Corporate CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs – The Basic Scoop

What is a corporate CSA program?

A regular CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program means individual people buy half or full shares of veggie boxes from a local farm for a season.  A corporate program works in very much the same way except that a group of people, in this case a group of colleagues from a company, sign-up together for CSA shares and enjoy the advantage that come with a group sign-up.

An example of one such comparison between an individual and corporate CSA program run at Fisher Farms in central Alberta, Canada is seen below

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The two main features of the corporate CSA program are:

  1. discount – in this case a 5% discount per share (approx.) is extended to every person in the group
  2. direct-to-office delivery – saving the corporate members’ time and energy necessary to pick-up their shares from their local farmers market or agreed upon drop-off location

Why corporate CSA programs are a good idea

They are more efficient and easier to organize than regular CSA programs and encourage year-to-year growth within companies and a loyal following.

Efficiencies gained

  • direct marketing allows for lower overhead costs due to cutting out the middle man, no paying for market stalls or retail spaces to sell produce
  • once you get several companies signed-up within the same downtown core of a given city, commuting times are short between locations and you can get to all the groups quickly
  • products are pre-paid and picked up in bulk at specific time and location.  No unsold produce and no waiting around twiddling ones thumbs.
  • thinking of organising additional workshops or farm tours? By working with affluent clients, with their taste-buds already immersed in local and sustainably grown food, you grow your pool of customers and their networks that are likely to be interested in other products, activities and packages that your farm has to offer

Easier to organize

Corporate or group CSA’s will often be orchestrated from within by 1 or 2 key members.  These “evangelists” inform their group as to prices, schedules and key concepts and bring you the final lists and, often times, everyone’s payments in one deft movement.  Instead of chasing down individual customers you need to work together and communicate with the right evangelists… and they will create groups for you.  Remember to reward their efforts too!

Encourage year-to-year growth and a loyal following

Corporate groups bring a lot of growth potential with them.  In corporations of hundreds or thousands of people, a dozen or so come together to buy your fresh veggie boxes… so what about the remaining unfed employees?  They may not join in year 1, but rest assured that colleagues will talk to eachother, share their experiences, and if they are satisfied with their boxes will most likely encourage an even greater number of people to sign-up for the following season.  There is a certain amount of effort and trust shared between CSA members, corporate or otherwise, and their farmers which creates a higher sense of loyalty from year to year.  Corporations just like individuals aren’t likely to change farms every year if they are satisfied with the quality and delivery of the produce.

Initial investment required

The following are the two most common challenges when starting up a corporate CSA program at your farm

  1. Finding and Rewarding your Evangelists

The person on the inside, the one pushing for and marshalling their colleagues to join a corporate CSA is your “evangelist” and they are working hard to promote you, your farm and the infallible quality of your produce.  Finding these individuals can be tricky, but once they appear on your horizon they are likely to remain there, especially if you reward them and treat them right.  Did you notice a company signature on that last email from Marjorie, your trusted friend and CSA member?  Remind her that you run a corporate program and reward organizers lavishly – then sit back and watch the magic unfold.  Did she round up a dozen colleagues and organize everyone’s forms and payments for you? You’d better treat her to a $50 gift certificate to her choice of farm fresh produce.  Did she get another 20 people signed-up for the following season? Gift her with a free share!

Bottom line is – treat them right, reward them for they are equal to your hardest workers and are bringing you new customers and money without you having to wag a finger.

  1. Getting in

By getting in I mean… getting in.  And getting started.  You won’t always get to work with the top-notch “evangelists” out there meaning you may have to make up for the slack and find a way for the potential members to get to know you, trust you and sign-on with you.  This may mean going out to the company and putting together a “Lunch ‘n Learn” so that employees can get to learn more about you and, ideally, meet you.  I say “ideally” because if you’re terrified of public speaking and would rather shovel cow shit for a week than talk in front of a group of people for 10 minutes… you may have to send an intern, family member or cousin in your stead.  Anyone who can tell your story well and with passion is a candidate for the job, but keep in mind that potential customers ultimately want to learn about you, your farm and your food.

Presenting isn’t the only option – a farm day for a potential employee group or a Saturday BBQ at the farm may work as well.  Get to know them and share your story and you may even be surprised at how receptive and enthusiastic everyone will get.

In short, there may be some initial investment required to get a corporate CSA program off the ground and flying – but the efforts are well worth it and pay dividends in following years.

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2 comments

  1. Have you looked at any health insurance cost benefits for the companies. I.E. lower premiums for those using the CSA?

  2. Dear Doug, that’s a great idea. And no, when I was involved with Fisher Farms near Calgary and helping them to get set up with corporate CSA in 2013 it felt like we just weren’t there yet – the focus was on the food quality/variety, the group discount and getting everyone on board for the weekly deliveries. Also, I wonder if this kind of an idea on lower premiums would be more beneficial in the US than in Canada perhaps?

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