Up-close photo of Swiss chard.
Support your local farmers and growers by investing in community supported agriculture. Up-close photo of delicious Swiss chard.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Imagine forming a relationship with a local farmer where you receive a basket of fresh, local, seasonal produce in exchange for quarterly payments, a symbiotic relationship that is mutually rewarding for you and the farmer. Welcome to the world of Community Supported Agriculture!

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Imagine forming a relationship with a local farmer where you receive a basket of fresh, local, seasonal produce in exchange for quarterly payments – a symbiotic relationship that is mutually rewarding for you and the farmer. Welcome to the world of Community Supported Agriculture! 

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups have been around for a long time. It’s a great way to support local growers while getting fresh, local, seasonal food. The basic concept is this: a farmer sells “shares” of the harvest to the public for a certain price. The customer becomes a member of the CSA and makes regular payments – usually on a quarterly or annual basis. As a member and subscriber, the customer then gets regular (usually weekly) baskets of harvested goods from the farmer throughout the growing season, which can last a few months or the full year, depending on the region. It’s a mutually-rewarding relationship: the farmer has a dependable cash flow with which to invest in seeds, equipment, and everything else needed to run a farm, while the member has a source of locally-grown, seasonal food. This also allows members to form a relationship with the farmers, and to become more intimately involved with the sourcing of their food.  

Fruits and vegetables are not the only offerings. Many offer eggs, dairy, meats, honey, bread and even canned goods and prepared foods. Some farmers create relationships with other local or regional growers to offer a broader array of goods, spreading the security of a CSA further than that particular farm.   

How exciting to open the box and see what goodies came straight from the farm! The box is packed with flavor and vitamins, creating opportunities to try unfamiliar foods and use new recipes.  

Some CSA groups have evolved into more of a market-style approach to delivering food. Instead of receiving a standard box of food that is identical to everyone else’s boxes, the member can pick and choose the food. For other CSA groups, the farmer puts baskets out and the member chooses the food she wants. Some are more high-tech and allow on-line ordering where the member chooses from a variety of foods on the website and the farmer makes a custom box based on that order. Many are becoming more and more flexible. Shop around and find one that suits your needs.   

CSA groups range in size and complexity. Some have membership meetings, websites, chatrooms and e-mail lists where members share recipe ideas, offer feedback to the farmer, connect with each other, and keep abreast of events in the community. Their size ranges from a few families to over 10,000 families. Some CSA groups are more of a cooperative model with a board of overseers where members cooperatively manage the CSA, whereas others are driven by the members who hire farmers to fulfill their needs, while others originate with farmers who look for subscribers.  

There is risk involved in a CSA because members typically pay up front for food produced later in the season. There are many reasons a farmer might not be able to fulfill the obligation to provide food: crop failure due to weather, pests, natural disasters; a farmer’s health or family circumstances; a farmer’s inexperience. Generally speaking, members do not get refunds. Truly, you are in it together, creating a sense of community and providing a safety net to a local farmer. It is a shared risk. While rare, sometimes things do go awry. 

Be sure to seriously analyze your eating and shopping habits before committing to a CSA because they are not for everyone. People who travel will not benefit from the weekly deliveries. Those who are not used to eating seasonal produce, or those who do not like a variety of vegetables, will likely be disappointed in the boxes and waste the food. A CSA is designed for those who cook their own food; those who eat out might not be well served by a CSA (unless your CSA has an option specifically designed for this). The boxes generally do not provide enough food for the entire week, so shopping at farmers markets or other markets is often a necessity.  

Before joining a CSA, be sure to understand the membership terms. Talk to the farmer or organizer to get a good understanding of expectations and begin forming your relationship. Do not expect to join a CSA in the middle of the summer! Plan ahead and contact the farmer in early winter. They tend to fill up early and you might have to wait a year before getting in. 

Ready to get started? Let United In Food help! Click on the “Select Region” drop-down menu and choose your region. Click on the “Select Category” drop-down menu and choose “Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)” and then click on the Submit button. There you go!