Author: Maud Powell, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University Extension Service
Publish Date: Spring 2018
Many farmers report that CSA shares have become increasingly difficult to sell over the past five years. With an uptick in farmers markets during the past decade and the advent of online buying clubs, local foods are easier to purchase than ever. Additionally, certified organic produce can be found more readily, including in big box stores. Companies like Blue Apron and Sun Basket deliver fresh ingredients to the doorsteps of their customers. As a result of all these trends, many farmers report that recruiting CSA members is challenging. In my own experience of marketing a CSA for thirteen years, I’ve tried out all kinds of marketing schemes and strategies. Following are the three easiest and most effective steps I’ve found to buidling a strong, loyal customer base.
Develop workplace partnerships.
One great option for recruiting members is to partner with businesses, organizations, institutions or agencies, especially those that work in the fields of health and wellness. Examples include local health clubs and doctors’ offices. Potential CSA customers include staff and health club members or medical patients. Churches, Lions Clubs, and other community organizations are other options. Many mid and largesized companies have wellness programs or human resource staff who are looking for ways to improve the health and well-being of their employees. These businesses will promote CSAs to their staff and patrons, especially if offered a small discount and onsite pick up options. For more information on setting up workplace partnerships, take a look at Just Food’s toolkit, Farmer Resources: CSAs at Work: http://www.justfood.org/farmer-outreach/farmer-resource-csawork
Build a Social Media Campaign
These days, CSA marketing requires an online presence, including social media sites with regular posts and paid advertising. For more detailed information, the Land Connection offers a free Social Media Starter Kit, along with webinars on social media marketing and sample content: https://thelandconnection.org/farmers/social-media-marketing-resources. Farmers overwhelmed at the idea of creating and maintaining a social media presence should consider hiring help or else asking a CSA member savvy in social media marketing to trade for their services.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Regular posts (1-2 times per week) are important
- In order to show up in peoples’ Facebook feed, you’ll need to pay for targeted advertising
- Very short video clips are popular
- Use social media to tell the story of your farm
- Build the number of “likes” and “followers” through incentive campaigns
Promote word-of-mouth Advertisting
Existing CSA members may be the best form of advertising of all, as they can influence their friends and neighbors and tell a personal story of what it means to belong to a CSA. Most people are bombarded by marketing campaigns throughout the day, on their phones, computers and other media. A recommendation from a trusted friend or neighbor will stand out. Consider offering incentives to your members for recruiting their friends, either with a discount on their share, a free t-shirt of hat, or some other form of recognition. Give your loyal members a nudge by either asking them to forward a recruitment email or sharing social media posts. They are usually glad to do it when asked.
For a more comprehensive list of tips on marketing your CSA: http://memberassembler.com/hub/marketing-tips-for-farmers