Defining Community Supported Agriculture by The USDA In basic terms, CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "share-holders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavourable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.
The Principle Behind a CSAA CSA involves consumers who support a farmer financially by paying for a share of the farm's production prior to each growing season. The arrangement allows farmers to buy the seeds, transplants, and other inputs they need for the growing season, and pay their farm labar without waiting until harvest to generate revenue.By paying for food prior to planting, CSA members essentially assume the risk of crop failure or pest or disease problems and understand that a refund will not be issued in the event that no crops are harvested. If a crop is lost or is of poor quality, the farmer is able to continue to operate. These anticipated problems can be managed with proper planning and risk management strategies. A benefit for farmers who become involved in a CSA is that they can develop a long-term relationship with their members, one that may encourage members to support farmers by renewing their memberships each year. Many small-scale or part-time growers could use a CSA rather than an auction to sell much of their produce. CSAs offer a more structured and scheduled distribution for products than auctions with growers receiving a predetermined price instead of relying on unpredictable auction sales. A CSA, however, will require much more time and organization than selling at an auction. A CSA requires advertising, planning production to have products available on a consistent basis, scheduling delivery or pick times and places, and educating the customer. Many CSA producers also sell at farmers' markets and advertise the CSA during market time.
University of Kentucky A “share” was originally the term used to describe a box of produce that would supply the weekly needs of a family of four. Traditionally, CSA customers invested in the farm before the season began, providing the CSA with operating capital that was needed to begin production. Through that investment, CSA members were subject to the risks and rhythms of the season; shares reflected production allowed by weather and growing conditions.
Shared Risk There is an important concept woven into the CSA model that takes the arrangement beyond the usual commercial transaction. That is the notion of shared risk: in most CSAs, members pay up front for the whole season and the farmers do their best to provide an abundant box of produce each week. If things are slim, members are not typically reimbursed. The result is a feeling of "we're in this together". On some farms the idea of shared risk is stronger than others, and CSA members may be asked to sign a policy form indicating that they agree to accept without complaint whatever the farm can produce. Many times, the idea of shared risk is part of what creates a sense of community among members, and between members and the farmers. If a hailstorm takes out all the peppers, everyone is disappointed together, and together cheer on the winter squash and broccoli. Most CSA farmers feel a great sense of responsibility to their members, and when certain crops are scarce, they make sure the CSA gets served first. Still, it is worth noting that very occasionally things go wrong on a farm and like they do in any kind of business and the expected is not delivered, and members feel shortchanged. At LocalHarvest we are in touch with CSA farmers and members from all over the country. Every year we hear get complaints about a few CSA farms (two to six farms a year, over the last nine years) where something happened and the produce was simply unacceptable. It might have been a catastrophic divorce, or an unexpected death in the family. Or the weather was abominable, or the farmer was inexperienced and got in over his/her head. In our experience, if the situation seems regrettable but reasonable and a bad thing that in good faith could have happened to anyone and most CSA members will rally, if they already know and trust the farmer. These people are more likely to take the long view, especially if they have received an abundance of produce in the past. They are naturally more likely to think, "It'll be better next year," than are new members who have nothing to which to compare a dismal experience. The take-home message is this: if the potential for "not getting your money's worth" makes you feel anxious, then shared risk may not be for you and you should shop at the farmers’ market.