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How Do CSAs Work?

The Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) model is a marketing model whereby local farmers offer unique farm products to buyers. These buyers will subscribe to receive a weekly or monthly box of fruits, vegetables, fresh flowers, eggs, meats, cheeses, or any assortment of local farm products. With CSAs, customers can develop a caring relationship with a local farm by purchasing farm products in advance. Numerous local farmers nationwide and in North Carolina offer this mutually beneficial service. In some cases, multiple farms aggregate their products through multi-farm CSAs.

Community members sign up and purchase their shares in one lump sum before the seeds are sown in early spring or in several installments throughout the growing season. Production expenses are guaranteed, and the farmer or grower receives income as soon as work begins.

In return for their investment, CSA members receive a bag of fresh, locally-grown, typically organic produce once a week from late spring through early fall and occasionally throughout the winter in northern climates and year-round in milder zones. Members prefer a wide variety of vegetables and herbs, encouraging integrated cropping and companion planting. These practices help reduce risk factors and give multiple benefits to the soil. Crops are planted in succession to provide a continuous weekly supply of mixed vegetables. As crops rotate throughout the season, weekly shares vary by size and type of produce, reflecting local growing seasons and conditions.


  • CSAs vary considerably based on farm or garden location, agricultural practices, and specific farm and community goals and needs. Memberships include various community members, including low-income families, homeless people, senior citizens, and differently-abled individuals. If provided, an extra fee is typically charged for home delivery.       

  • Most CSA invites members to visit the farm and welcome volunteer assistance. In some cases, working shares are an option; a member commits to three or four hours a week to help the farm in exchange for a discount on membership costs.

  • Apprenticeships are growing in popularity on many CSA. For some farms, they are an integral component of a successful operation. Internships offer valuable hands-on education.

  • Property arrangements tend to be quite flexible. Beyond private ownership, land leasing with lease fees is factored in as a regular budget item. CSA is also an excellent opportunity for holding land in some form of trust arrangement.

  • Every CSA strives for a sustainable, economical, and environmentally operation over time. Many try to develop to their highest potential by expanding to provide additional food items such as honey, fruit, meats, and eggs, among other value-added things. CSA networks have developed associative economies by cooperatively growing and providing a greater range of products.

  • Some CSAs provide produce for local restaurants, roadside stands, or farmers’ markets while building farm membership, or in many cases, in addition. 

Distribution and Decision-Making


Distribution styles also vary. Once the day’s produce is harvested, the entire amount is weighed, and the number of pounds or items (e.g., heads of lettuce, ears of corn) to be received by each share. Some CSA members come to the farm, weigh out their share, leave members behind any items they don’t want at a surplus table, and possibly find something they could use. Other farms have a distribution crew to weigh items and pack shares to be picked up by members at the farm or distribution points.


There are several advantages to the direct marketing approach of CSA. In addition to shared risk and pre-payment of farm costs are the minimal loss and waste of harvested farm produce, little or reduced need for long-term storage, and a willingness by members to accept produce with natural cosmetic imperfections.


A core group comprises the farmers or growers, distributors, and other key administrators, and several CSA members are often the decision-making body for CSA that determines short and long-range goals, prepares the budget, conducts publicity and outreach, and organizes events. Annual meetings, a member newsletter, and occasional surveys are some primary means of communication between the farm and its members.


Why Is Community Supported Agriculture Important?


  • Direct marketing gives farmers and growers the fairest return on their products

  • Keeps food dollars in the local community and contributes to the maintenance and establishment of regional food production

  • Encourages communication and cooperation among farmers

  • With a “guaranteed market” for their produce, farmers can invest their time in doing the best job they can rather than looking for buyers

  • Supports the biodiversity of a given area and the diversity of agriculture through the preservation of small farms producing a wide variety of crops

  • Creates an opportunity for dialogue between farmers and consumers

  • Develops a sense of social responsibility and stewardship of local land

  • Puts “the farmers’ face on food” and increases understanding of how, where, and by whom our food is grown


Special thanks to the contributors to this description of CSA: Robyn Van En, CSA of North America (CSANA); Liz Manes, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension; and Cathy Roth, UMass Extension Agroecology Program. Thanks to Community Supported Agriculture of North America at the University of Massachusetts Extension for allowing us to post this article.

For more information on Community Supported Agriculture, please contact The Robyn Van En Center for CSA at

Organic Agriculture Info - North Carolina CSA Programs Are on the Rise

A few short years ago, a CSA program probably didn’t exist in your North Carolina community. They’ve taken off in the last few years for a good reason. They are an excellent way for farmers to know they will have a market for their crops, but they are a perfect way for the consumer to get high-quality products without breaking the bank.

Primarily, the crops are grown using organic methods, so health-conscious NC consumers know they’re eating right, and community-supported agriculture programs offer a wide variety of options, including;

  • Veggies

  • Fruits

  • Flowers

  • Meats

  • Cheeses

You don’t have to live right next to an agricultural area; farmers often spread their products around in many different cities to ensure all their crops are spoken for. If you do not have a CSA program in your community, talk to a local community service organization about starting one. Some are maintained by local food co-ops or service organizations, while farmers often manage their own CSAs. If you know a farmer, find out if they’re offering a CSA program; if they’re not, give them a hint! These programs benefit everybody involved and are simple to start and maintain, so there is no reason your community should do without one.

Even if you feel you cannot afford to belong to a North Carolina CSA, don’t despair. Many farmers provide apprenticeships for those who can’t afford to buy a membership for a season. You’re working in the fields for a pre-determined amount of time each week and find out about the agriculture business, and you receive a share of the crops in return. Now that’s a win-win situation for everyone!

At a time when we worry about the quality of our food, how far it’s traveled, and how long it’s been sitting in a warehouse, these novel programs can bring a little more peace of mind about where dinner’s coming from and teach you new skills at the same time. 
Even if you don’t want to work in an apprenticeship, you can usually visit the farm and see where your next meal is coming from, and that is an excellent feeling. So, help a farmer, feed your family better, and save money by joining a North Carolina CSA in your area.


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