This week, I spent a couple of hours working on my CSA farm. I harvested two rows of fingerlings before the storms started and farmer Mary LaFrance kicked me out of the field. I am a member of the Lakeplain Prairie Organic Farm; the only certified organic CSA in Wayne County, Michigan. For those of you unfamiliar with CSA farms, they offer a subscription-based service for fresh, great tasting, local and organic food. Subscribers to this service pay a seasonal rate and agree to work a specified number of hours during the course of the growing season.
As a CSA member, you develop a relationship with a local farmer, receive a weekly serving of freshly picked great tasting local food, and build friendships in your local community. You also develop a strong sense of satisfaction in knowing where your food was grown, when it was harvested, and how far it traveled to your plate.
At first glance, you may think that food retailers are in direct conflict with CSA Farms. It is true that if I get all my fruits, vegetables and flowers from my CSA membership, I will no longer buy them from my local store. If that’s the case, why would my local merchant want to promote community-supported agriculture? If you subscribe to the theory of economic abundance, there are enough resources for everyone. With a little cooperative support and some creative marketing, food retailers and CSA Farms can foster economic abundance in their local community.
Cross-marketing with your local CSA
CSA Farms often supplements its profits by reserving a portion of the farm for direct sale to local retailers. Taking advantage of these freshly picked, locally grown organic produce, these stores not only provide a better product for their customers, but also support local farmers. Don’t keep these locally grown produce a secret:
- Label your locally grown produce with the farmer’s name, location, and photo, if available.
- Invite local farmers to your store for a “Meet the Farmers” day.
- Pass out recipes that promote seasonal produce and provide information about the farm where they were grown and harvested.
Letting your customers know that you support local farmers builds goodwill in the community and keeps dollars flowing between friends and neighbors. Products that are not native to your growing region will also be in demand and must be supplied by your retail store. And remember, your local farmers need to buy too! Support them and they, in turn, will support your business.
Co-sponsoring educational events
Many CSA farms offer classes in canning, freezing, and preserving fruits and vegetables. Co-sponsoring a CSA educational event is a great way to show your support for the community while reminding residents that you can meet all of their shopping needs that are not available through your CSA. The strawberry preserves members are learning to make still require sugar, fruit pectin, and canning jars! Advertising the event with posters in your retail store further shows your support for the community and your local food network.
Kids: Your Next Generation of Local Food Consumers
My CSA farm, Lakeplain Prairie, has a special garden area just for kids. Not only do CSA parent members have the opportunity to complete their service requirement 24/7, children have the opportunity to learn about gardening. Two things kids love is playing in the dirt and being active. Letting them plant, care for, and harvest their own garden does both. The underlying benefit for parents and food retailers is that they are learning. Children will experience a sense of pride and enjoyment growing and cultivating their own fruits, vegetables, and flowers. They also tend to be more willing to try the produce they grew on their own, leading to healthy eating and less risk of obesity. And remember, today’s little farmer is tomorrow’s busy consumer.
As a food retailer, supporting local CSA farms makes good business sense. Cross marketing, educational programs, and involving children are ways to increase retail sales. Long-term benefits to your retail business will come from fostering community goodwill, consumer food health, and a strong local economy.