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Hybrid CSA/Email Ordering Model?

Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
I remember someone on Permies saying they sold produce via an email list. Essentially my impression of this is; they have an list of customers, anbd every week the farmer sends an email listing of what produce is available for the following week, and then a delivery or drop off, or on farm pickup is done.

Here at Greenshire we did a 22 member CSA, and for the most part it went well, especially since it was our first growing season. However, individually portioning and filling each share was a real time consuming pain in the ass sometimes. Also, there were some weeks where we couldn't eat some of the produce ourselves, because if we did we'd be short-changing some of our customers.

SO... I'm trying to think of how to tweak the model, to avoid those issues. So, as mentioned above, I've been mulling over the email list idea. I'm thinking that people can buy 'credit' at any time in the season but 

I see the benefits of the email list over a standard CSA being: 
-If we want to take a week off, we have that option (eg. Vacation, emergency, or lack of harvestable produce)
-We can start earlier in the year than the usual June date (eg. April/may for Fiddleheads, leeks) and then not deliver again until crops are ready
-We still get at least some up front money as with a CSA, (assuming people are willing to pay into the credit system)
-People don’t get a bunch of stuff they don’t want
- We don’t have to portion out every item (some yes, but not all)
-If we don’t have enough tomatoes for everyone we can at least accommodate some on a first come first serve basis. In this way
- We can make sure we have some of each item available for the farm to enjoy.

The email list model sounds good on paper but doesn't everything... Problems I could see are:
-people not checking their emails in time, some don’t even have email
-nobody liking what we have on certain weeks and no orders come in, or some but not enough to make it worth our while,
- depending on how many members we have, that could be a crapload of emails to receive and process
-people changing their mind about their order when they get to the drop off
-customers might not have a good enough idea of what the portions will look like and might be unpleasantly surprised when they pick up (eg. An ounce of mint)
-We’d have to station someone from the farm at the drop off for the duration of the drop off period,

Some possible solutions;
-In the email we could put a description of what each portion size equates to, maybe even pictures. Also, we could put taste descriptions and recipe ideas which might help sell the lesser known items.
-If we don’t get enough orders one week, we could let customers know, and maybe some could come to the farm for pickup, or wait another week
-We could make people sign a form which deals with changing of minds. (eg. You have a certain amount of time to back out of  or change the order but after that you’re held to it.

http://www.greenshireecofarms.com
Zone 5a in Central Ontario, Canada
Neal McSpadden


Joined: May 04, 2009
Posts: 269
It sounds like most of your issues revolve around controlling inventory flow.  Set up a website that allow people on your list to order and pay for your crops, that will automatically update quantities available.  So if you have 15 pounds of tomatoes, your site would reflect that.  When they are gone, they are gone.  You're already paid.

Recipes, pictures, and so on are a good idea.  Let people know how to use fiddleheads, and they will be much more likely to buy.

This doesn't solve your lack of demand issue though. If you have crops harvested and they don't sell, you will need a backup market that you can sell to.  Worst case scenario, you end up feeding it to the pigs or composting it.  Best case scenario might be that you find a local farmers market that you can set up a table at.  Ultra-best case scenario, you have anticipated your markets desires correctly and you don't have this problem .


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tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3109
Location: woodland, washington
    
  58
it was probably me who mentioned the e-mail list.  you pretty much nailed it for problems and advantages.

folks picked up their orders at the farm, and we didn't staff the register, we just put a box out for their money.

I think the website store is a good solution to some of the problems.  get the money up front.  otherwise, if folks stiff you, kick them off the list.  unless you end up with a whole lot of customers on the list, it's pretty easy to just print out everybody's e-mails on harvest day to pick from.  calculate totals of everything for a pick list, then reference the individual orders for bagging or boxing.  the process would probably end up about the same if you set up a web store.

if somebody doesn't have an e-mail address, it would be relatively easy to call them with availability.  I can't imagine you would have a huge number of customers in this situation, and it would probably be nice to make a phone call to a couple folks each week even if they do use e-mail.

the farm has a pretty long history and is well-established in the local community, which is a pretty huge advantage in this case.  even so, the restaurant orders are consistently larger than the combined e-mail orders.

portions:
we did pretty standard units.  by weight for most stuff and by the head for lettuce or cabbage and by the bunch for kale or chard or other greens.  berries were by the pint.  nobody seemed to have much trouble.


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jacque greenleaf
volunteer

Joined: Jan 21, 2009
Posts: 464
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
Here's a site to look at - www.abundantharvestorganics.com/

This is probably much larger than anything you had in mind, but it works well, maybe they are things you could borrow from them.
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
If you wanted to get really fancy, you could set up your website to do a Dutch auction on any produce that's scarce and in high demand: each customer would list their maximum price and quantity, and the software would find some price that is too high for enough of the customers, that the produce you have will satisfy them all, although the lowest bid out of that group (the one that sets the price for everyone) might get a lower quantity than they would prefer. The farmer would also have a bid in that same Dutch auction: there must be some price at which you'd be happy to do without what you've grown.

Probably more complicated than it's worth in your case, but I think it's the academic solution to this sort of problem. Also, I could see the software being worthwhile to quite a few operations.


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Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
Thanks for the leads all. The website ordering idea might work well for us as we've got a couple of semi-website literate farm members.

Tamo; we did a weekly farmers market last year, we've got contacts with restaurants, chickens, pigs, interns, and two deep freezers so we should be alright to get rid excess in some way or another. 

Joel; the auction idea sounds a bit too complex but its worth considering

Tel; thanks for that. I think it was you actually.
Pat Black


Joined: Dec 20, 2009
Posts: 123
Location: Northern New Mexico, USA
The Oklahoma Food Coop is set up for biweekly local food ordering and distribution. Check out:
[ftp=ftp://http://www.oklahomafood.coop/]http://www.oklahomafood.coop/[/ftp]
I have heard that the software to make this happen was developed with grant money, and that the software might be available to other producer coops who may need it. Contact Bob Waldrop.

Another one is here:
[ftp=ftp://http://highplainsfood.org/]http://highplainsfood.org/[/ftp]

I also know a chicken producer who did a prepaid plan. He sells at farmers market, but got people to prepay a season in advance. They have a year to stop by the market and pick up meat, which is then deducted from their account. In this manner the farmer has enough capital to raise the meat, and the consumer can skip weeks whenever they like.


                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Thank you for this thread everyone.  It's great to think of some flexibility in the CSA model. 

I've only been on the customer side of the CSA, and I remember thinking that I wished I could have just a little bit more choice.  Like, maybe you could have boxes filled with slightly different offerings - things that mix and match stuff you have in abundance with stuff in more limited supply.  People can choose between three or so options for the week?  I dunno, maybe that's a more complicated than it sounds idea. 
jacque greenleaf
volunteer

Joined: Jan 21, 2009
Posts: 464
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
That's one of the things I like so much about the abundant harvest site I posted. There's a long list of possible add-ons each week. These add-ons change with availability. And if an individual farmer doesn't have enough of whatever to satisfy all customers, no problem - the add-on goes to the first folks who asked, and the customers who asked too late just aren't charged for the add-on.
josh brill


Joined: Sep 06, 2010
Posts: 86
    
    1
The farm I use to work on would have people get prepayed cards.  They would sign up for their CSA "share" and it would be put on the card.  Then they would shop at the farm stand and swipe their card.  If they wanted more a certain week they could if they wanted less they could.  If they ran their card to zero they could refill it.  It is my favorite CSA model so far. 


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Pat Black


Joined: Dec 20, 2009
Posts: 123
Location: Northern New Mexico, USA
jbreezy, do you have more information on the technology behind this? the farm had a card reader and accounting package that debited the customer's accounts? what software and what card reader?
josh brill


Joined: Sep 06, 2010
Posts: 86
    
    1
I don't have the specific details at the moment but I'll be heading back to his neck of the woods in two weeks or so.  I'll find out how he has it set up.
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Insert Quote
The farm I use to work on would have people get prepayed cards.  They would sign up for their CSA "share" and it would be put on the card.  Then they would shop at the farm stand and swipe their card.  If they wanted more a certain week they could if they wanted less they could.  If they ran their card to zero they could refill it.  It is my favorite CSA model so far. 


I really like that idea, but the whole plastic cards and reader sounds expensive and kind of resource intensive. 

Could you do that with analog technology?  Like, everyone puts money in a prepaid account ledger, and the farm subtracts from that account each week when the customers come in.  More work for the farmer, not as fluid and quick as the card, but only requires a book and a pencil. 
josh brill


Joined: Sep 06, 2010
Posts: 86
    
    1
A ledger would work just as well.  It adds to your responsibility of being organized and having a good system for documentation in place.  It would certainly be less of an overhead cost when you were testing out the idea for your market.
            


Joined: Dec 04, 2010
Posts: 79
How about a punch card?  A business card with the farm's name, the cardholder's name, and a bunch of say, $5 punch dots.  A customer buys the card, and each time they pick up produce, the card is punched.  Once the card runs out, the customer has the option of buying a new card.  That's just about as analog as you can get.  The farmer gets the money up front, and the customer gets what they want, as they want it.  If they want to skip a week or two, the produce would go to someone else.
Travis Philp
volunteer

Joined: Dec 28, 2009
Posts: 951
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
    
    8
weird. I stopped getting notice of replies to this thread awhile ago.

I'm liking the ledger idea. Simple, low tech, and you don't have the problem of people losing/forgetting their cards. Its hard enough getting customers to bring bags & boxes back.

The website idea is looking less feasible as I'm not sure we could make time to manage that.

Still apprehensive about changing the CSA model and having it blow up in my face but the normal model sure has significant downsides. Sooo stressful, especially at the beginning of the year.
Jason Tomblin


Joined: Nov 17, 2011
Posts: 31
Location: Fraser Valley, BC Canada
Here's the link to that software that the co-op's use mentioned in previous posts. I may give it a go myself next season if I can get it organized. It looks like a pretty simple interface to manage but would definitely require some time to get going and to operate it. There are links to download there too as well as some other sites using the software.
eric firpo


Joined: Nov 18, 2011
Posts: 25
I do a CSA and reach people with email. I have about 450 email addresses now, and get more addresses by going to local events, such as the Earth Day festival here, and signing up more people. There are few problems. I deliver to homes in town once a week, and a couple of days ahead of time send out an email that lists what will be in that week's bag. Customers respond. I deliver. No response. No delivery.

The feedback I get is that people really like getting my emails. I've had a few people ask to cross them off my email list, but they're almost always people who don't order bags anyway.

I let people switch out stuff they don't like. More oranges instead of turnips, for instance. What I've found is that generally people are happy with what's in the bag, and only a few want a special order. No one who's ordered has ever changed their minds. There are pros and cons of course. Because there is no contract to sign, it's unpredictable how many deliveries I will have each week. My biggest worry is that I can't fulfill orders because I have too many and not enough produce. Hasn't happened yet, and when I expect to get tons of orders each week, I'll put a limit on how many deliveries I'll make. Tell folks it's first-come, first served. That will encourage those who really want my stuff to pay for several weeks at a time to ensure they get a bag.
 
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