Assessing the 2012 CSA, Part III: decisions for 2013

After reviewing what we did in 2012, and what members thought of it, we’ve made our decisions on how to proceed with the CSA for 2013. In short, main features will stay the same, we’re adding a delivery fee, expanding the membership, and doing a better job defining the production/distribution season. Read on for more analysis and details of next year’s program, including how to sign up.

Overall, we valued our produce reasonably well, though we under-predicted the weeks we could produce and thus undervalued the shares by distributing 31 shares for the price of 24-25. What we really didn’t get right was attaching proper value to all the special features that most other CSAs here don’t offer. This Iowa State study helped us understand this, arguing¬† that farms should start with a base price just for the value of the produce but add on premiums for other services or features that add value beyond the grocery store, such as freshness, flavor, ethics, and so on. In our case, features like weekly herbs, customization, home delivery, extra produce diversity & rare items, and so on are not available from anyone else and should have a value attached to them.

In addition the Iowa State study makes the very accurate point that most CSAs are undervalued because the farmers only index to globalized store prices, not to local cost of production. The study noted that “Fifty seven percent of respondents(CSA farmers) perceived their current share price did not offer them a fair wage.” We’d agree that most CSAs (and market farms) around here are significantly underpriced when looked at from the income-earned point of view, especially when compared to the prices/hourly wages earned by other services like lawn care, housekeeping, child care, massage/spa, and so on. Do you consider the farmer growing your food to be an equal investment in your family’s health and quality of life?

Based on our member feedback, people loved the experience and the special features we offered, but weren’t comfortable paying more. So we can’t raise prices much this year, but don’t want to remove the features that are core to our current business model and help us stand out. With all that in mind, here’s our approach for 2013. Try to see this through our eyes as farmers working 60+ hours/week in all weather conditions in an unstable environment with products that are highly perishable, providing a valuable and unique service for your household. We don’t think this is enough to keep us going in the long-term, but it’ll work for next year when we can all reassess the situation again with another year of experience under our belts. With the very high customer-satisfaction ratings from this year’s survey, we know we’re on the right track.

2013 summary
We provide more details here, but this is the basic outline:
– retain diversity, customization, herbs, & delivery on Mondays and Thursdays
– keep base share prices about the same, but add delivery charge
– set maximum annual shares at 28 weeks
– include several scheduled breaks in distribution during the season for farmer sanity, allowing us to continue some off-season shares without having an excessive total number of shares
– encourage World Harvest deliveries with lower delivery cost, but not force anyone into this
– reduce number of on-farm events, though we really value these ourselves
– add regular volunteer opportunities for members
– encourage members to “give a little extra” to help support the farm in a way that works for them; this doesn’t have to be $$ (though that’s an option); some ideas include finding time to help out on the farm, contributing something on the (soon-to-be-available) farm wish list, or otherwise finding some way to make the farm more viable for the long run
– allow option for interested members to pay more than base price if interested and able, to support both the farm and/or lower-income members
– continue to limit quantity of partial (now called single) shares as they’re less efficient

Please read through the full summary of the 2013 program, and if interested in rejoining or joining anew, follow the links there to fill out the membership survey. As stated above, we’d like to fill our membership by December to allow for a January distribution (likely early in the month this year), so are hoping to get cracking on this right away. Let your friends and especially neighbors near your delivery location know, too: the more efficient delivery is, the better for everyone involved!

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