More than a dozen farms showcased their CSAs* at a recent CSA fair in Ithaca, and potential customers weighed their options in terms of price, variety, quantity, pickup locations, and more. Most farms offered vegetable CSAs, but more unusual models were available as well, including bread, apples, meat, medicinal herbs, and yarn.
One farm, Muddy Fingers, offered vegetable CSA memberships at the 2010 CSA fair but did not return for 2011. Why not?
In a letter to their Ithaca members, farmers Liz and Matthew explained that their strenuous market schedule was not manageable. In 2010, they attended four markets each week -- plus tending to all their farm responsibilities. So they decided not to offer a CSA pickup location in Ithaca for the 2011 season. They will still provide CSA pickups in Watkins Glen, Corning, Elmira, and at their farm. And, they will still attend occasional Ithaca farmers markets early and late in the season.
"It was a tough decision for us to make," they said. "We considered many factors, including earnings at each market, hours of operation, and the number of other CSAs in the area." In the end it made more sense for them to drop the Ithaca location and add a few more shares at the others. That way, they can maintain their income, but spend more time growing the crops rather than bringing them to market.
A new marketing tool developed by Tompkins County Cooperative Extension (CCE-TC) helped Liz and Matthew make the change. By analyzing the most time-consuming farm and marketing activities and identifying their most profitable sales avenues, they could figure out smarter ways to grow the business side of their farm.
*What's a CSA? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, often used to describe a "membership" to a farm, where consumers pay a farm in advance and receive a weekly box of food in return throughout the season.
Note: for full disclosure, yours truly was a happy member of the Muddy Fingers CSA in 2010.