CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The basic idea behind CSAs is for members of the community to pre-purchase food from a local farm, in the form of a "share", which may also be called a subscription or membership. Members pick up their share of the seasonal harvest on a regular basis – a weekly bag of fresh produce, for instance.
The CSA concept is applied to all sorts of foods including dairy products, eggs, meats, and even wine!
There are many great things about CSAs. You're unlikely to find fresher food unless it comes from your own yard. CSAs reconnect us with local foods and provide local farmers with greater financial certainty – the harvest has already been purchased before it comes in.
Joining a CSA? What to ask, and what to expect
The CSA model has many variations, so be sure you know the details when you sign up for a local share.
For example, there is some risk that is shared by the members and the farmer, as a poor growing season may affect the size of your share. In this sense a CSA membership is a bit like the risk you would face with your own farm or garden. You may be asked to sign a form acknowledging that you aren't guaranteed bumper crops.
Here is a checklist of things to know before you join a CSA:
- What crops or products are planned over the course of the year? In addition to your preferred foods, obviously you should be aware if for example a CSA raises crops or herds that could trigger any food allergies your family may have.
- Are members allowed to see the farm in action? Some CSAs offer a guided tour to their shareholders.
- What work, if any, are members expected to contribute? Some CSAs require some level of member participation, and others have no requirement but offer opportunities to join in harvest or distribution. Many CSA shareholders consider this a great benefit of their membership, providing an even closer connection to the harvest than a simple farm tour.
- Does the CSA offer half-shares? Smaller families or individuals may find this option appealing.
- What happens in the event of a poor growing season or any serious weather events? Does the farm have any obligations outside the CSA - this is sometimes not the only way a given farm sells its food - and if so, what priority does the CSA have?
- Does the CSA typically sell out of available shares? Some CSAs are very popular and may sell all their shares well in advance of the growing season. If you are planning on a membership, make sure your application isn't too late.
Find CSAs near you, or learn more
CSAs are an excellent and widespread way to get the benefits of fresh, local food. You can use our LocalFinder to find CSAs in your area.
If you want to learn more about Community Supported Agriculture, here are some great additional resources:
The Daily Green also has a list of very practical questions to ask - including questions for yourself about whether you're likely to get the most from a CSA membership. It also mentions that a good farm should be able to provide you happy references for its CSA program.