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Community supported agriculture in Michigan


February 13, 2020 - Author: ,

Michigan Statewide CSA Network

  • Formed in 2016
  • Have met regularly for the last 3+ years
  • Originally supported and facilitated by Michigan Food and Farming Systems and Department of Health and Human Services
  • Key goals:
    • Better understand CSA farms in MI
    • Increase collaboration across organizations supporting CSA farms
    • Develop and share models for increased CSA access

Michigan Statewide CSA Survey

  • Network Identified a need to better understand current “situation” of CSA farmers in MI
  • Developed using input from several previously utilized CSA surveys from around the country
  • Input from network partners and farmers
  • Launched in spring 2018
  • Distributed through statewide listservs, local contacts (MSUE), farm organizations
  • Collected data through early summer 2018

Results - What do CSA programs in MI look like?

  • Price of full share ranged from $0-$1200, with average being $523
  • 10 farms indicated they offer work share CSAs
  • Definition of a standard share = 8-12 items (or 10lbs) with a value of $20-$30/week
  • 63% of respondents offer share "add-ons"

Results – How do CSA farmers view business viability? 

Farmer Financial Satisfaction

  • 56% somewhat or extremely satisfied with financial ability to meet annual operating costs, 31% somewhat or extremely dissatisfied
  • 36% satisfied with farmer/owner compensation, 42% dissatisfied
  • 24% satisfied with financial security including health insurance, retirement, 58% dissatisfied

Michigan CSA Survey Results - exploring CSA labor

  • Seasonal farm labor more common than year round labor
    • Year round employment also add seasonal employees
    • Difficulty with incentivizing return for seasonal farm labor
  • Few took advantage of interns, apprentices or woofers
  • Roughly 25% of farmers responding to labor questions used CSA Workshares for part of their labor
    • 2-25 workshares
    • Discounted labor cost, earned income for Market share

CSA Labor- less common practices

  • Many don’t consider themselves paid labor
  • Using contracted crews for occasional large harvests
  • Non-traditional (or traditional) workers - High school volunteers, 4H/FFA clubs, children
  • Groups of volunteers – nonprofit status allows local businesses and organizations to host volunteer days on farm, other community focused events
    • Volunteers thrive on easy, monotonous, large scale tasks – not for highly specialized labor
    • Important to assess cost v benefits

Primary Labor Challenges

  • Inconsistent pool of skilled labor
  • Difficulty retaining quality labor from year to year
  • Creating pathways for growth for labor (education, promotion, increased pay, side hustles)

Broad Survey Conclusions

  • There are many diverse CSA farms in Michigan working at all sizes and scales.
  • Opportunities exist for organizations like non-profits, extension and other community organizations to connect CSA farms to work on food access.
  • Farmers use a variety of definitions for farm viability and there are a variety of goals that farmers have for their CSAs. This is reflected in their labor practices.
  • Farmers see a need to grow the pie of local eaters and understand they are working in a very competitive marketplace that requires large changes in the way we eat.

Key Takeaways

  • The CSA model is experiencing changes due to changing food buying habits and a turn to convenience
  • Opportunities exist for CSA farmers to access new and different customers by partnering with local employers
  • Opportunities exist for CSA farmers to work with food access nonprofits who are looking to increase local food choices and options for their constituents
  • It is important to know who your customer is, so that you can develop messages and marketing strategies that reach those “ideal CSA members”


Tags: agriculture, beginning farmer marketing, beginning farmer webinar series, msu extension

Related Topic Areas

Beginning Farmer Webinar Series, Agriculture


Garrett Ziegler

Garrett Ziegler

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