Selling “Farm Shares”?! Strategies for making CSA-marketing models work for your agricultural enterprise
By Cole Cottin
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a model of farming and farm marketing that has been gaining momentum since its introduction to the United States, from Europe, in the mid-1980s. More than 12,500 U.S. farms reported marketing products through a CSA in the 2007 Census of Agriculture, and that number has continued to rise. CSAs are defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as, “a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes… the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.” Though some CSAs are firmly rooted in the tradition of shared risk, most contemporary CSA models emphasize, instead, the economic benefits to both consumer and farmer.
As an economic partnership between farmers and customers, CSA members provide the farm with up-front capital to cover anticipated costs of the farm operation and, in exchange, they receive a “share” or portion of farm products over an agreed upon period of time. CSA theory purports that the more a farm embraces whole-farm, whole-budget support, the more it can focus on quality and reduce the risk of food waste or financial loss. Farmers use a broad range of marketing and production strategies to help foster and strengthen CSA member-to-farm connections.
Models for CSAs are highly creative and come in seemingly infinite forms. Each CSA is structured to meet the needs of its participants and, therefore, CSAs are widely varied in the areas of farm design, consumer financial commitment, consumer participation, and food distribution systems. Most CSAs offer a diversity of vegetables, fruits, and herbs in season; some provide shares in grains, eggs, meat, dairy products, baked goods, and even fire- wood. Some CSAs operate as cooperatives or food hubs, so that members receive a broader range of goods over an extended season. CSAs can also choose to focus on serving particular community needs, such as increasing access to healthy foods in low-income communities, offering educational activities, or uniting community members through organized events.
To learn more about various CSA models, the benefits and challenges of selling through CSAs, and strategies and resources for CSA success CLICK HERE to print or download the Kansas Rural Center’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) resource document.
This resource document is an excerpt from Finding Your Niche, A Marketing Guide for Kansas Farms, published in January 2013 by the Kansas Rural Center. You may CLICK HERE to view the guide’s full Table of Contents and print or download other resource documents. Finding Your Niche: A Marketing Guide for Kansas Farms offers a great starting point for envisioning the potential your farm has to increase and respond to local demand.
To receive a printed and bound copy of the 200+ page guide, please order here or contact the Kansas Rural Center at 785-873-3431. A limited number of copies are available for a suggested fee of $25 to help cover printing, shipping and handling costs.