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Community Supported Agriculture

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Community Supported Agriculture or community-shared agriculture (CSA) is type of agriculture in which local individuals commit to buy seasonal produce of a farm for a whole year and also agree to share the risk of failed harvests (in years where some produce fails, you don't get this type of produce).


There are several types of arrangements that may be done, depending on the CSA-farm you use. For example:

  • there is the vegetable box scheme in which a farmer distributes vegetable boxes (filled with your subscribed weekly portion of crops[1]) at a central point. In this setup you can either participate in growing (a portion of) the food yourself, or you can decide to let the farmer do all the work. The second method saves some time for the consumer, yet may be more costly.
  • in the self-harvesting farm setup (without personal growing)[2], you also don't need to grow any food yourself (leaving everything to the farmer) and you can select the food you wish to harvest yourself. Since the food is only harvested exactly when you require it, this setup may be more efficient than the vegetable box scheme (less food preservation -ie storage space, energy for cooling, ...- is required, and less risk of food sitting too long and going off).
  • the self-harvesting farm setup (with personal growing) finally is generally the same as the method mentioned above, yet you can then also grow (a portion of) the food yourself, resulting in a lower price for the subscription

In all of the types mentioned above, there is still a farmer present which oversees the operation of the farm. Hence, in the event you're not monitoring your crops carefully and pests are developing, or the crops are given insufficient nutrients, ... he will step in. This is also the main differentiating factor with allotments[3]. In allotments, there is no overseeing farmer; instead all plots are maintained only by the tenants.

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. The farmland hence becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm. 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 receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.

For farmers, CSA offers a fair, steady source of income and a chance to talk directly with their customers. Many CSA farmers encourage members and their families to get involved, to work alongside "their" farmer to learn more about how the food is grown. This develops understanding of the challenges facing family farmers in the community and helps create real partners in the local food system.

Advantages of a CSA[edit]

  • You know exactly where your food is coming from.
  • It is as local as you can get with out growing your own.
  • It may cut down on the embodied energy of your food (depending on the proximity of the CSA farm, the forms of transport that is used, whether members need to make many trips to the farm, ...)
  • Besides staple crops, some farms also offer fruit, herbs, flowers or other products.
  • It makes the nutrient cycle smaller.
  • It is an educational tool.
  • Small farming can be much better for the environment than large industrial farms.
  • CSA farmers have more incentive to produce healthy food with minimal or no chemicals, as the process is more transparent.
  • Customers understand the process better, and may be more likely to accept food which is aesthetically inferior (spotted or misshapen) if they understand this is normal and perhaps a result of not using certain chemicals.

Disadvantages of a CSA[edit]

For the farmer[edit]

In highly-urbanized zones, CSA-farms aren't very succesful/profitable. This is due to the sheer abundance (and thus close proximity) of supermarkets, and the (always difficult to change) habits of the people living there. People living there are accustomed to going to a single place (supermarket) to get their food, and no longer bother with driving around to different locations to attain their different types of food (market, butcher, farm, grocer, ...). In less-urbanized zones, this is less of an issue since long car trips may be necessairy anyway (you may live far from any food producer -any type-, and people may have less busy agenda's there. Solutions to make the CSA-farm more attractive in highly-urbanized zones would be to use the vegetable box scheme (delivering vegetable boxes to a closer location), or to deliver the food right upto people's homes (on-demand delivery). Self-harvesting can still be used for other customers (that are allready situated close to the farm). An additional option is to process the food immediatelly into MRE's. This saves preperation time for the customers, while still having a long shelf life, and also reduces the amount of other places that need to be visited (butcher, grocer, ...) -the latter as such meals contain nutrients as milk, cheese, ... typically found at places as butchers, grocers, ...-

For the customers[edit]

  • You only get what is grown. With vegetable box schemes (with pesonal growing), you often do get a say in what is grown, but you may not get that much say in what you receive. You may also sometimes get a lot of one thing that you may not like.
  • As mentioned above, you share the risks of failed harvests with the farmer

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Note that these vegetable boxes may be filled with crops selected by the farmer, selected by the consumer, or a a combination of a selection by the consumer and farmer
  2. Examples are http://www.zelfpluktuin.nl/, http://www.purfruit.com/
  3. Allotment wiki article