What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)?

I’ve included many articles in the “Real Food” category of this blog which speaking against processed foods, food manufacturers, and modern farming practices. CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) is one of the many positive movements offering a healthy alternative to the mayhem and chaos of our modern food system. Our CSA, Temple-Wliton, the first CSA in the country which has led the movement, is mentioned in this article. Source: http://www.wilson.edu/wilson/asp/content.asp?id=1273

CSA is a relationship of mutual support and commitment between local farmers and community members who pay the farmer an annual membership fee to cover the production costs of the farm. In turn, members receive a weekly share of the harvest during the local growing season. The arrangement guarantees the farmer financial support and enables many small- to moderate-scale organic and/or bio-intensive family farms to remain in business. Ultimately, CSA programs create “agriculture-supported communities” where members receive a wide variety of foods harvested at their peak of freshness, ripeness, flavor, vitamin and mineral content.

The goals of Community Supported Agriculture support a sustainable agriculture system which . . .provides farmers with direct outlets for farm products and ensures fair compensation.

* encourages proper land stewardship by supporting farmers in transition toward low or no chemical inputs and utilization of energy saving technologies. * strengthens local economies by keeping food dollars in local communities. * directly links producers with consumers allowing people to have a personal connection with their food and the land on which it was produced. * makes nutritious, affordable, wholesome foods accessible and widely available to community members. * creates an atmosphere for learning about non-conventional agricultural, animal husbandry, and alternative energy systems not only to the farmers and their apprentices, but also to members of the community, to educators from many fields of study, and to students of all ages.


There are many kinds of CSA famrs. All include payment in advance at an agreed upon price. In some, members of the community purchase a “share” of the anticipated harvest, while in others they sign up for a predetermined amount of produce over the course of the season. In most cases, this commitment implies a willingness to share with the farmer both the bounty from the land and at least some of the risks involved with production.

In return for fair and guaranteed compensation, consumers receive a variety of freshly picked, (usually organic) vegetables grown and distributed in an economically viable and ecologically responsible manner. Some farms also offer fruit, herbs, flowers and other products, such as meats, eggs, cheese, and baked goods. Many farms offer their shareholders the opportunity to work in the fields or distribute produce in exchange for a discounted share price. Others offer sliding scales to accommodate lower income consumers. In this way, farmers and members become partners in the production, distribution and consumption of locally grown food.

One fact also to consider, organic food produced within local communities is not the same as organic food transported over long distances. When members obtain food from local farmers, environmental costs associated with the transport, processing and distribution of organic food and the consumption of fossil fuels are significantly reduced. Considering that the organic food available to members was produced locally rather than transported over long distances, the cost to the environment is significantly less.


A “share” is usually enough to feed a family of four or a couple on a vegetarian diet. Sometimes “half shares” are available. The price of a share for a season varies widely, depending on each farm’s costs of operation, total months of distribution, variety of crops available and productivity of the soil. Most full shares fall with the range of $300 to $700. Actual cost of produce to the member varies, but is generally comparable to prices in the supermarket.


CSA is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States and Canada.

In 1984 Jan Vander Tuin brought the concept of CSA to North America from Europe. Jan had co-founded a community-supported agricultural project named Topanimbur, a biodynamic farm located near Zurich, Switzerland. Upon researching this type of co-op movement in Europe, Vander Tuin found the first producer-consumer food alliance in Geneva was inspired by European visitors to Chile in the 1970’s. Vander Tuin introduced the idea to Robyn Van En at Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, Massachusetts and the CSA concept in North America was born.

Robyn Van En, Jan Vander Tuin, John Root, Jr., Charlotte Zanecchia, Andrew Lorand, and others formed a core group. They began the first season of their CSA with a small apple orchard operation, and gradually began introducing the “share the harvest” concept to the community. By spring of 1986, Hugh Ratcliffe had joined on as the farmer, and they began to offer shares in their produce harvest. Within four years, the Indian Line CSA expanded from 30 to 150 members. Today, thanks to the pioneer efforts of Robyn Van En, the CSA concept has spread across the nation. More than 1,500 CSA’s are supported by members of local communities.

In 1985, there started another ‘first’ CSA farm, Temple-Wilton Community Farm, located in Southern New Hampshire. The birth of this CSA farm also followed inspirations and experiences gained in Europe by Trauger Groh, Anthony Graham and Lincoln Geiger. Groh had studied extensively the concepts of biodynamic farming and produce community co-op programs in Northern Germany and brought his ideas here to the United States, likewise contributing to the founding of Community Supported Agriculture.

The is much speculation as to whether the founding farmers knew anything about a concept known as teikei that originated in Japan, though their ideas and foundations for action follow an extremely similar path. Teikei, the CSA equivalent, which literally translated means “partnership” or “cooperation”, was developed by a group of women concerned with the use of pesticides, the increase in processed and imported foods and the corresponding decrease in the farm population. The more philosophical translation for teikei is “food with the farmer’s face on it.”. In 1965 Japanese women initiated a direct, cooperative relationship in which local farmers were supported by consumers on an annual basis.

Community Supported Agriculture continues to blossom in North America, and it opens various doors of opportunity everyday for local communities, helping them get back in touch with each other. In a CSA environment, this is possible in many ways: quite simply, the shareholders physically get together at pick-up, socially interact with one another and the farmer(s), and provide economic support their neighbors, thanks to one thing that every single living person has in common with the next, eating.


Robyn Van En, Basic Formula to Create Community Supported Agriculture
CSANA Indian Line Farm, 1988.

Steven McFadden, CommUnity of Minds: Working Together, 2004

  • According to McFadden, both Vander Tuin and Troh studied the works of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925).

Trauger Groh and Steven McFadden, Farms of Tomorrow
Bio-Dynamic Farming & Gardening Assoc., 1990.

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