Community Supported Agriculture
= farms that look to the urban and suburban districts to buy shares of their produce, a portion of which is often delivered each week directly to people’s homes or other central pickup location.
("This has been an amazingly successful model, to the point where many established CSA’s have a long waiting list of potential customers.") 
Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community-supported_agriculture ; Solecopedia article at http://en.solecopedia.org/index.php?title=Community_Supported_Agriculture
"-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an arrangement in which a farm sells shares of the harvest to raise capital prior to the growing season. In return, CSA members (shareholders) receive a basket of produce every week or so and often have an opportunity or requirement to work a designated number of hours on the farm or at the distribution point. This arrangement is advantageous to farmer and consumer alike. The farmer is able to raise capital during the slow season and distribute the risk of a weak harvest over a multitude of shareholders; the CSA member gains access to local, responsibly produced food at a discount and helps build a sustainable local food system in the process."
"A customer commits to pay a certain amount of money every month or week for a certain amount of product every month. This system answers a critical cash flow issue for the farmer and adds stability to their sales as well as helps them determine more accurately what seeds to plant. The buyer gets a stable supply of food and can plan meals around the deliveries." (http://www.slowmoneynw.org/2010/07/rovers-restaurant-offers-gift.html)
"The concept of Community Supported Agriculture emerged in the US in the 1980s, and more recently has begun to be picked up in the UK, where there are now over 100 such schemes. In essence, they are farms where members of the local community become involved in the running of the farm through buying shares or becoming members, making decisions and even helping out with the growing and harvesting of the food they eat. For farmers it is a great model because it ensures a secure market for what they produce, and also allows them to feel a sense of being supported by those around them. For the consumer it provides access to food, the opportunity to learn new growing skills, and the opportunity to have a say in where your food comes from. It is also an excellent and key tool in building local food resilience." (http://transitionculture.org/2010/12/22/ingredients-of-transition-community-supported-farms-bakeries-and-breweries/)
4. John Robb:
"Farming is increasingly becoming a service.
The reasons for this are simple.
People want the freshness, quality, and meaning they get from buying local food from people they know. It's also great for the farmer, since it enables them to directly interact with customers again.
One of the ways this service is being provided is Community Supported Agriculture, or a CSA.
A CSA is essentially a subscription to a farm's output, usually delivered weekly.
The weekly delivery system works nicely to the benefit of both the resilient customer and the farmer. The customer gets freshly picked, locally procured, high quality produce, that is grown in a way that they approve of (this is going to become very, very important when the GMO bubble pops).
The farmer benefits from a predictable income stream. Income that is paid upfront (instead of being reliant of volatile commodity markets and government subsidies) by willing customers.
To cement the bond, CSA farmers are increasingly holding harvest festivals and other programs for their subscribers to provide them with a deeper connection to the farm.
If you don't already subscribe to a CSA, do so. In addition to the factors cited above, it's a nice compliment to the food you grow in your garden and a beneficial addition to your community's resilience. How so? The more edible food (in contrast to endless acres of corn and soybeans) grown locally, the better. It's important to remember that resilience is a community effort, and the more producers there are the better. You don't have to produce everything yourself.
1. Shared Risk: the risk attached to food production is shared between farmers and consumers, meaning that rather than the farmer’s income being subject to the vagaries of the climate and of the market, it is based on trust with those around him/her
2. Transparency: this sense of trust leads to increased transparency in how the farm is organised, with members offered the opportunity to be very involved in the running of the farm. Also the levels of trust mean that as people can see how the farm is produced, some CSAs don’t feel the need for expensive organic certification, as anyone can see how they are growing the food
3. Community Benefits: such schemes tend to have greater and wider economic benefits to the community. Through farmers being able to keep their overheads low they are often able to make food available cheaper than supermarkets, which helps also to address issues around access to affordable, good quality foods for those on lower incomes
4. Building resilience: CSA schemes have the potential to support and promote community food resilience, putting in place sustainable local food production designed from the outset for the benefit of the local economy." (http://transitionculture.org/2010/12/22/ingredients-of-transition-community-supported-farms-bakeries-and-breweries/)
From the Solecopedia:
"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 than usual degree of involvement of consumers and other stakeholders — resulting in a stronger than usual consumer-producer relationship. 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. By CSA theory, the more a farm embraces whole-farm, whole-budget support, the more it can focus on quality and reduce the risk of food waste or financial loss.
In its most formal and structured European and North American forms, CSAs focus on having:
a transparent, whole season budget for producing a specified wide array of products for a set number of weeks a year; a common-pricing system where producers and consumers discuss and democratically agree to pricing based on the acceptance of the budget; and a ‘shared risk and reward’ agreement, i.e. that the consumers receive what the farmers grow even with the vagaries of seasonal growing. Thus, individuals, families or groups do not pay for x pounds or kilograms of produce, but rather support the budget of the whole farm and receive weekly what is seasonally ripe. This approach eliminates the marketing risks and costs for the producer and an enormous amount of time, often manpower too, and allows producers to focus on quality care of soils, crops, animals, co-workers — and on serving the customers. There is financial stability in this system which allows for thorough planning on the part of the farmer.
Some farms are dedicated entirely to their CSA, while others also sell through on-farm stands, farmers' markets, and other channels. Most CSAs are owned by the farmers, while some offer shares in the farm as well as the harvest. Consumers have organized their own CSA projects, going as far as leasing land and hiring farmers. Many CSAs have a core group of members that assists with CSA administration. Some require or offer the option of members providing labor as part of the share price.
Some CSAs have evolved into social enterprises employing a number of local staff, improving the lot of local farmers and educating the local community about organic/ecologically responsible farming.
Typically, CSA farms are small, independent, labor-intensive, family farms. By providing a guaranteed market through prepaid annual sales, consumers essentially help finance farming operations. This allows farmers to not only focus on quality growing, it can also somewhat level the playing field in a food market that favors large-scale, industrialized agriculture over local food.
Vegetables and fruit are the most common CSA crops. Many CSAs practice ecological, organic or biodynamic agriculture, avoiding pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. The cost of a share is usually competitively priced when compared to the same amount of vegetables conventionally-grown, partly because the cost of distribution is lowered.
Distribution and Marketing Methods
A distinctive feature of CSAs is the method of distribution. In the U.S. and Canada, shares are usually provided weekly, with pick-ups or deliveries occurring on a designated day and time. CSA subscribers often live in towns and cities - local drop-off locations, convenient to a number of members, are organized, often at the homes of members. Shares are also usually available on-farm.
CSAs are different from buying clubs and home delivery services, where the consumer buys a specific product at a predetermined price. CSA members purchase only what the farm is able to successfully grow and harvest, sharing some of the growing risk with the farmer. If the strawberry crop is not successful, for example, the CSA member will share the burden of the crop failure by receiving fewer or lower quality strawberries for the season. CSA members are often more actively involved in the growing and distribution process, through shared newsletters and recipes, farm visits, farm work-days, advance purchases of shares, and picking up their shares.
Some families have enrolled in subscription CSAs in which a family pays a fixed price for each delivery, and can start or stop the service as they wish. This kind of arrangement is also referred to as crop-sharing or box schemes. In such cases, the farmer may supplement each box with produce brought in from neighboring farms for a better variety. Thus there is a distinction between the farmers selling pre-paid shares in the upcoming season's harvest or a weekly subscription that represents that week's harvest. In all cases participants purchase a portion of the farm's harvest either by the season or by the week in return for what the farm is able to successfully grow and harvest. The largest subscription CSA, with over 4,000 families, is Farm Fresh To You in Capay Valley, California.
An advantage of the close consumer-producer relationship is increased freshness of the produce, because it does not have to be shipped long distances. The close proximity of the farm to the members also helps the environment by reducing pollution caused by transporting the produce. CSAs often include recipes and farm news in each box. Tours of the farm and work days are announced. Over a period of time, consumers get to know who is producing their food, and what production methods are used.
Share prices can vary dramatically depending on location. Variables also include length of share season, and average quantity and selection of food per share. As a rough average, in North America, a basic share may be $350-550 for a season, for 14-20 weeks (June to September or October), with enough of each included crop for at least two people (perhaps 8-12 common garden vegetables). Seasonal eating is implied, as shares are usually based on the outdoor growing season, which means a smaller selection at the beginning and perhaps the end of the period, as well as a changing variety as the season progresses. Some CSA programs offer different share sizes or choices of share periods (e.g. full-season and peak season).
The film, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, documents the resurrection of a family farm through its conversion to a CSA model." (http://en.solecopedia.org/index.php?title=Community_Supported_Agriculture)
"One of the best examples in the UK is Stroud Community Agriculture, which was set up in 2001 by four local residents who wanted to support a local farmer who was struggling and in danger of losing his farm. A public meeting was held which generated a lot of interest. Some seed funding was raised through pledges at that meeting, and then new members paid in advance for their produce, which also raised necessary finance. In 2002, an Industrial and Provident Society was set up for the project. The first farm did eventually go under, but fortunately a second site was found, closer to town, and SCA now has 200 members (the maximum desirable number agreed by the members) and manages 50 acres of land producing beef, lamb, pork and vegetables. Another CSA project has subsequently launched in the area too. Members pay £2 a month to be members, and £33 a month for their shares, although this can be reduced if people attend workdays and help with the food production. Produce can be collected from the farm or from two drop-offs in town." (http://transitionculture.org/2010/12/22/ingredients-of-transition-community-supported-farms-bakeries-and-breweries/)
"The formalized CSA model which subsequently spread across the US and beyond was pioneered in part in the Southern Berkshires. Temple Wilton farm in New Hampshire independently developed a similar model at the same time, with shared influences in Biodynamics and the economic writings of Rudolf Steiner. The “Community Supported Food Systems” paper shows how the character of CSA development in the Berkshires was also informed by cooperative ideas and models developed in Switzerland. The ethos and organizing principles of these Swiss examples were documented and brought to Massachusetts by one Jan Vander Tuin.
Vander Tuin, a champion of pedal-powered transport and car-sharing, would later go on to make his mark advocating for appropriate technology in transportation. But before all that, he was a disillusioned farm laborer looking for alternatives. As Vander Tuin recalled in a 1992 article in RAIN Magazine, he went to Switzerland in the early ‘80s from the US having “felt burned economically… with an eye open for alternatives to market agriculture.” As he described the attraction of Switzerland at that time:
The early 1980’s were inspiring years for Swiss activists. The youth were rebellious, and citizens at large asked questions of the nation that epitomizes capitalism. I saw many evolving solutions to problems that I, coming from the States, had written off as unsolvable.”
After some time working first-hand on an organic farm outside Zürich, Vander Tuin was directed to a successful producer-consumer food co-op in Geneva, which had been inspired by the cooperative movement in Chile during the Allende administration. Vander Tuin called the project the most radical food co-op group he had ever encountered: it “addressed almost every problem I’d encountered in modern farming.” This project’s philosophy went beyond ecologically sustainable practices and pesticide-free produce, addressing the steep economic challenges faced by organic farming in an era of big, corporate agri-business. The basic notion that consumers personally cooperate with producers to fund farming in advance, he wrote “makes for more efficient use of land… and much less stress for farmers…” In short, Vander Tuin recognized that this model made organic farming for local consumption not just economical, but also more elegant and communitarian – in a word, more beautiful.
What drove Vander Tuin, as expressed in the paper, is “the feeling that existing food infrastructures are hopelessly entangled in the societal/cultural systems, especially the ‘free’ market.” Rather than wait for planners and experts, Vander Tuin noted how, in the Swiss examples, “concerned consumers and frustrated food workers” decided to provide responsibly-grown organic food for themselves. Shared values such as organic growing and energy-conscious distribution were identified from the outset. Everything down to how shares were calculated – based on the amount of produce the average non-vegetarian consumes per year – underscores the ambition for local self-reliance in food production.
The document also highlights a strong desire for economic fairness at every step in CSA practices. The costs of start-up investment and land would “ideally…be divided up equally (or by sliding scale).” In the Swiss example, wages for farm labor were to be estimated at “the average wage of worker in region – not banker unfortunately” Vander Tuin added with a dose of humor. “The emphasis in all economic thinking,” it concludes, “was not to work the maximum profit principle but on the need/cost coverage principle. This meant more trust and more participation.”
Vander Tuin documented these practices, eager to bring them back to the US for implementation. He caught wind of a group in the Southern Berkshires who had set up a sort of buying club for locally-grown produce, including a handful of local growers meeting the demand. The Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy (S.H.A.R.E.) was a community micro-loan program which grew out of the activities of the E.F. Schumacher Society (precursor to the Schumacher Center) in South Egremont. Vander Tuin became aware of the group, according to Schumacher Center co-founder Susan Witt, after reading a news article about their novel SHAREcropper initiative. Community-members would pool to list requests for locally grown produce in the SHARE newsletter, enabling them to identify farmers to grow the food locally. Those growers, in turn, secured demand for their crops in advance.
In other words, SHAREcroppers was managing, in an ad-hoc way, what Vander Tuin envisaged as a systematic alternative to corporate, mono-crop agriculture.
When Vander Tuin presented his proposal to members of S.H.A.R.E., they promptly sent him down to the road to meet one of their growers: Robyn Van En, who ran Indian Line Farm. Robyn not only held equally radical ambitions, but possessed the roll-up-her-sleeves attitude needed to make them a reality. With a community around them dedicated to the cause and willing to help see through the implementation, they could set to work.
Having moved to the Southern Berkshires several years earlier from California, Van En was pursuing her own alternative vision for growing at Indian Line. She brought deep ethical convictions about humanity’s relationship with nature to inform the early CSA movement. She later articulated the ‘Ideals of Community Supported Agriculture’ for a CSA manual in such terms:
Agriculture… is the mother of all our culture and the foundation of our well-being. Modern farming…driven by purely economic considerations, has driven the culture out and replaced it with business: agriculture has become agribusiness… Our ideals for agriculture come to expression in the biodynamic method of farming which seeks to create a self-sustaining and improving ecological system in which…everything has its place in the cycle of the seasons… The community involvement in the rhythms of the seasons and the celebrations connected with them will also enable us to find our proper spiritual connection to nature again.”
With a new agricultural ethic clear from the start, Van En also recognized early on a need for a new economic approach as well. As she later described: “I knew there had to be a better way…something cooperative, that allowed people to combine their abilities, expertise, and resources for the mutual benefit of all concerned.” When S.H.A.R.E. members introduced her to Vander Tuin in 1985, they “only had to talk for a few minutes,” according to Van En, to know that what he’d brought back from Switzerland articulated just the sort of community framework she’d been looking for. As she later summarized:
The prices we pay for food may be cheaper than ever, but the hidden costs… are being paid [in other ways]. Unlike agribusiness, which has the motto: ‘The end (profits) justifies the means (exploitation)’, CSA’s motto is: ‘The means (community) assures the end (quality food).'”
The group’s first venture in 1985 involved shares for apples and cider from the orchard adjacent to the present-day Schumacher Center. After the growing season, shareholders were invited to the autumn harvest in a spirit of celebration. (Vander Tuin reportedly even designed and built a pedal-powered cider press for the occasion). Producers and consumers were brought together in relationship with the land and its produce, creating space for community while proving the viability of the CSA model.
The following season, Indian Line Farm became the first fully-fledged CSA in the US. Credit for the success of the model in the Southern Berkshires goes to the many members of the community who supported Indian Line in various ways. But it was only the beginning for Van En: an educator by training, she would go on to become a tireless advocate of the CSA model and biodynamic farming and a vocal critic of industrialized agribusiness. The propagation of the CSA model across North America in the following decades owes much to Robyn’s conviction and endurance.
A final aspect of the CSA concept, originally outlined by Vander Tuin, remained only a theory until Indian Line Farm came on the market in 1998, one year after Van En’s untimely passing. At that time the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires and two area farmers formed a partnership with a local Nature Conservancy chapter to purchase the farm. Placing the land into the Community Land Trust in perpetuity was yet another innovation. Effectively decommodifying the land on which community food was grown while permitting the leaseholder to own the value of improvements, the move made good on an idea which, in Vander Tuin’s original proposal, appeared speculative: “community influenced land stewardship in the form of a ‘Community Land Trust’,” he wrote, seemed “applicable and desirable” compared to “normal ‘property’ arrangements.”
Today, the CSA model articulated by Van En and Vander Tuin remains a vital, community-based alternative to the host of health, environmental, and economic issues posed by industrial agribusiness. No wonder that the growth of CSAs has reportedly surged since 2020. Growing healthy, ecologically-sound food locally is, for a multitude of reasons, the most economical way for a community to provide for this most elemental of needs. Cutting out intermediaries and import dependency is a cornerstone of community food security and food sovereignty, as marginalized communities around the country and the world increasingly recognize. Combined with agro-ecological farming methods, relocalized agriculture holds great potential in our efforts to address climate change: reducing carbon emissions and helping to sequester carbon already in our atmosphere. And by layering on the innovative Community Land Trust model, affordable access to farmland can be secured for future generations of growers as well."
- Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En, Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture (White Rover Junction, Vt., 2007);
- Steven M. Schnell, “Food with a Farmer’s Face: Community-Supported Agriculture in the United States,” Geographical Review 97, no. 4 (October 2007): 550–64;
- Jack Kittredge, “Community Supported Agriculture: Rediscovering Community,” in Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place, ed. William Vitek and Wes Jackson (New Haven, Conn., 1996), 253–60;
- Laura B. DeLind, “Considerably More than Vegetables, a Lot Less than Community: The Dilemma of Community Supported Agriculture,” in Fighting for the Farm: Rural America Transformed, ed. Jane Adams (Philadelphia, 2003), 192–208;
- Claire C. Hinrichs and Thomas A. Lyson, Remaking the North American Food System: Strategies for Sustainability (Lincoln, Neb., 2007).