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How to Promote Your CSA Farm
Companies and organizations that succeed thrive because they know the right marketing tools to use to promote themselves. The ideas presented in this article to promote community supported agriculture are those any organization or company can adapt for its own needs.
The perfect storm
Every winter and spring is always a challenging time for La Vista. We are non-profit and must sell between 100-120 shares each spring in order to maintain our balance of revenue and expenses.
Last year, La Vista experienced a “perfect storm” of events that made it a very difficult year for us. We had new farmers who were not experienced in working such a large farm. Our area was hit with a mid-summer drought that hurt our tomato crop – a shareholder favorite. In addition, our founder, Maurice Lange, moved on to another position elsewhere. With several of La Vista’s governing board members new or fairly new, I often felt we were the blind leading the blind.
So when it came time to discuss selling shares at the board’s January meeting, we knew we had our work cut out for us. We had unhappy shareholders last year and unhappy shareholders don’t renew their membership. I had picked up a couple books from my favorite bookstore and presented the board with a number of ideas that we subsequently decided to execute.
Standing out from the crowd
First, we realized we had to distinguish ourselves from the other two CSAs in our area. We don’t have the means to make deliveries to St. Louis, Missouri that Riverbend Roots does. Nor do we have the resources available to us that Three Rivers Community Farm has. We decided two ways to make ourselves stand out from the crowd are to promote the experience of La Vista and to promote ourselves as educators.
La Vista is located on private property and entering the gates is like stepping into another world. All the cares and worries of the day are set aside as the sounds of traffic fades and life slows down. Visiting the farm is an opportunity to chat with other members and pick vegetables from the bins and fields.
Free publicity is another way of marketing ourselves and this ties in with promoting ourselves as educators and experts in our field. For instance, on Jan 31, we’ll be giving a free talk to the public about the CSA concept. Because we’re non-profit and this is an educational event, we’ll be able to send public service announcements to the local paper and radio station. Having a table at health fairs and eco-fairs are two more ideas for free publicity that we can use to educate the public about us.
Building communities through websites and social media
No self-respecting company or organization is without a website these days. I have been talking for two years about the need to update La Vista’s website. While it serves its purpose, it is extremely outdated. When La Vista started nine years ago, websites were not the interactive sites they are now. Today, visitors expect to see photos, read blogs and link to other information.
I have all sorts of plans for our new website. One is to have a blog rotating among four writers, preferably with each of us having a niche topic. For instance, our farmer’s wife is a Master herbalist so she could write on herbs – again to build on the idea that we are experts in our field. I want to have testimonials and photographs. I envision short video clips showing members the protocol of picking up their shares, a short tour of the farm, a training clip for greeters in the distribution room and more. And of course we will continue to send out our newsletters.
Finally, social media cannot be overlooked. In this day of Facebook and Twitter, we can’t afford to pass up the opportunity to build a community of people who will “like” and follow us. That encourages a feeling of ‘ownership’ in our members and members who are more closely linked to and buy into the idea of La Vista will be more likely to work harder to see it succeed and understand the risks and rewards of farming.
January 21, 2011
This is the first of a series of monthly hubs I’ll be writing in 2011 about La Vista Community Supported Agriculture in Godfrey, Illinois. I joined La Vista in 2005 and became a member of its board of directors a year later. This series – La Vista: Nurturing land and people – will take the reader through a year at the farm, sharing the struggles and triumphs of operating a CSA and the benefits of membership. I hope you find this series useful and interesting and, as always, feel free to leave a comment.
Next month: Building soil for better vegetables
Two books we used
This book is a little outdated (mentions video tapes) but it has a wealth of practical information, especially for newbies.