Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.
What a busy summer it is for us at LocalHarvest! As many of you know, we are
offering a relatively new service called CSAware.
I am happy to report that it is doing very well, and this month I want to introduce
you to it. I also want to tell you about a local food survey we are going to be
sending out next week to all LH newsletter subscribers. But first, CSAware.
Imagine if you will, that it is your task to coordinate the registration and
payment information for each one of your CSA
members, keep track of all their vacation schedules, answer an unending series
of questions about your business and each of the 45 vegetables you grow, and
coordinate the harvest and delivery of a dozen or more crops every week. And
this is just the office work! Your main priority is to grow (literally) tons
of food, from seed, and ensure that they ripen at the right time, in the right
amounts, unmarred by either pests or disease, using methods that will build
rather than deplete the soil. In short, you have a Very Big Job.
It turns out that it's a big job whether a CSA has 15 or 1500 members. Over the
last decade of working with CSA farmers we have seen the administrative burden
grow as the CSA model has evolved. Most CSA farmers try to handle the office
work with only a telephone, clipboard, spreadsheet, and a hundred scraps of
paper at their disposal. A few years ago we realized that we could help. We set
out to build a set of online tools that would save farmers time in the office
and allow them to become more profitable. We also wanted to offer CSA members a
variety of online services they would love. To this end CSAware was born.
We love to give farmers an online tour of CSAware. The best part is when they
start they ask whether we can do anything to relieve their farm's biggest
headaches. Jennifer Branham, owner of Laguna Farm ,
told us that their farm had been doing fine handling its 400+ members, except
for the "add-on" shares they offered. "The bread, dairy, fruit and extra-salad
shares had become administratively impossible," she says. "We were considering
dropping that whole part of our business when we found CSAware." Rather than
dropping their add-on shares, since starting to use CSAware they have
dramatically expanded their
line of optional products.
"We now customize our
members' boxes and make a lot more money for our farm. And it is super easy to
administer," Branham says.
Knowing that each CSA runs a little differently, we knew we had to make CSAware
ultra-flexible. Set-up options abound, but we are also willing to build custom
features to meet individual farms' needs. For Bethany Bellingham of
Farmer Dave's CSA in Dracut,
Massachusetts, and other farms in her area, it was essential to offer
choice-style shares, where members choose from among a set of available items
each week. A farmers' market style "choose your items from a table" option was
something we'd considered, and decided to add to CSAWare based on Farmer Dave's
need. We also offer customized produce boxes where the farm sets the contents
of a default box, and subscribers can change their box contents to their
preference in advance of the delivery day. "It's a great program," says
Bellingham, "and very well conceived."
One thing Bellingham likes best about CSAware is the management efficiencies it
offers. When you're delivering over 1000 boxes a week, maintaining member data
gets cumbersome. Some farmers hesitate to adopt helpful technology, though, out
of concern that it will reduce their members' sense of connection to the farm.
Fortunately, farmers using CSAware are having the opposite experience. "Members
enjoy being able to manage their data online," Bellingham observes.
"Particularly for the generation that is used to conducting most of their
business online, this feels more 'advanced.'"
When I worked on farms, by mid-summer we were already beginning to think about
the next season, especially about all the things we wanted to do differently.
If this sounds familiar and you'd like to know more about how CSAware might
work for your farm, please let us know. We'd love to show you around.
Alternately if you're a CSA member and you think your CSA could use CSAware,
please tell your farmer!
With the momentum of increasing activity and interest in local food, many new
opportunities -- like CSAware! -- are being created in support of local and
regional markets. At the beginning of this article I mentioned a survey we will
be sending to all LH newsletter readers next week. We want to learn more about
what draws you to good food, how you define it, where and how you shop for it,
and what food and farming related activities are happening in your community,
and we are hoping you will take a few minutes to tell us. We feel lucky to be
partnering on this survey with PureBranding, a market research company that
specializes in organic and natural brands. Our hope is to get both a more
complete picture of what's happening with local food across the country, and
your ideas about what needs to be done to further strengthen regional food
networks. We look forward to sharing the findings with you in a newsletter this
We are hoping that thousands of you LH newsletter readers will share your
thoughts so please watch your inbox next Tuesday, July 26 for a special email
Until next time, take good care, and eat well.