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February 8, 2017
What DO Eaters Want?
a Note from the Farmer's Wife
And so it is that the farmers and their families wend their way home from Penn State after the 26th annual farming conference hosted by PASA (Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture). If you’ve never attended this inspiring event, you can’t imagine the incredible energy when several thousand sustainably-minded, idealistic farmers come together. The conference is loaded with informative classes, from labor laws to field fertility, from marketing trends to cheese making; there is something for everyone.
I attended a session with Simon Huntley, CEO of the marketing firm, Small Farm Central
and avid CSA proponent. His topic, What Eaters Want
, reminded me of a blog post
I wrote a few years ago, speculating on the future of CSA.
Huntley provided some data that validated some of our concerns and some that proved our concerns wrong. He also offered some creative encouragement to negotiate the changes in the CSA market.
He noted that while $703 billion is spent in the US on food at home, only 0.5%- 1.0% of that amount is spent on food purchased through the local food movement channels, such as CSA and Farmer’s markets. To gain some perspective on that figure, Whole Foods alone receives almost twice the annual dollars spent on food, as retail local farm outlets.
When you look at those numbers, the idea that the CSA market is saturated seems kind of ridiculous. Surely the CSA model is a good fit for more than 1% of the population. The trick is figuring out why that figure is so low, and how to either meet the needs or spread the word to those who do not participate.
According to Huntley’s research, last year was the first year that spending at restaurants and bars surpassed money spent on food for home consumption. Clearly this reflects our busy lives and the drive for convenience. After long days at work, juggling kids’ activities and other responsibilities, a stop to pick up takeout can be a relief. Many restaurants offer dishes made from local foods, with plenty of options for healthy choices, making the temptation to buy out even more tempting and justifiable.
Another obstacle that many CSA consumers face is the daunting task of preparing and cooking the entire contents of their box each week. This takes commitment, and for those who are less confident in their cooking skills, truly challenging. To meet the needs of the unconfident-wanna-be home chef, mail-order services like Blue Apron offer meal kits utilizing perfectly portioned local foods and easy to follow recipes. At $60/week this option is more than three times the expense of a CSA farmshare box, and yet 3% of consumers have tried it. Compare that with an optimistic 1% that have tried CSA, and a Farmer might get a little discouraged…or start selling to Blue Apron. Meal kit services have a notoriously low retention rate when compared to farm shares, which leads one to believe that CSA is still a more sustainable option in the eyes of the consumers that actually try it.
Does the term “CSA” still mystify the consumer? Or is that now a mainstream word that has meaning when mentioned on Facebook, or print advertising. Huntley suggests that even though the term is now used by non-farm “shares,” such as a Beer CSA
, or a Bread CSA
, it might make sense to use a term whose meaning is quickly understood, such as "Farm Share" or "Farm Box." The term CSA literally means, Community Supported Agriculture, but it is evolving into a more generic term meaning something like community supported artisan, or activity as much as anything to do with a farm.
Regardless of the term used, Huntley confirmed our experience that CSA’s expand by word of mouth. We rely heavily on a good reputation which our customers who are passionate about the farm and the good food that comes to them convey everywhere they go.
We would like to hear from you. Have you tried a CSA before? What was your experience? If you have never tried a CSA, why not? What do you think would make this model more accessible to veggie consumers, and more user-friendly for the new customer? If you have been, or are, a CSA customer of Red Earth Farm, do you have ideas that can improve your experience?
Feel free to comment below this post, or email us with your thoughts. If you are willing to speak to us personally, that would be a great help. We are all ears. firstname.lastname@example.org