August 2020 Impact Assessment
The CSA Innovation Network is a resource base of programs and tools built by and for individuals and organizations supporting Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) development. The purpose of the CSA-IN is to generate and facilitate idea sharing across the CSA community and to build awareness of the value of CSA to consumers.
Impacts of COVID-19
- POSITIVE: Many CSA farms have sold out and have waiting lists. Raised awareness of local food as clean, nutritious and reliable even in the face of threats to the global supply chain.
- NEGATIVE: There is concern about CSA member retention (members returning to CSA in 2021) for farms that are new to this space and/or dramatically increasing their members.
- NEGATIVE: Additionally, under-resourced farmers have had a more difficult time shifting to CSA and/or other markets due to extra costs for supplies/labor, a lack of translated resources and/or connections to formal networks with strong resources to provide.
Obstacles to Sector Response
- INCREASED COSTS: Materials (boxes, PPE), Additional staff/contractors (delivery drivers, backend organizing of orders and delivery, packing boxes), Tech infrastructure ( online ordering platforms, website, social media/advertising, increased credit card transactions and processing fees)
- ADAPTATIONS NOT AVAILABLE TO ALL: Uneven challenges to business survival due to: cost, lack of internet, cars, staff, skillset, social media presence, etc. Farmers without online sales presence are missing customers. There is a saturation of new information and updates, which are only available to farmers with the time, access (internet/language), and formalized networks to participate in meetings/receive info.
- INFRASTRUCTURE SHORTAGES: Current: Cold storage, vehicles, PPE, sanitation materials, access to processing facilities (scheduling 3-6 months out, at best), pickup locations (due to closures of public sites). Future: concerns about inputs (seed, amendments, packaging supplies)
- LABOR: Uncertainty around H2A workers. Challenge finding farm workers due to lack of childcare and social distancing concerns. Decline in volunteers: cancelling worker shares, volunteer days, elderly volunteers unable to fulfill previous roles in EFP system
- CSA ETHOS LOST IN COVID-19 RESPONSE: As new farms enter CSA to make up for lost markets, they don’t know what laws to follow and require a lot of support from TA providers. Unfamiliar with the extra responsibilities of CSA (increased communication, customer service, diversified plantings.). Unknown impacts to CSA as a whole, if these farms perform poorly with their customers.
- DIFFICULTY NAVIGATING GOV. ASSISTANCE: SBA loan funds were wiped out before many banks were facilitating applications, farmers being excluded from some rounds of funding, EIDL not being funded.
Successful Marketing Adaptations in Response to COVID-19
CSA FARMS + TA PROVIDERS:
- MESSAGING: Reinforcing messaging around safety and resiliency of food procured in the CSA model (Taglines: “Local Food is Essential”, “Local Is Stronger” “CSA Strong”). Farms and support organizations are emphasizing the importance of minimal handling, contactless delivery, not subject to disruption of global supply chains. Regional campaigns are seeing a huge uptake of marketing content (traction) for content coming straight from farms.
- CREATIVITY IN FARM MEMBER ENGAGEMENT: Farms are more heavily utilizing social media (live videos, etc.) and using innovative strategies for virtually building community in the absence of traditional in-person member perks (i.e. on-farm events and on-farm pickup.)
- SHIFT TO ECOMMERCE: No-contact, pre-order pickups
- FEEDING INTO HUBS: Utilizing systems that are delivering boxes
- HOME DELIVERY
- PRE-ORDER OPTIONS: Farms have implemented online platforms that allow for pre-order products, which allows the farms to pre-pack items and have it ready for easy pick-up by customers at farmers market or delivery sites.
QUOTE: “Our most liked post EVER on Instagram was a post of our farm staff using PPE on the farm! We have found success through collaborative marketing of our produce along with other local food producers.” – Farmer (NOFA Survey)
Economic Impact on Sector
- DIVERSIFIED FARMS ARE MORE RESILIENT: Farms with diversified sales outlets (eg CSA, Wholesale, Markets) are better able to respond than those that rely heavily on wholesale accounts and pick-your-own crop models. CSA farms are offering more add-on products as customers look for local, safe, food options.
- MASSIVE INCREASE IN DEMAND: shares are selling out quickly, leading to increased disparity between who can afford CSA. There is pressure for farms to sell full price rather than to do the added work of getting food to the food insecure. There’s uncertainty of continued resources to meet demand, and uncertainty around continued demand. CSA farms are seeing high retention rates and lots of new customers.
- LABOR: Concern over threats to H2A visa workers. Increased cost of offering paid sick leave for staff along with risks of not offering.
- ECONOMIC RELIEF: Hard to know about /understand funding relief landscape. Most isn’t for small, diversified producers.
QUOTE: “Our income is the same or a little higher than normally this time of year, but we are worried about in a few months, when people have run out of savings and still can’t get back to work. We sell “higher end” meat because it is pasture raised, and we are concerned that customers will turn to cheaper industrial meat when they have to squeeze their pennies.” – Hudson Valley CSA Coalition Survey
Impact on Sector Members
CSA FARMS + TA PROVIDERS:
- Many small/mid-sized farms aren’t resourced enough to make the necessary pivots called for by this pandemic due to: cost, language barriers, land access, labor shortages, tech infrastructure
- There is a lack of technical support and COVID-19 response resources/opportunities for farmers of color along with farmers that rely on more informal, solidarity networks
- Issues with processing SNAP, using SNAP equipment, and learning to integrate SNAP into the CSA model **Support: Aggregator models can be used to support small scale growers that would not independently be able to meet the needs of large user groups and increased demand.
- No online SNAP/DUFB processing for online sales
- Accessing CSA sign-up materials and farm communications often requires reliable internet access. This is challenging for those with limited access, especially with the temporary closure of many community resources (libraries, schools, community centers.)
- Language inequity in online access. Most CSA sign-up materials are primarily in English.
- CSA is reliant on home cooking. This is more challenging for people experiencing: time poverty (especially true for essential workers), along with limited knowledge of cooking/access (internet)
Desired Data and Technical Assistance
- Number of CSA farms in the U.S.
- Number of small-scale/direct market farms run by BIPOC farmers in the US. How many of those are marketing through CSA?
- How/why are BIPOC farmers not starting CSA and/or leaving CSA?
- Satisfaction rates among new and longer-term consumers with CSA and CSA innovations
- For the farms that switched to or increased their CSAs, how is that working for them financially and in regards to their mental health
- More specific data around covid transmission rates indoors / outdoors
- How can home delivery work for small local farms? Is it possible for it to be profitable/financially viable for CSA farms?
- Change in net profits for CSA farmers this year vs. prior year(s)
- Increased labor cost due to implementation of covid-19 protocols
- Increased cost of supplies/infrastructure/marketing tools due to COVID-19
- Stress measure of increasing CSA program
- SNAP utilization for CSA shares
-Up-to-date and comprehensive CSA directory for consumers
-Online SNAP processing
- Detailed information on how best to retain CSA customers/members
- Detailed info on how to develop and manage online sales
- Detailed info on how to develop a web presence
- Detailed information on if/how to do home delivery
- Updated safety protocols and guidelines based on updated research on COVID transmission
- Marketing support to sustain the interest in CSA
- Education on how and why to be certified organic
- How to process SNAP payments for CSA shares (current)
- Develop online SNAP processing for CSA farms and TA providers
- Assistance applying for loans and grants, especially for under-resourced and BIPOC farmers
- Acquiring, retaining and professionally developing on-farm labor
- Facilitating farmer to farmer information sharing
- How to set up and run a CSA that aggregates product across farms
- More accessible materials (translated, various ways to access) on how to wholesale, get GAP certified
- Serving auxiliary markets that are complementary to and supportive of CSA, with particular emphasis on community-based networks (community centers, schools, etc)
- EMERGENCY FEEDING SYSTEM: this has presented opportunities for CSA farmers to meet large, immediate-term needs without long-term sustainability/security for farms. If CSAs are primarily acting on food access models, they risk losing money and the ability to function long term. There needs to be a way to aggregate or coordinate relief efforts as a portion of a farm model.
- IMPORTANCE OF PEER-TO-PEER LEARNING: In response to the pandemic, there was a surge in virtual gatherings for farmers to share out and learn from one another about critical farm adaptations and innovations. These spaces have always been of value within the CSA community, and are all the more critical during moments that require immediate pivots within farm operations. Increasing the accessibility of these conversations is a priority moving forward.
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