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  • Structuring a Flower CSA | How Start a Flower CSA Part 1

    June 27, 2024 8 min read 0 Comments

    Farmer holding a crate full of bouquets created for a flower CSA

    Why Flower CSAs are a Great Model for Farmers and Customers

    A flower CSA is one of the longest-standing products we offer at our flower farm. This model gave me the flexibility I needed early on. I could choose how many members to take on and how to get the blooms into their hands. It was the right call for my small-scale 1600-square-foot plot and two toddlers in tow. 

    When I first began scheming to start a flower farming business over eight years ago, I looked at the various ways to sell the flowers. Of course, there were the popular sales outlets of farmer’s markets or selling wholesale. But I needed flexibility in how I packaged and sold my flowers because, at the time, I had a one-year-old and a three-year-old.  Enter the flower CSA!

    The idea was to be able to put together flower bouquets in between the nap times of my toddlers, followed by a quick car ride to offload them. Over the years, the logistics of our flower CSA shifted to something that I couldn't easily do in between naps. As my business evolved, my girls and my flower CSA grew up together.

    Related: Flower Farming Business, Farmer’s Market

    A field full of flowers in bloom with a female farmer harvesting blooms for arrangements.

    What is a Flower CSA?

    A flower CSA can also be known by many other names, such as a flower share, a flower subscription, or a bouquet subscription. If you are unfamiliar with the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) concept, it is a commonly used business model for farmers, market gardeners, and ranchers.

    It is a way to get some much-needed cash flow, typically in the off-season, to pay for ongoing operations. Essentially, a customer pre-purchases a “share” or an amount of product from the grower or rancher.

    This “share” can be a set number of vegetables, a portion of a cow, a specific amount of eggs, etc. In the case of a flower CSA, we sell bouquets for a certain number of weeks of the season. For example, when opening sales in winter for an eight-week spring flower CSA, the customers prepay in winter and begin getting their bouquets in spring. 

    Related: How to Start a CSA Business for Growers and Farmers

    Flower CSAs Work Best for Seasoned Growers

    Offering a flower CSA has many moving parts, and you are taking on the burden of holding on to customers’ hard-earned cash weeks to months in advance of actually delivering a product.  The flower CSA model requires quite a bit of trust, especially from the customer.

    I recommend that a first-year grower only take on a flower CSA after very careful consideration.

    Taking payment upfront, as with a CSA model, shouldn’t be done lightly, and the day will come to fulfill your part of the bargain. By offering a CSA after you get the hang of the ebbs and flows of your flower farming operation and season, you'll minimize stress on yourself and reduce the potential for unhappy customers if things don't go your way.

    With that said, let’s talk about the various ways to structure a flower CSA. 

    A wooden box filled with flower CSA subscription bouquets on their way to customers.

    How Do I Structure My Flower CSA?

    Though a flower CSA can be adjusted to account for your other offerings and obligations, it still needs consistency in how you run it and how you decide to structure it.

    One of the biggest reasons I love offering a flower CSA is its flexibility. You can curate and mold the flower CSA to fit around your farm tasks, weekly events, etc. This is what also makes it such a fantastic pairing with other product offerings such as weddings, farmer’s markets, u-picks, and selling wholesale. 

    There are some essential questions to ask yourself when structuring your Flower CSA:

    • Are you offering a bouquet, an arrangement, or both?
    • Are you offering a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly bouquet?
    • How many weeks and when do you want your flower CSA running?
    • How many members can you serve at most? How many do you need to break even?
    • Are you going to deliver bouquets to members' homes, have onsite pickup, or have alternate pickup locations? 

    When structuring your flower CSA, it's crucial to consider each question carefully. Over the years, we've learned through trial and error what works and what doesn't. As our business evolved, some methods that initially worked became outdated. It's perfectly fine to experiment and find the best approach for your unique situation and business needs.

    Let’s explore each of these questions deeper.

    A large bucket of dahlias in a flower field being harvested for bouquets early in the morning.

    Should I Offer Small Bouquets, Large Flower Arrangements, or Both?

    When it comes to giving flower CSA members choices, less is more. While flower subscriptions have become popular, with mainstream florists offering weekly or monthly arrangements, creating large arrangements and investing in containers requires more time, skill, and money, which means a higher price.

    If there's demand in your area and you want to pursue this model, it can add significant value. For example, you could charge $65-80 per arrangement instead of $25 per bouquet.

    In the spirit of a small, local flower farm, offering bouquets is more efficient and affordable. By mastering the hand spiraling technique, I've found that customers love buying a perfectly arranged bouquet and selecting their favorite container on their own to display it in.

    We've also received feedback that some customers enjoy taking their bouquet apart to create multiple designs or share with friends.

    Once you've decided what to offer your customers, you need to determine the frequency of delivery.

    A bucket of frilled pink dahlias being picked for inclusion into flower CSA subscriptions.

    Should I Offer a Weekly, Bi-weekly, or Monthly Flower CSA?

    The frequency at which our flower CSA customers receive their flowers has evolved over time to better suit our business’s needs and growth.

    In our first season with a CSA, we did not offer a weekly option. With a small growing space and limited experience, we provided bouquets every other week. This allowed us to test the CSA model without taking on too much. We also split the members into “A” and “B” weeks, ensuring that we had orders to fulfill each week, but in smaller quantities.

    By the second season, we were more confident and able to offer a weekly bouquet option. For six seasons, we provided both weekly and bi-weekly options. Recently, however, we noticed a higher demand for weekly deliveries, so we decided to drop the bi-weekly option.

    Eliminating the bi-weekly option simplified our operations, allowing us to fulfill orders more consistently without the added complexity of varying bouquet quantities each week. This small change significantly improved our efficiency.

    Monthly bouquets or arrangements are other options that we never offered but have become popular in the flower-farming ecosphere. This can be an ideal offering for a newer grower who isn’t quite ready to commit to weekly or bi-weekly orders but would like to get some exposure to the CSA model. 

    Once you have figured out how often you want customers to receive their bouquets, you need to decide for how long.

    A sunny field of dahlias in full bloom ready to be picked for flower CSA customers.

    How Many Weeks Should I Run My Flower CSA For?

    Your climate, frosts, and infrastructure will greatly determine how many weeks to run your CSA. Fulfilling bouquets regularly for a CSA can get tricky, especially if you are field-growing in a colder climate.

    In the beginning, we ran our flower CSAs in eight-week increments, a total of three for about twenty-four weeks. Sometimes, due to late frosts, we overlapped the weeks. The upside to running the CSA in shorter increments is that people pay less upfront, which can make for an easier sell. Purchasing four bouquets instead of twenty makes for a considerable price difference. 

    The downside, and why we chose to offer smaller increments only for a short time, was that it complicated the tracking of bouquets and members. We always found ourselves adding in extra customers once we had already sold out. Many of our customers would forget to sign up, and we’d sell out, but who could say no to an extra sale, especially to someone committed to you? 

    I found myself feeling overextended and oversold on spots. 

    Training new customers mid-season is also not fun. I didn’t have the energy and mental capacity for it. There was a lot of extra communication that my sun-beaten self didn’t want to keep up with. 

    A bunch of ranunculus being harvested for early spring session of flower CSA.

    Member Feedback to Optimize Your CSA

    After feedback from our members, we chose to take a different approach that aligns with a more traditional CSA model.

    Enter what we call our “season pass.” Instead of offering a spring, summer, and fall bouquet subscription separately, we took initial sign-ups for the entire season. After some trial and error, we finally landed on our sweet spot of a fourteen-week Flower CSA. 

    This gave us weekly subscriptions in June through September and allowed our members to experience different varieties across seasons. I no longer suffered from panic over late or early frosts. Our customers consistently got the very best of our blooms without worrying about our spots selling out for the next subscription. 

    This approach cultivated a family; many of our CSA customers have been with us for years!

    When in doubt about deciding how long to run your CSA, start small. If it works, you can always build up to the season pass model. 

    Now it’s time to figure out how to get those blooms in your members' hands.

    A bouquet of brown paper wrapped flowers in a jar of water sitting on the front porch of a house.

    Should I Deliver to My Flower CSA Members or Have a Pickup Location?

    While on-the-farm pickup may be ideal for your situation, I prefer privacy. While my girls were little, we made home deliveries. This worked, but as our flower CSA grew, home deliveries were less efficient and profitable. 

    Ultimately, we found teaming up with other local businesses to be our best option for delivering our CSA. In our hometown, we offer porch pickup at our family’s accounting office, which is in the middle of town. In the next two towns, we teamed up with a vintage shop and a clay painting studio. The businesses liked the flowers since they brought customers who may otherwise not have gone in, and we picked up new customers through their businesses. 

    When choosing a pickup location, be sure to find a business that will provide a customer service experience consistent with your brand. We learned this the hard way and have had to relocate pickup locations mid-season. We also discuss teaming up with a local business in our Increasing Sales with A Flower Pop-Up blog.

    How Many Members Should I Start With for My Flower CSA?

    The number of members you can serve with a flower CSA heavily depends upon your output of cut flowers. Someone growing on a quarter acre may have a different number in mind than someone with two or more acres. A farm growing intensely with small spacing of plants may be different from someone on the same plot size but not planting as intensely. Many flower farms boast 100+ member flower CSAs. 

    If flower CSAs are your bread and butter, you probably want to have more members. If you are small-scale and have other products and services you are offering, then you may want less.

    Look at your main goal with your flower farming business. For us, we were looking to move extra flowers we were growing mainly for weddings, which made our CSA sales a bonus to us. While starting, unless you have your production and systems down, perhaps starting with no more than twenty-five to fifty members would be ideal. 

    A flower CSA is an excellent offering for the flower farmer, whether you want to weave it in between your other existing products and services or have it as your main product. This outlet is an excellent way to capture off-season cash flow during the quiet months of the year or to pair with an existing vegetable CSA for an established market grower. 

    Once you have an idea of how you would like to structure your flower CSA, follow up with our next blog, Pricing and Selling Your Flower CSA.

    Written by: Jessica Chase, Sierra Flower Farm, Photography by: Graham Chase, Sierra Flower Farm