Photo courtesy of the Clover Food Lab

Our ASC (Agriculture Supported Community) Farm

I believe in many of the ideas expressed in the Diffusion of Innovation Model.  The model seems to have formed by someone who appreciated different layers of actors that exist in any community, and the role of word of mouth communication in spreading innovations from one actor to the next.

There are the innovators – a small group of people thought to be constantly searching for something trendy to do or something trendy to own and spread.  Then there are the early adopters – those people who are “integrated” in their communities, and spread lifestyle innovations because they’ve earned the respect of their families and peers.  Members of the early majority are “cautious of adopting a new idea or product” while people in this theory’s late majority are quite skeptical and generally are coaxed to adopt something when peers pressure them.  The laggards are just what you’d expect – the last adopters who “tend to come from small families, to be single and older, and to be traditional.”

A community food system expressed graphically. Can you see the innovators, the early adopters, the early and late majorities, and the laggers?

The textbook Community Nutrition in Action describes how a community nutritionist watched a cook being interviewed on TV about a recent heart attack and his plans for developing ways of cooking healthy chow.  The book categorizes him as an early adopter (a respected, credible citizen) within the target audience of the nutritionist’s “Heart-Healthy Living” program.

This year, we’re modifying a program that sprung from the Rodale Institute – a Pennsylvanian farming organization performing long-term agronomic and organic marketing research.  Organizers call it “Agriculture Supported Community” (or ASC).

Here’s how it’s described:

Well, there are two parts.

The first part is membership. The program is designed to make fresh, local, organic food more accessible for people who can’t afford to pay hundreds of dollars for the whole season up-front.

Like a CSA, ASC members received a seasonal “share” of produce each week. But, unlike a CSA, ASC is pay-as-you-go. Members choose a share size of $10/week, $15/week or $25/week that can be picked up at a local community site…

The second part is education. The ASC program is also a training ground for future farmers. We’re launching an 8-month internship program that will teach people everything they need to know to start their own ASC in their own communities.

How our ASC is structured: We like this two-step process, so we’ve developed our own with only minor twists. Members of the Agriculture Supported Community Program should expect to receive a heaping delivery of vegetables once each week. But unlike members of the Summer CSA, we expect timely payments of $25/week. This should help members who want to receive veggies each week, but cannot afford to get their foot in the farm door with a $500 lump payment or two payments of $250 prior to June.

Another addition to Rodale’s ASC model (described above): we hope to encourage the power of word of mouth communication by obligating every ASC member discuss the challenges and benefits of their vegetable/grain share with three or more new people each season. Hopefully this isn’t too much to ask. We have good intentions with these modifications. One is related to the way adults are wired. It’s said that the majority of adults learn most effectively through experience and have a natural trust of storytelling.  We’ll be working with these principles.  With luck, our ASC project will encourage a culture of open sharing (of experiences with food), which is considered so fundamental to adult learning and the process by which individuals change their behaviors for the better!

Photo courtesy of the Clover Food Lab

We should say that there’s no requirement for members of the regular Summer CSA Program. But that’s not to say members with shares in the ASC will face a burden in participating in our word of mouth campaign. They can complete this requirement as easily as inviting three people over to a home-fixed meal at any time during the harvest months (June-October).  After the summer season, we’ll help any members of our ASC who have not had a chance to carry out this responsibility by hosting a harvest dinner. Members will have a chance to invite their neighbors, family and friends to the undertaking.

An additional perk: If a member successfully recruits one new eater to purchase a full share in either the CSA or ASC Programs, the Montana Grain and Vegetable Co. will reward them with 1/2 off their membership in the winter/storage vegetable farm program, which runs October through January. 

Interested in joining our Agriculture Supported Community?
Please shoot us an email at missoulagvc@gmail.com!

We plan to evaluate the success of our ASC by:

  • Tracking the model’s growth through the years and the incentive program’s role in bringing in new members (i.e. determining a rough picture of how the product, a CSA share, spreads throughout the community)
  • Surveying two subsets of the program (continuing and discontinuing ASC members) to piece together a story of how ASC is functioning, and whether this option is working for people
  • Noting the average and extreme time(s) it takes people to pay off their share, and
  • And measuring consumer turnover
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