What is Community Supported Agriculture?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.
Kelly Carney operates North Pulaski Farms, LLC, in Cabot, Ark.
“This is the sixth season that I have had certified organic fruit and vegetables in production, which includes 6.5 acres in cultivation,” Carney said. “This is my third year running a CSA. Next year we will have 70 contracted CSAs, this year we had 50.”
Depending on the season, North Pulaski Farms offers tomatoes, okra, pepper, kale, greens, lettuce, corn, beans, blackberries, and other vegetables and fruits. These are produced under high tunnels. They sell to Little Rock, and central Arkansas restaurants, CSA customers and at farmers markets. The CSA contracts provide 40 percent of their total revenue.
According to Carney, the CSA program is a way that people in the local community can support local farmers. “Customers can be a part of the farm,” he said. “They share the bounty and the risk.”
Risks include that certain crops may not grow during a season for community members. “However, they often get the bounty from my extra crops, this years’ produce included tons of blackberries,” Carney said. “So all of the customers received extra blackberries.”
Adam Millsap owns Urban Roots Farm in downtown Springfield, Mo. He and his wife, Melissa, operate on 1.5 acres. They grow, harvest and sell crops all year. Their crops are grown in three mobile high tunnels that cover nine plots, and one greenhouse. Urban Roots Farms offers 90 varieties of vegetables out of 40 types of vegetables. In addition to their CSA customers, they sell to restaurants and at farmers markets.
Adam’s operational focus includes getting people back in touch with where their food comes from, education, sustainability and community building.
According to Adam there are many variations of CSA production. “For our farm, it is basically selling a subscription to the farm,” he said. “The customers pay half of the CSA fee before the crop is planted and the second half before the first pick up at harvest time.”
Adam added that some CSAs require work shares. “We don’t, however we do encourage them to come out one day during the growing season to see what really goes on,” he added.
Beginning a CSA Program
“Before deciding to operate a CSA program, people need to realize that it is not for everyone,” Adam said.
According to Adam, every CSA farmer feels a huge commitment to provide great products for your CSA customer. “We call this ‘CSA anxiety.’ This is not the same pressure as getting to the farmers market or retail, it is more than my loss.”
The flip side is that springtime is usually when farmers are cash poor, CSA producers are taking in payments for their pre-season investments from buyers at this time, which provides a boost in the budget, Adam added.
Adam insists that anyone considering starting a CSA researches what CSA costs are in their area. “People need to base their costs in comparison to others in their area,” he said.
Carney suggests that any farmer considering this to start small, especially if they are a new farmer. Farmers need to know that they can successfully grow the product they are trying to sell before having too many customers.