Community Supported Agriculture (commonly called CSA) is a marketing tool by which consumers can subscribe to a farm. In return for the price they pay for a share in the late winter or early spring, they receive a weekly allotment of the produce that is harvested from the farm.
CSAs began in Japan nearly 40 years ago and spread to the US in the 1980s. Today there is an estimated 1400 CSAs in the United States.
There is no common governing body for CSAs: each works differently and each may have a different focus.
Common Advantages to CSAs
- It is a partnership between consumer and producer, supplying cash for operating expenses to the farmer and a shared risk of unforeseen circumstances, for example, crop damage due to hail.
- Consumers and farmers develop a relationship: consumers know where their food comes from and farmers know the people they are feeding.
- Food is harvested when it is ripe and delivered within hours for freshness, better flavor and less deterioration than conventionally farmed produce found in grocery stores.
- Because the food is produced locally, less fossil fuel is spent in its transport and only minimal packaging is needed.
- Most CSAs have organic certification or they employ organic methods.
- CSAs practice biodiversity, growing a variety of crops for their clients rather than concentrating on a single crop or monoculture.
- CSA farmers receive 100% of the client’s dollar, whereas conventional farmers receive only 25%.
CSAs diverge in what they offer to their customers.
Differences Among CSAs:
- Products offered. Some CSAs provide only vegetables while others may provide fruit, meat, eggs, dairy, honey, or winter roots and tubers.
- Weekly newsletters to update customers on crop health as well as what they can expect in future deliveries. Often recipes and tips for cooking produce are included.
- Heirloom varieties grown for their tastiness rather than their ability to withstand long distance transport. CSAs also may grow specialty vegetables such as sunchokes and French breakfast radishes.
- Besides charging a share price, some CSAs ask clients to volunteer time at the farm. Chores range from pulling weeds to sorting and packing produce for delivery.