Spur Hollow Farm is a direct-to-consumer market garden located in Western Pennsylvania. As a newer business, they run a customizable CSA box program using Local Line’s store credit feature, which offers both the customer and the farmer flexibility throughout the season.
“I think a lot of the people who did my CSA last year probably weren't going to sign up again unless there was a way to customize. This year, I wanted to emphasize that if it’s a lean week, and there’s not as much, they still have the store credit, so they’re not losing money. It’s a lower risk for me, but also for them. So I think overall, they really enjoy it.” shares Jeff, owner and operator.
We sat down with Jeff to learn more about their business model and how they leverage Local Line to run their online CSA:
Nina Galle (Local Line): Can you tell me more about Spur Hollow Farm?
Jeff Stirland (Spur Hollow Farm): I own and operate Spur Hollow Farm in Western Pennsylvania. We have only been in business for about two years. We are a market garden and do over 40 different varieties of vegetables. We do pretty much all direct-to-consumer sales.
Our market garden is over half an acre, so in terms of permanent beds, we have about 60 30-inch by 100-foot permanent beds. We specialize in salad crops. This is our third season and our second season doing it full-time.
Nina: How did you get into farming? Is farming in your background?
Jeff: I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree and decided I didn't want to be inside all day. So we just started gardening on the side. I had no experience, no background in farming. We went to a couple of farmers’ markets to try it out.
We got into regenerative agriculture through management, intensive grazing, and getting interested in grass-fed beef. Then I started researching market gardening and figured out I could do that much cheaper than I could get some beef cattle. So we started with that.
Nina: You mentioned you do mostly direct-to-consumer. What does that look like for you?
Jeff: We do about 30% of our sales at the farmers’ market and 30% through our CSA program. This year we offer a customizable CSA through Local Line instead of the standard box CSA. The other 30% we do through a distributor, a co-op. We get about 75% of the retail value for every dollar we sell there.
Nina: Why did you decide to go the CSA route?
Jeff: We wanted guaranteed sales up front. And I wanted a closer connection with many of my customers to build deeper relationships, rather than a two-minute interaction at the market. But mostly because I quit my full-time job and needed money upfront to fund the business.
I also think it’s an extraordinary way to build a customer base that is very loyal and becomes an advocate for your business.
Nina: Can you describe the customizable box model for your business?
Jeff: It’s early March, and we have already pre-sold 20 CSA shares this year. We’re using the Store Credit feature. So everyone who’s paid for an online, customizable CSA will get store credit. Every week through email, I will send out a special price list for CSA customers with what’s available, and they can pick from that.
Usually, I recommend spending between $10 to $50. Use up to $50 if you’re hosting people that week. It allows for that flexibility where they’re not stuck to $20-25 a week.
Nina: How are your customers responding to the customizable option?
Jeff: I think many people who did my CSA last year probably wouldn't sign up again unless there were a way to customize. Last year we had some crop failures, so we were very heavy on salad greens. Some people get sick of eating salad, which can happen.
This year, I wanted to emphasize that if it’s a lean week, and there’s not as much, they still have the store credit, so they’re not losing money. It’s a lower risk for me, but also for them. So I think overall, they enjoy it. Plus, now we offer home delivery within 10 miles of the farm, which we don’t charge anything for. It’s added to the value of the CSA box.
Nina: What is the biggest benefit you get from Local Line?
Jeff: Having customers be able to order online is huge. Last year, we didn’t even have a credit card feature for most of our CSA members. We had to rely on people seeing our advertising, then remembering to go home, write a check, and send it in the mail. This has made it a lot easier for your customers and us!
Also, I can have all my inventory in one place and send it to many different sales outlets with different price lists. That will be crucial, especially as I start to branch off into more sales avenues.
Nina: What do you guys do for marketing?
Jeff: I do a lot of social media marketing. During the season, I post three to five times a week. Off-season, I’ll post once a month because I found that my engagement has gone down. But if I post once a month, I have pretty high engagement.
We also print posters and hang them in the local towns. Lots of word of mouth marketing. We offer a referral program for old CSA customers who get a $20 store credit if they refer a friend. Things like that.
I also sell real estate. Once I sell someone’s house or buy a house with them, I’ll give them a CSA box as a housewarming gift and my business card and see what happens from there.
Nina: Is there one Local Line feature you would say is your favourite or something that improves your day-to-day?
Jeff: The store credit feature. I haven’t experienced it yet this season, but not having to track how much credit a customer has left for the season will be huge.
I’m also curious about the subscription feature for next year. I want to see whether I get more interaction where customers have a reoccurring subscription, more like a traditional box subscription versus paying upfront. But that will also be riskier because then you lose the flexibility. So we’ll see what works best.
Nina: Do you leverage any reports in Local Line?
Jeff: I like to keep track of the abandoned cart rate. I noticed that most abandoned carts are individuals who are not logging into their Local Line accounts or have not yet signed up with Local Line. Now, I know that’s what I need to communicate with my customers.
Nina: What advice would you give farms or even newer farms considering selling online?
Jeff: The most important thing with online marketing is not to get ahead of yourself because you can oversell yourself. Ensure you’re limiting the number of options you’re offering. Don't try to grow every single crop in the first couple of years. And also, don't try to market yourself in a way that will make you over-deliver and underperform. That's a very easy thing to do.
Because online marketing can make you look a lot more proficient at farming than you might be. So use it as a tool, but don't use it to scale faster than you can grow.
Local Line is a great option. The fact that they don’t charge commission as some platforms do is huge. The more I sell doesn’t mean the more I have to pay. As a newer farmer, I need to know how much I’m going to spend every year on software.
With the platform we used for our wholesale cooperative, we spent $12,000 in commission per year. On a small farm grossing under $100,000 in revenue, I can’t lose 15-10% off the top.
Thanks so much to Jeff for sitting down with us to tell us more about Spur Hollow Farm’s journey pivoting their sales model this year and learn how Local Line played a vital role.
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