What is CSA and How Does It Work?

CSA boxCommunity Supported Agriculture, CSA, has become an extremely popular and enjoyable way for consumers to buy local food directly from a farmer.

CSA is structured in a way that enables a farmer to offer a number of “shares” of his crops to the public. Usually the share includes a box of vegetables or other farm products.  If you purchase the share, you receive a box, basket, or bag of seasonal produce throughout the entire farming season.  Most farmers send the produce to you weekly, but it may vary.  There are often two seasons, summer and winter, which each last approximately 25 weeks.

Some people may ask why this type of relationship is beneficial.  Well, it is important because the CSA creates rewards for not only the consumers but also for the farmers. Farmers get to market their homegrown food earlier in the year and receive payment from the consumers at the beginning of the season, which helps their cash flow.  In addition, the farmers get to form relationships with new people and can educate consumers about the benefit of buying local produce.  Consumers win all around on this deal.  They get amazingly fresh produce (picked just a day or two before the fresh produce is in their hands) with incredible vitamin benefits.  Consumers also get exposed to new vegetables, which could help them discover a new favorite recipe, and they usually get to visit the farm at least once a season (could be a really fun family trip).  Plus, what is more convenient than having the box delivered weekly?

There are some farmers who create variations to keep their customers happy and to expand their horizons.  Some farmers decided to introduce the “mix and match” option along with the “market-style” alternative.  Instead of the farmers making up a standard box of vegetables for every member each week, they let the consumers load their own boxes with some degree of personal choice. The farmer lays out the basket with the current week’s fruit and vegetable selections and then allows the family to choose what it wants to keep and discard.  The farmers donate the extra items to a local food bank where it will be put to good use or they allow the consumers to “mix and match” with each other to customize their own box.

CSA is not confined to produce. Some farmers include options for customers to buy shares of eggs, homemade bread, meat, cheese, fruit, flowers or different products that could potentially complement their produce. Also, farmers may decide to create a partnership with a neighbor to deliver their product to a “CSA drop-off point”, where consumers can come weekly to get their baskets.  It’s possible the farmers or the neighbor, such as MARKET at the FAREWAY in Chestnut Hill Philadelphia, may sell additional items on top of what’s in the weekly boxes, giving people the option to purchase different products. This is positive for families because it allows them to support their local farmers and their local businesses, but it is also beneficial for the community to receive this support.

There is no official CSA count in the United States, but tens of thousands of families have joined to receive a CSA box all over the country. In fact, in some areas, the demand for CSA is higher than the local farms can supply.

CSA is becoming a huge hit for many reasons – which is your favorite?  If you have never tried a CSA box, now is the time.  Oasis at Bird-in-Hand will be selling CSA boxes at MARKET at the FAREWAY in Chestnut Hill Philadelphia this season.  Visit the MARKET on April 15, 16, 23, 29, and May 7 to learn more and sign up.