Community Supported Agriculture
Note Number: AG1117
Published: September 2003
Updated: July 2007
The purpose of this agricultural note is to inform farmers of a form of marketing produce direct to the consumers.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a form of agriculture which has potential for Australian landholders with farms located near cities or large regional centres. CSA farmers produce fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers (and sometimes meats, eggs, fibre or preserves) directly for local community members; delivering the products weekly.
What is CSA?
CSA is an agricultural production/marketing system that sees the sharing of the production risks spread equally between the farmer and the consumer. Members pay for their food up front, before the season commences, and are then kept involved in the farm's activities with field days, newsletters and open invitations to visit the farm.
Usually a CSA enterprise has one producer, however it is possible to have several farmers involved. There are over 1000 CSA enterprises in the USA and numbers of customers vary between 10 and 700. In Australia the concept is not well known, and only a few CSAs exist.
What do I need to start a CSA?
CSA enterprises do not require large tracts of land or specialised machinery. CSA enterprises are most commonly a horticultural production system that has a unique direct marketing focus. Skills required for embarking on a CSA enterprise include an ability to manage a commercial fruit and vegetable farm, with a large number of crops continually at different stages of development, well developed people skills and, in most cases, a commitment to organic and/or sustainable farming practices.
Also it is necessary to have customers who are committed to the philosophy of CSA, not just interested in home delivered groceries. Education and promotion is a key factor here.
In most CSA businesses producers and/or organising members (customers) plan a budget that includes costs of production, salaries, distribution of the food and administration. Then after determining how many members the production can support, they calculate the cost of joining. In the USA membership fees vary from US$150 to US$800, depending on the length of the growing season and the amount of produce supplied.
It is important to have high communication skills in order to keep members satisfied. Members who understand the system, are less likely to complain if the box is a little light on one week. A key concept behind CSA is that members are sharing the risk of agricultural production; by paying up front and risking that in a dry year or because of insect damage, yield may be lower than expected. (Herbs and flowers will often be added to the box during these times). Newsletters with recipes for unusual vegetables, and news about the farm are usually provided in the food boxes. It is also a good idea to have a field day or a dinner occasionally for members – everyone bring a plate. CSA is not just about growing food, rather providing a service which involves delivery of food, newsletters and social functions.
Further information on CSA enterprises can be found in:
- Community Supported Agriculture, A Feasibility Study for Australian Producers, Greg Cahill, et al. 2002. (Available from DPI).
- A Guide for the Establishment of Community Supported Agriculture Farms in Victoria, 2004. (Available from DPI).
- USA resources can be found at:
It was reviewed by:
Julie Francis, Parkville in July 2007