[permaculture] Interesting post on various marketing methods for farmers and gardeners.
Lawrence F. London, Jr.
lflj at bellsouth.net
Fri May 4 05:43:30 EDT 2012
-------- Original Message --------
From: KAKerby at aol.com
Ruminations - essays on the farming life at frogchorusfarm.com/weblog.html
What is a CSA?
Community Supported Agriculture is a term which is used by farmers and
consumers both, to describe an alternative to the current conventional
practice of buying and selling via brokers and other middle-men.The term
comes from an approach to marketing where the farmer forges a direct
relationship with a group of local customers, such that the community
has immediate access to food and the farmer has immediate access to
customers.While CSAs can vary on some details, they usually feature most
if not all of the following criteria:
1)a one-on-one relationship between farmer and consumer, where both
parties get to know each other, and each otherâs concerns and goals
for food production, quality and access.
2)A subscription arrangement of some kind, such that the consumer knows
in advance what variety and amount of products he or she will receive,
and the farmer knows in advance what to grow, and how much of it,
throughout the year.
3)A payment arrangement such that the consumer either pays in advance at
a discount, or agrees to pay a certain amount per week.These rates are
often cheaper than the consumer would pay for the same quality of
product at a grocery store or farmers market, and both approaches give
the farmer some guarantee of weekly and/or seasonal income.
4)An opportunity or expectation for the consumer to come to the farm to
see first-hand how things are grown and raised.These visits might be to
pick up weekly boxes of produce, or for regular work parties, or for
member days to celebrate events such as planting and harvesting.
5)A formal or informal guarantee that the products will be the freshest
possible.Most CSAs work on a weekly delivery or pickup schedule, and as
a result most of the produce sold will have been harvested within a few
days of that schedule.This does not apply to all products, because some
products (such as honey, cheeses, and meats) are either harvested
infrequently throughout the year, or need to age prior to sale, or have
longer shelf-lives which allow for sales distributed throughout the year.
6)Many CSA farms are managed in sustainable, natural, and/or organic
ways.The personal relationships forged between CSA growers and buyers
works to encourage all parties to discuss concerns, goals and
priorities, for various food safety issues.Some CSAs will actively
include consumers in the farmâs day to day decision-making process.
One fundamental feature of many CSAs is the concept of shared risk.By
having pre-paid subscriptions for each yearâs produce, the farmer and
customers all share the risk for crop failures.A corollary to that
feature is diversification - most CSA farms will offer a wide variety of
products so that if one crop fails, others are still available.This
philosophy seems very simple but it forms the core of the CSA concept.By
diversifying into lesser- known products, farmers can better tailor
their plantings and products to match their particular farmâs
micro-climates.They also can offer products which would either be so
fragile, or arenât in great enough demand, that there are no
conventional outlets.Consumers in turn gain a much greater awareness of
the threats to any given farmâs yearly production of foods, and their
subscriptions help ensure the farmâs continued survival even in the
face of crop failure.Yet those customers thereby also receive products
at reasonable cost, which they would never be able to find in
conventional markets at any price.This diversification is one of the
features applauded by both farmer and buyer, as one of the features
which sets CSAs apart from all other farm product marketing options.
A food hub is a relatively new concept in the food access arena. A hub
is any formal or informal method, either physical or electronic, which
allows farmers to connect with buyers. Many food hubs are being
arranged by nonprofit groups and local agencies, to make those local and
regional connections easier. One unique aspect of many food hubs is the
participation of buyer agencies which farmers might not otherwise have
access to, such as schools, hospitals, restaurants, prisons and other
business or government buyer entities. The food hub may be as simple as
an email list or website where growers and buyers can post what they
have available and/or what they need. It can be as involved as a weekly
marketplace attended by multiple buyers and vendors, or a seasonal
conference where buyers and/or farmers attend workshops learning about
the practices, opportunities and challenges faced by each party, as well
as government regulations and/or programs which impact those transactions.
A farmers’ market has once again become a relatively common event in
countless neighborhoods across the country. But some consumers are
still not sure what will and will not be available at such markets.
Grocery stores are also opening their own “farmers market” sections
which can confuse the situation even further. While any given farmer’s
market will be a unique entity, most well-respected farmers markets
share most of the following criteria:
1) The market features a weekly gathering of multiple vendors at the
same time and place each week. Most markets operate during the growing
season, but some run all year. A few areas are experimenting with
dedicated “winter markets” to supplement growing season markets.
2) Many markets stipulate that each vendor grow or make all or at least
a majority of their products. Very few markets openly invite resellers,
but some markets are less diligent about checking for resellers than
others. Those markets which have established themselves as among “the
best of the best” regionally and nationally are very strict in regards
to ensuring their vendors actually grow or make everything they sell.
3) Many farmers markets feature more than one vendor selling any given
type of product - produce, meats, wines, honey, eggs, etc - but most
markets will put a cap on how many vendors can sell any given type of
product. This balance helps provide variety while also ensuring that
shoppers have a choice for any given product.
4) Many markets will also set informal minimum pricing standards, such
that one vendor cannot come in with a glut of product, and undersell
other vendors with the same product.
5) Many vendors selling at market will harvest their produce mere hours
prior to market, to help ensure absolute freshness. Other products,
such as meats, cheeses, honey and canned products, will have been
harvested, formed, and/or bottled some weeks prior, depending on the
6) Market vendor booths may be manned either by the farmer, or a
farmer’s employee. While many farmers feel compelled to man the booth
to ensure that customers have access to the actual grower, not all
farmers can cover the booth and their daily farming activities at the
same time. So some farmers will hire staff specifically to man the
market booth. If an employee is manning the booth, that employee often
has a fair amount of knowledge about the operation of the farm in question.
Food Delivery Service
Food delivery services can be a part of many different types of food
businesses. Such a delivery service can be a courtesy service offered
by individual farms, a core attribute of a food cooperative or food hub,
or a profit-making service offered by regular grocery stores, butchers,
bakeriers or creameries. There is enough variety amongst delivery
services around the country that no hard-and-fast rules or principles
can be used to describe them.
Food Cooperatives, buying clubs and Distributors
Food buying clubs, food cooperatives and food distributorships are three
more buying options, but with a great deal of variety between them. A
buying club can be a single individual or entity working as a liaison
between farmers and buyers, with the goal of improving access and/or
holding costs down by buying in bulk. The organizer often works as a
volunteer, not keeping any portion of a transaction. Food cooperatives
may be profit or non-profit associations between buyers and/or growers,
again for the purpose of either improving access to products or markets,
and/or holding prices down by buying in bulk. Non-profit co-ops will
keep a portion of each sale, and fold that back into the cooperative to
expand the co-op’s offerings or hold prices down. Or, the co-op may be
a for-profit business, but profits would be split amongst members in the
form of dividends. Distributorships are harder to define, but are more
typically a for-profit operation where the organizing individual or
entity keeps a certain percentage of each transaction, simply for the
goal of making profit. All of these buying options feature a certain
amount of separation between the farmer and the buyer, such that the
former and latter may never actually meet or even be aware of each
other’s identity. In that sense, many cooperatives, buying clubs and
distributorships are little more than wholesalers.
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