Lauren Kaplan - Feb 13, 2017

Marketing Your CSA (Part IV): Promotion is Thinking Outside the (CSA) Box

This is the last of a four-part series on marketing your CSA, loosely following the four P’s: product, price, placement and promotion.

Finally, we’ve gotten to the fun stuff: promotion.

Yes, fun. I happen to really enjoy this part of selling produce, almost as much as I enjoy converting anyone in earshot to share my love of broccoli leaves. (Seriously: it’s going to be big.)

If you’re thinking I’m nuts, that promotion is pretty low on your list of preferred activities, and that you don’t really want to spend any more time on promotion than you need to… then good. This means that, unlike me, you won’t need to remind yourself that the goal, ideally, is to use minimal effort to attain maximum enrollment, thus freeing up more of your time for all those other items on your to-do list.

This might be as simple as posting a few flyers around town and handing out flyers at your farmers market or farm stand. Or it can be… well, fun. Depending on where (and how much) you’re looking to grow, how much time or resources you’ve allotted for farm marketing, and how creative you’re willing to get, here are a few ideas to get you thinking outside the (CSA) box.

Hold a contest using social media that will promote your farm to a targeted audience, perhaps offering up a CSA share as a prize. Pinterest and Facebook are good options if you want to use photos. Read more about how to structure your contest, and be sure to abide by contest rules for whichever platform you’re using.

Offer an early-bird discount or $5 off at your farmstand for anyone who signs up by a certain date, or to anyone who gets a friend to sign up with them. Holding a members-only event at the start of the season could incentivize early enrollment. Having an online registration link featured prominently on your website makes it easy to share the link in all of your marketing materials, and easy for folks to sign up.

Host an event that doubles as a promotion platform for your new CSA! A farm I worked at had a “Meet the Farmers” happy hour at a bakery/brewery that sourced produce from us, where past and present CSA members were invited to meet new apprentices. Most anything goes, from hosting a farm class to a scavenger hunt to a tasting of last years’ tomato jams and hot pepper jellies -- so long as it gets people onto your farm and acquainted with your CSA.

(Tip: If you want a big bang for your buck, pitch the event to a local publication or news media to see if they might be interested in covering your event.)

Farm-to-office, aka workplace CSA’s generally originate with an employee -- but who’s to say you can’t make the first move? Do you know a business that might be a great fit to partner with your farm, or would one of your friends or supporters be interested in approaching their employer to set up a CSA pick-up site at their office? In addition to being super-convenient, this is also a great way for members to split up and divide whole shares with co-workers in a centralized location. Many businesses have “green” or sustainability initiatives, and might be receptive to the idea… especially (as Goldman Sachs knows) if it gets them good press.

When considering these and countless other ways to market your CSA, try to choose tactics that best utilize your strengths (for example, are you people-oriented, charismatic, well-connected, tech-savvy?), and which will best serve your marketing goals.

Finally, it’s worth stating that spending time and energy on member retention (rather than reaching out to new members) is, in addition to good CSA management, a great promotional strategy. Word-of-mouth is some of the best promotion you can get. It’s free, it’s real, and it works. The more you can keep existing CSA members satisfied and loyal, the less work you’ll have to put into promotion going forward.

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After graduating from UCSC's Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, Lauren Alexandra Kaplan spent a season at an organic CSA farm in California before returning east to farm in the Hudson Valley. Prior to pursuing farming full time, she worked in book publishing and helped to launch an urban farm in NYC. Alexandra is an avid salsa dancer and maker of jams, pickles, and kraut.

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