What Is a CSA?

— Written By and last updated by Rachel Herring

CSA stands for community supported agriculture. This is a way for consumers to purchase fresh, locally produced farm products and to support local farmers and farms.

Q. What is consumer supported agriculture?
A. Today it is one way that fresh produce, meats, and eggs are being direct marketed. We have small farmers, middle men, and even grocery stores selling CSA boxes. The original concept was more of a direct connection between the farmer and the consumer.

Q. Tell me about that? What was the original concept?
A. Back in the 1980’s, a community in the northeast came together around the idea of eating locally grown healthy foods and saving farms that grew healthy food. The small farmers needed capital to buy seeds soil inputs and to pay labor. The consumers wanted to buy fresh, healthy farm products and also wanted to be better connected to the land. The CSA model was a sort of cooperative arrangement where the consumers put up money to cover the farmer’s operating expenses, agreed to help with the harvest, and then shared in the bounty of the harvest. It was very community spirited. Neighbors were helping neighbors.

Q. Do CSA’s still operate like this today?
There are some that hold to the original model, mostly in the northeast. I would say that most CSA programs have evolved to a variation on the original. There are common practices that most still use.

Q. How do most CSA’s work today?
A. There will be some sort of community involvement although it is not usually helping with the harvest. It often involves a newsletter or blog, farm visits and/ or dinners. There will be a subscription or share cost. Sometimes this is an upfront investment prior to the season. This allows the small farmer to have startup capital for the season. Other CSA programs will just sell weekly boxes and don’t require an upfront fee. These programs are usually run by a group acting as a middle man for the farmer and consumer. A variety of farm products are sold via CSA. Freshness and quality of product, as well as having a connection to and support for local farms are reasons consumers participate in CSA’s.

Q. Are there CSA programs in our area?
A There are a number of CSA programs offered by small farmers in our area.
There are also companies selling statewide via the internet. I want to encourage consumers to find locally sourced CSA programs so that we are supporting our own local food shed.

Q. How do consumers find a local CSA program?
A. Interested consumers may ask farmers at local farmers markets if they offer a CSA program. This is the time of year when local farmers who have CSA programs will begin selling subscriptions. Interested consumers may also contact me for a list of local farms participating in CSA programs. I can be reached at 336-703-2869 or by email at maryjac_brennan@ncsu.edu.

Written By

Photo of Mary Jac BrennanMary Jac BrennanExtension Agent, Agriculture - Horticulture (336) 703-2850 maryjac_brennan@ncsu.eduForsyth County, North Carolina
Posted on Feb 5, 2014
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