Community Supported Agriculture
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) consists of municipal residents who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farm becomes "the community's farm", with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, CSA members provide initial payments to farmers to allow them to purchase supplies, allowing the farmer to conserve his or her own financial resources. In return, CSA members receive shares in the farm's yield throughout the growing season, as well as the satisfaction gained from directly participating in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers potentially receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing. CSAs have been formed by consumer groups and farmers, the extended agricultural community, community residents, agricultural development councils, agricultural extension services, granges and restaurateurs.
Community Supported Agriculture offers the following benefits:
- Energy Efficiency: CSAs can reduce some of the costs associated with long distance transportation, cold storage and warehousing. These savings also reflect a significant reduction in energy expended to get the product to the consumer. Losses due to spoilage of CSA food are significantly reduced because food from a CSA farm can be delivered to consumers much faster compared to conventional food distribution systems.
- Security for Farmers: CSAs represent financial investments in the agricultural operation and in operating expenses before the beginning of the growing season.
- Higher Quality Foods: The consumer can receive fresher produce for the duration of the season by directly investing in the producer.
- Agricultural Land Uses are Preserved: CSAs can help ensure that agriculture remains profitable and thus avoid the conversion of farmlands into other land uses.
- Better Relationships between Farmer and Consumer: Closer contact between the farmer and his "share holders" can give non-farmers a better understanding of where their food comes from, when crops could be expected to be harvested and how the produce is grown (is it organic, pesticide free, hormone free or genetically engineered). This can help non-farmers better understand the importance of preserving agricultural lands.
Community Supported Agriculture can have the following limitations:
- Potential Risk: As with other investments, membership in a CSA contains elements of risk. If the growing season's harvest is less than that predicted due to drought, pest infestations or other reasons, a share holder's investment and return can suffer.
- Limited Interest: CSA programs tend to favor farmers that produce consumer foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy and meats, while farmers that grow grain or fodder crops might be unable to establish a viable CSA.
- Limited Skills: Operating a CSA can require special skills in local marketing and consumer-relations.
How to Use This Tool
The resounding success of farmer's markets across the country suggests that there is enough public interest in access to fresh locally produced food to support CSAs. Farmers will recognize the advantages of establishing a CSA, but running a CSA may go beyond the usual skill set of traditional farmers. Municipal agricultural development councils, agricultural extension services, granges and other agricultural agencies will be able to assist individuals or groups of farmers by providing specialized training and connecting farmers with others who have successfully integrated this approach into their operations.
- Kimberton CSA: The first in Pennsylvania Kimberton CSA is a ten acre biodynamic/organic mixed vegetable market garden currently in its 26th year. The first CSA in Pennsylvania, this garden was started in 1987.
- Local Harvest: Local Harvest offers a list of CSAs that can be searched by zip code, city or state. A number of CSAs in Chester County are referenced.
- Growing Roots Partners is dedicated to community education that nurtures the importance of sustaining our local agricultural food system.
- The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association claims to be the oldest sustainable agriculture organization in the Unites States.
- Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture: Promoting Profitable Farms that Produce Healthy Food for All People While Respecting the Natural Environment.
- Farm to City is a Philadelphia-based program whose goal is to unite communities, families, and farmers year-round through good locally grown food.