California CSA creates a new business model for the ‘Regular Old Joe’
January 10, 2014 | Susan Botich
When Don Webber got a phone call from an organic farmer-friend asking for help selling produce, his mental gears started to turn.
“I have a background in sales and marketing,” says Webber. “I was very intrigued from the financial aspect and the social aspect. After researching local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business models, I decided we’d do things a little differently: reach out to a market segment that had not been involved in CSA—the regular old Joe.”
Webber let his friend know that he was willing to help with the sale of the farm’s produce.
“But then they changed their minds and he asked me to do it for them,” Webber says with a laugh. “They just wanted to farm, you know. So, I just did it all myself.”
That was three years ago. What started as an interesting idea has now grown into a thriving business striving to do it’s part to help build California’s local food system.
Understanding that many people are unable to commit to a long-term agreement with a CSA, which typically require subscribers to pick up produce weekly at some predetermined spot, Webber created a business model that would make it more convenient to participate, he says. The name Harvest 2U came from that idea.
“Ninety percent of our customers have the products delivered to their front door on a weekly or biweekly basis,” says Webber. “And our produce doesn’t travel more than 50 miles from our farms to our customers. That’s intentional. Right now we partner with eight to 10 local farmers. We are growing larger geographically, but as we do, we partner with other farmers in those geographical areas.”
For those customers who actually prefer to use the pick-up location instead of home deliveries, that option is also available.
“About 10 percent of our customers are not able to accept deliveries to their homes but they still receive the produce; our pick-up spots have multiple harvests brought to a single location,” Webber says.
Other conveniences include shorter subscription terms and online ordering.
“Instead of making our customers commit to anywhere from eight to 15 weeks, which is how most
CSAs operate, our customer commits to just two deliveries at a time,” he says. “And they can sign up online. They have access to their purchase process and can change it right up to that purchase.”
Sharing knowledge is important to Harvest 2U, according to Webber.
“Education is a huge part of our business,” he says. “Information online, workshops, that’s all part of it. People can go to our website and see pictures of produce and learn about foods they’ve never heard of before. We have online recipes. We have articles from vegans and health coaches, sharing tips on how to make various dishes.”
Every week, Harvest 2U donates fresh local organic produce to the hungry via organizations such as the Salvation Army, YMCA, senior centers and others, says Webber.
“We feed people somewhere in the neighborhood of about 15 to 20 families a week,” he says.
Revenues are generated primarily through Harvest 2U’s subscription customer base.
“It would be nice if we were wildly profitable, but we have enough profit that we can afford to give some food away,” he says with a chuckle.
Webber’s foundational beliefs are what drive him to offer free educational workshops, feed the hungry and participate in sister groups aimed at serving their communities in a likewise manner, he says.
“I’m a Christian” says Webber. “I’m very involved in showing the love of Christ in the world. Being a Christian-run business, I believe it should reflect the priorities of its owners. So, there was never a question since the beginning. This is just something that we do and we’re going to keep doing it.”
Currently, Harvest 2U serves about 350 customers.
“Our goal is to be at 750 customers within the next couple years,” he says. “Our plans include growing in different regions in other parts of the country. It’s important to bring the food production back to where it will be eaten”