Photo by Unsplash/Peter Feghali
The Marketing Homestead Products series offers market gardeners and homesteaders tailored advice for selling their goods. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of joining up with a CSA, renting a farmer’s market stall, and the various forms of advertising available to your farm-based business.
As the owner of a small farm or homestead, you know that growing a high-quality product is only half the battle of a successful business. Finding the right market can be challenging, especially if you're just getting started.
Today, more homesteads are selling their product through a community supported agriculture (CSA) model. A CSA program is a market strategy where the farmer organizes a set number of individual shares, each priced per individual or family, and the customers usually pay at the beginning of the growing season. This model is highly customizable, offering either on-site pickup or drop-off locations.
What Is a CSA?
With a CSA, the customers receive a box of produce each week. Some models allow for tailored selection, while others offer whatever the farmer has available. Community supported agriculture benefits are numerous — whether you grow vegetables, fruit, livestock or cut flowers, it could be an excellent business strategy.
If you have limited time or resources, or simply don't want the responsibility of running your own market, partnering with another farmer who runs a CSA might be a viable option. Many large-scale models have options for add-on items, including low-availability or highly-seasonal items sourced from other farmers. These products may include specialty mushrooms, baked or canned goods, cut flowers and more. Some vegetable programs also source items from different vendors, especially if they have a bad crop or limited quantity.
Joining a CSA as a partner farm can be a terrific way to sell your product without making a full-time commitment.
The Benefits of a CSA
Now that you know that answer to "What is a CSA?" let's look at some of the main benefits of joining one.
1. Low Risk. Collaborating with another farm means you're not solely responsible for supplying customers with products. Whether you're selling vegetables, fruit, flowers or other items, you're able to work with another farmer to ensure you offer the right quantity every week. Additionally, if you offer something as an add-on with limited availability, you can sell only when you have time, rather than every week.
2. Support Network. If you're just getting started in your farm venture, it can be helpful to work with other professionals. Joining a CSA as a partner farm allows you to communicate with a bigger network of growers and have meaningful conversations about successes and failures throughout the season.
3. Smaller Quantities. Many homesteaders find themselves with high-quality produce, but not an enormous quantity of it. You may grow delicious organic strawberries, but only enough for twenty customers, not hundreds. If this is the case, joining a CSA has its perks. Most have an online store where customers can select exactly how much they want to purchase. With smaller quantities, you merely offer what you have.
4. Schedule Flexibility. Joining a CSA allows you to pick and choose how much of a time investment you want to make. If you run a homestead but also work an off-farm job, this can be an ideal situation. Instead of accounting for all of the time that goes into customer service, marketing and accounting, you can drop off your product and let the partnering farm do the rest.
5. Meaningful Connections. The CSA model allows customers to become fully engaged with a farm, rather than purchase a box of vegetables from a stranger. The community aspect is significant, and many homesteads host potlucks and barbecues throughout the season to allow customers to experience the farm. As a partnering vendor, you can engage with this audience as much as you want.
Challenges of a CSA
Joining a community supported agriculture group comes with a lot of benefits. However, there are also some drawbacks to be aware of.
1. Financial Organization. With a CSA, there are certain logistical considerations to make, such as with finances. In the traditional model, customers pay upfront before the start of a growing season. If you supply a specialty product or an unpredictable quantity, it may be best to have your items included as an add-on where the customers pay extra if they choose to include it from week to week.
2. Farmer Collaboration. Working with other farmers can present some difficulties. Depending on your growing situation, you may need to discuss more intricate details of crop selection and liability. For example, if you are growing the same product as a partnering farm, how much are you able to sell without competing? Additionally, if you sell a specialty product, how do you determine liability?
3. Unpredictable Market. While CSA members pay for their share before the season starts, there is always some fluctuation in how many customers purchase consistently. For example, many people go on vacation in July and August. As a result, there may be weeks when you have fifty customers instead of eighty. If you don't have other revenue streams, you'll need to account for this fluctuation.
Joining a CSA: Is It Right for Your Homestead?
Partnering with another farm can be an excellent way to sell your products without the full-time commitment of running a business.
If you have a specialty item to offer or a limited quantity of products, this model can make connections with your target audience without the added risk of running an operation on your own. Whether you're a beginning farmer or an established homestead, joining a CSA can be a beneficial way to share your merchandise with people.
Any business partnership has its challenges. Joining a CSA may present some logistical issues, but, in the long term, the connections you make with other growers are invaluable. As a small farm or homestead looking for a low-risk, flexible market, joining a CSA can be a fantastic option
Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on GRIT, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog, Productivity Theory, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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