Jane Kuhn - Sep 12, 2016

Tips for an Effective End-of-Season CSA Survey

John Crooke and Stefan Streit of Tinicum CSA

In the current climate of convenience, retaining your community supported agriculture (CSA) members - the ones who leap into shared seasonal risks with you - can be a challenging feat. Whether you connect with your community of CSA members in person at the on-farm pickup, or simply via the weekly e-newsletter, surveying your members provides insight as to how the CSA is being received. An end-of-season survey is a great way to learn more; the trick is designing it to be effective, so that it doesn't take up too much time and provides relevant results.

What to Ask
When building the content of your survey, consider what you’re hoping to learn more about and let those goals inform your questions. So that the information you do gather can be put directly toward change, disregard topics for which you have no control over (i.e. the geographical location of your farm) and focus on items that do have room for change (i.e. pick-up format, crop variations and quantities, etc.). Additionally, keep questions simple. Focused questions facilitate precise and interpretable data.

How to Ask It
The format of a survey is crucial for both interaction and analysis. John Crooke, one of the co-farmers and co-owners of Tinicum CSA, a CSA farm in Upper Black Eddy, PA, said “some of the most helpful information we receive from surveys is by identifying repetition,” which can be more easily detected through structured rather than open-ended questions. Questions that require one word answers or are in multiple choice format make it easy to pick up on patterns.

Written answers are not to be avoided altogether, however, as Tinicum CSA has found it can be a source for marketing gold. Including at least one or two short answers in your survey can produce ample quotes for marketing materials. You can even ask specific questions that will give you just that, such as:

“What was the most enjoyable aspect of being a member this season?”
“Would you consider joining next season and why?”

Either through written answers or multiple choice, don’t pass up the opportunity to learn what motivates your customers. Asking a question such as “Why did you choose to join this CSA?” may bear marketable fruit, but perhaps more indirectly, it can provide insight into what motivates your members to invest in your farming season. This is integral information for determining how to frame your product - what a CSA investment is - and how to acquire collective buy-in from your community.

Accrue a High Response Rate for Reliable Results
A fine-tuned survey is no use if your response rate is low; therefore balancing maximum information with convenience is key. Keep written answers to a minimum, and a good rule of thumb is keep the time it takes to complete to about five minutes. Online surveys are easily accessible and convenient. On the flip side, if your CSA has a staffed pickup, asking members to fill out a form while you stand in front of them with a smile can go a long way towards an increased response rate.

Online Survey Tools
SurveyMonkey and Google Forms are a couple of the most popular and accessible resources for facilitating online evaluations. Both are free, compatible with mobile phones, and organize data into charts and graphs for easy review of farm analytics. Google Forms is easy to use and grants access to all of its features for free. SurveyMonkey is also free, and although a small fee is required for more advanced analytical features and greater respondent capacity, it is integrated with a slew of partners such as EventBrite and MailChimp. You can check out an example template on Google Forms here.

Let your goals guide your questions and keep the design of the survey simple and focused. An end-of-season survey will shed light on areas of your business often built on assumptions, and can serve as a valuable tool among efforts to retain and grow your member base.

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Jane works as a Field Production Specialist at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, where her days are filled with tractor work, irrigation coordination, orchard care, and educating apprentices and interns. Her favorite way to end a long day's work in the sun, is running down the hill to Mitchell's Cove and jumping in the Pacific.

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