Community-supported agriculture

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Community-supported agriculture
Clagett Farm CSA Week 11.jpg
An example of a week's CSA share, including bell peppers, okra, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, garlic, eggplant, and squash

Community-supported agriculture (CSA model) or cropsharing is a system that connects the producer and consumers within the food system more closely by allowing the consumer to subscribe to the harvest of a certain farm or group of farms. It is an alternative socioeconomic model of agriculture and food distribution that allows the producer and consumer to share the risks of farming. [1] The model is a subcategory of civic agriculture that has an overarching goal of strengthening a sense of community through local markets. [2]


In return for subscribing to a harvest, subscribers receive either a weekly or bi-weekly box of produce or other farm goods. This includes in-season fruits and vegetables and can expand to dried goods, eggs, milk, meat, etc. Typically, farmers try to cultivate a relationship with subscribers by sending weekly letters of what is happening on the farm, inviting them for harvest, or holding an open-farm event. Some CSAs provide for contributions of labor in lieu of a portion of subscription costs. [3]

The term CSA is mostly used in the United States and Canada, but a variety of similar production and economic sub-systems are in use worldwide.


The term "community-supported agriculture" was coined in the northeastern United States in the 1980s, influenced by European biodynamic agriculture ideas formulated by Rudolf Steiner. [4] Two European farmers, Jan Vander Tuin from Switzerland and Trauger Groh from Germany, brought European biodynamic farming ideas to the United States in the mid-1980s. [4] Vander Tuin had co-founded a community-supported agricultural project named Topinambur located near Zurich, Switzerland. Coinage of the term "community-supported agriculture" stems from Vander Tuin. [5] This influence led to the separate and simultaneous creation of two CSAs in 1986. The CSA Garden at Great Barrington was created in Massachusetts by Jan Vander Tuin, Susan Witt, and Robyn Van En. The Temple-Wilton Community Farm was created in New Hampshire by Anthony Graham, Trauger Groh, and Lincoln Geiger. [4]

Mustard Seed Farms, an organic CSA farm in Oregon Mustard Seed Farms Oregon CSA.jpg
Mustard Seed Farms, an organic CSA farm in Oregon

The CSA Garden at Great Barrington remained together until 1990 when many members left to form the Mahaiwe Harvest CSA. One of the original founders, Robyn Van En, became incredibly influential in the CSA movement in America and founded CSA North America in 1992. [4] The Temple-Wilton Community Garden was more successful and still operates as a CSA today. It became an important member of the Wilton community and it receives funding from state, federal, and local sources. [4]

A parallel model called Teikei existed in Japan as early as the mid 1960s. Similarly, Dr. Booker T. Whatley, a professor of agriculture in Alabama, advocated for Clientele Membership Clubs as early as the 1960s. [6]

Since the 1980s, community supported farms have been organized throughout North America — mainly in New England, the Northwest, the Pacific coast, the Upper-Midwest and Canada. North America now has at least 13,000 CSA farms of which 12,549 are in the US according to the US Department of Agriculture in 2007. [7] The rise of CSAs seems to be correlated with the increase in awareness of the environmental movement in the United States. Some examples of larger and well established CSAs in the US are Angelic Organics, Golden Earthworm Organic Farm [8] Phillies Bridge Farm Project, and Roxbury Farm. [9] CSAs have even become popular in urban environments as proven by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger's own CSA program that maintains locations in all five boroughs of the city. [10] The largest subscription CSA with over 13,000 families is Farm Fresh To You in Capay Valley, California. [11] The Québec CSA network (17 years old in 2012) is one of the largest in the world. It is a unique system where a non-profit organization reaches the customers for the farmers and provide these farmers with technical support. More than one hundred farms are part of this network. Some CSAs are used by farmers, such as Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont, to finance improvements and new infrastructure. [12]

Since 2008, the international CSA network Urgenci has been coordinating dissemination and exchange programmes that have resulted in the creation of dozens of small-scale CSA in Central and Eastern Europe.

CSA was introduced to China following a series of food safety scandals in the late 2000s. It was estimated that there were more than 500 CSA farms in China by 2017. They have been a critical force in the development of the organic and ecological farming in China. Chinese CSA farmers, researchers and civil society organizations gather annually at the national CSA symposium held since 2009. [13]

Much of the growth in women labour participation in agriculture is outside the "male dominated field of conventional agriculture". In community supported agriculture women represent 40 percent of farm operators. [14]

Socio-economic model

CSAs create direct connections between producers and consumers through alternative markets and the members and farmers share the risk of farming. [1] The goals of the first CSA model in the US were to have the producer and consumer to come into the market as equals and make an exchange with fair prices and fair wages. [1]

The consumer pays for things such as transparency, environmental stewardship, producer relationships, etc. The farmers engaged in CSAs do so to fulfill goals other than income and are not compensated fairly in these exchanges. [1] This kind of market holds ‘economic rents’ where the consumer surplus comes from the consumers’ willingness to pay for something further than the product as well as for the products inputs themselves. [1] Although these markets still exist within a larger capitalist economy, they are able to exist because of the ‘economic rents’ that are collected.

CSA system

CSAs generally focus on the production of high quality foods for a local community, often using organic or biodynamic farming methods, and a shared risk membership–marketing structure. This kind of farming operates with a much greater degree of involvement of consumers and other stakeholders than usual — resulting in a stronger consumer-producer relationship. [15] The core design includes developing a cohesive consumer group that is willing to fund a whole season's budget in order to get quality foods. The system has many variations on how the farm budget is supported by the consumers and how the producers then deliver the foods. CSA theory purports that the more a farm embraces whole-farm, whole-budget support, the more it can focus on quality and reduce the risk of food waste.


Community-supported agriculture farms in the United States today share three common characteristics: an emphasis on community and/or local produce, share or subscriptions sold prior to season, and weekly deliveries to members/subscribers. Though CSA operation varies from farm to farm and has evolved over time, these three characteristics have remained constant. [16] The functioning of a CSA also relies on four practical arrangements: for farmers to know the needs of a community, for consumers to have the opportunity to express to farmers what their needs and financial limitations are, for commitments between farmers and consumers to be consciously established, and for farmers needs to be recognized. [17]

From this base, four main types of CSAs have been developed:

In most original CSAs, a core group of members existed. This core group of members helped to make decisions about and run the CSA including marketing, distribution, administrative, and community organization functions. CSAs with a core group of members are most profitable and successful. However, in 1999, 72 percent of CSAs did not have a core group of members. CSAs with a core group of members operate more successfully as a farmer-shareholder cooperative and CSAs without a group of core members rely much more on subscriptions and run most prominently as shareholder/subscriber CSAs. [19]


Community-supported agriculture in America was influenced by the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher. He developed the concepts of anthroposophy and biodynamic agriculture. The Temple-Wilton Community Farm used his ideas to develop three main goals of CSAs:

As CSAs have increased in both number and size since they were first developed, they have also changed ideologically. While original CSAs and some more current CSAs are still philosophically oriented, most CSAs today are commercially oriented and community-supported agriculture is predominantly seen as a beneficial marketing strategy. [4] This has led to three ideologically based types of CSAs. The first type is instrumental, the CSA is considered a market in the traditional sense, instead of an alternative form of economy and relationship. The second type is functional; there is a relationship of solidarity between the farmer and the subscribers, but this extends mostly to social functions, not managerial or administrative functions. This is the most common type of CSA. The final type is collaborative; this is the closest to the original aims of CSAs where the relationship between the farmer and the subscribers is seen as a partnership. [20]

Distribution and marketing methods

Shares of a CSA originally and predominantly consist of produce. In more recent years, shares have diversified and include non-produce products including eggs, meat, flowers, honey, dairy and soaps. [16] Share prices vary from CSA to CSA. Shares are sold as full shares, which feed 2 to 5 people, and half shares, which feed 1 to 3 people. Prices range from $200 to $500 per season. Full shares are sold at a median of $400 and half shares are sold at a median of $250. [21] Share prices are mostly determined by overhead costs of production, but are also determined by share prices of other CSAs, variable costs of production, market forces, and income level of the community. [16] Many CSAs have payment plans and low-income options.

Shares are distributed in several different ways. Shares are most often distributed weekly. Most CSAs allow share pick up at the farm. Shares are also distributed through regional dropoff, direct home or office dropoff, farmers' markets, and community center/church dropoff. [16] For example, the new "Farmie Markets" of upstate New York [22] take orders online and have a number of farmers who send that week's orders to a central point in a limited region, for distribution by the organizers.

CSAs market their farms and shares in different ways. CSAs employ different channels of marketing to diversify their sales efforts and increase subscriptions. CSAs use local farmers' markets, restaurants, on-farm retail, wholesale to natural food stores, and wholesale to local groceries in addition to their CSAs to market shares. One problem that CSAs encounter is over-production, so CSAs often sell their produce and products in ways other than shares. Often, CSA farms also sell their products at local farmers' markets. Excess products are sometimes given to food banks. [16]

Challenges for farmers

Many CSA farmers can capitalize on a closer relationship between customers and their food, since some customers will pay more (an economic rent if this puts the price above the cost of production) if they know where it is coming from, who is involved, and have special access to it. [1] However, some farmers participating in community-supported agriculture do not experience the economic benefits that they are perceived to obtain by participating in an alternative community-based arrangement. Galt's 2013 study of CSA farmers found that many farmers charged lower fees and prices for their goods than would provide them with financial security. [1] This study suggested that farmers may charge less than they need to earn fair wages due to undervaluing their expenses and to offset the high costs of CSA products and make it more affordable for customers; see moral economy. [1]

See also

Related Research Articles

Organic farming Method of agriculture meant to be environmentally friendly

Organic farming is an agricultural system which originated early in the 20th century in reaction to rapidly changing farming practices. Certified organic agriculture accounts for 70 million hectares globally, with over half of that total in Australia. Organic farming continues to be developed by various organizations today. It is defined by the use of fertilizers of organic origin such as compost manure, green manure, and bone meal and places emphasis on techniques such as crop rotation and companion planting. Biological pest control, mixed cropping and the fostering of insect predators are encouraged. Organic standards are designed to allow the use of naturally occurring substances while prohibiting or strictly limiting synthetic substances. For instance, naturally occurring pesticides such as pyrethrin and rotenone are permitted, while synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are generally prohibited. Synthetic substances that are allowed include, for example, copper sulfate, elemental sulfur and Ivermectin. Genetically modified organisms, nanomaterials, human sewage sludge, plant growth regulators, hormones, and antibiotic use in livestock husbandry are prohibited. Organic farming advocates claim advantages in sustainability, openness, self-sufficiency, autonomy/independence, health, food security, and food safety.

Local food movement of people who prefer to eat foods which are grown or farmed relatively close to the places of sale and preparation

Local food is food that is produced within a short distance of where it is consumed, often accompanied by a social structure and supply chain different from the large-scale supermarket system.

Organic movement "Organic Movement" is a term refers to the activities of people individually and as an organisation in promoting the - Growth and Usage of Organic food products.

The organic movement broadly refers to the organizations and individuals involved worldwide in the promotion of organic farming and other organic products. It started around the first half of the 20th century, when modern large-scale agricultural practices began to appear.

Organic certification certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products

Organic certification is a certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. In general, any business directly involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, food processors, retailers and restaurants. A lesser known counterpart is certification for organic textiles that includes certification of textile products made from organically grown fibres.

Biodynamic agriculture is a form of alternative agriculture very similar to organic farming, but it includes various esoteric concepts drawn from the ideas of Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925). Initially developed in 1924, it was the first of the organic agriculture movements. It treats soil fertility, plant growth, and livestock care as ecologically interrelated tasks, emphasizing spiritual and mystical perspectives.

Teikei (提携) is a system of community-supported agriculture in Japan, where consumers purchase food directly from farmers. Teikei is closely associated with small-scale, local, organic farming, and volunteer-based, non-profit partnerships between producers and consumers. Millions of Japanese consumers participate in teikei. It is widely cited as the origin of community-supported agriculture around the world.

Market garden relatively small-scale production of fruits, vegetables and flowers as cash crops

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Small-scale agriculture

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Demeter International trademark

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History of organic farming aspect of history

Traditional farming was the original type of agriculture, and has been practiced for thousands of years. All traditional farming is now considered to be "organic farming" although at the time there were no known inorganic methods. For example, forest gardening, a fully organic food production system which dates from prehistoric times, is thought to be the world's oldest and most resilient agroecosystem. After the industrial revolution had introduced inorganic methods, most of which were not well developed and had serious side effects. An organic movement began in the 1940s as a reaction to agriculture's growing reliance on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The history of this modern revival of organic farming dates back to the first half of the 20th century at a time when there was a growing reliance on these new synthetic, non-organic methods.

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Jan Vander Tuin is a founder of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement. He is also a cycling activist and bicycle designer, and in 1992 started the Center for Appropriate Transport in Eugene, Oregon.

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Further reading