What is a CSA?

Posted by Don on June 15, 2015

I previously talked about some strategies my wife and I were using and planning to start using to control our food costs. One area we are looking at is community supported agriculture. A lot of readers wanted to learn more about CSA’s too, so I want to give you a better understanding of what they are and how they work.

Farmer's markets

What is a CSA?

In a nutshell, a CSA is a way for you to buy local, seasonal food straight from a farmer. Many people have turned to this idea for a handful of reasons, including:

  • Support local farmers. When you go to the grocery store, odds are you are not buying food from your local farmer. You have no idea where the food is coming from.
  • Know your food. When you buy from the grocery store, there could be all sorts of chemicals and hormones used on the fruits and vegetables. By buying from a local farmer, you know what the farmer uses on his crops.
  • Buy in season food. Buying local means you buy food in season. Therefore you will only get strawberries in the summer and not throughout the year. While this might not sound like a benefit, you know that nothing was done to the strawberries to get them to grow in the middle of winter.

How Does a CSA Work?

The typical model for a CSA is that the consumer decides on buying a share or half-share of food. Every week for the season the farmer loads up boxes (the shares) with food and then the consumer comes to pick up the food. In some areas, there are businesses that will deliver the food to you, so you never have to go to the farm to pick up the food.

As CSA’s have become more popular, there are all sorts of variations to the standard share. As I mentioned above, if you don’t have a family and one share is too much food, you can buy a half-share. This could either be half the food, or it could mean you get bi-weekly boxes of food instead of weekly.

You can also sign up twice in a year, once to get the summer fruits and vegetables and again in the fall/winter to get another variety of fruits and vegetables.

Finally, some farmers allow consumers to “mix and match” so that they can get more of what they want and less of what they don’t want. Of course, there are limits to this.

How Much Does It Cost?

The cost of joining a CSA varies around the country. In my area, the northeast, a share runs about $800 for a 24 week season. This comes out to $33 per week. In the midwest, Madison pays about $600 for a 20 week season. This might seem a little high to some readers, but knowing you are getting local, fresh food is something you have to take into account. Some health care plans also reimburse for a portion of the cost of a CSA.

An added benefit is that you can split the cost of a share with a neighbor or friend. This would give you half the food for half the price. Of course, you could also just buy a half share yourself as well.

Disadvantages of CSA’s

So what are the downsides to joining a CSA? For one, if you are a picky eater, you can’t choose to only get corn or green beans. You are going to get squash, eggplant, etc. in addition to the corn and green beans.

The other main downside to a CSA is the risk factor. To join a CSA, you need to pay the share price up front and most do not reimburse you. So, if your area goes through a drought or extremely wet period and the farmer loses most of his crops, you lose out as well. Of course, this also is the one benefit, in that everyone shares in the success/pain. No longer does the farmer struggle when trouble hits, everyone in the community does. Likewise, when crops are plentiful, you benefit as well by having an abundance of fresh food.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, CSA’s are growing in popularity mainly because consumers want to buy local, fresh food and don’t want tons of chemicals to be used. By buying local, you can rest assured knowing that is what you are getting. If you are interested in joining a local CSA, a quick internet search will yield you results for your area. If you come up empty, try going to a local farmers market. Asking around there will point you in the right direction.

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Comments to What is a CSA?

  1. Thanks for the mention again Kate 😉


  2. Great topic! We have been a part of a summer CSA in RI for 5 years. It’s a great way to control food costs (keeps you out of the supermarket), support a local farmer and eat very healthy. I love to cook so appreciate all the variety. We get veggies, dairy and are adding eggs for the first time this summer.


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