Our neighborhood got its first CSA share program (Community-Supported Agriculture) about 10 years ago, and I was an early subscriber. But, but, but…after a couple of seasons, I quit. Here’s why I quit my old CSA share program years ago and why I joined a new one this year!
Oh you people and your acronyms
CSA, or Community-Supported Agriculture, is a fancy way of saying I pre-ordered a summer full of farm-fresh but unpredictable weekly produce.
A local farmer gets some money up front to buy her seeds without going into debt, and I feel good about supporting her while mentally committing my family to cooking with farm-fresh produce all summer.
Not my first (CSA) rodeo
I quit a CSA six years ago, not because it wasn’t good but because it was too good. We got an abundance of produce. Produce fell out of our fridge. Organic produce that was ripped from the ground that day and needed to be washed and washed and washed.
My dad pitched in for produce pickups, as did my mom and sister. It became more and more difficult to find someone to help us to make it to the farm before it closed, fill our bags and drop them off. It was even harder to find a volunteer to wash it and prep it for cooking.
What brought me back
A new farmer opened up a business in my neighborhood. She’s inspiring. I tried her farm stand last year, and she sold all varieties of beans, squash and eggplants I never saw before (and I’m always looking for great farmstand finds!) She impressed me with her interesting choices.
Buying a share of her CSA program lets me support a local startup farm, connect with my neighbors and expose my family to some really unique produce.
Also, I am a lot more realistic with my ambitions now. If we don’t eat it within two days, it becomes a soup.
Here’s what I did with my first week’s share
My favorite were the fresh pea shoots, which are just the tops of the pea plants snipped off. Delicious if you just mix them with salad dressing. I added chopped onions, chive blossoms, and mint, too. The chive blossoms came with my CSA share, but they didn’t add much flavor, just a light purple color.
Field garlic got smashed into a soup made from the maitake mushrooms. I added chopped carrots and celery.
Radishes are one of my favorite vegetables. A nice helping of radishes showed up in my CSA share. I quartered and sautéed them with olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. After the radishes softened, I threw the washes radish greens on top and sautéed those, too!
Another thing I liked about this CSA, I don’t have to subscribe to flowers separately. She included a posey of mixed flowers.
And finally, the mixed bag of baby braising greens – bok choy, beets, chard and kale. My farmer suggested a stir fry or sauté, but since I didn’t eat the greens within two days, I’m going to follow my rule and make a soup.
Did you ever quit a CSA share program?
Would you go back?
Farm stands can be simple little tables at the end of your driveway. They can be elaborate set-ups at farmers markets or fancy sheds on the roadside. Regardless of the size of your farm stand, are you maximizing your revenue? Here are three new ideas to increase your farm stand revenue.
Should I care about revenue?
Hey, it’s your farm stand, you can give the food away if you want to. The thing is, in order to keep human beings motivated over the long-term, some positive reinforcement works best. If you don’t need the money and can get enough positive reinforcement to keep your farm stand going without revenue, that’s awesome. Most people need some form of revenue in order to maintain motivation or just to pay for stuff. Hence the reason this blog has a couple of disclaimers about occasionally linking to Amazon or another affiliate partner.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn for qualifying purchases.
#3 Plan for a longer season
In economics there is a concept called marginal cost. Marginal cost is the cost of producing one more unit of something. It’s incremental, an additional cost, as opposed to looking at the total cost of a project. Once you’ve spent the money and time to set up a farm stand, a method of payment, and grow the produce, extending your season only represents minimal marginal cost.
One way to extend the season is to offer frozen herbs in serving-size bags. Let’s face it, when given the choice of fresh herbs options during the summer, sage is not a big seller. But, it freezes really well. If you have some freezer room, you can freeze little bags of herbs like sage, parsley, thyme, mint and chives for a few months and use them to stock a winter farm stand. The cold weather actually becomes an advantage for frozen herbs. I’d still put them in a cooler on your farm stand table for protection from the elements.
Farm stands don’t have to be stocked with produce alone. To extend the season, consider offering wreaths, soaps or candles.
If you or someone you know has a few grapevines or hearty evergreens – like boxwood or cedar – you can make wreaths and mantel pieces at low marginal cost! Start today and adapt them to the season.
If you’re willing to buy materials, you can even make wreaths with inexpensive burlap that will last longer than the evergreen wreaths. Burlap feels very ‘farm stand’. Here’s a tutorial from The Busy Bee. Accent decorations, like pine cones, should also be easy to pick up for free. Consider adding bayberry or holly bushes to your landscaping for some future accents for your creations.
Candles don’t all have to be poured into mason jars or molds. How beautiful would your winter farm stand look with hand-dipped candles hanging from the ceiling? Classic and classy. I got into making hand-dipped candles a few years ago. Do you remember doing this as a kid, maybe at a nature center or an historic house tour? If you’re in the mood for a little DIY, making your own candles isn’t as hard as it seems. It does take some time to melt the wax and dip-dip-dip-dip, etc…you get the idea.
#2 Add pay options
We are in a transition period. Some people grew up in a generation where farm stands were “cash only“. Other people grew up in a generation where you can pay with your phone at most of the places they shop. That second group is starting to forget to even bring cards and cash with them (me, guilty). If you want to maximize your potential revenue, your farm stand should accommodate everyone and their payment methods.
Like what? No, I do not recommend accepting Bitcoin at your farm stand. Virtual currencies are too volatile. However, any of the popular apps for payment processing should work pretty well. I am not sure yet if the easiest cash alternative is a payment app or credit cards.
You can set up credit card processing through any online vendor, your local bank or Square. As you start to look at your options, check the small business services for the bank you already use first and compare other options to their offerings.
If you run your farm stand on the honor system – in other words, unstaffed – your only alternative will be to use paypal.com or venmo.com for small business. Review their options and see what payment service might be right for you.
Don’t forget to advertise that you accept multiple forms of payment. Adding payment options removes a barrier for your customers. Put up a sign at your farm stand right away. Add a note to your website. It takes away excuses like, “I don’t carry cash” or “I don’t have exact change.” Remove barriers like these to drive more sales at your stand over the next year.
#1 Include recipe cards!
By far, this is the easiest way to drive more sales and the Number One thing farm stand owners neglect. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Imagine that you’ve never seen a ground cherry before or never tried to cut up a butternut squash. What do you do with it? Why should you buy it?
I would love to tell you that all of your customers are finding my Butternut Squash and Apple Soup recipe and know just what to do with those odd, rock solid squashes, but they’re not.
Put little recipe cards next to your fruits, herbs and veggies. Make little signs to put up next to your baskets of produce to draw attention to the recipe cards. Make it part of your advertising. It will set you apart from other farm stands, even at a farmers market where there’s lots of competition. You customers will start to browse the free recipes along with the produce. Change the recipe cards to drive repeat sales.
The great thing about this idea is you can complete the task in one day with very little additional effort. Just go to Pintrest or your favorite search engine, enter the name of your veggie and “recipe” and hit search. You will get a thousand+ ideas instantly. In fact, you can save yourself even more time by entering the name of the produce and “free recipe printables”.
Printables are fancy, ready-to-print designs that other people – usually bloggers like me – created for you. One big downside to the ready-made printables…
…free printables won’t be branded to your farm stand. They might not have your same farm stand branding colors, and they might not have a place to put your logo. They won’t be instantly recognizable to your customers as having come from your stand.
Two ideas about recipe card branding:
1) type out some recipes and design your own branded recipe cards
2) look for “free recipe printables” that are also blank and add a sticker with your logo
What do you think? I hope you had fun reading about how to increase your farm stand revenue in the next year. Leave a comment and let us know what you think about these three ideas to increase your farm stand revenue. Do you have another idea to share? Share away!
Are you ready to do some shopping of your own? Try the Handmade Marketplace at Amazon.com.
What’s the difference between a farm stand and a farmers market?
It’s like the difference between a thread and a shirt. It’s like the difference between a room and a home. You can’t really have a farmers’ market without a collection of individual farm stands.
Still, the stands at farmers markets are not the same as the permanent stands in fixed locations at the farm or the end of the driveway. It’s easier to offer a bigger selection and make more intricate displays if you have a stationary farm stand, which means that there is something unique about the selection at the stand at a farmers market.
While preparing for a market, the farmers have to be choosy when it comes to what goods and produce they will offer. Over time, they will learn the preferences of each unique community they serve and change their offerings to suit their customers.
Your neighborhood farm stand may moonlight at three, four, five farmers markets each week! It’s tough work. There might even be subtle differences between the goods they offer at each of those markets. Top sellers can differ even if the markets are just across town from each other. A town can be so different from the east side to the west.
There are some great things that just won’t travel well. My favorite fruit is mulberry. It’s so sweet and delicious right off the tree, but it would squish and ferment if you tried to transport it any distance. I’m actually surprised that more farm stands don’t offer mulberry. One mature tree could produce a small fortune in pints. I never got sick of eating mulberries as a kid. The walk from my house to my grandmother’s had several neighborhood trees hanging over the sidewalk, offering fruit to passers-by.
Am I wrong? Are farmers markets really, truly more than a collection of individual farm stands? Maybe the market itself takes on a persona? I could wrap my mind around that.
The personalities of the individual farms might change just a bit when they come together in a community market. It’s not that different from anything humans do, really. We all use different language when we are out with our friends than we would in a professional atmosphere. Wild and crazy sports stars fall in line just enough to lead their team during a championship.
The idea of the individual farm stands as a thread that winds through and around all of the others until it makes up the fabric of the farmers market is probably right. It’s a beautiful synergy.
Not by it’s food. Define a farm stand by the people.
The people who run it and the people it serves.
Don’t define a farm stand by its size.
A simple egg stand at the end of someone’s driveway and a sizeable mini-market attached to a commercial farm are both farm stands. Each connects neighbors to each other and reflects the way their communities live as well as the food they prepare.
A table set up at a farmers market is a farm stand. The market itself is a collection of farm stands. Each operator selects the seeds, the produce, the products to offer for sale to the community.
Food isn’t the only thing sold at a farm stand. Art, soap, flowers, and home décor are all possible farm stand finds.
Pay attention to what the people behind the stands choose to offer for sale (or give away for free). At first, the offerings give you insight on the personality of the grower or producer. Over time, the community will share ideas and recipes. The farm stand will start to reflect the people it serves.
You can learn a lot about the incredible variety of heirloom and hybrid fruits and vegetables that can be grown in small batches. Items that can be grown without the pressure of having to preserve it for shipping and appealing to a generic grocery produce selection.
You will learn a lot about how different cultures blended in a region based on the offerings at their local farm stands. You can get a sense of what’s missing in the big grocers in a community from looking at the selections of their micro-growers and small batch producers.
I am happy to draw attention to this amazing subculture. Farmstand culture.
Whoa. It’s not often that I’m stunned into silence.
I mean; when I first saw them at the farm stand, I thought ground cherries were cute and tasty. They fit my mission to showcase interesting and unusual farm stand finds perfectly. Plus, I could snack on them in the car during my long commute home.
It was fun creating a salsa recipe for them from scratch.
What I did not see coming was that so many of you would send requests about where to find them. I’m even getting ground cherry locator requests in-person from my long-time friends and neighbors.
If you can help us find other sources for ground cherries, please post an idea in the comments.
Ground cherries are also called husk cherries, winter tomatoes, and strawberry tomatoes, which would only be true if you saw the world in sepia tones.
How could I do this to you? I made you aware of these captivating little oddly-beige tomato-grape surprise lanterns—surprise! there’s a berry inside that papery husk—and then you frantically try to find them. And inevitably fail.
If you happen to be one of the 20 million people who live within an hour of Connecticut, you can still get them from Rose’s Berry Farm Stand. Rose’s brings their ground cherries around to lots of farmers markets. I know they are in Hartford, New Haven, and Greenwich at least once a week from June until November.
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If you do happen to get your hands on some mildly sweet ground cherries, try my original recipe for fresh ground cherry salsa!
Where did you see them first? Ground cherries star in this farmstand5.