What is CSA?

Defining Community Supported Agriculture

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a combined effort between a farm and a community of supporters (“shareholders” or “members”) that creates a direct relationship between the production and consumption of food. Each season the members provide the money (and sometimes other resources like marketing or bookkeeping services) needed for the farm to operate by purchasing a “share” of the season’s harvest. By making this commitment, a CSA member assumes with the farmer the risks and the rewards of growing the food they will eat.

Members benefit from CSA because, in return for their investment in the farm, they receive a share of the harvest, fresh, healthy, local food each week throughout the growing season. By having a relationship with a specific farm, CSA members also know exactly where their food comes from and how it was grown.

Farmers benefit because CSA is an economically viable way for small scale farmers to produce a wide variety of high quality vegetables, often in an earth-friendly way.

What a CSA is Not

Some businesses offer deliveries of weekly boxes of fruits and vegetables, but these businesses are not CSAs. These “box schemes” purchase wholesale produce from farmers up and down the west coast and beyond. Purchasing these boxes does not connect a household directly with their food, the people who grow it, and the land on which it is grown. If you can’t tell who’s growing your food and where it’s grown, it’s not a CSA.

Finding CSA Farms

  • The PACSAC Directory lists farms that offer CSA shares to the greater Portland area.
  • Local Harvest is a national website that lists CSAs, Farmers Markets, and other sources for local food.
  • Oregonsnapcsa.com lists farms in Oregon that accept SNAP benefits as payment for CSA shares.

A Brief History of CSA

Early Models
In Japan, Teikei groups, or consumers creating direct relationships with farms started forming in the 1960‘s.  Models in Europe are traced back to Biodynamic farms in Germany and Switzerland during the same time period.

Early US CSAs
The first US CSA farms were started in 1986 in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  Both of those farms, Temple Wilton Farm and Indian Line Farm are still operating as CSAs

CSA Comes to Portland
The earliest CSA farms in the Portland area were started in the early 1990’s.  The name PACSAC was adopted in the the early 2000’s after the group had already been meeting for many years.

For More Information About CSA

The Robyn Van En Center is a national resource center for Community Supported Agriculture, named for the late farmer and CSA advocate.
The USDA’s Community Supported Agriculture page contains links to many CSA resources.

Books and Articles about CSA
Community Farms in the 21st Century: Poised for another wave of growth and CSA’s World of Possibilities form a short, two part history of CSA written by Steven McFadden, author of Farms of Tomorrow Revisited (out of print).
Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture by Elizabeth Henderson with Robyn Van En

Documentaries
The Real Dirt on Farmer John is an entertaining documentary about a quirky Midwestern farmer who saves the family farm through creativity and Community Supported Agriculture.

Resources to Help You Get the Most out of Your CSA
Cook with What You Have’s Katherine Deumling creates recipes for CSA farms in the Portland area and offers classes to support people in cooking delicious, seasonal food at home.
From Asparagus to Zucchini is a cookbook created by the FairShare CSA Coalition in Wisconsin. The book provides information about CSA along with suggestions for cooking seasonal vegetables.
Farm-Fresh and Fast is a new FairShare CSA Coalition cookbook with tips on cooking fresh food (and making cocktails) fast.
Farmer John’s Cook Book: The Real Dirt on Vegetables provides recipes and suggestions for using CSA produce from Angelic Organics, the people behind the film The Real Dirt on Farmer John.