The CSA Expert Exchange is an online conference co-presented by Small Farm Central and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) that will occur live on March 15, 2013, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST. Nationwide, the conference is expected to engage between 500 and 1,000 community-supported agriculture (CSA) farmers. The conference will be accessible via any Web browser; attendees will be able to watch video of presenters, view PowerPoint slides, and interact via chat to ask questions. The fee is $45 and registration is open at csafarmconference.com
Conceived by Robyn Van En as an antidote to industrial, monocrop agriculture, the CSA concept offers farms the opportunity to become centers of more sustainable communities. CSA has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Generally, a farmer offers a certain number of shares or memberships to the public for purchase. Each share may consist of a box of vegetables or other farm products that the member picks up on a scheduled basis.
Retaining members in a CSA operation is a key to success for the farmer. Research indicates that many CSA farms are experiencing member retention rates between 50 and 60 percent, while other farms see retention rates as high as 90 percent. A low rate of retention makes it difficult for a CSA farm to thrive and grow, and may endanger the whole CSA movement as people try CSA and decide the concept is not right for them. The CSA Expert Exchange online conference will broadly explore the reasons people join and leave CSAs and how to increase member satisfaction by drawing on the best practices utilized by CSA experts from across the country.
Gary Brever, CSA farmer from Ploughshare Farm (ploughsharefarm.com
), a certified organic farm located north of Alexandria, Minn., will share his knowledge of how to keep CSA members coming back each year. He was named the 2012 Outstanding Farmer of the Year by the Minnesota Jaycees. He was also awarded "Farmer of the Year" status in 2009 by Edible Twin Cities magazine.
The CSA Expert Exchange will consist of four sessions, each one hour in length, focusing on the following topic areas: CSA management; member retention and maintaining a profitable CSA operation; certifications and equipment; and member education.
"One oft-touted advantage to CSA farming is that the farmer spends less time on marketing and more time on farming. A farm that experiences low retention spends too much marketing each spring to stay at the same membership level, so focusing on keeping members happy and in the CSA next year pays dividends," says Simon Huntley from Small Farm Central.
Small Farm Central is also offering 20 scholarships to new and beginning farmers to help offset costs to participate in the CSA Expert Exchange. The deadline for applications is Friday, March 1.
"Experienced CSA farmers will tell you the importance of having a dedicated CSA member base. They are not only yearly customers, but they are also the greatest ambassadors to help recruit new members for any CSA operation. So offering successful producers, such as Gary Brever, a venue to share his ideas and success is great," said Michele Gauger, membership director with PASA.
Full details about the CSA Expert Exchange: An Online Conference are available at csafarmconference.com