The Community Farm Newsletter

Community Supported Agriculture

From the Spring 2003 issue

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is a growing social and agricultural movement that connects the source of food (the farm and farmer) to the destination of the food (the consumer, or eater). A central concept in CSA is that farm members, as partners with the farmer, share some of the risks of production. CSA can be viewed variously as a strategy for saving small farms, a marketing tool, or even a philosophical point of view.

Sometimes consumers, concerned about their food, form a core group and start a farm, renting or purchasing land and hiring a farmer or manager. More often a farmer will designate all or a portion of the farm to a CSA project. While some farmers are using CSA merely as an innovative marketing tool, more often it includes a more significant purpose, reflecting the farmer's values related to small farms, environmental concerns,sustainability, the local community, and organic production techniques.

In its most basic form the CSA farm produces vegetables for a group of farm members or subscribers who pay in advance for their share of the harvest. Typically the farm members receive their share once a week, sometimes coming to the farm to pick up their share; other farms deliver to a central point. The most common products of a CSA are vegetables in a wide variety. But some CSAs offer additional products, like honey, eggs, meat, firewood, bread...we even know of one that offers shares of home made beer. Most, perhaps all, CSA farms are producing their produce using organic methods, though many are not certified because they often know and are trusted by their members. Many are biodynamic.


The farmer is relieved of the burden of marketing produce at just the time when the energy needed to grow the crops is greatest. CSA farmers concentrate on farming, on what they do best.

Members of the farm receive both concrete and subtle benefits. While spending hundreds of dollars in advance for vegetables which are not even planted yet is difficult for some (both financially and emotionally), membership is generally a bargain in the long run. Each week during the harvest season members receive an interesting variety of the freshest possible produce. Almost all CSA farms are using organic farming techniques, so concerns over toxic residues on the food are alleviated. Membership in a community farm provides a link to the production of food impossible for the supermarket or even the farm stand shopper to achieve. Members see their veggies growing, watch them form and ripen, fret over difficult weather, even get dirt under their fingernails.

The land is treated with the respect it deserves as the base of the entire operation and indeed as the base of human life. In all operations-pest management, tillage, fertilization- the effect on soil is considered. We at Five Springs Farm view the earth as a living being and the soil as the basis of human life.

All CSAs are small within the context of modern agriculture and many are small indeed. Many CSA farms are less than 10 acres of cultivation.  CSAs tend to be energy efficient with plenty of handwork and little energy expended in distribution (the average distance from food to plate outside of community supported agriculture is 1300 miles!).

Perhaps the best resource for beginning and prospective CSA farmers as well as those with more experience is the book "Sharing the Harvest" by Elizabeth Henderson. This book is widely available, published by Chelsea Green

Some of the many Internet resources on CSA and related topics can be researched from our Links page.

Our own CSA, Highlands BioProduce is a small farmers co-op serving the Tri-Cities area of northeast Tennessee/ southwest Virginia.  The season runs 23 weeks from mid May to Mid October. John Woodworth manages the day to day operation of our CSA .

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updated September 2010