EFAO recently hosted two online Kitchen Table Meetings on the topic of CSA pick-up and distribution in a COVID-19 reality. These meetings were a place to share challenges and concerns, solutions and unanswered questions, and perhaps also to reduce the feelings of isolation many of us are experiencing right now.  


We wanted to share what came out of these meetings with the wider EFAO membership, as well as some resources specific to CSA farmers. Other direct-market farmers may find some of these ideas useful for their operations as well. 


Please note that this posting does not consist of recommended guidelines but is an effort to share ideas and efforts, and to continue this important conversation, as farmers adapt their businesses to COVID-19.  The recommendations and advice from Public Health are evolving, as is the COVID-19 crisis. It is important that you and your farm team keep up-to-date on health and safety protocols.


The following ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at CSA pick-ups were discussed:


Keeping anyone (customers, staff) who is showing signs of illness away from the pick-up site

Challenge: This puts an extra burden on farmers to “police” their customers’ behaviour. As one farmer put it: “Does this mean we have to act as bouncers to remove people not following safety protocols?” 

    • Possible solutions:
      • Let customers know in your regular communications that anyone who has any symptoms of illness must not attend the pick up.
      • Consider developing a policy for CSA customers who may become sick, and thus can’t pick up their order. Let customers know what would happen if they become sick. Could they designate a friend to pick up for them? Would they receive a refund? Would they be eligible for home delivery? 
      • Consider having clear signage at CSA pick ups letting customers know the safety protocols they are expected to follow. 


Moving to boxed shares may be a safer form of CSA share distribution because it prevents customers from touching one another’s products

Challenge: For CSA farmers who usually operate with a “market-style” pick-up, this will likely create an increase in time, labour and costs, especially for farms that have a larger customer base.

    • Possible solutions:
      • If labour costs for packing will increase, is there another area of farm operations where labour costs could be decreased (i.e. by new equipment, machinery, increased efficiency, etc?).
      • If continuing a market-style model, consider having one or two farm staff/team members pack customers boxes (as per their wishes) at the pick-up, while customers stand 2m/6ft away from produce.
      • The high demand for boxed produce that’s ready for pick-up or delivery right now may be an opportunity to increase sales/customer base, if your farm is ready and able to scale up. It might even be an option to partner with other farms in your area (i.e. farms that may have previously relied on farmers markets or restaurant sales) to buy in extra produce to increase the number of CSA shares.

Challenge: What about CSAs that usually offer customers a choice of products in their CSA? Customizing everyone’s box could be a logistical nightmare. 

    • Possible solutions:
      • Consider setting up an online ordering site where customers can choose ahead of time, perhaps using Square, or software like Harvie, Local Line, etc, to allow for customized orders.
      • Consider having one farm staff/team member who is able to make substitutions or swaps at the pick-up, without customers having to handle any produce.

Challenge: What about exchanging and reusing boxes from week to week? Many grocery stores are no longer accepting reusable bags because of possible contamination. Farmers handling and receiving used boxes from customers each week might be putting themselves at risk.

    • Possible solutions:
      • Consider asking customers to bring their own baskets or boxes each week, place them in a “fill-up” area, and farm staff can place produce inside.
      • Consider using disposable packaging (i.e. sturdy paper bags, cardboard boxes, plastic bags, etc) for produce and shares.

What about CSAs that usually have on-farm pick ups?

      • Consider offering a  drive through service where customers have prepaid online and can drive right up to the pick-up location, where farm staff load their share into their trunk.


Reducing the number of people gathering at CSA pick-ups
    • Possible solutions:
      • Consider staggering pick-up times for customers. This may cause logistical challenges, but could be a great way to minimize the number of people gathering to pick-up shares at a given time. Offering a pick-up time just for elderly and/or immuno-compromised customers at the beginning of the pick-up could help to reduce their risk of exposure.
      • Consider home delivery if that’s feasible for your operation. It might also be possible to partner with a delivery service or food distributor in your area to take on this task for your CSA. 
      • If home delivery isn’t feasible, consider offering smaller-sized neighbourhood pick-ups/drop-offs if you have a cluster of customers in one particular area.
      • Make sure people practice physical distancing at pick-ups by designating waiting areas for customers that are 2m/6ft apart from one another, or ask people to wait inside their cars until it’s their turn.


Undertaking additional cleaning and sanitation protocols and ensuring physical distancing
    • Possible solutions:
      • Have a hand washing area, or hand sanitizer available in a designated area at the pick-up and encourage customers to make use of it before “entering”. 
      • Make sure to regularly clean/sanitize any surfaces that are frequently touched by you, your farm team, or customers. 
      • Don’t allow customers to do any sampling of produce at the pick-up, and ask them not to touch any produce, if possible.
      • Ask customers to send one person only to the pick-up, and encourage them to stand 2m/6ft apart from each other while waiting, or wait in their cars. Ask them not to linger or chat during or after the pick-up.
      • Encourage customers to pre-pay online, or use tap/touchless payment systems where possible.


Protecting yourself and your farm team
  • You and your farm team are providing a vital service to your community. Take the time to consider what would happen if you or a member of your team was to become ill. 
    • Possible solutions:
      • Consider writing out a risk management plan for the event that you or a farm staff/team member became sick with COVID-19 and/or needed to be in self-isolation. Do you have back-up people who could keep things running on the farm? Are there emergency measures you could put into place to ensure the productivity of your farm? You may also want to communicate this risk to your customers, and let them know what would happen to their share in the event that you or a member of your team got sick.
      • Keep yourself and your team 2m/6ft away from customers, avoid touching your face at any time during pick-ups, and wash or sanitize your hands frequently. 
      • Consider asking your farm staff/team members to keep 2m/6ft apart from each other while working at the farm or pick-up, when taking breaks, etc (where possible). Encourage staff not to share drinks, food, dishes, etc with each other, and ensure that no one comes to work if they are sick. Some essential workplaces are requiring their staff to take their temperatures before entering the work space, and at intervals during the work day.    
      • Consider staggering the times when your farm staff/team members are scheduled to come in to work, to keep working groups smaller and more isolated.
      • Consider keeping a log of when washing/sanitizing procedures have been completed.


EFAO will be hosting a follow-up virtual meeting on this theme.  To participate, please visit efao.ca/events for more information and to register.


Additional Resources for CSA Farmers