Innovative CSA Marketing Tools

Project Overview

FW14-013
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $24,299.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Thomas Powell
Wolf Gulch Farm

Commodities

  • Fruits: apples, berries (other), peaches, berries (strawberries), melons
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cauliflower, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, parsnips, peas (culinary), peppers, radishes (culinary), rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips

Practices

  • Education and Training: focus group
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, community-supported agriculture, marketing management, value added
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal summary:

     

     

      This project seeks to improve the technological capacities of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs through the creation of an app designed specifically for CSA farmers and members. The app will increase participation in CSAs and improve the level of satisfaction with CSAs by providing user-friendly information, including food preparation, storage tips, food preservation techniques, vegetables varieties, meal planning tools and shopping lists for members. CSA producers will be able to upload information that is customized to their farm while more generic information, including recipes and nutritional information, will be embedded in the technology. In addition, the pilot program will include a weekly five to seven minute video with farmer Liz Tree, who will demonstrate basic cooking and food preparation techniques based on the produce provided on a given week.   CSA farmers and members involved with the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative (SSC) CSA program in Southern Oregon will provide the initial information and expertise to create the app. SSC farmers will pilot the app during the 2014-15 CSA seasons before releasing the app to the general public and promoting the app to other CSA farmers. The technology will be open-sourced so that any CSA farm can take advantage of it.   The SSC is an agricultural marketing cooperative comprised of seven family farms and ranches. SSC has relied on the Community Supported Agriculture model of direct marketing to distribute their products for the past ten years, with a current CSA membership of two hundred families. All seven SSC farms are certified organic and certified Salmon-safe, and range from 3-10 acres in mixed vegetable production. The SSC CSA represents only one of several markets for each grower. Six of the farms attend at least one growers market, three sell to restaurants, and two sell to grocery stores. Five producers also grow certified organic vegetable and flower seeds, which are sold on contract with seed companies across the country.   While CSAs represent an excellent market for produce growers, the level of participation in CSAs seems to be decreasing. According to Maud Powell, director of the OSU Extension Small farms program in southern Oregon, all ten CSA programs in Southern Oregon (including SSC) are no longer able to reach their membership targets.   As a result of an increased rate of membership attrition, SSC surveyed members at the end of the 2012 and 2013 seasons to determine reasons for membership turnover. Forty-two percent of the members who were not planning to renew chose one of two survey options -- "not sure how to use all the produce" and "too much produce" as their reasons for discontinuing membership. Most SSC CSA members reported receiving excellent value and quality for the price of their share. The members who do not renew are often unable to consume all the produce they receive and end up throwing or giving away certain vegetables. Other members are unsure of what to do with excess produce, especially at the height of midsummer.   With an increase in the number of other direct markets available to consumers, including buying clubs, on-line "food-hub" programs, and more farmers markets, many CSA members are opting out of a weekly, prescribed box. Even so, SSC farmers believe that CSAs continue to be an excellent model of direct marketing for small, sustainable farmers for many reasons. Farmers receive money during the spring when cash flow can be problematic and have to do minimal marketing during the busy growing season. Many CSA members appreciate the opportunity to be exposed to types of vegetables and fruits they would not have tried on their own. CSAs offer a unique opportunity to increase the number and types of vegetables consumed by participants. Additionally, many people are challenged by cooking from scratch with basic ingredients, and cooking is sometimes seen as a "lost art." This project seeks to use technology to make CSAs more user-friendly and educational to customers.   In today's high-tech world, most people access information through apps on their smartphones, ipods, and ipads. While many apps already exist that include recipes, food storage and preservation tips, and nutritional information of vegetables and fruits, there is currently no app specific for CSA members. "Farmline" is an app to help consumers find farmers markets, farmstands, and CSAs.   The new CSA app will increase CSA member confidence in using the produce offered to them each week. By using current technology, SSC farmers are targeting younger generations who are less apt to know how to prepare their meals from scratch. For example, CSA members who receive a bunch of kale will be instructed in how to use the kale in a green smoothie or prepare "kale chips" in just a few moments. They will be able to access clear directions on how to freeze the extra tomatoes they receive for use during the winter months. In order to keep the direct-marketing model of CSAs relevant to consumers, farmers must continue to look for ways to innovate. The design and use of a CSA app will help farmers and consumers stay in closer touch and provide easily accessible information to make the CSA membership exciting, educational, and cost-effective.  

     

     

    Project objectives from proposal:

     

     

      1. Marketing consultant Becky Brown will convene three focus groups with ten current and potential CSA members each to provide feedback on what information would be most useful to enhance participation in CSA programs. June-July 2014   2. Marketing consultant Becky Brown will conduct an on-line survey of 200 SSC CSA members to gather ideas and feedback on what information should be included in the design process of an app that will improve satisfaction with CSA participation. June 2014.  

     

     

      3. SSC farmer Tom Powell will convene meeting with seven SSC farmers to brainstorm ideas about what information would be useful and easy to provide to CSA members. August 2014.  

    4. Based on the information gathered from the focus groups, on-line survey and farmer brainstorm, SSC farmer Tom Powell will work with app designer Josh Shupack, marketing consultant Becky Brown, and Thrive director Wendy Siporen to determine features of app. September 2014.

     

      5. Josh Shupack will create the new web app, which will be compatible with iphones, ipods, ipads, windows and mac computers. The app will be open-sourced, free, and available for use by other producers using Community Supported Agriculture programs. October 2014-January 2015.   6. App designer Josh Shupack and marketing consultant Becky Brown will create an accompanying Users Guide that will provide information for other producers on how to customize and use the app for their own branding purposes. February-March 2014.   7. SSC Farmer Tom Powell will conduct outreach for SSC's new app through tabling at ten events in Southern Oregon. January- May 2015.   8. SSC Farmer Liz Tree will record a five to seven minute weekly video "Lizzy''s Farm Kitchen." The video will be uploaded to YouTube and linked to the CSA app. The short video will provide SSC members with tips on how to easily prepare the produce in their box on a given week. June-November 2014, June-November 2015.   9. Two SSC farmers and app designer Josh Shupack will attend the Oregon State University annual Small Farms Conference and present information on the new CSA app. February 2015.   10. Two SSC farmers will attend the Northwest Farmer to Farmer Exchange and present information on the new CSA app. February 2015. 11 . Thrive will give information to their business members on the CSA app through emails and a discussion at one of their monthly business round table discussions. January- March 2015. 12. SSC farmer and Oregon State University Extension Agent Maud Powell will present information on the new CSA app at the Northwest¬†Extension Educator conference. December 2015.  

     

     

    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.