Written by Chris Zdorovtsov (Former SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist).
Is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) market right for you? There are several benefits for producers to consider when determining if you should utilize this marketing outlet.
Instead of trying to obtain financing from a financial institution, the CSA model asks your customers to provide funding up front, before the growing season, which will provide you with cash for early season purchases such as seeds, plants, equipment and packaging. When signing up for a CSA it is indicted that customers will share in the financial risk of the production. Though growers should work hard to provide as much product as possible, it is understood that weather, pest infestation or other unforeseen circumstances may lead to lower then intended product being supplied.
You can build a strong budget with a CSA market that allows you to estimate your total expenses and the exact number of customers you will need for income. This market will be much steadier than a farmer’s market where income will vary from week to week and is strongly influenced by weather, holidays and time of year.
During the winter season energy is focused on planning and marketing. During this time of year you can design your field layout and planting schedules, develop your budget and marketing materials. Planning numbers will be fairly firm, as you will know exactly how many customers, weeks, products, etc. you will need for the season. You will work on recruiting customers and collecting funds. You may also be able to develop templates or more generic content for marketing pieces supplied to consumers during the subscription period.
During the growing season you are able to flip focus to primarily production, harvest and distribution. Some communication will continue to be necessary with customers, but as long as you are providing what you promoted your customer base will be stable and additional marketing efforts will not take up your time.
CSA producers who provide high quality products and keep their customers happy will find that they have limited turnover of customers from year to year. As long as a CSA customer enjoys the subscription model and finds a grower that they trust they will often remain loyal for multiple seasons, which reduces the number of new customers a grower must recruit. Some turnover will occur annually and expansion to find new customers may still be necessary as increased income is desired.