Pastured Pork Marketing - Cultivating a Meat CSA for Wil-Den Family Farms

Final Report for ONE04-019

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2004: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
David Eson
PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture
Expand All

Project Information


Over a 16-month period, Wil-Den Family Farms, producers of "Fresh Air Pork", and PASA worked together to develop a community supported agriculture (CSA) project for Wil-Den's pastured pork products. The development of the CSA focused on identifying 50 organizations as potential CSA partners in the western region of Pennsylvania. These organizations were contacted and asked to host a tasting event and farm presentation. All the organizations contacted were surveyed and a database was established with the results. We partnered with 11 organizations in the region and gave presentations to over 700 potential CSA shareholders.

These events and presentations allowed potential customers to taste some of Wil-Den's "Fresh Air Pork" and learn more about their farming operation. Participants at the meeting were asked to signup for the CSA and were also surveyed to determine their preferences for pork cuts, CSA share size, delivery and/or pick-up preferences. After the presentations were completed, 50 families became CSA shareholders. On a monthly basis, anywhere between 25 and 50 of these families purchased CSA shares from Wil-Den Family Farms.

Outreach to other farmers took place at PASA's annual Farming for the Future Conference, field days, website, and newsletter Passages; regional farming publications and papers; the Small Farm Success Project (USDA-IFAFS) website, Rodale Institute's New Farm website; and Pennsylvania annual farm events.

Project Objectives:

Performance target: Of the 50 organizations and 500 customers who learn about the project, 20 organizations will become project partners and 100 families will become shareholders and purchase an annual $600 CSA share.

Milestone 1: Fifty organizations will learn about the project through phone calls, presentations, and newsletters;

Milestone 2: Twenty organizations will agree to host a farm presentation and advertise the event to their employees, members, and customers;

Milestone 3: Five hundred people will attend the farm presentations and taste Wil-Den Family Farms’ pork products;

Milestone 4: 100 families will become CSA members and purchase an annual $600 CSA share.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Bill and Denise Brownlee


Materials and methods:

The project was designed to create opportunities to introduce Wil-Den's "Fresh Air Pork" products to more consumers. The farm already had several customers who wanted their prime cuts but would not buy their sub-prime cuts. Wil-Den wanted to use the CSA model as a way to help sell their ground product and other sub-prime cuts. In order to do this, marketing materials were developed and tasting events were scheduled with community groups, businesses and churches. The events were also scheduled at farmers’ markets and conferences. The events included a farm presentation followed by a tasting or a meal. Our philosophy for creating the projects was that the story behind the farm and the quality of the product will encourage event participants to buy the pork products on a frequent basis.

Research results and discussion:

From May to June 2004, PASA and Wil-Den Family Farms generated a list of individuals and organizations to contact. By June 2004, the partners identified a list of 50 organizations to contact, developed surveys to use while contacting potential business partners and determining customers' preferences, and designed marketing materials to use during the presentations.

The most noteworthy development was the customer brochure highlighting the purchasing options. Customers chose from a full share at $67.00 per month, a half share at $34.00 per month, or a sausage share at $34.00 per month. The full share contains 15 to 16 pounds of meat and includes bone-in center-cut chops, regular bacon, cottage bacon, ground pork, bulk breakfast sausage, bulk sweet Italian sausage, and a semi-boneless ham slice. The half share contains seven to eight pounds of meat and includes the same items listed in the full share. The sausage share contains 10 pounds of meat and allows the customer to choose from the following options: ground pork, bulk breakfast sausage, bulk sweet Italian sausage, and bulk hot Italian sausage. Once a customer has purchased a full, half, or sausage share, he or she may purchase any item from the Ala Carte menu. Those items include the items above plus 19 other pork products.

Between July and December 2004, the partners gave five presentations. The presentations were given to a private community association, a manufacturing plant, members of a vegetable CSA farm, a business district association meeting, and a catholic convent. The number of attendees at each meeting was 10, 60, 40, 20, and 80 respectively. As of December 2004, a total of 210 potential customers have been reached.

In these early meetings, prospective customers told us that paying up front for a full share, half share or sausage share was not possible. Many would not commit to paying $804 for the full share or even $408 for the half or sausage share. These customers wanted to pay the monthly cost of $67 or $34 each time they picked up their meat. To honor the customer wishes, the project partners decided to no longer ask potential customers to pay the entire cost of the share up front but allow the customers to purchase on a monthly basis.

Between July and December 2004, Wil-Den Family Farms delivered CSA shares to 20 customers at the manufacturing plant, 13 customers at the CSA farm, and 4 customers from the business district association. This is a total of 37 customers purchasing CSA shares. One customer is purchasing a full share at $67 per month while the remaining 36 customers were purchasing half or sausage shares at $34 per month. The Ala Carte menu seems to be a benefit to over 30 percent of the customers. There have been 12 customers who used the Ala Carte menu consistently to add extra pork to their CSA order. From January to July 2004, the number of customers at these locations has fluctuated monthly between 25 and 35. Customers from the vegetable CSA farm proved to be the most consistent purchasers of pork.

After a presentation at the Felician Sisters Catholic Convent, the nuns decided to buy the whole pig instead a CSA share. In January 2005, they took delivery of their first animal. Between January and July, they bought another four animals plus ordered additional individual cuts. Sales to the convent have been in excess of $1,500.

From January to July 2005, the project partners gave six more presentations. Presentations were made at a Grove City Chamber of Commerce event, two pastured meat tasting events, the PASA annual conference and two farmers’ markets. The number of attendees at each meeting was 200, 35, 100, 150 and 48, respectively. As of July 2005, a total of 743 potential customers had been reached.

The chamber of commerce event gave the partners the opportunity to introduce the farm and their products to many new customers and allowed them to learn about their on-farm store. But in the case of the earlier meetings, many of the customers were one time buyers and few drove out to the store to buy any more products.

In February the partners attended the annual PASA conference and purchased booth space in the Marketplace, a designated area where farmers could sell their products. Wil-Den did quite well at the conference, doubling their sales from the year before. This could be attributed to their presentation style and professional looking sales materials. They also introduced many conference attendees to their CSA. The most significant development at the conference was the initial meeting and eventual marketing relationship established with Cibola Farms in Culpeper County, Virginia. Since February 2005, Cibola Farms has purchased 40 pigs from Wil-Den at $1.25 per pound for market sales in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

The two meat tasting events were held in March and May, 2005. Along with Slow Food Pittsburgh and the Phipps Conservatory, the project partners invited other farms producing beef, lamb, and poultry to participate in the event. These events drew 135 people and allowed customers to meet the farmers, sample and purchase their products. Before the event, two drop off locations were established in Pittsburgh, one in the southern suburbs and one in the eastern part of the city. These meetings produced ten new CSA members.

At the first tasting event, the project partners met with Jamie Moore from Eat’n Park Hospitality Group. Jamie is the purchasing manager for the Parkhurst Dining Services division of the company. Parkhurst Dining Services has set a goal of purchasing 20 percent of its products from Pennsylvania farms. In April Wil-Den began selling to one Parkhurst account and has plans to sell its products to Eat’n Park’s newest restaurant, Sixth and Penn, in downtown Pittsburgh.

Wil-Den also gave presentations about their CSA at the two farmers’ markets where they sell their products. Those farmers’ markets were the North Union Farmers’ Market and the Sewickley Farmers’ Market. The North Union customers were not very interested in the CSA since they were already used to buying individual packages. However, all the new customers at the Sewickley Farmers’ Market must first buy a CSA package before they purchase any individual packages. This strategy has worked well for this new market and the new customers at Sewickley have consistently been buying 5 to 10 CSA shares a week at the market.

At the end of the project, there were 11 organizations who partnered with the project and those partners helped 743 potential customers learn about meat CSA. Customers purchasing the CSA shares fluctuated between 25 and 50 each month during the project period. Even though the goal of 100 families purchasing a $600 annual share was not met, the CSA project helped Wil-Den Farm diversify its marketing strategy and begin business relationships with three new organizations. The farmers themselves saw the project as a success because it enabled them to establish new relationships with both retail and wholesale customers.

Research conclusions:

The project has impacted farmers, businesses, civic groups, and the general public. Farmers in western Pennsylvania have been impacted in two ways. First, at least five farmers considered adding meat to their current CSA operation. Two decided to begin raising pastured meat while the other three found other local farms for their meat supply. Second, two livestock owners will be adding a CSA to their direct marketing strategy in 2006.

A field day was held in July 2005 were 20 farmers spent two days learning about outdoor pork production and meat marketing. Of those 20 farmers, three farmers were considering starting a meat CSA in 2006.

Their impressions of the meat CSA was that it could help them get their customers to commit to buying more meat, especially the sub-prime cuts. They saw the advantages of selling "packages" of meat through the CSA but worried about how successful this new marketing approach would be for them. If they were going to attempt to start a CSA, they wanted a partner like PASA there to assist them.

Businesses who were interested in the project showed a commitment to employee health and regional sustainability. Prior to becoming a partner to the project, one business was concerned about employee health care costs and overall employee health. The other business was concerned about finding quality food products to prepare and serve to its client. The major impact for both businesses has been their acknowledgement that local farm products can be a high quality product and affordably priced. Although both businesses have seen the immediate impact of the high quality products through the presentations, a longer term impact will be the improvement of employee health.

The civic organizations and general public, like the businesses, had a lot to learn about local food products. The major impact on these last two groups was also their acknowledgement that local farm products can be a high quality product and affordably priced. Whether their motivation was to support another local business, improve their nutrition by purchasing a pork product low in fat, without MSG or preservatives, eat meat from animals raised in a humane way, or just buy a great tasting product, they all purchased the products because they were educated about the product, the farm, and the farmers.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

Materials produced during the project include the customer survey and the Wil-Den Family Farm CSA brochure. The outreach and education efforts included the public meetings along with media articles printed in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Acres USA and Farm and Dairy.

The survey and early meetings provided us with important consumer research information and helped the project team develop a marketing approach that was acceptable to prospective customers. That new marketing approach provided customers with the flexibility of purchasing a CSA share when they wanted but also allowed Wil-Den to package their products and sell at least $34 of pork to each customer.

The public meetings were an effective way of putting a face on the food that Wil-Den was selling. Not only were the presentations at the meeting informative, those who attended the meetings asked a lot of questions about how the pigs were raised, handled and butchered. These types of questions raised at the meetings gave the project partners valuable insight about who their prospective customers might be and how future marketing materials may need to be designed. The most successful aspect of the meetings was the tasting of the pork samples. Everyone who attended the meetings enjoyed the meat and talked about how wonderful it tasted. For those who attended, the quality of the meat was the leading factor in their decision to buy it.

Outreach to farmers took place at PASA's annual Farming for the Future Conference, field days, website, and through the newsletter Passages. There were also articles about the project in Acres USA and Farm and Dairy.

At the end of the project, there were five farmers who considered adding meat to their current CSA vegetable operations. Two decided to begin raising pastured meat while the other three found other local farms for their meat supply. Two livestock owners will be adding a CSA to their direct marketing strategy in 2006.

A field day was held in July 2005 were 20 farmers spent two days learning about outdoor pork production and meat marketing. Of those 20 farmers, three farmers were considering starting a meat CSA in 2006.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Farmer Adoption

Wil-Den Family Farms has committed to using the CSA as part of their marketing strategy. Now they offer sales through farmers’ markets, their farm store, wholesale accounts and the CSA. In fact, all of their new customers at the Sewickley Farmers’ Market must first buy a CSA package before they purchase any individual packages.

Even as the project ended, the partners continued to work with organizations to organize presentations and meetings. Wil-Den is committed to reaching its goal of 100 families in the next year and PASA will continue to provide support for the project.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.