What is a CSA?

The three letter abbreviation “CSA” stands for “Community Supported Agriculture” and it refers to a type of farm share program run by a local farm or community of farmers. The traditional CSA program model functions by having members of the local community invest in the farm's harvest in advance or crop production. Then, over the course of the growing season, the CSA member receives their “share” of the harvest in the form of regular boxes (or bags or baskets) of produce. These shares are usually delivered to a pickup location once a week.

What to Expect: A Basic Model

Each CSA program is run differently based on the farm's capacity and customer base, however some things remain consistent. Usually the programs are based around shares of produce, but many farmers run programs that include meat, eggs, and dry goods as well. You can also expect the following:

- A financial commitment – The member pays upfront to enjoy a regular share (box, bag, basket) of items for a certain period of time, usually a few months.

- A written agreement – Buying a share of the harvest means that you reaps the benefits (bumper crops!) as well as accept the risks, like bad weather. Most farmers will ask you to agree to some terms and conditions so that you understand what it means to be a member.

- A pickup location – While some farmers are able to offer delivery, it is more common for members to go and pick up their share from a central location. These locations could be a residence, a location on the farm, or a local business, community center, or farmers market.

Why CSA? Benefits for Everyone

When a consumer buys directly from a farmer, they can enjoy the benefits of in-season produce, grown locally and available at the peak of freshness. Many people find the regular promise of food to be convenient and less expensive than their comparable grocery store counterparts. Some farmers grow items that aren't available in stores, which means they can offer their customers new and hard to find produce.

Buying locally from a small business (your farmer) helps to stimulate your regional economy. It also fosters a relationship between you and your food grower, which encourages a better understanding of how food is produced. Since you are getting your food from a source close to home, you're also able to reduce the impact that food shipping has on the quality of your produce and the overall health of the environment.

A CSA model benefits the farmer as well. With a certain level of financial security early in the growing season, s/he can focus more on the production (and less on the sale) of his/her crop. The farmer can also get to know his/her customer base on a closer level and is therefore able to meet their needs more efficiently and be more flexible when dealing with setbacks.