CSA programs, or “community-supported agriculture” programs, are arrangements that establish a close connection between small farmers and local community members by delivering locally grown, in-season produce to members of the program.
Farmers who participate in CSA programs sell memberships or subscriptions to families and individuals, typically in early spring. In exchange for the cost of membership, these CSA farms provide subscribers with regular delivery of produce–typically once a week–throughout the growing season, which usually extends between the early spring and late fall, depending on the location of the farm. (Sometimes, CSA farms delivery meat, poultry and dairy from the farm, as well).
On a specified day of the week, members can receive delivery at their homes or pick up their CSA box at an established location. The weekly CSA box contains a certain amount of whatever the farm produced that week, which will be determined by the farmer’s planting decisions, the time of the growing season and the cooperation of natural events like the weather.
The contents of the CSA box will vary greatly depending on the time of year and location of the farm. CSA produce delivery will change from week to week and will depend on the availability of the vegetables, not on the member’s specific requests.
CSA Farms: Mutual Benefits
Several decades ago, CSA farms were conceived as a method of providing a small group of people with access to fresh produce and other healthy farm-raised foods. Members would pool their resources, buy a piece of land, and hire a farmer to grow vegetables or raise animals for meat and dairy products. Each member would then have access to a share of the bounty and a proportional degree of control over how the farm was managed.
This idea eventually evolved into the CSA system as we know it today. Members typically no longer own a portion of the farm, but they derive the benefits that come from access to fresh, healthy, locally produced food. CSA farmers, in turn, gain a bit of economic stability. Farms aren’t run like other businesses, and the most profitable seasons are also the most labor-heavy.
During the spring and summer, farmers require a higher cash flow, but they also typically need to spend long days in the fields. The early financial commitment of CSA members provides farmers with the financial resources they need in order to devote their full attention to the farm during the busy season.
In return, members gain a weekly supply of fresh vegetables. If you join a CSA, you can also derive several other benefits that can only come from the unique nature of the CSA arrangement: