From microgreens to microfinancing

Blue moon acres farm has built loyalty among Philadelphia’s chefs with their vegetables and microgreens, which chefs use to add color and flavor to restaurant dishes. Now, they’re rebuilding their farm with Winter Market Dollars, a  customer loyalty program. 

Jim and Kathy Lyons opened a retail market on their farm in Pennington, New Jersey, during peak growing season in 2011. Though they closed the first winter, their Market Manager Natalie Rockwell had an idea for a new business strategy, and urged them to keep the farm open year-round, though it took some convincing. “[The Lyons] were nervous about being open through the winter with nothing of our own except for carrots, garlic [and] microgreens,” Rockwell says. Soon, the Lyons saw Rockwell’s vision, and together they developed the Winter Market Dollars program. 

The program mimics a community supported agriculture (CSA) membership, but instead of getting a fixed box of vegetables every week, customers go to the Blue Moon Acres Market, either in Buckingham, Pennsylvania, or Pennington, where they whittle down their credit every time they shop. Membership is free, and participants can choose to invest in $100, $300 or $500 increments, with perks at each level. With a $300 investment, they can put Blue Moon’s eggs on hold, and at $500 they get a $25 bonus to apply to a farm-to-table dinner, workshop or event. 

The whole idea, initially, was to keep people coming through the winter, Rockwell says, but as they developed the program, a secondary—and more ambitious—goal emerged. 

After Hurricane Sandy, the Lyons lost a high tunnel—a moveable structure similar to a greenhouse—that allowed them to extend the season of autumn crops through the entire winter. If they could gather enough support for the Winter Market Dollars program from their customers, they would be able to earn the $12,000 it would cost to replace the high tunnel they lost. 

They started sign-ups in November and met their goal two months later. “It was a very pleasant surprise,” Rockwell says, adding that before this winter is over, they can make an upgrade that will make even more variety available to their customers next winter.

The new high tunnel will allow Blue Moon Acres to maintain winter production of such late-autumn crops as kale, broccoli and cauliflower. Effectively, the farm is borrowing from itself, from its own future vegetables, instead of from a bank, and it’s because of their customers investing in them. It brings a whole new meaning to the idea of seed money.

For more information about the Winter Market Dollars program, visit bluemoonacres.net.

Story by Emily Teel