The Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) model is a
marketing model whereby local farmers offer unique farm
products to buyers who will subscribe to receive a weekly or
a monthly box of fruits, vegetables, fresh flowers, eggs, meats,
cheeses, or any assortment of local farm products. With the
use of CSA’s, customers can develop a caring relationship with
a local farm, just 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, either in one lump sum before the seeds are sown in early spring or in several installments throughout the growing season. Production expenses are thereby guaranteed, and the farmer or grower starts receiving 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, which encourages 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 types of produce, reflecting local growing seasons and conditions.
CSA varies considerably as they are 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 typically is charged for home delivery.
Most CSA invites members to visit the farm and welcome volunteer assistance. Working shares are an option in some cases, whereby a member commits to three or four hours a week to help the farm in exchange for a discount on membership cost.
Apprenticeships are growing in popularity on many CSA. For some farms, they are an integral component of a successful operation. Apprenticeships offer valuable hands-on education.
Property arrangements tend to be quite flexible. Beyond private ownership, there is the leasing of land with lease fees factored in as a regular budget item. CSA is also an excellent opportunity for holding land in some form of the trust arrangement.
Every CSA strives over time for a truly sustainable operation, both economically and environmentally. Many try to develop to their highest potential by expanding to provide additional food items such as honey, fruit, meats, eggs, etc. CSA networks have developed associative economies by growing and providing a greater range of products cooperatively.
Some CSAs provide produce for local restaurants, roadside stands, or farmers' markets while building farm membership, or in many cases, in addition to it.
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 is determined. Some CSA members come to the farm, weigh out their own share, leave members behind any items they don't want at a surplus table, and possibly find something there 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.
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 made up of 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, organizes events, etc. Annual meetings, a member newsletter, and occasional surveys are some basic 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
Creates 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
Just a few short years ago, a CSA program probably didn't exist in your North Carolina community. They've really taken off in the last few years, and for a good reason. They are a great way for farmers to know they're going to have a market for their crops, but they are a great way for the consumer to get high-quality products having to break the bank, too.
Primarily, the crops are organic, so health-conscious NC consumers know they're eating right, and community-supported agriculture programs offer a wide variety of options, including;
You don't have to live right next to an agricultural area, either; often, farmers will spread their produce 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, too. If you know a farmer, find out if they're offering a CSA program, and if they're not, give them a hint! These programs benefit just about everybody involved, and they are simple to start and maintain, so there is no reason why 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 business of agriculture, 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 before it finally reached the supermarket, 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 actually 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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