Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is becoming a booming business in the farming world, and farmers and green-thumbed gardeners everywhere are reaping the benefits. Whether you’re working with multiple acres or a dedicated urban farmer, starting your own CSA could prove to be a growing opportunity.
A CSA can be fun, rewarding and profitable if you’re willing to put in some hard work and time. How do you go about starting a successful CSA? We’ve highlighted some details that will give you a solid foundation for your entrepreneurial endeavor.
Here’s the gist — a consumer buys a share of your farm’s harvest in advance, which in turn helps you buy the supplies needed for your growing season. When someone buys a share from you, they become a member of your CSA and will receive a variety of freshly picked vegetables, fruits, flowers, eggs, meats or other products, depending on what your CSA has to offer. You’ll arrange a regular distribution schedule and your members can pick up and enjoy their healthy, local and sustainable harvest!
A lot goes into starting a CSA. Before diving in, take time to research and talk with other farmers with successful farm-to-table businesses. For starters, here’s an overview of what you should know.
Recruit members. Start with the people you know best. Get the ball rolling by talking with your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues about becoming members. Then, get in touch with organizations in your community to spread the word and recruit more members. Businesses, churches, fitness centers, schools, and environmental groups are just a few popular places to start.
Tips for recruiting members:
Create a core group. Now that you have a number of committed customers, find your core group of members who’ll volunteer to work with you for the season and help fine-tune the details of your CSA.
Your core group could be responsible for helping you do a number of things, including:
Develop a plan. The key to any successful business is to have a plan in place. You have a solid idea of how many members you’ll be distributing to for the season, so now you can work out some important financial details.
Working memberships. Many CSAs offer an exchange of “sweat equity” for the product. Decide if you want a work-share membership where a member will work a few hours a week in order to cover some or all of the cost of their share. This can be a great way to get the help you need without having to add to the payroll.
Determining the share price for your CSA can be done in a number of ways. Here are a few examples.
Sell at market price. This is the most commonly used method among farmers. Members are charged a set price per week and given a share for an amount comparable to what they’d pay if they bought it somewhere else, like a farmer’s market. Selling at market price is common since farmers can choose how many shares they want to sell, and then plan their budget for the season around that number.
Sell at approximate market value. This way of setting the share price is a little more detailed. You’ll estimate how much a member usually spends on vegetables during a season. Then, decide how much you want to earn. To determine your gross income, take into account how much your farm can produce as well as the costs of supply and labor. Take the total of your income (including labor and production costs) and divide that by the number of shares you can offer.
For example, if you want to earn $30,000 in a season, and members, on average, spend about $500 for 9 months of vegetables, you’ll need to sell 60 shares.
Calculate costs. Again, this method is more meticulous, but it provides a detailed account for farmers and the members. First, decide how many shares you can actually produce on your farm. Then, calculate your income and work labor, how much it will cost to harvest and distribute, and all the production costs. You’ll divide the entire farm budget by the number of shares you plan on selling and the result is your share price.
Typically, you’ll be distributing your yield every week for the course of the season. Many CSAs offer a variety of membership options for people to choose from based on their wants and needs. For instance, you might have it set up where members can purchase full shares or just half a share. And you can even have an option where members can choose their products each week. Do some research and see what other CSAs are offering. Depending on how your options are set up, you’ll typically aim for 5-12 products a week.
You’ll also need to decide where you’ll be distributing the products. Will people come to the farm to pick up? Will there be a central-distribution site every week? It’s what you decide is most convenient for you and your members.
As with any business, starting a CSA comes with risks. Be sure your members understand they share some of the risk by signing up and therefore expected to contribute their share amount no matter what the season brings. In your brochure or info sheet, include a statement that explains how you’ll provide a box of produce each week to the best of your ability under the conditions of the season.H2: Tips for Retaining Members
You’ve put in the time and effort to recruit your members — now do the work to keep them! Follow these tips so your members can get the most out of their CSA experience:
Starting a CSA can be a rewarding experience — you’ll be connected to a likeminded community group, you’re providing an opportunity for people to eat locally and sustainable, and your members can connect with nature in a way they might not be able to otherwise. Now that you’ve got a good grasp on how to start a CSA what are you waiting for? A successful season starts now!