This is the eighth post in a SGT series that looks at CSA -- community supported agriculture -- from the farmer's perspective. Also check out earlier posts: Adventures in Farming, Managing Expectations, Crop Planning, Add-On Partnerships, Farmer-to-Member Communications, Preventing Waste, and Greenhouse Days.
Recently in this series, I've covered farmer-to-member communications, emphasizing the importance of connecting with our farm's CSA members over social media and through email. Conveying information about the farm is a vital part of what we do, but we've also been trying to develop relationships that go far beyond a basic buyer and seller model. After all, our farm, Bossy Acres, is community supported, so we feel that it's crucial for us to know who makes up that community.
Twitter talk, Facebook interactions, and email exchange can be a boon for farmers and members, but much like in any relationship, there's a certain level of connection that can only come from seeing each other face to face. There are many members we haven't met in person, and some will always remain an online connection due to scheduling or logistics, but we try hard to create opportunities where members can meet us and meet each other, too.
Abundant variety of meetups
We've found that offering a variety of meet-up options tends to work best for our members. Some people appreciate knowing about an event months in advance, for example, while others lean toward coming to the farm for a last-minute volunteer opportunity.
For example, we used Evite to set up our recent pre-season meeting for CSA members on April 20th. We sent out the invitation to members in February and also sent occasional reminders to help members remember to set the date. When the event came, we had a great turnout, and we were able to meet many new members as well as some that were returning from last year.
We also set aside time after the meeting (which covered delivery logistics, add-on partners, farm updates, etc.) to mingle with members who wanted to chat. The event turned into a great morning of connecting with members and answering questions they may have considered too minor for an email query.
For an example of a last-minute event, we put out a recent volunteer call for members to help with cutting up potatoes for planting — a process that helps to prevent rot and speed up the harvest timeframe. A few members were able to make the event, even though it was short notice, and we had a lively conversation about McDonalds french fries while chopping up 600 pounds of organic seed potatoes. (The image at the top of the post shows one of our CSA members and friends during the all-important potato "chitting" experience.)
We always emphasize that there's no expectation that members will volunteer (we're not Guilty Acres, after all) but we do express ample appreciation for those who can make it. The actual labor is a big plus for us, but there's also the added benefit of getting to know each other, even if it's only through jokes about fast food chains.
Whenever we're doing a farmers market or holding classes about indoor growing, we let our membership know, in case they want to stop by. Similar to volunteering, there's no expectation, but we like to let members know that we look forward to seeing them. We also believe that these situations give members a chance to feel connected to the larger world of sustainable agriculture and the local food movement — basically, to see that they're not just customers, but part of a bigger, wonderful network.
For this summer, we plan to have at least one or two member events where members can come out to the farm and see the rows of luscious vegetables that will soon be in their CSA boxes. Many farms host member events like that, and we feel that they're even more fun if we've already met members through one of the other in-person events, classes, or markets. Then, there's a higher sense of camaraderie and familiarity, because we're a bit past the getting-to-know-you phase. Of course, we also love meeting new people, so it's nice to have a mix of those we know and those we're meeting for the first time.
We'll also be putting together a few classes just for our members, with a focus on food preservation, to help members deal with abundant CSA boxes. I've become slightly obsessed with fermentation, so I'll be singing the praises of kimchi, and we'll be covering other topics like dehydrating, canning, and pickling. The classes will be centered on whatever is in season at that particular time, so members will be able to swap stories and recipes about how they're using their Bossy produce.
No matter what the occasion — formal meetup, quick farmers market chat, or volunteer day — we always love getting to know our members by simply hanging out with them, even if it's only for a few minutes. That time of being together in the offline world creates a deeper connection, and a stronger community for the farm, our membership, and us.
In the last installment of Behind the CSA Box, I'll talk about what we've been waiting for all winter: finally getting in the fields. Until then, enjoy the spring and stay bossy!
Elizabeth Millard owns Bossy Acres with her partner, Karla Pankow. They grow an array of delicious vegetables in Northfield, using sustainable and organic methods. Their CSA is sold out, but they'll be at the Mill City Farmers Market in May, and offering vegetables through Twin Cities Local Food during the season. Follow them on Facebook and on Twitter at @BossyAcres.