The CSA Expert Exchange online CSA conference is just about 5 days away! Registration closes at 5pm EST on Thursday, March 14th.
We have a fantastic line-up of presenters: CSA pioneer Elizabeth Henderson, dynamic CSA farmers Jean-Paul & Jody from Roxbury Farm, and member retention expert Gary Brever from Ploughshare Farm. Read more on the agenda page.
Interest in the conference is really high and I'm so excited to bring this knowledge to you and the wider CSA community! Over 125 CSA farmers across the country and internationally have registered for the conference already and we have a goal to get to 200 attendees by the end of the week. Proceeds benefit the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).
Exciting Last Minute Speaker Addition!
Lynne Rosetto Kasper from public radio's Splendid Table will join us for a question and answer session on culinary education for CSA members and the perception of CSA within the larger food community. We are very excited to have her expertise on board!
That's only $45 to attend the conference live or archived format. Register now!
Much more information at: http://www.csafarmconference.com.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper, of public radio’s The Splendid Table (splendidtable.org) program, will be joining us for a 30-minute session to discuss how CSA's are perceived in the greater food and cooking communities. As a host of a nationally syndicated radio show, Lynne regularly interviews chefs, restaurateurs and other food experts from around the country. From this perspective, she'll discuss her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities presented by CSA's and will share some cooking techniques relevant to CSA members.
Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards for Best National Radio Show on Food, three Clarion Awards from Women in Communication and a Gracie Allen Award for Best Syndicated Talk Show.
The Splendid Table has been at the forefront of food issues and policies since its inception. Long before eating local became a catchphrase and farmers' markets became ubiquitous, The Splendid Table was talking about the changes needed in the food system and what was happening on the grassroots level. In fact, when The Splendid Table first went on the air, Lynne had to make sure to define such terms as "organic" and "sustainable" for listeners. Today those terms have become part of the everyday lexicon, and people's hunger for wholesome food and the rituals surrounding it has only increased.
Conceived by Robyn Van En as an antidote to industrial, monocrop agriculture, the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) concept offers farms the opportunity to become centers of more sustainable communities.
“As CSA farmers, we recognize that teaching basic cooking techniques is of paramount importance for retaining members from year-to-year. CSA members that don’t learn to cook the weekly box won’t come back. Lynne Rossetto Kasper has this experience as she guides America’s home cooks on her weekly radio show. Equally important is the fact that she has her finger on the pulse of the American home cook and she will give perspective on how CSAs are viewed by her listeners and how we can improve that perception,” says Simon Huntley from Small Farm Central.
Full details and agenda for the CSA Expert Exchange: An Online Conference are available at csafarmconference.com.
On March 15th, Small Farm Central will be presenting the CSA Expert Exchange - an online conference covering topics important to farmers running CSA's (it's only a week away -- sign up now!!) We are proud to have several Small Farm Central clients presenting during the event. Gary Brever from Ploughshare Farm in Central Minnesota will be discussing member retention. We asked him to answer a few questions relating to how he ended up in farming, his thoughts on educating other farmers and how running a CSA has affected how he farms.
1) Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to farming and how Ploughshare Farm came about?
I grew up living on the lake, not on the farm in Alexandria Mn. Like many growing up in this area, we had relatives who had farms, but really farming wasn't on my radar screen growing up. The image that I had of farmers growing up was the Lake Wobegon Bachelor farmer image of a farmer with bib overhauls, a round belly and seed cap.
I, like many, was drawn to go down to the path of college and professionalism. I ended up going to a small liberal arts college after high school and was involved highly in the environmental and social justice movements. After College I did a two year volunteer stint on what's called a Catholic worker farm in WA state-- on forty acres we raised animals such as goats, chickens, dairy cows and also worked the fields with draft horses, raising this food for ourselves and the residents in need that stayed their on the farm. It was out in WA state that I met young families that were not only able to make a living farming but also seemed to be thriving. This is what initially drew me into thinking that farming could be a way of life for me. It seemed to make sense for me as a lifestyle because it solidified many of the values such as social justice, environmental justice as well as a way forward for peace. In addition, this way of life would allow me to use both my head and my hands and do it in a way that I was the "captain of my own ship" if you will.
2) Do you feel a duty to educate other farmers? Why? To what extent do you feel that sharing information with and educating other farmers is vital to the success of your own farm?
Over the past 10 years I have trained over 60 interns on our farm. These are mostly college aged folks who come to us for an experience in "getting their hands dirty." They have a wide range of previous experience and vision for their future. Some have never even tried kale, let alone grown it while others have worked at many different farms and intend to start a farm eventually on their own. It's the number one recommendation that I give to anyone looking to go into farming on their own--- intern, intern, intern. Work a number of years on other people's farms and on several different farms at that. What you will learn on one season on someone else's farm would equate to roughly 4 years of "trial by fire", attempting to do it solo.
Currently I'm really on the mission of sharing my financial perspective to young farmers.The burn out rate, divorce rate, and suicide rate for farmers is a huge issue and needs to be immediately addressed. There's some basic economic factors at play... too much risk, too little income for the amount of work. We have a tendency as farmers to put every ounce of energy and capital into our farms and in the end we just run ourselves ragged and into the ground.
I'm working to change this paradigm for farmers. We should be taking a look at the services we provide in a different way and get paid well above what most farms are currently charging.
3) How has operating a CSA affected the way you interact with your customers? How has it affected the way you operate your farm?
I look at my role with my customers similar as a health and wellness coach. For many, our farm is not simply an act to get vegetables in a different way, but they are looking to transform their eating habits. Our farm has become a vital resource for our customers for healthy living. In many ways customers relate to CSA's in a very similar way as they do with their local health club. If you take a look at a gym in January they will have tons of new members, coming in who are very excited about getting fit. They make a resolution to work out and are going three times a week. However, walk in the same club in early March and most of those new members have dropped off and the gym is left with mostly the regulars again. Same too with CSA... folks get excited when that first box arrives... but without training and teaching methods by August many new members are overwhelmed. That's why I've found it really important to keep the momentum of excitement up for new members, give them as many tools that I can such as cookbooks, a survival guide, and many recipes in our newsletter and Facebook page to keep them energized about this new endeavor that they are taking on for themselves and their families.
To register for the CSA Expert Exchange, go here.
On March 15th, Small Farm Central will be presenting the CSA Expert Exchange - an online conference covering topics important to farmers running CSA's (it's only a week away -- sign up now!!) We are proud to have several Small Farm Central clients presenting during the event. Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt from Roxbury Farm in Kinderhook, NY will be talking about establishing a systematic approach to a diversified operation, including when and what equipment is appropriate. We asked them to answer a few questions relating to how they ended up in farming, their thoughts on educating other farmers and how running a CSA has affected how they farm.
Jean-Paul Courtens and Jody Bolluyt
Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to farming, how you ended up farming together and how Roxbury Farm came about?
Jean-Paul grew up in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. After a short stint in college he decided to WWOOF by bicycle through Wales and Ireland. When he returned to Holland he started homesteading. He quickly realized that he needed more education to make farming a career, so he enrolled in a 4-year biodynamic agricultural college called Warmonderhof in the Netherlands. After he graduated, Jean-Paul traveled to the U.S. to visit organic and biodynamic farms. He was asked to stay in the U.S to work at a Camphill in Minnesota providing the community with vegetables. After one year he moved to Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, NY to initiate their vegetable operation. In the fall of 1989, after three years at Hawthorne Valley, Jean-Paul started Roxbury Farm. In 1990 Jean Paul was approached by members of the Center for Anthroposophy in NYC to develop a CSA relationship with Roxbury Farm. In 2000, Roxbury Farm with the help of the Roxbury Farm CSA members moved to new land in Kinderhook to gain long-term land security by partnering with the Open Space Institute and Equity Trust, Inc.
Jody grew up in Iowa. Her first job at 13 was de-tasseling corn (pulling the tassels out of field corn plants for cross breeding purposes) and walking beans (spraying Roundup on the weeds in a soybean field) During college she studied botany and biology and worked at a flower farm and greenhouse operation during the summer. After graduating from the University of Iowa, her passion for agriculture lead her to move to the Northeast and work on organic vegetable farms. She met Jean-Paul in the midst of the transition of Roxbury Farm to new land. Jody became a farming partner in 2001 and they were married on the farm in 2004.
You have a lot of material on your website that is aimed at educating other farmers. Do you feel a duty to educate other farmers? Why? To what extent do you feel that sharing information with and educating other farmers is vital to the success of your own farm?
In the Netherlands much of the information we have on our website is available to all farmers through extension services. It is easy for Dutch farmers to find out how long it takes to grow head lettuce in June compared to August. Also by hundreds of years of collective experience of vegetable farmers the most effective procedures for harvesting and crop production are universally adopted. In the U.S., Jean-Paul found that the lack of infrastructure and specific support and information was not available to beginning farmers. He initially wrote up the Harvest and Crop Manuals for the Roxbury Farm crew members. When other farmers expressed interested in the material, Jean-Paul put them on our website. We hope sharing our standards and systems (written for Roxbury Farm conditions) helps other farmers to be successful and to provide a template to develop their own manuals. As a biodynamic farmer, working out of anthroposophy, we believe that competition in the marketplace causes economical, ecological and cultural decline, and that experience and knowledge should be part of the public domain. In order to restructure our agricultural system we need more successful sustainable farmers. If we can contribute to that in some small way, we feel it is our responsibility to share in whatever way we can.
How has operating a CSA affected the way you interact with your customers? How has it affected the way you operate your farm?
Our farm is centered around our relationship to our CSA customers that is based on a continuing development of mutual trust. Our customers provide us with the financial means to operate the farm as an organism. They do this by supporting the operating budget of the farm and finding us a sufficient membership to help spread the cost. The members share the risk and receive the bounty of the farm. This relationship allows us to stay on the farm (as opposed to attending farmers markets) and to concentrate on becoming better farmers. The farm has grown to 1100 CSA members representing approximately 1500 households. This cooperation allowed the farm to secure 375 acres of land (with extremely low debt load), providing our 13 employees with higher than average wages (with four employees year-round employment), and transforming the farm from a vegetable operation into a diversified and integrated farm through the inclusion of a herd of beef cows, a flock of sheep, pigs, chickens, and two draft horses.
To register for the CSA Expert Exchange, go here.
We have awarded 13 scholarships for the CSA Expert Exchange through our New Farmer Scholarships. Every dollar counts in the first years of a farm operation, so I am very happy to provide this valuable information from our experts at no cost to these beginning farmers.
(By the way, there are only 10 days left until the CSA Expert Exchange. Tickets are only $45 to hear from four experts in CSA over four hours in the comfort of your home or office! Get registered soon!)
Here are a couple of quotes from the farmers who received the scholarship:
"I really would like to attend the conference and hear what people have to say about member retention and different ideas about how to build that community long-term through the CSA model. I would love for our farm to be a community center, where people could come and participate in what we do and learn and grow and all that. It would be so good if we felt we were providing food for people on a basis that felt fair and equitable to them, and that they felt nourished by spiritually and mentally as well as physically. Really building a network of friends and good neighbors in our relatively rural part of population-dense Connecticut, that could support and nurture each other long term. I think that would be incredible!" -Colin
"In order to be sustainable we must grow our membership base (which has been around 30 members the last two years), while also getting our growing practices more efficient with the proper use of small-scale equipment, and work harder at customer retention. " - Stefan & Mike
" This workshop would help me to build a CSA that works well for me as a farmer and for members as consumers - I am especially interested in member retention. I strive to educate members through weekly "share letters," and am looking forward to helpful hints on that front as well. " -Megan
"I would love to be able to attend the CSA Expert Exchange conference at this point in my career especially while our CSA is just launching. The knowledge we've received by attending conferences has always positively affected how we farm and I know learning about CSAs from so many experienced farmers would have the same positive impact on our new CSA and the way we market in general. -Shannon"
I spent a couple hours yesterday afternoon with Chef Matt at Marty's Market taking video with the help of the folks at Lockerman Studios. We worked through two simple technique videos: braised kale with onion and garlic and broccoli techniques. These will be worked into 2-3 minute videos that you will be able to use to educate your customers on how to cook your produce.
I have already learned a lot about video production and I'm really excited for what we can do with this medium. I have learned, first off, that it takes a lot of equipment, takes, and time to produce a short video like this. I'll post results as they come available!
Hi! Just wanted to send out a quick note because many people have inquired about this. Member Assembler scheduled payment templates for Authorize.net can now be set to occur every two months, every six weeks, and every three months in addition to the weekly, monthly, and bi-weekly options you've always had.
You can change your payment schedule template at:
Member Assembler > Scheduled Payments > Schedule Template
Any new signups will be set for your new schedule. It will not affect currently scheduled payments from people who have already signed up this season. Remember, this is only if you are allowing checkout with Authorize.net!
We know the power of photos for a website to connect eaters to the farm, but we should also be thinking about video. I think video is a under-utilized in farm marketing. With the smart phone that is likely already in your pocket, you can start harnessing this powerful tool by taking short videos.
Farmer Dave's in Dracut, MA does a lot with video to educate customers from what a "choice-style" pick up looks to like to a new CSA member orientation video.
Here is a beautifully shot interview with a CSA farmer:
Try video this season. Let me know what you come up with!
I have been thinking a lot about CSA member retention in the last few months in preparation for our online CSA conference and in regards to some of the new projects we are pursuing here at Small Farm Central. Brian Moyer at Penn State has done some thinking on this too:
"According to a survey of shareholders of CSA’s in the Mid-Atlantic Region that was compiled by Lydia Oberholtzer for the Small Farm Success Project, on average, CSA’s have to replace 55% of their shareholders every year. This can be a lot of work and worry every winter when you’d probably rather spend your time planning and ordering seeds for your upcoming season."
Read his article, 'Finding and Keeping your CSA Members' for more information on this really important topic.
Member retention is one of the core concepts we will be exploring during the CSA Expert Exchange conference on March 15th. We'll look at this through the lens of CSA community, CSA education, and more. The conference is only $45 and spots are going fast, so sign up soon!
The four of us all worked at the same farm in western Colorado, albeit during different seasons. We (re)connected at the PASA conference in State College, PA and got to swap stories of the farm over the years. We are all still working in agriculture in one manner or another.