What is a CSA?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): A CSA is a business model whereby members commit financially to a farm, typically at the beginning of a season, in exchange for an anticipated ‘member share’ of the farm’s product. While many farmers rely solely on their CSA business, there are an increasing number of farm businesses that have added a CSA to their existing direct retail or wholesale accounts.
CSA Members are individuals, families, business employees, faith-based communities, etc.
CSA contract is an informal agreement that farmers use to market and sell their CSA to potential members. The contract usually includes information about the farm’s growing methods, products, schedule, and costs.
Cost of a Member Share (sometimes marketed as a ‘full’ or ‘half’ share) is intended to cover the costs of the farm operation.
Up front payment for a CSA share is made at the start of a growing season, so the farmer has essentially sold the harvest before planting has even begun. Some CSAs allow members to pay using their SNAP benefits during the season.
Share distribution typically occurs at the farm or at a centralized drop-off location. Members pick up their share on a designated day and time that is set by the farmer. Most CSAs rely on weekly distribution, but the frequency is entirely up to the farmer who established this in the CSA contract.
Sharing Risk Most farmers ask their CSA members to share in the risk of crop failure due to weather damage, pests, etc. In other words, if there is a particular crop failure, members are expected to understand that this is a usual hazard of farming and the missing product will not be replaced.
Entrepreneurship The CSA model is a good platform for entrepreneurial innovation, depending on the desires of the farmer or the members. It is increasingly common that a standard vegetable CSA will offer other agricultural products of their own or from other farms such as fruit, flowers, eggs, wine, bread, cheese, and even oysters. Sometimes these add-on products are included in the weekly share, while other times they are an optional add-on that the member pays for.
Benefits for Farmers
Crop planning can be carefully designed to meet a defined customer demand
Receiving payment up front for your harvest early in the season helps with cash flow when you need to purchase inputs early in the growing season
Selling through a CSA allows you to capture direct retail value for your products
Marketing your CSA often happens in winter, allowing for more time during growing season to dedicate to farming
Customers come to your farm or a centralized drop-off, saving you time selling your product instead at a farm stand or farmers market
Developing strong connections to people in your community can pay off in the long run as you strive to be a viable and resilient farm business