Our farm share program is so fun. I know that sounds self-aggrandizing, but seriously, I love our members and the community we are building. Getting to know our farm share members (especially the little ones :) has been the most rewarding part of this season. The farm share program is the aspect of the business that is the most fun to dream about, has the most compelling narrative, and really makes me the most excited about building a vibrant community around healthy food and sustainable agriculture.
As such, I'm dedicating the blog this week to a reflection on the attributes of the farm share program that I love and some thoughts about how it may evolve next year. My hope is to get enough information together about the program while this season is still going (even on top of the endless harvesting and farm work going on around here!) to be able to build the program for next year before winter sets in and everyone has forgotten the sweet fruits of summer.
So, first a few of my favorite farm share aspects:
- Choice! With the debit-style farm share model (members place their own individualized order every week rather than receiving a traditional one-size-fits-all box) I never worry about whether my members are getting the food they want (too much, too little, too many squash, too few tomatoes etc..). The central component of the program is our online store where members select their own produce for the week and design a menu that fits the needs of their individual family. This customization is essential.
- Flexibility. There's no pressure. In our program farm share members order whenever it is convenient. Our online store is updated daily and members can order anytime up to 24 hours before their chosen delivery date for the week. Members can skip a week if they are going on vacation or double down and pick up twice in a week if they're are on a veggie bender. The world is your oyster (or tomato) so to speak.
- Community. Being a part of the farm share program gives members an intimate connection with their food and their farmer. In addition to seeing and chatting with me every week, we've also had the chance to bring members out to the farm and give them a first hand experience of what it takes to grow healthy food sustainably. With our weekly newsletter and blog members (and some interested non-members :) are plugged in to the challenges and joys of sustainable agriculture. AND our littlest farm share members are the cutest! I love bringing kids into the world of farming. The community aspect of our farm share program is what I'm most excited to build on in the coming years.
That said, from a business perspective the farm share program has had a few challenges this year:
- Customization is expensive. I built this debit-style farm share model a bit naively. I did not accurately budget the time, labor, and materials necessary to pack 50 individualized shares every week. Not only did I not include funding to support the customization in the cost of the farm share ($300 per family), but I also offered a 10% bonus just for signing up. A 10% bonus value makes a lot of sense when your price point is higher (traditional CSAs are usually $500-600 a year) and when you're only offering a basic share of what you produce (a million squash in July). However, it does not make sense with this model where everyone has the same choice as they would at a farmers market and it's washed, packed and delivered on request... In the coming year the cost-effectiveness of our farm share model most be addressed in order for the business to succeed.
- Effective website and online communication are critical. The online store is the central component to the model. The current software I'm using (Small Farm Central) has been great. BUT, I don't love it and farm share members have struggled with the interface. It is frustrating (and basically unacceptable in my book) when costumers think they have placed an order through the website, show up to get it and it's not there. With the current software, there are many small steps that have to be completed just right in order for the order to be processed and if it's not then I don't receive the order and the system breaks down.. Admittedly, this has happened less than 1% of the time. But, that's still too much. I want to move to a new software system that is more flexible and more user-friendly—in other words, a more expensive software system...
So, with those good and challenging aspects in mind, here are a few refinements I'm mulling over for the farm share program next year:
- New exclusive Farm Share Member benefits. To add to the value proposition of this farm share membership and to focus on the community building aspect of the program (my favorite part!) I'm planning a number of new farm share member-only benefits. Some of these will be free and included in the initial cost, some will be optional add-on expenses.
- Member-only crops like sweet corn, melons, and pumpkins
- Field days and pumpkin patch picking
- Farm camp for kids
- Farm dinners show-casing our veggies and the work of our partnering chefs
- Additional farm resources, recipes and online information.
- A subscription fee. To pay for the website, the materials (bags etc), and the customization, next year the $300 initial fee will include a $75 subscription fee. The subscription fee gives members:
- Access to our online store
- Packed, washed, and delivered customized veggie orders from the first week in April through Thanksgiving (that is more than 30 weeks.... that's a really long season!)
- First choice on all of our organic produce
- Two re-useable grocery bags used to deliver your chosen delicious veggies :)
- Access to member only benefits (see above.. and there will be more :)
- More community engagement. I want the farm share program to be an inclusive, full-farm experience. Next year I'd like to focus on more opportunities to open the farm to our members and give our families the opportunity to experience the land and their food first-hand. Some ideas of how this could evolve include:
- Monthly "hands-in-the-dirt" days during the summer (don't worry, it won't be very hard :). This would be a one-day-a-month open farm day for families to come, dig potatoes, pick beans, harvest tomatoes, or any other myriad of fun farm jobs that would give people a brief window into the life of their food.
- Farm camp. I know I've mentioned this before, but it's just because I love the concept! It will be a half-day week long camp open to children of farm share members and will include activities like seeding lettuce, picking tomatoes, tending the chickens and learning about plant life-cycles.
- More learning and resources. I'm working on putting together a book of recipes and nutritional information for each of our crops. This is a winter project, but I hope to have it done in time to share with farm share members next year. It will include background information about the different varieties of vegetables we grow, what their life-cycles are like, and how best to enjoy them in the kitchen!
- What are your ideas? I'd love to hear from you. How would you like to engage with the farm next year? Email me!
Long and short, this is all a work in progress. I love the farm share program, I'm excited to see it grow, it has to be financially viable, and I want your help making it amazing. Are you with me? Just say yes :) Oh and sign up to be on the waiting list here. (Current farm share members get first choice but we have plenty of room to grow).