentations to let you get up and stretch, refresh your cup of coffee or hit the bathroom without missing any of the sessions.
NEW FARMER SCHOLARSHIP (one week left to apply)
Small Farm Central is again providing 20 scholarships to new and beginning farmers to attend the CSA Expert Exchange. Those chosen for the scholarship will be able to attend both days of the CSA Expert Exchange for the cost of the "Beginner CSA" session only ($25).
If you are interested in applying for this scholarship, please send a couple paragraphs to email@example.com telling us about your beginning farmer story and how you feel the CSA Expert Exchange will help you achieve your farm goals.
The cut-off date is February 24, 2014 and we will select the 20 scholarships based on who we feel can gain the most from the CSA Expert Exchange. Our selections will be made February 28, 2014.
'MEMBER OF THE YEAR' CONTEST (one week left to nominate)
As part of this year's CSA Expert Exchange, Small Farm Central is excited to announce the “CSA Member of the Year” contest. We are interested in hearing from farms about what makes a great CSA member. All CSA farms are eligible; you are not required to be a Small Farm Central client or to be attending the CSA Expert Exchange to make a nomination. The winning member will get a credit of $400 towards a CSA share at their nominating farm.
So what does it mean to be a "Member of the Year"? Each farm has some members that stand out - some for good reasons, some for bad reasons. We want to recognize those members who stand out and bring value to a CSA. Some examples of this would be a volunteer member who through their volunteer activities, whether that be hosting a drop-off site or creating a newsletter for example, has improved the CSA experience for other members. Or it might just be a member whose excitement for their CSA is infectious -- they show up every week excited to see what is in their box and are vocal about sharing their tips and recipes for getting the most out of each week's box.
For more information on the contest guidelines and for the form to make your nomination (limit of one per farm), go to: http://www.csafarmconference.com/form/372
* * *
To read more about the conference, please visit the official website at www.csafarmconference.com
Small Farm Central is currently accepting nominations for the CSA Member of the Year Award, which will be presented as part of this year’s CSA Expert Exchange online conference. The CSA Member of the Year Award was created to recognize and honor those CSA Members who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to their CSA farm and local farmers throughout the year. The winner of this award will receive a credit of up to $400 towards a CSA share at their nominating farm.
Farmers and farm organizations running local CSA programs are encouraged to nominate one of their most outstanding CSA members for the award by filling out the application form by 9:00am EST on Monday, February 24th, 2014. All CSA farms are eligible; you are not required to be a Small Farm Central client or to be attending the CSA Expert Exchange to make a nomination.
What does it mean to be a "Member of the Year"? You tell us! We are interested in hearing from farms about what makes a great CSA member. This could be a member who is an avid volunteer or always willing to help. Maybe it's someone who shares great recipes on your website and improves the program for other members. Or it could be a member whose excitement for your farm is infectious and who tells others about your CSA program.