Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription is another way for you to sell your produce. Unlike a farmers market where people will pay for their food at the time of their purchase, members pay for CSAs in advance and receive an assortment of produce every week for a specified amount of time. This continues for as long as a CSA lasts, a time frame that the farmer decides. The members get local delicious food, while you get some early-season financial stability and support.

A CSA is set up so that you receive financial support to cover your initial costs before you grow anything, this includes seeds, any big expenses, some support before you can make any money selling food, etc. In the early spring (February, March), folks will sign up to be part of your CSA. Membership in the CSA is based on shares (or percentage) of the harvest and you have to take that into account when you start your CSA. Some CSAs ask for a check as payment for each share, others ask for a payment as well as time working and learning on the farm. The choice is up to you and your model.

Creating Community.
Beyond being a way to support your farm, a CSA is a great way to form community. If you think about it, a number of people trust you to grow food for them, which is paramount in our times. These people can be more than just your shareholders, they can be your friends. Often farmers with CSAs will ask for folks to come to volunteer on the same day so they can meet each other. Other times the farmers will organize potluck lunches or dinners either on their farm or nearby, or ask for volunteers to help distribute food on delivery / pick up day.

Distribution.
Again, every farm is different when it comes to the best way to run their CSA, but here are a few ways people distribute their shares of the harvest:

  • Many farmers convert a room on their property or take their garage and convert it into their CSA distribution room once a week or twice a week. The number of shares you have may determine the number of days you have a CSA pickup. If there are a lot of members, it may make sense to split up their pick up for two days.
    • If a farmer has limited time for monitoring a CSA room, they can leave instructions on a white board, along with a scale, for customers to select and weigh produce themselves.
    • A second option is to have volunteers run the pick-up. Utilizing volunteers is a great way to engage your members in the whole process from seed to table.
  • Some CSAs designate that members pick up their shares at a farmers market. Farmers Markets are often easily accessible and this tactic encourages folks to "supplement" their CSAs with other items at the market, thus fostering the greater farmers market community.
  • You can always have a "swap table" at your CSA pick up where customers can exchange items that they strongly dislike.
  • Including recipes and cooking tips for the specific items in each week’s CSA might add a bit more work for you, but can help your customers engage with their food and encourages them to try new things.
  • Lastly, a number of large CSAs bring their shares to a designated central location, such as a downtown street or popular shopping center.

Meat CSAs?
Some small farms are exploring modifying the CSA model for selling farm-raised meat. For example: selling pork shares where the customers buy a quarter pig or half cow early in the season, and pick up their meat later in the year when the animal has been slaughtered and butchered. If you’re interested, check out this explanation. This type of CSA is only happening on a very small scale at this time.

Payment Options for your CSA:

  • You can have specials for families, couples, or a flat rate for individuals.
  • Some customers volunteer on the farm tto pay for part of their shares.
  • Using EBT as payment for a CSA share is also a possibility, though the payment needs to be broken down into installments, as opposed to up front due to USDA regulations. Just Food in NYC has been very successful at organizing CSAs that accept EBT. Learn more about their work with EBT.

As CSAs become more and more popular, there are a variety of programs for customers to choose from. Look into CSA Fairs in your community that provide a good opportunity to showcase what your CSA has to offer.

See the CSA page on our Local Food Guide for more info about current CSAs in RI. Or any of the following resources:

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