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Community-Supported Agriculture: How Strong Networking Helps Local Economies

Ever wonder what happened to the good old days of knowing your farmer and your food?

Wonder no more. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is changing the face of business. It is a slow but steady fight against the current of the modern world, but it’s working.

What the heck is a CSA, and what’s the benefit to belonging to one?

Think of CSAs as grocery subscriptions that support the economy!

Think of CSAs as grocery subscriptions that support the economy!

CSA is short for “Community Supported Agriculture.” It began in the 1960s in Germany, Switzerland, and Japan, as cooperative partnerships to help fund and run local farms. Here’s how it works: the local community, known as “shareholders,” pay at the onset of the growing season to help the farmer with the costs of the forthcoming harvest season. When the harvesting begins, the shareholders are given weekly shares of produce and goods in return for their initial fee.

Think of it as a grocery subscription. The best part is… You can help your local economy by belonging to a CSA!

The current world we live in has been starved for decades, and we’re often tricked into thinking that we can’t play a part in local economy. Well, I am here to tell you that that is wrong! In fact, I bet you’d be surprised by the number of results if you Googled “local CSA” with your zip code (you can also visit LocalHarvest for area-specific results). That’s because these businesses are very much on the rise.

How are these community-supported farms so successful?

One word: NETWORKING!

The intricate marketing and distribution of CSAs is really quite remarkable, and a lot of their methods can be implemented in many different businesses. Even I was shocked to learn about the intricate business plans and lessons that farmers can teach. Believe it or not, farmers are truly the unheard heroes of the business world. It is more than just digging dirt and planting seeds; unless you are using that as a metaphor for the way CSAs market themselves.

At CSAs, 'planting seeds' has a double meaning.

At CSAs, 'planting seeds' has a double meaning.

Our first lesson is just that. CSAs must first plant the seed of interest, because this is purely a business that runs on its customers and supporters. Not to mention, because it is a booming business, CSA farms don’t have primary competition other than corporate industries. CSA and local farms all network with one another to help protect and promote this raging change that is happening. It is a powerful community of physical and social networking that keeps these businesses growing as they change, adapt and learn from one another.

Most CSAs have to learn how to market their business in very clever and invasive ways. I am a firm believer that CSAs are making a strong comeback because of the social media platforms we have access to today. It is really neat to connect two things that are completely different: in this case, something old and something new. Most CSAs advertise and market themselves using various social media platforms and education programs. They are also notorious for their community outreach programs to help their communities understand the importance of this type of business.

Another lesson? Know your customers! I can’t think of a better business example that is more engrained with good customer service and support. CSAs would cease to be if they weren’t customer savvy. They have to always have a plan, and keep detailed open lines of constant communication and information.

The CSA industry is a prime example of how networking is a lifeline to the survival of your business. If we take away what we know of about the importance of networking and creative marketing, there is no telling just how successful you can be.

What can we take away from CSA strategies (I couldn’t resist throwing in a few puns):

  1. Network like you “bet the farm” then you’ll see that “mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”
  2. Market yourself as the “cream of the crop” and do it “until the cows come home.”
  3. Always communicate and listen to what your customers are saying. Remember, “you reap what you sow.”
Do you participate in a CSA? Can you think of any other ways to support local economy?

 Image credit to Clipart.com.


Serenity Morris

Serenity is on the support staff for Quality Logo Products. Cynical and straight to the point, this no-nonsense gal is loveable and passionate about her various nerdy interests. When she is not geeking out about music, British television, and politics she is usually doodling her troubles away! Her artistic abilities are often commissioned for internal and external QLP promotional materials. You can also connect with Serenity on Google+.

Comments

  1. April

    This is Great! Not that I just love those sayings, but spreading word about CSAs and how they can be a model for marketing. Here’s one for you: You don’t want your business to be at the bottom of “the Pecking order”.
    Thank you for writing this!

    • Cybernetic SAM

      Thanks April for reading! You are totally right, people take for granted what small business like this and the power they have it is amazing to see the momentum they are picking up. Thanks for the bonus pun! :)

  2. Jen

    I looked up CSAs on my area, and i found one in the town next to mine! It’s actually just a few minutes from my house. I didn’t even know it existed until now. This seems like a really cool way to get fresh organic produce, but it is just a bit to pricey for me right now. I might look into this for next year though, thanks for the info SAM!

    • Cybernetic SAM

      Yeah I know what you mean. The initial cost seems like a lot, but when you add up what you spend seasonally on fresh produce vs. the shareholder cost it is actually a lot less. Typically the farms also throw in recipes etc… with your produce just so you now how to exactly get the most out of what you get! I would really look into getting in on this when you can. It is really neat way to help your community while helping yourself! :)

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    What’s a “farmer”? Is that like someone who puts vegetables into cans?

    JK. ;)

    Excellent post, Sam. Very informative! Makes me want to look up some local alternatives to grocery chains.

    • Cybernetic SAM

      Ha ha ha… Yes farmers make these things called vegetables which are yummy and make your tummy feel good, I know you aren’t familiar but it is a lot of fun to eat! :P I know what you mean about looking into alternatives to grocery chains, if I had a dollar for all the crappy produce I had to buy because there was no other alternative… the veg can’t help it because it is tired, typically it travels no less than 300 miles to get to chain grocery stores so it is usually going bad before it gets to the store!

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    This is an excellent post, Sam. I’m glad to hear that CSAs are gaining traction in the food market. I don’t belong to a CSA, but after reading this, I might consider it for next season. I do, however, make sure to attend local farmers markets when they’re open. Support the local economy and get better food? It doesn’t get much better than that. :)

    • Cybernetic SAM

      Exactly! You nailed it! This is the best way to support your health, community, and environment! Plus you feel really good when you receive your first box of free veg from your friendly faced farmer. It’s usually produce with a smile! Thanks for reading!

      • Cybernetic SAM

        You can usually go to CSA Farms and buy fresh produce even if you can’t get a share.

  5. Rachel

    Great post, Sam! I had never heard of CSAs before. Sounds like a great idea, and something I’ll definitely look into more closely. :) Thanks for the info!

    • Cybernetic SAM

      You are most welcome Rachel! They are totally worth it and people are catching on!

      • Amanda

        Yes they are Sam! I love being able to buy fresh produce right down the road from me. It’s awesome not having to pay taxes on it, either. $3/dozen of sweet corn, means $3. =)

  6. Jeff Porretto

    Holy cow Sam! I had no idea there were so many of these CSAs around. I’ll have to get the Mrs. on board with going here for delicious goodies. We make fruit runs every week to the grocery store, maybe we’ll head on over to a CSA instead =]

    Also, knowing you… I’m shocked you didn’t have a pun outburst like that sooner =]

    • Cybernetic SAM

      It is totally worth it, as I mentioned above they even go that extra step and put recipes and HERBS in the box of produce in case you are stumped as to what to do with the supply you have that week. Plus they keep you informed as a shareholder what is coming up and what to expect! In the long run you actually save money!

  7. Amanda

    We have a few farmers markets near my home, and I stop by them as much as I can during the summer. I have my own garden every year, for the produce I eat most often, but for anything else, farmers markets are the best place to find fresh foods, and for cheap! ;-)

    • Cybernetic SAM

      I totally agree there is a wonderful satisfaction you get as well knowing you helped out your local farm! I can’t wait to get in on this myself!

  8. Jill Tooley

    I find it most interesting that there’s little competition between these CSAs, and that they actually work together. It’s a lot different than a traditional business model in that respect, but a lot of their marketing/networking efforts are similar to the ones a corporate entity would follow. What a unique beast! :)

    As you know, I’ve been meaning to get in on this for a couple of years now. I may do a half share next year…it’s a bit cheaper! Otherwise, I’ll be hitting up local farmers’ markets this summer to get some produce that has REAL flavor. Good post!

    • Cybernetic SAM

      And as I said previously if you miss out on getting a share with a lot of these farms and can’t make it to the farmers market, usually on the weekends you can go to the farm and buy the available produce straight from them. Not to mention they usually have a posting on the farms website what they will have available that weekend, so you are guaranteed not to leave empty handed!

      I think that the reason they are so interconnected with other farms and their customers as they are truly a business that relies on both, if they take either for granted, then their business will cease to be. It really is remarkable the network they have. I believe this is a great era for the up-rise of CSAs as they now have the advantage of technology and word-of-mouth and the more our children are raised and have knowledge of these things being the norm the more popular and successful it will be!

  9. Amy Swanson

    I love growing (and subsequently eating) home grown fruits and veggies, so your post was a “bushel” of information ;) We plant tomatoes, peas, and eggplants at my parent’s house and we trade them with a family friend who makes homemade strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries jelly from her dad’s farm. Best arrangement ever!

    I made a note of all the local CSA’s in my area, can’t wait to check them out for even more variety!! Thanks, Sam!!

    • Cybernetic SAM

      I know what you mean! There is a certain satisfaction that comes from home-grown produce. I even have a tiny balcony garden that I just harvested and made a salad with for dinner last night, and I though wow, I grew this in my apartment! The wonders of home grown goodness!

  10. Eric

    I was just reading about the city’s “Food Deserts.” There are communities out there without convenience access (if any at all) to grocery stores with large selections of fresh produce.

    Rahm’s solution? Put a bunch of fruits and veggies on a truck, and make like an ice cream man, driving around town and selling them straight off the vehicle (think it’ll still play a circus-esque “Pop Goes The Weasel” as it drives along?).

    I think CSA would be the perfect solution. Tidy up those rough-looking lots, and once they’re clean, create a community garden where neighbors will not only have access to fresh produce, but more importantly, produce they’ve grown themselves.

    Rahm, if you’re reading this…I think it’s a far better idea than those veggie ice cream trucks. :)

    Nice post, Sam!

    • Cybernetic SAM

      I totally know what you are talking about!!!!!!!!!!!!! My sister has been dying to do that for years!!!!!! It is really neat, you basically can do a roach-coach and serve veggie fresh and homemade nutritious foods, our you can have a moveable garden and it can be done and is actually becoming very trendy in big cities and in parts of Europe. Not to mention the old parking lot idea is also becoming a very popular thing in inner cities and a lot of community urban gardeners are started to make a lot of wonderfully inner city community gardens etc… Thanks for reading!

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