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What Is A CSA Box? How Does A CSA Farm Work & What Are The Costs?

Updated on October 8, 2017

What Does CSA Stand For And How Does It Work?

You may have heard the term CSA being used a lot these days in health/wellness and organic farming circles. CSA is an acronym that stands for “community supported agriculture”. But, what is a CSA and what does community supported agriculture mean?

Community-supported agriculture is essentially a way for people and farmers to share in the risks and rewards of growing food, usually using organic practices. It's a way for people to get more in touch with the source of their food and develop a relationship with their farm/farmer.

Typically, the way it’s set up is for a person to give a farm in their immediate area a certain amount of money at the beginning of the growing season. In the months to come the person will then be paid back with fresh organic food all season long.

If you live in the Northern latitudes this usually means getting produce from around May-October. Seasons can vary, however, depending on what the farm grows and/or raises. And there is a huge diversity and variety of CSA's and systems out there.

What Do I Get And How Much Does It Cost?

Most CSA’s are based around fruits, vegetables, and herbs but many also incorporate meat, eggs, bread, honey, dry goods, and flowers. The cost to join a CSA can also vary from as little as $20 week to week, or as much as thousands of dollars up front for a large allotment of food. Most, however, are in the $30-$60 range week to week, or in the hundreds of dollars up front.

A great example of a typical CSA ration in August. This bounty came from the Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro, Maryland in week 11 of their program.

Seen here from bottom clockwise is: green peppers, garlic, okra, roma tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash.
Seen here from bottom clockwise is: green peppers, garlic, okra, roma tomatoes, green beans, potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash. | Source

What can you expect to find in a CSA box? Well, it all depends on which farm you choose and what they grow or raise. Many CSA’s in the United States and Canada are based around local and organic fruits and vegetables.

A Traditional CSA only offers what is grown on their farm alone and is the "true" essence of what community supported agriculture is. There are other models as well, however, that will act more like a cooperative by sourcing from other area farms and distributors.

Examples of the food you can expect to find will vary but many might include items such as: lettuce, kale, spinach, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cucumber, onions, spring mix, carrots, cabbage, radish, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peppers, squash, mushrooms, herbs, berries, apples, pears, oranges, avocado, cherries, peaches, plums, nectarines, and melons. Basically all the popular produce items you find all over the country.

Another CSA ration, this one from Stoneledge Farms in Cairo, NY.

Produce seen here in no particular order:  slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, mixed peppers, red potatoes, eggplant, walla walla onion, Russian kale, cucumber, and lemon basil.
Produce seen here in no particular order: slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, mixed peppers, red potatoes, eggplant, walla walla onion, Russian kale, cucumber, and lemon basil. | Source

What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages To A CSA Program?

There’s a lot to like about the CSA model. It acts as a way to connect the consumer to the farmer so that they’re able to understand one another and establish a relationship. This makes for a stronger overall community and sense of connection to the land. The people and the farm share the bounty together.

Another benefit is that you’ll get a weekly or semi-weekly box of fresh organic produce, sometimes delivered to your door. What better way to eat healthy and help the environment?

There are, however, also some disadvantages to the CSA model. One is that you may be required to put down what can be a rather large investment for some people. Another is that you won’t get fresh food all year long unless it’s a modified CSA that includes food from other farms or distributors. You’ll also most likely need to continue going elsewhere to get all the different foods you may want or require, as a single farm can only provide so much.

Good Video Explaining & Discussing CSA's

Where Can I Find A CSA In My Area?

The best and most comprehensive resource for finding local food in the United States is the website Local Harvest. Check out the link to the right.

Even if the idea of jumping into a CSA seems like too much, you can still look for local farms, farmers markets, and U-pick farms for ways to get in touch with where your food comes from and support your local farms and economy.

Support Your Local Farmers

Community supported agriculture and organic farming practices have seen a resurgence around the world, and soon people will develop new and better ways to share healthy food together with ease and responsibility.

CSA's are a great way to bypass authority and big corporations, by taking back responsibility for the land and the kinds of food we eat. It's about communities sharing in the rewards of creating sustainable, local sources of food and economy. I think we will be seeing a lot more of these kinds of farms and systems in the years to come.


What Do You Think of CSA's? Do You Belong To One?

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    • MatthewWA profile image
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      MatthewWA 4 years ago

      Thanks Helena, glad you liked it. You're absolutely right, going to the source (or being the source) is healthier for everyone involved and helps local economies.

    • Helena Ricketts profile image

      Helena Ricketts 4 years ago from Indiana

      This is a fantastic article. We don't participate in a CSA because we grow all of our own produce, raise meat chickens and have our own laying hens. If we didn't do that, we would definitely be involved with a local farmer. Going directly to the source is the best way to eat healthy, clean food.