What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)?

In short, a CSA is a community-based organisation made up of growers and consumers. As the Soil Association defines it: CSA is a partnership between farmers and consumers where the responsibilities and rewards of farming are shared.

How does it work?

Different CSAs work slightly differently, depending on the governing principles behind a particular scheme and the needs of the communities they seek to serve.  Basically, however, the idea behind CSA is for consumers to financially commit themselves to supporting the farm and providing a fair income to the growers.  In return for this commitment, not only will consumers receive a weekly box of produce direct from the farm, they will also have opportunities to be more involved with the actual growing of that food and have direct access to the land from where that food comes.  As the emphasis is always on the health, fertility, and sustainability of the land and the surrounding environment, they can also be guaranteed a high level of commitment to ecological stewardship in return for their continued support.

What is the history of CSA?

The main idea behind CSA can be traced back to Japan, where a women’s neighbourhood group initiated a direct growing and purchasing relationship between themselves and their local farms, due to concern about the methods used to produce their food.  This arrangement, known as ‘teikei’ in Japanese, this translates as ‘putting the farmers’ face on food’. Since the 1960’s, CSA has evolved in several countries throughout Europe as a direct reaction against the rapid industrialisation of food production, which left consumers feeling increasingly detached from where their food was coming from.

How many CSAs are there operating in the UK?

The Soil Association has identified a minimum of 100 CSA initiatives within the UK.  This number is on the increase.

What are the typical qualities of CSA?

  • dedication to quality
  • support of organic or biodynamic agriculture
  • people-centred

What are the benefits of CSA schemes?

Benefits to the consumers include:

  • receiving fresh, locally grown, typically organic produce on a regular basis
  • direct participation in the growing process (your chance to farm!)
  • cheaper food due to direct relationship with the grower
  • access to land where their food is grown (lots of picnics!)
  • opportunities to meet other like minded people in community through open days, farm walks, and social events
  • understanding about where their food comes from and an opportunity to have a say in the future shape of the countryside through directly supporting local food production

Benefits to the grower include:

  • a fair return on their work and products
  • a guaranteed market
  • links to the surrounding community so they are no longer feel isolated

Other benefits include:

  • stimulation the local economy by supporting local business
  • a feeling of community cohesion

Different models of CSA. There are 4 general ways that a CSA organisation can work including by:

Subscription: generally organised by the farmer, with a low level of consumer involvement in the day to day business
Shareholder: consumers work closely with the farmer who produces varieties of food they want to eat. This model involves a much higher level of consumer involvement
Farmer co-operative: farmer-driven CSA with multiple farms co-operating to supply consumers with greater variety of produce.  This allows individual farms to specialise in most appropriate farming for that holding but requires a more complex organisational structure
Farmer-consumer co-operative: similar to previous model, but with much more consumer commitment.  Consumers and farmers may co-own land and other resources and work together to produce and distribute food

All information on this page was gathered from a number of resources, including:

  • Soil Association Briefing Paper on Community Supported Agriculture called “A Share in the Harvest – A Feasibility Study for Community Supported Agriculture” published by the Soil Association
  • “Cultivating Communities – Reconnecting Food and Farming” from the Soil Association
  • “Farms of Tomorrow Revisited, 1997, Groh T & McFadden S, The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Inc.
  • CSA websites that explain some of the ideas behind CSAs
    • Cultivating Communities Website (pages on what is a CSA – no longer active)
    • Somerville Eco Village (no longer active)

To find out where your nearest CSA is in the UK, go to the CSA Network’s ‘Find-a-CSA’ page.

Last updated 3rd April 2020

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