The Gillings Sustainable Agriculture Project: A Gillings Innovative Laboratory

Connecting Farmers with Local Customers through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Kathryn Webb


NUTR 245 Spring 2012

CSAs can provide customers with diverse, nutritious, and sustainably grown food, while farmers can gain upfront financial support, find more incentive to produce with ecologically sound methods, and benefit economically from a direct relationship with the customer.

“The Produce Box,” a CSA based in Raleigh, NC.

Community supported agriculture (CSA) has been described as a “food buying club” or “subscription farming,” due to the fact that community members buy shares in a farm at the beginning of the growing season and then regularly receive a portion of the goods available throughout the season (Christensen and Neil, 2009;  Brown and Miller, 2008). The idea of CSAs originated relatively recently in Japan and Switzerland in the 1960s as a way for both farmers and consumers to assume risks and benefits of growing food (King, 2008). Customers agree to pay ahead and share the risk of agricultural production with the farmer, caused by occurrences such as fluctuating weather and market demand (Macias, 2008).  In this partnership, customers receive quality food that is sustainably produced, while farmers can ensure reliable customers and financial support with operations. CSAs can lead to increased “food citizenship,” as more community members participate and learn  about the benefits  of local food production (Macias, 2008).

Hilltop Community Farm offers a CSA with flowers, instead of produce only.

  • CSAs were introduced in the United States in 1985, with only 50 farms participating by 1990.  But huge growth in CSAs has occurred and by 2008, over 1,900 CSAs existed (Brown and Miller, 2008).  Increased demand is due to greater concerns about consumer protection and health and the environmental consequences of industrial agriculture.  With less harmful inputs during food production and much lower travel distances, local agriculture can lead to a reduction in “food miles” and less use of fossil fuel on the farm and in transport (Macias, 2008).
  • More demand for food from a 100 mile radius or within state has led some people to pay double for local produce, compared to conventionally grown (Brown and Miller, 2008).  Prices vary for CSA membership, but usually range in the hundreds of dollars over the growing season, depending on the amount, diversity, and type of goods chosen by the customer initially or provided by the farm (Macias, 2008).
  • There is a growing popularity of “mix and match” or “market-style” CSAs, in which customers choose items they want, instead of wasting unwanted items chosen by the farmer.  Leftovers can then be donated to food banks by farmers (Local Harvest, 2012).
  • Furthermore, CSAs do not only include produce, but items like eggs, homemade bread, meat, cheese, fruit, flowers or other farm products along with the  veggies. Multiple farms can work together to provide more diverse options, or can work at a shared pick up point and offer additional items (Local Harvest, 2012).
  • Some other popular innovations in CSAs include neighborhood pick-up sites like at Star Hollow Farm in Three Springs, Pennsylvania or delivering to individual homes and including weekly recipes and local, seasonal goods like honey and bread at The Farmer’s Cart in Natick, Massachusetts (Cappellano, 2011).

A variety of goods from produce to bacon and eggs are offered in the consolidated CSA from Cloverfields, Coon Rock, and S&L farms in NC.

CSA members can visit farms and learn about how food and livestock are produced.

  • Increase in freshness, variety, and quantity of vegetables consumed; overall healthier eating habits and willingness to try new foods (Brown and Miller, 2008; Khan et al, 2009).
  • Better nutritional quality and taste of foods because produce  is picked when ripe and not based on transportation needs (Khan et al, 2009).
  • The waste stream from food is significantly lowered, due to little or reusable packaging or bagging (Goland, 2008).
  • Customers learn about seasonality, management choices, and the costs of farming when interacting with farmer or visiting farms (King, 2008; Brown and Miller, 2008; Project Green Leaf, 2012).
  • Community members feel positive utility from picking up CSA box, as well as preparing and consuming meals from produce (Brown and Miller, 2008).
  • Members develop a greater understanding that human wellbeing depends on nature and that nature lends valuable assets to human life (Macias, 2008).
  • CSA farms can be beneficial to the equitable distribution of organic, locally grown food when farmers participate in gleaning or food donations to low-income members of  the community or those without access to fresh produce and with diet-related disease (Macias , 2008; Christensen and Neil, 2009; Khan et al, 2009;  Gottlieb and Fisher, 1996).

How Can Farmers Benefit?

  • Advanced financial agreements allow farmers to cover initial production costs and to market their produce early in the year, so they can dedicate more time in the fields during the season (King, 2008; Local Harvest, 2012).
  • Selling shares allows farmers a better quality of living and chance to fully cover operating costs more so than selling to wholesale distributors       (Brown and Miller, 2008).
  •  There is less cycling of debt and farmers are not locked into selling to corporations, also providing a chance for farmers to get to know local customers and their desires (Macias, 2008).
  • A CSA program helps regional farmers connect with city communities, helping to bring in customers and spread local produce to more urbanized areas (Christensen and Neil, 2009).
  • Farmers know how much to plant, do not have to load up for and drive to farmer’s market,  handle and bruise produce less, and no produce is lost due to shipping and distribution (Vienna Meadows Farm, 2012).
  • Farms participating in CSAs experienced higher gross incomes from increased agricultural value than many of the farms across the U.S. (Brown and Miller, 2008).
  • Farmers can reduce labor costs through volunteer and community workdays (Project Green Leaf, 2012).
  • Many CSA farmers do not own their land, making their business more vulnerable, but solutions might include land trusts or community-owned land set aside for farming supported by CSA members (McFadden, 2008).

How Does the Environment Benefit?

  • CSAs represent a form of agri-ecology, which strives to balance traditional agricultural production and the management of natural resources. This model can help promote resilience and adaptation to ecological damage and connect people with nature (King, 2008).
  • Local farmland is preserved and ecologically managed due to the relatively small scale agricultural pursuits (Goland, 2008)
  • Many CSA farmers use sustainable growing methods, such as maintaining soil naturally without chemicals, using manure, compost, and mulch to avoid evaporation and weed growth, and utilizing nitrogen-fixing or pest-repellent crops, instead of commercial fertilizers or herbicides (Vienna Meadows Farm, 2012).
  • Conversations with customers and advanced financing encourage conventional farmers to try to incorporate sustainable growth measures over the season (King, 2008).
  • CSA distributions provide environmental awareness in urban, suburban areas and the countryside, and also provide healthy linkages throughout community (McFadden, 2008).

At Vienna Meadows Farms in Pfafftown, NC, the cropland is naturally and sustainably managed.

Annotated Bibliography:

Brown, Cheryl, and Stacy Miller “The Impacts of Local Markets: A Review of

            Research on Farmers Markets and Community Supported

            Agriculture (CSA).” American Journal of Agriculture Economics 90 (2008): 1296-

1301. Oxford Journals. Web. 8 April 2012.

This article sought to explain the ways that farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture can help the local economy and people.  The effects of CSAs on consumers and farmers were highlighted, displaying how CSAs would primarily change consumer awareness of local food production and healthy diet, while farmer benefits still seem to be lacking due to incomplete coverage of production costs.

Cappellano, Kathleen L. “Supporting Local Agriculture: Farmers Markets and

            Community-Supported Agriculture and Gardens.” Nutrition Today 46.4 (Jul/Aug

            2011): 203-207. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.. Web. 8 April 2012.

A review was given of the diverse ways that people can get fresh, local agriculture without actually growing home gardens.  Some notable CSAs were highlighted for their innovative approaches for drawing in new members, such as making home deliveries, allowing customers to select customized boxes, and offering diverse local goods.

Christensen, Peta, and Ben Neil “Feeding the Cities – Case Studies from Australia, Brazil,

            USA and Canada Exploring the Role of Urban Agriculture and Rural Family

            Farms in Community Food Security.” Australasia Pacific Extension Network (2009).

            The Regional Institute Ltd.. Web. 9 April 2012.

Residents in cities in both the developed and developing world are increasingly suffering from food insecurity, malnutrition, and disease directly linked with the lack of fresh, healthy foods.  Creating urban gardens and connections with regional farmers can assist government and community organizations in their efforts to bring healthy food to people and educate them about nutrition, good food choices, and a healthy lifestyle.

Goland, Carol. “Community Supported Agriculture, Food Consumption Patterns, and

            Member Commitment.” Culture and Agriculture 24.1 (2008): 14-25. Wiley Online

            Library. Web. 9 April 2012.

This article described the immense benefits of CSAs, but also explored the link between the high turnover rates of CSAs and the extra effort needed to pick up, learn about, and prepare the produce received.  These inconvenient factors may contribute to the lack of benefit that consumers ultimately receive from CSAs and the discontinuation of the partnership in the future.  Providing more education to the consumers may partially help with CSA sustainability, but consumers must be interested in solving several overlapping environmental, social, and economic problems in order to commit to the challenge of fully benefitting from CSAs.


Gottlieb, Robert, and Andrew Fisher “Community Food Security and Environmental

            Justice: Searching for a Common Discourse.” Agriculture and Human Values 3.3
(1996): 23-32. SpringerLink. Web. 9 April 2012.

Environmental justice and food issues have not historically been connected, but the author suggests that the two could be better interconnected to solve problems with the urban food systems.  Local agriculture, in the form of urban gardens, CSAs, and community processing centers, can revitalize the urban economy, provide a clearer picture for residents of where food comes from, and can also create public spaces designated for agricultural activities in the community.  Overall, local agricultural pursuits can create participation and contribute to community development, while also helping to address the problems with our built environment, environmental policies, and the food system.


Local Harvest, Inc. Community Supported Agriculture. 2012. Web. 9 Apr. 2012


An overview of community supported agriculture was presented, displaying the benefits to both farmers and customers, as well as fully explaining the concept of “shared risk” that both parties may have to contend with during the growing season. Different approaches to CSA items and business models were also mentioned to clear up the misconception that CSAs only consist of produce from a single, nearby farm.  The Local Harvest website offers a tool to help curious customers find local CSAs and to learn more about small-scale farming and agriculture.

Khan, Laura Kettel et al “Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to

Prevent Obesity in the United States.” MMWR 58.7 (July 24, 2009): 1-26. CDC. Web. 8 April 2012.

With high numbers of overweight and obese adults and children in the United States, the CDC suggested a community-based, multidimensional strategy to address food choice, physical activity, and the empowerment of people.  One suggestion for providing greater access to healthy food in communities was to offer more options for buying food from local farms, such as through farmer’s markets and CSAs.

King, Christine A. “Community Resilience and Contemporary Agri-Ecological Systems:

            Reconnecting People and Food, and People with People.” Systems Research and

            Behavioral Science 25 (2008): 111-124. Wiley Online Library. Web. 9 April 2012.

The consequences of conventional agriculture and natural resource management are explored, with an argi-ecological model suggested as a way to bridge the divide between the two polarized perspectives.  CSAs, among other community-based agricultural systems, are examined for their ability to connect consumers and farmers, bring people closer to the environment and the realities of farming, and strengthen the resilience of small-scale agricultural pursuits.

Macias, Thomas. “Working Toward a Just, Equitable, And Local Food System: The Social

            Impact Of Community-Based Agriculture.” Social Science Quarterly 89.5 (30 SEP

            2008): 1086-1101. Wiley Online Library. Web. 8 April 2012.

Using the experiences of the Intervale community farm in Burlington, Vermont, the contributions of community gardening, a CSA program, and organic farming to equitable food distribution, social interaction, and a link between humans and nature were explored.  CSAs were found to primarily contribute to increased interaction and a linkage to nature for those in a higher socioeconomic class, while overwhelmingly leaving out lower-income members of the community

McFadden, Steven. “The History of Community Supported Agriculture, Part II CSA’s

            World of Possibilities.” Rodale Institute (2008): 1-12. Print.

The evolution of American CSAs are considered, highlighting the issues of globalization and industrial agriculture that have drawn people to a more local, healthy, and environmentally sustainable option for food growth.  Of particular importance is the discussion of the lack of land ownership of CSA owners and the opportunity for communities to help create and support CSA farms by providing secure farmland.

Project Green Leaf, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), 2012. Web. 9 Apr. 2012


Project Green Leaf, an initiative started by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is designed to promote a “local agro-food system” where farmers and customers will be connected and informed about the other.  The website provides a thorough explanation about CSAs including benefits to customers and the required changes in diet and lifestyles that a CSA will bring, as well as benefits and challenges that farmers may face when they decide to begin a CSA program.

Vienna Meadows Farm. FAQ, Sustainable Farming. 2012. Web. 9 Apr. 2012


The website was created by the farmers of Vienna Meadows Farm in Pfafftown, North Carolina to explain the details of their CSA produce offered and about the farm in general. Of specific interest were the facts provided about the benefits of supporting a CSA and local food, as well as the details about the natural, sustainable production methods used on the farm.



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