PHOTO: Adelina W/Flickr
As almost any market farmer can attest, one of the more daunting tasks for starting a community-supported agriculture operation is not just growing the food, but finding customers who might be interested in buying it all before they can even see it.
There are several easy (and mostly free) ways to get the word out about your CSA. To build up your customer base, consider employing as many of these options as possible. Although many of them are based around the Internet, others are traditional methods that help you do what it takes to meet your customer. They’re out there—you just have to find them, and they have to be able to find you.
1. Farm Website or Blog
Ten or 15 years ago, starting a website would have been an intimidating task for nearly everyone. But now, with sites like Squarespace, WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr, starting a website or blog is relatively simple. These sites provide templates for you to insert your text and pictures, choose your color scheme and start spreading the word about your farm. Most of these sites also offer professional assistance, so if you still feel intimidated by the process, help is available.
Sharing your story will connect customers to you and your food, thus giving them extra incentive to join the CSA. There may be people seeking out CSAs in your area already, and the more visible you are online, the more likely they are to find you. A website is a great starting point.
Facebook is still one of the greatest ways to connect to people young and old, so it’s not a bad idea to maintain a Facebook page for your farm that people can follow. Here you can post upcoming events, farm pictures, CSA registration information and links to your site or blog. It seems small, but it helps legitimize you as a business and lets people know what you’re up to so they can help you spread the word. To sign up your farm for a Facebook business page, you must have a personal page first. Follow the simple instructions detailed on the site to get started.
3. Other Social Media
Outside of Facebook, there’s a plethora of social media sites where you can interact with future customers. Two of the biggies are Instagram and Twitter.
If you have a smartphone, you should download Instagram, a picture-sharing app optimized for mobile devices that allows users to “like” pictures, comment on them and follow their favorite farmers—you can use the service on a computer, but with limited functionality. It’s very user-friendly and exceptional at linking people to what they enjoy. For examples of great farmer Instagram accounts, search for @WorkingHandsFarm, @PaperCraneFarm and @StartaFarm.
Twitter, which can be used via smartphone or computer, is also an incomparable tool for sharing ideas and spreading the word. It focuses on up-to-the-minute updates, so it’s perfect to keep your followers up to date on your daily farm activities—if you tell them you’re harvesting tomatoes on a Friday, they’ll know to expect a tomato crop at market on Saturday.
Having profiles on at least few of these social media networks will help you to connect to several different kinds of audiences.
4. Local Harvest
Local Harvest is just one of the many websites dedicated to connecting customers to small farms but definitely one of the more well-known. Creating a profile here will tremendously help boost your Internet visibility. Customers who are familiar with local food often use Local Harvest to find locally grown food. The site also offers an online store where small farms can easily sell their products or CSA shares. Just go to the site and follow their instructions for how to get set up. Knowing all farmers are not Internet pros, they make it pretty easy.
Now don’t chuckle at this suggestion: You’d be surprised at how effective a good old-fashioned flyer can be at getting the word out. Many people still look at the community boards in coffee shops and bookstores or take flyers from health-food stores. Again, successfully starting a CSA is about finding as many interested people as possible. Not all of those interested people use the Internet, so it’s smart to have a diversity of options. Make sure your flyer is eye-catching and contains your contact information and information about what a CSA is. Post them at local businesses, libraries, cafés and wine bars, and even hand them out at community events, such as art fairs. Anywhere you suspect a potential customer may venture, you should have a flyer.
6. Press Releases
Write a short press release announcing your CSA, and send it to your local newspaper. Newspapers don’t always bite, but if they do it can yield great rewards for your business, so no harm in trying. Both Bugtussle Farm and Hill and Hollow Farm in Kentucky got their breaks 15 years ago when a local paper in Nashville did a write-up about their CSAs. In fact, both farms still have members who originally found them through that write-up.
Before you submit anything, research how to write an effective press release. It should have all the basic information about your farm, as well as intriguing tidbits that show what sets you apart from the competition. The body of your press release should be clear and to the point, and it should define what a CSA is. Proofread to ensure your press release is grammatically correct, and write a catchy headline (“Local Farm Finds Clever Way to Sell Produce” or “Organic Vegetable Club Comes to Town”). If writing is not your forte, don’t hesitate to ask someone familiar with writing press releases for help.
7. Word of Mouth
Once you’ve let everyone know that you’re starting a CSA, but especially once you’ve started delivering, you will be amazed by how many people find out about it through your members. Your members will quickly become your biggest cheerleaders, and as they talk about their farmers or their CSA, their friends will take note. This is another good reason to take advantage of social media so your members can “tag” you in pictures of their dinner or their CSA baskets, which will alert their other friends and followers to the unique opportunity you’re offering. And of course, no harm in asking people to share your page with any of their friends who may be interested in getting fresh, local vegetables and supporting a small farm.
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