Community supported agriculture (CSA)

Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between farmers and consumers, where consumers purchase a share of a farm’s products in advance, typically paying in full in the wintertime when farms need capital to prepare for the spring. During the high growing season (roughly May-October), CSA members receive deliveries of vegetables, fruits, and herbs; some CSAs include other farm products such as eggs, meat, milk, cheese, flowers, or baked goods. CSA programs vary by farm and community, however, most feature organic, sustainably raised products, and have pick-up locations in nearby neighborhoods and on the farm. Most CSA programs encourage members to participate in community-building opportunities on the farm with other members; some also encourage members to work on the farm in exchange for reduced membership costs (USDA NAL-Defining CSA, FairShare-How it works).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased access to healthy food

  • Increased healthy food consumption

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved dietary habits

  • Improved weight status

  • Strengthened local & regional food systems

  • Reduced emissions

  • Increased earnings

Evidence of Effectiveness

Community supported agriculture (CSA) programs are a suggested strategy to increase access to healthy foods and distribute fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms to urban and rural areas (CDC-Local foods, Harmon 2014). Available evidence suggests that CSA participation significantly increases household inventories of fresh fruits and vegetables, and increases fruit and vegetable consumption (Quandt 2013, , ). CSA participation may also improve health status (), especially among participants who report lower than average health prior to CSA enrollment (Rossi 2017, ). Participation is associated with an increased variety and amount of vegetables consumed for adults and children (, Wilkins 2015, , ), improved diet (, Harmon 2014), more cooking at home (, , Harmon 2014, ), and improved weight status (). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.

Employer-based health promotion programs can incentivize CSA participation and offer on-site share pick-ups, which can increase participants’ access to fresh produce, as well as the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables consumed (Rossi 2017, , Thi 2015). Such worksite-based CSA programs are also associated with improved diet and household food purchasing (Rossi 2017, ). Among households with lower incomes, CSA participants report improved diet, increased consumption of vegetables, less time spent shopping, and less money spent on food (Galt 2017). Subsidized CSA programs may help households with low incomes meet recommended levels for vegetable consumption (Hanson 2017).

CSA programs may help strengthen and improve local and regional food systems and contribute to greater food system sustainability (). CSA programs offering sustainably produced, seasonal food may reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel energy used to produce, process, and transport food (Christensen 2017, CCAFS-Campbell 2012). CSA participation can also reduce the energy intensity of an individual’s diet if more plant-based foods are consumed in place of animal products (Harvard Ext-Adamkiewicz 2016).

For farmers, the CSA prepayment model can increase cash flow, provide a stable income, and transfer some production risk to consumers (Zepeda 2014, ). Member turnover from year to year can be a challenge (); although for some groups using a pay-as-you-go model may increase membership (). Without subsidized CSA shares, low income households typically cannot afford to participate (Harmon 2014, , ); however, many CSA programs partner with non-profit organizations to offer working shares, subsidized shares, or other lower cost options ().

Barriers to CSA participation can include the time and knowledge required to prepare whole foods (Harmon 2014, ), and transportation, work schedule, and child care challenges (Quandt 2013, Galt 2017). Interviews with rural, low income households suggest cost, accessibility, and produce selection and quality can also be barriers (Hanson 2019). To reduce some of these barriers, experts recommend flexible distribution practices including self-selection of fruits and vegetables, outreach about produce seasonality and CSA programs, education and tools to assist with fruit and vegetable preparation, subsidies for low income families (Hanson 2019), sliding scale pricing, and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) acceptance for CSA payment (Galt 2017).

Environmental and nutritional motivations are associated with choosing to participate in a CSA program (, , Zepeda 2014). CSA participants tend to be white, female, and frequently have higher education, higher incomes (, Galt 2017), and stronger levels of social connectedness than non-participants ().

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of 2015, over 7,300 farms in the US reported selling products through a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) links to several searchable databases for CSA programs at the national, state, and regional levels (USDA NAL-CSA).

State legislation can support farmers markets and CSA programs, as in Minnesota (NCSL-Food systems). In California, CSA vendors can apply and receive a machine for free which allows them to accept Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) payments for CSA shares (Galt 2017). City ordinances can also be adjusted to permit or encourage residents to host CSA pick-ups or to sell produce at their residences, as in Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO-Urban ag).

Many non-profit organizations work to connect consumers with CSA programs and to improve the accessibility of CSA shares through education, outreach, community building, and resource sharing, for example, the FairShare CSA coalition in Madison, WI (FairShare-How it works); the Portland Area CSA coalition (Portland Area-CSA); Farm Fresh Rhode Island (Farm Fresh RI-CSA); The Food Project in the Boston area (TFP-CSA); and Local Harvest, a national organization (Local Harvest-CSA).

CSA programs around the country are working to reach consumers with low incomes from diverse backgrounds. For example, Corbin Hill Food Project in New York City is a year-round farm share program with weekly subscriptions, subsidized and sponsorship shares, and flexible payment options that accepts EBT payment and offers foods reflecting diverse cultures (CHFP-Farm share). Zenger Farm in Portland, OR accepts EBT payments, has sliding scale pricing, and offers one-week trial shares (Zenger Farm-CSA). Clagett Farm in Maryland offers reduced-price shares and workshares, and their full-price memberships fund shares for low income households through From the Ground Up, a collaboration with a local food bank that distributes shares and offers educational programming and farm visits (CBF-CSA). Philly Foodworks partners with Greensgrow, an urban farm and garden in Philadelphia, to offer discounted CSA shares for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants (PFW-SNAP).

Many health insurance providers offer consumers rebates for purchasing CSA vegetable shares (FairShare-How it works). The Farm to Work program in Texas is a modified CSA which allows employees to order fresh produce baskets from local farmers, to be delivered to their worksite (Texas DSHS-Farm to Work). 

Implementation Resources

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2014.

USDA NAL-CSA - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Library (NAL). Community supported agriculture (CSA).

USDA NAL-CSA resources - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Library (NAL). CSA resources for farmers: Selected books, reports, articles, research projects, periodicals and videos focusing on the business of CSA farming.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Quandt 2013 - Quandt SA, Dupuis J, Fish C, D'Agostino RB. Feasibility of using a community-supported agriculture program to improve fruit and vegetable inventories and consumption in an underresourced urban community. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2013;10:130053.

CDC-Local foods - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Healthy places: Farmers markets, community supported agriculture, and local food distribution.

Wharton 2015* - Wharton CM, Hughner RS, MacMillan L, Dumitrescu C. Community supported agriculture programs: A novel venue for theory-based health behavior change interventions. Ecology of Food and Nutrition. 2015;54(3):280-301.

Brown 2008* - Brown C, Miller S. The impacts of local markets: A review of research on farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). American Journal of Agricultural Economics. 2008;90(5):1298-1302.

Minaker 2014* - Minaker LM, Raine KD, Fisher P, et al. Food purchasing from farmers' markets and Community-Supported Agriculture is associated with reduced weight and better diets in a population-based sample. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2014;9(4):485-497.

Forssell 2015* - Forssell S, Lankoski L. The sustainability promise of alternative food networks: An examination through 'alternative' characteristics. Agriculture and Human Values. 2015;32(1):63-75.

Zepeda 2014 - Zepeda L, Reznickova A, Russell WS, Hettenbach D. A case study of the symbolic value of Community Supported Agriculture membership. Journal of Food Distribution Research. 2014;42(2):195-212.

Farmer 2014* - Farmer JR, Chancellor C, Robinson JM, West S, Weddell M. Agrileisure: Farmers markets, CSAs, and the privilege in eating local. Journal of Leisure Research. 2014;46(3):313-328.

Kato 2013* - Kato Y. Not just the price of food: Challenges of an urban agriculture organization in engaging local residents. Sociological Inquiry. 2013;83(3):369-391.

Uribe 2012* - Uribe ALM, Winham DM, Wharton CM. Community supported agriculture membership in Arizona: An exploratory study of food and sustainability behavior. Appetite. 2012;59(2):431-436.

Andreatta 2008* - Andreatta S, Rhyne M, Dery N. Lessons learned from advocating CSAs for low-income and food insecure households. Southern Rural Sociology. 2008;23(1):116-148.

Harmon 2014 - Harmon AH. Community supported agriculture: A conceptual model of health implications. Austin Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences. 2014;2(4):1024.

Cohen 2012b* - Cohen JN, Gearhart S, Garland E. Community supported agriculture: A commitment to a healthier diet. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2012;7(1):20-37.

Forbes 2008* - Forbes CB, Harmon AH. Buying into community-supported agriculture: Strategies for overcoming income barriers. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2008;2(2-3):65-79.

CCAFS-Campbell 2012 - Campbell B. Is eating local good for the climate? Thinking beyond food miles. Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), CGIAR Research Programs. 2012.

Harvard Ext-Adamkiewicz 2016 - Adamkiewicz G. Buying local: Do food miles matter?. Harvard Extension School; 2016.

Christensen 2017 - Christensen LO, Galt RE, Kendall A. Life-cycle greenhouse gas assessment of Community Supported Agriculture in California's Central Valley. Renewable Agriculture and Food System; 2017.

Vasquez 2017* - Vasquez A, Sherwood NE, Larson N, et al. Community-supported agriculture as a dietary and health improvement strategy: A narrative review. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017;117(1):83-94.

Vasquez 2016* - Vasquez A, Sherwood NE, Larson N, et al. A novel dietary improvement strategy: Examining the potential impact of community-supported agriculture membership. Public Health Nutrition. 2016;19(4):2618-2628.

Rossi 2017 - Rossi JJ, Woods TA, Allen JE. Impacts of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) voucher program on food lifestyle behaviors: Evidence from an employer-sponsored pilot program. Sustainability. 2017;9(9):1543

Thi 2015 - Thi CA, Horton KD, Loyo J, et al. Farm to work: Development of a modified Community-Supported Agriculture model at worksites, 2007–2012. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2015;12:150022.

Hanson 2019 - Hanson KL, Garner J, Connor LM, et al. Fruit and vegetable preferences and practices may hinder participation in Community-Supported Agriculture among low-income rural families. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2019;51(1):57-67.

Allen 2017* - Allen JE, Rossi J, Woods TA, et al. Do Community Supported Agriculture programmes encourage change to food lifestyle behaviours and health outcomes? New evidence from shareholders. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. 2017;15(1):70-82

Galt 2017 - Galt RE, Bradley K, Christensen L, et al. What difference does income make for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members in California? Comparing lower-income and higher-income households. Agriculture and Human Values. 2017;34(3):435-452.

Freedman 2016* - Freedman MR, King JK. Examining a new “pay-as-you-go” Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) model: A case study. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. 2016;11(1):122-145.

Wilkins 2015 - Wilkins JL, Farrell TJ, Rangarajan A. Linking vegetable preferences, health and local food systems through Community-Supported Agriculture. Public Health Nutrition. 2015;18(13):2392-2401.

Hanson 2017 - Hanson KL, Kolodinksy J, Wang W, et al. Adults and children in low-income households that participate in cost-offset Community Supported Agriculture have high fruit and vegetable consumption. Nutrients. 2017;9(7):726

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

USDA NAL-CSA - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Agricultural Library (NAL). Community supported agriculture (CSA).

FairShare-How it works - FairShare CSA Coalition. About CSA: How it works.

NCSL-Food systems - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Farmers' market: Expanding farmers' markets and strengthening local food systems.

KCMO-Urban ag - Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. Growing good food in Kansas City neighborhoods: A guide to urban agriculture codes in KCMO.

Portland Area-CSA - Portland Area CSA Coalition. CSA resources: Connecting you with your farmer through community supported agriculture.

Farm Fresh RI-CSA - Farm Fresh Rhode Island. Local food guide to Rhode Island: Community supported agriculture (CSA).

TFP-CSA - The Food Project (TFP). Farm shares & community supported agriculture (CSA).

Local Harvest-CSA - LocalHarvest. Community supported agriculture: Find a local CSA.

Galt 2017 - Galt RE, Bradley K, Christensen L, et al. What difference does income make for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members in California? Comparing lower-income and higher-income households. Agriculture and Human Values. 2017;34(3):435-452.

Texas DSHS-Farm to Work - Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). Farm to Work.

CHFP-Farm share - Corbin Hill Food Project (CHFP). Farm Share.

CBF-CSA - Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). Community Supported Agriculture.

PFW-SNAP - Philly Foodworks. SNAP farm share program.

Zenger Farm-CSA - Zenger Farm. CSA-Community Supported Agriculture.

Date Last Updated

Sep 22, 2019