Thinking of starting a Community Supported Agriculture program for your hydroponically-produced fresh greens and herbs? Great idea, but don’t get started too fast! This is blog post one of four to highlight some of what a CSA grower needs to succeed. If you can’t wait or just want more detail, download the entire planning packet here.

Before launching a CSA program, your farm needs to have several systems in place and functioning as well as possible.

Before starting a CSA...

1) You should be producing

Your farm must be producing before starting a CSA.

This allows you to gain an accurate production idea and, therefore, price and sell the right number of shares. Without knowing your production in advance, it is difficult to market your CSA correctly.

Selling too many shares will lead to a reduction in quality and value, two elements that your CSA should always seek to provide.

Production before starting a CSA is also necessary to combat any potential pest control, management, or other production problems.

Make sure all management issues have been addressed.

You do not want to be ironing out any wrinkles once you are under the expectations of paying customers.

2) You should establish food safety practices

You do not want customers getting sick from your food.

Determine what your farm will do to insure food and product safety.

  • How will you clean your equipment?
  • How will you clean the produce? (Customers love having their produce cleaned before pick up.)
  • How will you stop the spread of disease or other contamination?

Many food safety practices are common sense, but make sure the entire team is briefed on their implementation and importance.

3) You should get insurance

Discuss your farm’s insurance needs – and how the CSA will affect them – with your insurance agent.

Holding share pick up off-site may reduce insurance costs.

Product liability insurance is also a good idea to cover your risk in the event of food contamination.

4) You should watch this free webinar

5) You should contact local agencies to determine regulatory issues

Generally, direct sales of live, unprocessed produce is fairly unregulated. However, this may not be true in all areas. Contact your local health and agricultural agencies to determine what regulations your CSA needs to follow.

6) You should make sure customers know what they’re getting into

While the shared-risk concept of a CSA may be very clear to you, the farmer, your customers may not understand what they’re signing up for.

Clearly outline the program, including potential risks, costs, and their expected relationship, in all marketing materials and contracts.

Do not leave customers guessing or assuming.

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