What Is CSA?
Community Supported Agriculture, CSA for short, is a model of seasonal food production and distribution that brings farmers and customers into a relationship.
CSA members purchase a “share” of a farm’s annual harvest upfront, helping the farm establish a solid financial foundation for the season. As a member, you receive a regular selection of freshly harvested food, picking up your share at the farm itself or another designated location. Shares can include vegetables, fruit, meat, mushrooms, flowers, herbs, grains, eggs, dairy, or a combination of all. With a range of styles and sizes, CSA shares suit a wide variety of households, pocketbooks, and appetites.
CSA keeps farms thriving. Farming is a challenging and risky endeavor, and your CSA investment helps farmers plan the season without depending on the whims of the marketplace. CSA allows farms to purchase early-season supplies like seeds, pay their farm teams a fair wage, and makes the work of producing food more meaningful. CSA gives farmers the peace of mind of a committed customer base and the knowledge that the food they produce is nourishing their neighbors. You know exactly where your food comes from, and you know that your food dollar directly supports the farm.
In joining a CSA, you’ll find kindred spirits and make new friends. You’ll know the farmers, and will get to know fellow members at pick-up. Many farms offer volunteer opportunities as another way of supporting the work and deepening camaraderie. Some provide newsletters and recipes, workshops, or other on-farm events. Whether you pick up your share in a library parking lot, or at the edge of the CSA field, you’re joining in fellowship with others who prize good food from well-tended land. Everyone is welcome in CSA.
Not only does CSA make sense for farmers, but it makes sense for members, too. There are many ways to procure food, but few are as direct and economically transparent as CSA. The investment you make in joining a CSA is an investment in a vibrant local food system. When you pick up your share, you’re getting little waste or packaging, low food mileage, and beneficial agricultural practices. CSA is believing in something and acting on that belief. You receive genuine local food plus a lot of added value!
When you join a CSA, you’re going to get cooking! Creating healthy, satisfying meals with superior ingredients is a highlight for many members. Although it can take some getting used to, utilizing what is in your share is a rewarding learning experience. Members often find that what is in the week’s share can help define what is on their home menus. Your farmers and fellow members are happy to share their favorite recipes and tips: before long, you’ll know the tastiest thing to do with that kohlrabi, celeriac, and goat meat, not to mention the abundance of succulent tomatoes! A flavorful tagine? Homemade kimchi or fermented hot sauce? Nonna’s famed pasta sauce? Whatever you cook up, CSA makes farm-to-table eating a meaningful, everyday practice.
It’s Consuming Something Awesome!
- Chest-thumping pride in supporting a small farm
- Immeasurable joy when picking sun-warmed, juicy tomatoes from the vine
- The genuine magic of cracking open a blue-shelled, golden-yolked egg
- Giddiness at watching children run through the fields (and willingly eat their veggies!)
- Deep satisfaction when cooking colorful, flavorful meals
- The nutrient rush from ingesting vitamin-rich veggies and protein-packed meat
- A return to good health from medicinal salves and tinctures
- Contentment from consuming humanely-raised livestock
- Jubilation when surveying the sheer abundance in your weekly share (and perhaps some Tetris when cramming it all into your fridge)
- Sheer delight in gazing upon your weekly bouquet of farm-fresh flowers
- Curiosity and inspiration when trying unfamiliar fruits and veggies
- A strange desire to start pickling and canning
- Love for your farmers and for your CSA community
Become a CSA member today by finding your farm here and claiming your share of this year’s harvest. Discover what CSA means to you.
The History of CSA
Community Supported Agriculture goes by many different names in many different places. Read more about the founding of agricultural membership models in Japan, Europe, and the United States here.
CSA Terminology Defined
Dairy shares are often offered as add-ons to your main share, but they may be offered independently, too. Yogurt, milk, and/or cheese are typical elements of a dairy share.
A “full plate” or “whole diet” share will include a range of ingredients one would need to create a complete meal. In addition to a range of vegetables and proteins, you might also receive bread and/or grains, honey, herbs, flowers, maple syrup, and cheese.
A small size share (also called half, biweekly, or mini) is one that typically feeds one or two individuals. Some farms offer a half-size weekly share, whereas others a regular size share on a biweekly basis. Please ask the farmer how they define and disburse their small shares.
If it is impossible or inconvenient to pay for your entire share in advance, many farms offer a variety of flexible payment options to spread cost across the CSA season.
Many farms offer shares featuring cold weather produce or meat as a bridge between the end of fall harvest and the beginning of the next growing season. Winter shares may last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months; some farms also offer one-off boxes for the holidays.
In exchange for volunteer work, some farms offer reduced price or free CSA shares.
Less common share varieties may include early / late season produce, frozen vegetables, prepared foods, bread, coffee, or holiday pick-ups, among other things. A specialty share might also offer unique sizing options (XL, medium), scheduling flexibility, or a custom-designed collection of produce and products. Please ask the farmer what types of specialty shares they offer.
Some farms offer discounted shares, accept SNAP/EBT payments, or use a sliding scale model in which the cost of a CSA share is determined by a member’s income level. Please ask the farmer how their subsidy program works.