Ultimate Guide to Community Supported Agriculture

The CSA Practice

Some CSA programs allow you pick up the produce right from the farm.
Some CSA programs allow you pick up the produce right from the farm.
Image courtesy of U.S. government

There's a lot of financial planning that goes into a year's crop, and those plans determine the price of a CSA share. Each farm has different costs and offers different packages, and no two farms will be charging the exact same amount. A CSA membership can run anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand dollars a year [source: Saulny].

At a typical grocery-store price of 50 cents an apple, $3 a pound for mushrooms and $4 for a pound of blackberries, if you get your recommended daily supply of fruits and veggies you're easily spending $1,000 a year on produce -- that's only $20 a week. [source: FDA] Some people actually end up saving money by joining a CSA farm, even an organic one.

The basic CSA process goes like this:

  1. Joining: A person signs up to join a particular local farm under its CSA program.
  2. Determining share cost: The owners and managers of that farm get together and create a budget for the year. This includes seed, fertilizer, equipment, labor and all other costs. They take that total number and divide it by the number of members to come up with that year's share price.
  3. Buying a share: Members pay that amount upfront (or sometimes in seasonal installments).
  4. Collecting: Each week of the year, members collect their allotted amount of produce. They may pick it up at the farm, or the farm may deliver it to their door or another location.

Each farm grows a different set of crops, so it might be smart to pick a CSA farm by what it offers. These farms grow everything, from strawberries and watermelon to beans, carrots and broccoli. Some CSA farms even offer meat, dairy, honey and fresh-cut flowers. A farm with only a few different crops might be part of a CSA network that offers members produce from each network farm for a much larger variety.

It's all seasonal, of course. You're only getting California-grown grapes if you live in California and it's May through February. Farms plant different crops for each season, so the variety changes throughout the year based on what's in season in your area. The beauty of eating seasonally and locally is that everything you get is fresh and ripe and tastes exactly like it should.

And the drawback of eating seasonally and locally is that you won't be getting those grapes, even if you're craving them; and what you will be getting, you'll be getting a whole lot of. That's the potential downside of the CSA membership -- you're at the mercy of Mother Nature, who decides which produce you'll be eating for a few months at a time. If you get tired of broccoli, you may find yourself back in the supermarket spending money on asparagus you don't get from your farm.

For more information on CSA and related topics, look over the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • DeMuth, Suzanne. "Defining Community Supported Agriculture." USDA National Agriculture Library. September 1993.http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/csa/csadef.shtml
  • Price, Katherine. "The Locavore's Dilemma." Slate. March 25, 2009.http://www.slate.com/id/2214524/
  • Saulny, Susan. "Cutting Out the Middlemen, Shoppers Buy Slices of Farms." The New York Times. July 10, 2008.http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/10/us/10farms.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=CSA&st=cse
  • What is Community Supported Agriculture and How Does It Work?http://www.localharvest.org/csa.jsp LocalHarvest.