Newsletters aren’t just for CSA farms

From 2006 to 2020, my husband Casey and I operated a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program as the core marketing outlet for our farm, Oakhill Organics. Over the course of those 15 years, I wrote a newsletter to accompany every week’s share — 614 newsletters in total.

A weekly newsletter helped enhance parts of the CSA experience for our members. We received feedback from our customers that they regularly read and appreciated them. We considered the newsletter routine an integral part of the CSA experience we offered our members.

In a CSA, a farmer can curate an experience for the eater through carefully planned seasonal shares, which can be highlighted through a newsletter’s cooking suggestions and recipes. CSAs also can offer an intimate relationship with a high level of connection and loyalty. That feeling can be even stronger if members also are reading weekly farm notes or stories to learn more about the farmers and farm. 

These benefits also can help connect and maintain loyalty of valued market customers. So, newsletters aren’t just for CSA farms.


write-newsletters-people-want-readThe author’s husband helps a customer at a 2007 CSA pick-up. Oakhill Organics CSA members filled their own bags from the vegetables provided, and they could pick up print copies of the weekly newsletter at the end of the table (red papers on clipboard). After a few years of offering printed newsletters, they moved to an online-only newsletter on their website. CSA members were emailed the link the day before pick-up, which served as a reminder as well as information sharing.


While we enjoyed the positive newsletter benefits, keeping up the consistency of the writing routine was challenging at times. But over the years I developed useful tricks and strategies to make the process simpler. I hope these ideas help you start your own newsletter habit or breathe fresh life into an existing one. 

Before I share content creation ideas, I want to clear up two practical and logistical questions about newsletters.


Farm newsletter versus social media
I want to address this question first because we live with so much emphasis on social media. Don’t we all have a glut of communication venues these days? Social media options alone feel overwhelming at times. Why should a farm add a newsletter, too?

A farm newsletter has some natural advantages for communicating with existing customers — customers you likely want to retain.

First, a newsletter can be more direct and intimate. You can tailor your message specifically to your customers. Also, the form allows you to go in-depth, not being constrained by app word limits. In this regard, it naturally lends itself to more digested and curated content rather than the brief, instant snapshot nature of social media.

The newsletter content you create will also belong 100 percent to you (no weird social media ownership issues). Also, you can control how you deliver it directly to your intended audience rather than fighting for space in a crowded social media feed. Many people using social media today don’t see content from every account they follow; algorithms dictate what shows up. Thus, to be noticed, you’ll need to study the algorithms and employ ever-changing attention-getting techniques.

Finally, with a farm newsletter you can reach customers who don’t use a particular social media app. As people’s social media use waxes and wanes, this can be an important way to keep the connection intact with valued customers.




Options for newsletter delivery
When I first started writing our CSA newsletters in 2006, I printed newsletters that we handed to our members at pick-up. This is a sweet, old-fashioned way to share news with customers you’ll have contact with (paper newsletters also can be packed into boxes). Many people enjoyed these little newsletters so much that some customers saved them and still have them. I think print actually is making a come-back. I wouldn’t discount the unique flavor this option could add to your newsletter if it sounds fun or appealing to you. 


write-newsletters-people-want-readIn the early years of their farm Oakhill Organics, the author and her husband provided customers with printed weekly newsletters sharing farm news and vegetable information. The author made an initial simple layout that they used to print a two-sided document. Eventually they moved to an online-only newsletter on their website.


However, a paper newsletter takes extra work to design, limits content space, costs money to print and uses paper. Also, it doesn’t allow people to learn ahead about their share or marketing offerings or to be reminded of their CSA pick-up or market day, which can be great side-benefits of sending a regular newsletter. So, eventually we moved to an online-only newsletter.

With a goal of sharing directly with existing customers, email remains the best online delivery method available today. Even amidst all the changing technology, email continues to hold its place as one of the communication methods everyone uses. 

There are many ways to publish an email newsletter. Among the most popular email campaign services are MailChimp or SquareSpace marketing. They allow you to easily format your content in an aesthetically pleasing way that matches your website or marketing branding. They also organize your email addresses and allow people to subscribe and unsubscribe easily.

The downside is that many email providers routinely send email campaigns to a junk or promotions folder. Even if your customer wants to read your newsletter, they might not see it unless they add you to their address book. Consider that when weighing options.

Another option is to collect emails at market and via CSA sign-ups to organize in a spreadsheet or address book. Then, simply send your newsletter as bulk email (always use the blind carbon copy [BCC] field with bulk emails so everyone doesn’t see everyone else’s addresses). This method will work easily for up to 100 or so addresses. More than that, and you’ll likely need to send multiple sets of emails. This is a clunky method, but I have used it when I want to ensure emails get delivered to people’s inboxes rather than junk folders.


write-newsletters-people-want-readIn the early years of their farm Oakhill Organics, the author and her husband provided customers with printed weekly newsletters sharing farm news and vegetable information. The author made an initial simple layout that they used to print a two-sided document. Eventually they moved to an online-only newsletter on their website.


Alternatively, one can publish newsletters on a website-based blog and share the link with customers via email and social media. This allows for nice formatting and makes the newsletter easy to share in many ways. Of course, people need to click the link to read, which adds another step to delivery. Clearly, there are pros and cons to every option, but this is the method I ultimately settled on with our newsletter after moving away from the printed version. I would send people an email the night before CSA pick-up that included a link to our newsletter on our website. I also posted the link to our Facebook page. Everyone would see it eventually with it delivered in two ways.

Start newsletter content with the basics 
Once you know why and how you’ll publish a customer newsletter, the next (and ongoing) question is what to write? There are three elements I considered the core foundation of every newsletter.

Logistical news: The most important component to include in newsletters is, of course, the very pertinent news your customers need to know. For example, an upcoming on-farm event, the next CSA payment due, when you have extra tomatoes to sell for canning, the final day of the season, and so on. These details don’t need much space, but if you establish a practice of putting them in, people make a habit of checking your newsletter.

Availability list: Next, I recommend always including a list of what’s coming in their week’s share or at market. People really appreciate a heads-up to start planning their meals and other shopping for the week. Remember that the local food we offer our customers is a curated experience that helps expand their awareness of the seasons. Your crop list might be a learning experience for them every week as they move through the seasons with your farm. I always liked to include extended notes for a few items each week. For example, I might add extra details about a special variety and why we love it or note that this might be the last week for a particular crop so they can savor it.

Cooking suggestions: I also used our availability list as a place to offer simple cooking suggestions for vegetables of interest. Sometimes this would be a very simple note within the produce list. For example, I might write just a few sentences, such as: “Parsnips are delicious roasted with other winter vegetables. Chop everything approximately the same size and roast in butter or olive oil at 425° in a single-layer, stirring occasionally until crispy outside and cooked through.”

For a farmer who lives and breathes vegetables year round, such simple suggestions seem obvious, but many farm customers are still learning very basic vegetable cookery. These suggestions helped them learn “vegetable fluency” so they eventually could take a seasonal assortment of vegetables and turn it into a satisfying simple meal without having to pull out cookbooks or think too hard at the end of a long day.

Sometimes for a less familiar vegetable, I might write up a longer, more detailed description. For example, beets and fennel were perennially challenging vegetables for our newer customers. So, I’d take time to explain the many ways vegetables can be prepared and what flavors and vegetables pair well together. Occasionally, I’d also include a full recipe or link to an online recipe to inspire people. But more often, I tried to convey the idea of the vegetable so that they could feel empowered to eat vegetables every day. The more comfortable people become with cooking vegetables, the more likely they’ll continue valuing buying local produce.


Content to compel people to read
Logistical details, availability list, and cooking suggestions were the bare minimum that  helped make our members’ CSA experience as positive and successful as possible. However, I enjoyed offering more and would often lead each newsletter with a fun feature, then include basics at the end. Here are additional content ideas to keep your customers informed and feeling connected to your farm. Mix it up so that the newsletter doesn’t grow tiresome for them (or you). 

Weekly stories: Your customers will love to read farm stories from your week or season. People commit to a CSA or market relationship in part to feel connected to the place they live, the seasons, the farmers who grow their food, and the whole experience in general. The physical act of eating is the tangible experience of that connection, but it can be enhanced greatly if they know more backstory. The stories we share don’t need to be long or terribly refined in order to interest our customers.

Ideas to consider: What went well this week? What went awry? Disasters can be fascinating even if we feel sheepish sharing them. What’s happening in nature seasonally on the farm that you noticed? For example, in March for us we might see the first plum blooms, bumblebees in the cover crop, return of turkey vultures, or peas starting to flower. How did a recent weather event impact the fields? What are your fears or dreams at this point in the season? Who is working on the farm? Have your children or animals done anything cute or funny this week? When sharing stories of children and employees or others, be mindful of asking permission and being respectful in what you say.

A sweet side benefit of pausing each week to think of a story is that you also create a record for yourself. Every farm has paper and computer files full of planting dates, sales records and other dry documentation that may or may not have much interest beyond future planning purposes. But a weekly story creates a more personal farm record that you also can enjoy revisiting later.

Photos: Of course, weekly photos can accompany your newsletter stories or vegetable information. Such photos can be connected to something you discussed or an image of a beautiful vegetable in the share this week.

A few times per year, I took my camera on a field walk and documented the experience in photos and created a simple photo essay. It was fun for customers to share the bigger picture of what was happening in a given moment in the season, not only the food ready to harvest but also the areas where we were still planting or weeding, along with the natural world at the edges of our farm.

Reflections on farming: Occasionally, the written newsletter component would be less focused on the here and now of the past week and turn to the big philosophical view of farming, our community, or life in general. Our customers enjoyed our thoughts on topics such as why we chose to get certified organic (or why we chose not to be certified for a few years), our reasons for raising our livestock on pasture rather than in barns, our philosophy around saving and buying seeds, and our successes and failures operating at different scales. I shared with our customers more of the mental and emotional work of operating a farm by exploring the values and decisions that shape a farm business and lifestyle over the years.

Sharing about those journeys in writing with our customers felt like an important act of transparency, helped them see us as real striving people, and also helped us evaluate our decisions, too. Sometimes we’d be grappling with a decision when I sat down to write, and the resulting newsletter might not solidify an answer, but it might move us closer. Then our customers would know more about how we worked every day to balance values and reality.

Links, book suggestions, poems: In addition to your original content, a newsletter also can be a good place to share valuable content drawn from other sources. Over the years, I occasionally shared book recommendations or reviews of books related to farming or food. If I read an especially valuable article online or read a new cookbook, I might include a link with a note about why I found it insightful or relevant that week. I also love poetry and often included a favorite seasonal poem at the end of a newsletter. 

Overall, I’d caution you to keep the shared content portion of a newsletter to a minimum, because many people are overwhelmed with links and reposts. But if you encounter an exceptionally good article or book through the week, they might become a part of your newsletter. Better still, use it as a launching point for your own reflection.


Build a fulfilling newsletter habit
I have provided many ideas here, but please remember that an effective newsletter can be very simple. These are just ideas to get you started. Getting started is the important part. 

Publishing a weekly or regular farm newsletter will need to become a habit that fits into the ongoing farm work rhythm. Perhaps this means finding the right farm team person to take on the task each week (maybe it’s not you). Perhaps it means finding the right time slot. Or, perhaps it just means finding the inspiration. If you’d like to scroll through the 614 newsletters I wrote over 15 years, they still are available at our farm’s website:

Ultimately, the quality of your farmed product is the most critical part of customer satisfaction and retention. But, as a farmer you have more than just crops to share with your customers, you also have stories, experience, and knowledge that can add value to every bunch of carrots or bouquet of flowers you sell. 


Katie Kulla lives and farms with her family in Yamhill County, Oregon. You can find Katie at and on Instagram: @katiekulla.