Ask what Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is, and you’re likely to get an answer like this:
CSA is a way of purchasing directly from a farm, where you pay for a season’s worth of food up front. This gives the farmer cash in the off-season, and as an incentive for paying early, you get a discount off the full price. You then get weekly deliveries of local food when the growing season begins.
In the nearly 15 years since I learned about the CSA model, that piece about the discount has stayed true.
It’s the win-win presented by most farmers: pay us up front, and we’ll give you a discount on local food. It’s how we set up our own CSA at Good Heart Farmstead.
But over the last few years, we started questioning this approach.
Did we want to lead our marketing with a discount? Was the value of local food attached only to the price? What was more important to us: that customers were drawn to our farm based on dollar amount or for the quality of the vegetables we grow and the environmental and social contributions we make to our community?
Our farm mission is to make local food more accessible to low-income Vermonters, so as we began to question the traditional CSA discount, we were also wondering how to increase the number of subsidized shares we could offer.
Then last winter, Edge had an idea:
Instead of giving individual customers 10% off, why not charge full price and then put 10% of each full priced share toward subsidies for low-income customers.
And so The Good Heart Fund was created.
In 2020, we began charging full price for CSA shares and putting 10% of each sale aside to offer low-income customers shares at half-off.
We’ve always offered subsidized shares in partnership with the NOFA-VT Farm Share Program, which covers 25% of each subsidy, while the farm covers 25%, meaning low-income customers are able to get a local CSA share for half the price. Farms that work with the FSP fundraise to cover their 25% contribution.
The Farm Share Program is amazing and has helped us feed many people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a CSA. The only problem is that funding runs out before demand is met.
And that’s where The Good Heart Fund comes in.
This simple reallocation of 10% meant we were able to give $5058 forward in the form of subsidized CSA shares.
In a year where our typical fundraising events like on-farm pizza nights didn’t happen, coupled with an increased need for affordable food, the Good Heart Fund meant that families received multiple seasons’ worth of local organic veggies at half the price. Some received shares for free.
Since that 10% was already accounted for in our cash-flow, our business remained supported.
The difference is this: instead of many individuals getting a small discount, our CSA community was able to raise a significant amount of money to make a big difference for those who need it most.
The Good Heart Fund is based on two things:
- Food should be affordable and accessible.
- Farmers should be paid fairly for the food they grow and raise.
The Good Heart Fund is one way we’re working to bring both to fruition.
How do our Members feel about this switch?
It turns out, they feel great!
I admit, I was a little nervous when we stopped offering individual discounts on the CSA shares — but not one customer mentioned it.
Instead, we hear how good people feel about being part of a farm that gives forward. We hear delight at the weekly shares and gratitude for the free pick-your-own flowers (that’s one perk we offer during the summer).
And, at least for the time being, we do offer a pre-season discount once a year. This discount is only available for a limited time in November, and we cap the number of shares offered at that price. But that’s another topic for another post.
If you run a CSA farm that gives a discount, I challenge you to shift away from it.
Shift toward the full value of the food you grow, and toward giving forward in a way that helps more people eat fresh, local organic food. If you have any questions, please pop them in the comments below.
To learn more about the Good Heart Farmstead CSA, head over to goodheartfarmstead.com. If you’re in Central Vermont, we’d love to grow for you.