Community-supported agriculture (CSA) has taken off in the past decade. Subscription services for weekly, in-season bundles of fresh produce mean healthy, locally grown food for customers and, for farmers, much-needed winter revenue. The Pittsburgh area alone has a couple dozen CSAs.
But in selling what Simon Huntley calls “food people can feel good about,” CSAs face competition — everyone from Whole Foods and farmers’ markets to online ingredient-and-recipe delivery service Blue Apron. So in 2015, Huntley’s Pittsburgh-based firm Small Farm Central created CSA Day, an annual late-February reminder about the importance of directly supporting local growers.
Huntley was raised on a small farm in the region and in 2006 employed his information-technology degree to found a tech outfit that provides marketing support for farms, including website-creation and an online CSA membership platform. Small Farm Central now has 1,000 customers in North America.
But Huntley, author of the 2016 book Cultivating Customers: A Farmer’s Guide to Online Marketing, says that the growth rate of “mature” CSAs — those with more than 100 members — is slowing. CSA Day can raise awareness, especially if farmers advertise and hold tie-in events (whether on-farm or on Facebook). But, Huntley adds, “I think we are at a transitional point with [CSA] programs. … We need to innovate.”
One Small Farm Central customer is Art King, of Valencia, Pa.’s Harvest Valley Farms. Though most of Harvest Valley’s sales come at its own roadside farm market, it runs a sizable CSA of 493 subscribers and growing. In most CSAs, each subscriber receives the same selection of produce; King’s innovations include letting subscribers at his drop-off points choose what they want each week. King also benefits from CSA Day: In 2015, on that day alone, he signed up 42 subscribers. Last year, the figure was 54.
More info, including an online directory of CSAs, is available at www.csaday.info.