Frank and Josje run New Zealand’s first Community Supported Agricultural scheme (CSA). They live in a Mediterranean style, straw-bale walled farmhouse near quaint Greytown in the beautiful Wairarapa. Their land overlooks fertile plains up to the often dark and stormy Tararua ranges. The property is filled with hens and chicks, barking dogs and running children. They do most of the growing for their customers at their farm up the road.
CSA is agriculture that is supported directly by the people who eat the food produced on a particular farm. Shares are bought for a season at the farm via a “membership” or a “subscription”. The dividend that you receive for this investment is a box (or bag, or basket) of nutrient rich fruit and veg, often organic and picked just hours before they arrive the city. In New Zealand, Wairapapa Eco Farm (WEF) delivers bags of fruit and veg over the ranges to New Zealand’s capital city Wellington.
The Early Years
In the early days, Frank and Josje used a manual spreadsheet to run their operations. This spreadsheet listed all the members of the CSA and what kind of share option (or box) they were receiving. Josje had to keep an eye on how many weeks members had left in credit and remember to contact them to remind them to pay for another season when their credit started to go down. She had to manually manage the weekly email. This involved inputting different addresses for different emails as well as tailoring and managing emails to remind people to make their next payment. In the beginning when there were just a few customers, this system was manageable. However, when WEF started to approach its 150th customer, the spreadsheet and notepad system became extremely stressful. Customers would have to email Josje to tell her they were going away and didn’t require their box that week. She had to manually update their membership and remember this for the following week and towards the end of the season.
Migrating to Bucky Box
When WEF started to acquire more and more customers Josje was holding a lot of important information in her head. She couldn’t relax and no one could help her with the day-to-day admin. She says, “It was taking several hours to sort out the spreadsheet and a day to deal with invoicing and reconciliation of payments.” With Bucky Box you can view all of your customers with a single glance, alongside their account balance, next delivery, custom tags and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Once she got to know the Bucky Box system and set up all of her customers she was able to message them with important information about pick-ups, and the weekly email so crucial for CSAs in connecting to its customers. Josje’s is called ‘What’s in your harvest share this week.’ Bucky Box’s web store, customer database, and delivery system software meant that Josje’s memory, notepad and spreadsheet aren’t responsible. The biggest time-saver for Josje is the payment reconciliation tool, a job that was previously taking over half a day. The system searches out payments and reconciles them with customers. “After using this I felt like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders,” she says.
In three short months since since Bucky Box was adopted to help run the administration, WEF has grown by a third. The software enabled Josje to track every interaction in a customer account via an activity feed – a great tool for sales support when she needed to uncover what a customer actually ordered and paid for, as well as keep track of all their communications. Josje says, “This year we are finally going back to Holland for a holiday. This wouldn’t have been possible before.” Frank and Josje can get a staff member to step in help with the admin.
The Community Supported Agriculture Model Shares the Risk
The Bucky Box team jumped in Will’s van one Sunday afternoon to head over to the farm, an hour or so away. We sat in the garden talked about the food system and how CSA’s were helping to connect the customers with the farm. After a delicious dinner of vegetables grown on the farm we jumped back in the van to head home. Frank ran out before we drove off and said, “Will, I just want to thank you. Thanks for giving my wife back time.”
We drove back to Wellington filled with the possibilities of what Bucky Box could do. Bucky Box is already making a difference to the entrepreneurial farmers and growers and local food businesses. Our goal is for these inspiring people to spend more time growing good healthy food and giving more customers the joy of local, fresh food.
There is an important concept woven into the CSA model that takes it beyond the usual commercial transaction. That is the notion of shared risk: if the harvest is slim due to a big storm, or prolonged drought out on the farm then the share might be smaller. A few months later the rains might have come and strawberries and lettuce are in abundance and everyone celebrates together. The idea of shared risk is part of what creates a sense of community among CSA members, and between members and the farmers. Farmers and growers have always shouldered the bulk of this risk, but Bucky Box and the customer are starting to pick up some of the weight.