Fresh & Local
CSAs
Column #13, Published Dec 16th, 2011

In previous columns, I have written about different distribution channels for locally grown food including farmers’ markets, wholesalers and retailers. This would be a good time to mention another channel known by the acronym CSA.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The name is unfortunate because it is so vague and un-explanatory to anyone who does not know what it is. A CSA is an agreement between a farm and a community of people who receive the produce, also known as members. CSA members buy “shares” from a farm and then receive a weekly supply of seasonal produce during the growing season. You can think of a CSA as a farm-direct subscription agreement.

The idea behind CSAs is that the community members and the farmer share the benefits and risks. There is that word “risk” again. I’ve said before in these columns that farming is arguably the riskiest business on earth. Farmers are always looking for ways to mitigate risk. I’ve previously written about wholesaler agreements and futures trading. Here is one more way for a farmer to lower their risk.

Farming also has an inherent cash-flow problem. Most of a farm’s expenses are incurred in the spring, and most of the revenue usually comes in the summer and fall. Another big benefit of a CSA to a farmer is that being paid up-front helps with the cash-flow problem.

The members get a discount in prices over the normal retail produce prices, and they get a continuous supply of in-season produce.

I wanted to use an actual CSA example, and right off the top of my head I know of only one Culpeper-area farm that offers CSA shares. It is Holly and James Hammond at Whisper Hill Farm in Rapidan. They are also vendors at the Culpeper Farmers’ Market, which is how I know them. So I talked to Holly about their CSA.

Whisper Hill’s CSA runs 18 weeks from June through October. They offer “full shares” and “half shares.” A full share is roughly enough produce to feed four people for a week. A half share is enough for two. A full share this year was $525, which works out to $29.17 per week. A half share is $300, which works out to $16.67 per week. Holly told me that the CSA prices are a 20% discount over their normal retail prices.

In the spring, members typically get leafy greens like lettuce, chard and kale, and root vegetables like carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips. During the summer, members get tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and potatoes, and it the fall there are hardy greens, scallions, broccoli and the root vegetables again.

Up to now, the members pick their produce up at the farm in Rapidan. Since many of their CSA members live in Culpeper, Holly said in 2012 they are planning on offering the option of a Tuesday drop-off in Culpeper.

Whisper Hill is now signing up CSA members for 2012. For more information, you can go to their web site www.whisperhillfarm.com. You can also go out to the www.localharvest.org web site, click on the “CSA” tab, enter a zip code under the map of the USA and search for others.

The important point is that CSAs are a distribution channel unique to locally grown food, and the goal is to share the benefits and risks of farming.


Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at bryant@corvallisfarms.com