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8 Steps to Forming Your Own CSA

Now that the harvest is coming in, you’re probably thinking about next year’s growing season and whether Community Supported Agriculture is the way to go. By joining a CSA, you’re supporting local farmers, minimizing your carbon footprint, and eating fresh, healthy produce all in one fell swoop. But what if there is no CSA in your area?

Why not start your own?

The following article has been excerpted from Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture, Revised and Expanded by Elizabeth Henderson with Robyn Van En.

1. Initiators (either farmers or group of nonfarmers) issue a call to form a CSA. You can seek members:

  1. among friends or neighbors
  2. among existing groups: day cares, environmental or consumer organizations, churches, civic groups, schools or other institutions, workplaces

2. Hold exploratory meeting of prospective sharers and farmer(s). Possible agenda:

  1. what is a CSA?
  2. why eat locally grown food?
  3. why small farms need support
  4. assess level of commitment of participants
  5. if interest is high enough, create founding core group

3. At this meeting or a subsequent meeting, come to agreement on the group’s values:

  1. does the group want organic food?
  2. does the group want locally grown food?
  3. does the group want racial, ethnic, and economic diversity among members?
  4. is it important to involve children?
  5. will all members contribute work, or will some buy out by paying a higher fee?
  6. do members want to share production risks with the farm(s)?
  7. what commodities does the group want?
  8. does the group want to share mailing list with other groups?

4. Organize the core group to:

  1. decide on farmer(s)
  2. decide growing site
  3. decide how and where food will be distributed
  4. divide up member responsibilities
  5. approve the budget proposed by the farmer(s)
  6. set fee policy and payment schedule
  7. clarify expectations as to variety and quantity of food
  8. set guidelines on participation of children (if desired)
  9. decide who owns any equipment purchased

5. The core group recruits members for first season:

  1. post flyers
  2. organize recruitment meeting
  3. talk up idea with friends
  4. place notices in organizations, churches, and do flyer mailing to likely groups
  5. send out press release
  6. find friendly reporter to write story

6. Members make commitment:

  1. to pay in advance of receipt of food (whether by season, month, or other schedule) and regardless of quantity and quality of food due to weather conditions
  2. to participate in farm, distribution, and other CSA work

7. Establish the legal status of the CSA. Many groups defer decisions on legal structure for a season or two. Advice from a lawyer may be helpful. Existing options include:

  1. consumer cooperative
  2. sole proprietorship or partnership of farmer(s)
  3. corporation or limited liability company
  4. nonprofit corporation (or branch of existing one)
  5. farmer-owned co-op

8. Determine capitalization of the farm(s). Many CSAs start with minimum of rented or borrowed land and equipment. For the longer term, decisions must be made on purchase and maintenance. Options include:

  1. farmer(s) capitalize
  2. members capitalize through fees
  3. the group seeks grants
  4. the group seeks loans. Possible sources include Farm Credit, National Cooperative Bank, members, commercial banks, revolving loan funds, pre-sale of farm produce coupons
Options for land tenure include:
  1. private holding
  2. land trust
  3. lease agreement with private owner or institution

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