LocalHarvest Newsletter, July 21, 2011

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 fall.

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 from us!

Until next time, take good care, and eat well.


Erin Barnett

From the LocalHarvest Store:

The lavender harvest is in full swing, so now is the perfect time to order this year's crop. One of the most popular of all herbs, lavender is known for its calming, relaxing, and antiseptic properties. We love having it around the house just for its heady fragrance. Get yours today.

Want to guess how many products America's family farmers now offer through the LocalHarvest catalog? I'll give you a minute to think. Got it? Did you guess 10,143? You did? Amazing! Check it out -- there's sure to be something there you'll like.

Food from the Farm: Peach Salsa

Last summer I got really into making fresh salsa -- beautiful, heirloom tomatoes from our garden, cilantro, lime, yum. All summer long I've had a taste for it, but where I live tomato season is still another month away. Last night I decided to stop waiting and branch out to a fruit salsa. I made mine with peaches, and it hit the spot. This salsa is very good with fish. We had ours with rice and beans, and it jazzed them up just so. I think you'll like this too!