Pittsburgh, PA-based Harvie connects people online with local farm shares, also known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). By using its service, Farmer Joe’s Gardens can specialize its CSA boxes based on individuals’ preferences. “For 10 years, we’ve packed a standard box of food for each member regardless of what they like and what they don’t like,” Farmer Joe noted in a press release. “We now have the technology that allows us to customize each box, so we make sure each member gets what they want.”
Going forward, Farmer Joe’s Gardens will go onto Harvie’s platform and enter a list of all its available crops. At its core, Harvie is a D2C sales platform connecting small farmers with local consumers. Harvie’s algorithm will match the crops to each member’s preferences to optimize their order, which can be one-time or a subscription box, like a CSA. It sends the lineup to the customer, who has 24 to 48 hours to make changes and order extras from the farm, like milk or eggs. Harvie then sends the optimized order back to Farmer Joe’s Gardens, which takes care of the fulfillment and delivery.
To be clear, Harvie does not actually grow any crops itself — it just manages farm share subscriptions for agricultural producers. According to Harvie’s CEO Simon Huntley, who spoke with me earlier today, the service’s real value-add is in its personalization feature. “The original CSA box is just farmers throwing whatever they have in a box,” he said. “We’re helping farms provide customization at scale.” Harvie also handles any customer service requests and provides add-ons, like recipe recommendations and storage tips.
Farmer Joe’s is a hyper-regional example, but overall Harvie — or services like it — could be key to help local farms survive through the coronavirus pandemic. In a time when small farmers are struggling to stay afloat with COVID-19 shutting down farmers markets and restaurants who typically purchase farm-grown food, growers are looking for new ways to get their products into the hands of consumers. Optimizing D2C sales, like CSAs, could make the difference between surviving the growing season and having to fold completely.
Thankfully for farmers, the popularity of CSAs is actually on the rise. According to Yelp, sales of farm shares have risen a whopping 405 percent since the beginning of March. But in order to make it through this crisis, farmers will have to make sure that folks who sign up for CSA continue their membership. Having a customized produce offering could go a long way in maintaining customer loyalty. As a bonus, personalized CSAs could help cut down on food waste, since people aren’t stuck with a basket of produce they don’t like or know how to prepare.
Thus far Harvie works with 150 small farms in the U.S. and Canada. According to their website, Harvie member farms see an average increase in retention rates of 15-20 percent. According to Huntley, the coronavirus pandemic has actually helped sales for their growers — Harvie farmer’s sales are up almost 200 percent. He also noted that they’re seeing an increase in farmers signing up for the platform. “We’re in the right place at the right time.”
To work with Harvie, farms pay a $500 setup fee and a 7 percent transaction fee on all farm share purchases. Harvie also takes a small percentage of credit card sales.
That cost is not insignificant, especially if you’re a local farmer struggling to stay operational. But with markets and restaurants closed, or at least drastically reduced, CSAs are the only way forward for many farmers. If services like Harvie can help them gain a larger swath of loyal customers, even just to get through the pandemic, it’s likely worth the fee.