CSA farmers and members!

Inspired by the examples of CSA networks in other countries, I have a suggestion that may help us reinvigorate our movement, encourage new people to join CSAs, and win the support of wellness programs.

Here is my proposal: Let’s create a CSA charter or pledge that all CSAs can use in an energetic publicity and educational campaign to grow our share of the pie of eaters. If we can agree on language, sometime early this winter, after the election frenzy recedes, we can print this in all the CSA member newsletters, in all the state and regional network publications – Fair Share Coalition, CAFF, Just Food, the NOFAs, PASA, Small Farm Central, etc. and get a lot of public attention. Having a clear (though not too detailed) definition, will give us greater weight in advocating with wellness programs and insurance companies to get their support. It will also help us differentiate farm-based CSAs from the aggregators, even the well-intentioned ones, that sell weekly bags of produce that look like CSA shares, although the farmers are paid just as though they sold to any wholesale market.

As has been noted in the NYTimes and by people closer to CSA – Simon Huntley, of Small Farm Central, and Steven McFadden, author of Farms of Tomorrow Revisited – many CSAs all over the country have been having trouble recruiting and retaining members.  Farms that had waiting lists no longer even have as many members as they would like. Based on interviews with former CSA members, Simon Huntley has some good ideas for making CSAs more “customer-centric” while retaining the essentials of CSA. He advises improving member retention through asking members what they need, offering more choices and continually educating them about the food (“CSA: We have a Problem,” 8/17/2016). While Huntley is fine tuning business as usual, Steven McFadden admonishes the public to wake up and recognize the transformative potential of CSA as an emergency response to climate change (“Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones,” see * quote below).

Lumper that I am, I think we can both retain more members and as climate change intensifies, awaken ourselves and the public to the transformative potential of CSA. A Charter campaign will allow us to harness our collective power.

I have had the good fortune of being involved with Urgenci, the international CSA network (www.urgenci.net), and learning about CSAs around the world. In almost every country and on several continents where there are CSAs, either the farmers themselves or their CSA network creates a charter or pledge that lays out the basic values that CSAs share, in effect defining what CSA means for the public. In the US, we have never had a national CSA network or an agreed upon definition. In advocating for CSAs, I have shied away from government involvement, hoping that the CSA concept would spread on its own, leaving every farm or core group of eaters free to do it in their own way.  Times change, however, and as Simon Huntley notes, this is the 30th anniversary of Indian Line Farm and Temple-Wilton Farm, the first so-named CSAs. Or maybe we should throw in another five years to the anniversary of Booker T. Whatley’s concept of “clientele membership clubs” for small farms and call this the 35th anniversary. (I remember early in my farming years reading Whatley’s Handbook on How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres: With Special Plans for Prospering on 10 to 200 Acres and thinking it will take me a lifetime to acquire all the skills needed to realize that plan! CSA is a bit simpler.) What Whatley, Robyn Van En and Trauger Groh had in common was the intention to enable family-scale farms to survive in the hostile environment of industrial, corporate agriculture.

I will stick my neck out and suggest a first draft for the charter. In putting this together, I have not invented anything, but drawn from the charters and principles of the French, Japanese, British and other countries. Please be generous with suggestions for improvement!

CSA Charter

The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms of the United States affirm these defining values as principles of community supported agriculture in our country.

CSA is the name that we give to a diversity of approaches that aim to strengthen direct farmer-eater relationships.  Sharing the risks and benefits is the essence of CSA.

CSA can be based in any food, fuel or fiber producing initiative where the community shares the responsibilities, risks and rewards of production in a spirit of mutual trust and openness. This may be through payment in advance, ownership, investment, sharing the costs of production, or provision of labor. CSA is diverse, ranging from a few farms that are 100% CSA, where the farm is self-sufficient and receives regular support from members with farm work and administration, to farms where the bulk of the work and organization is by the farmer and the farm crew, with some supplementary produce bought in from other farms to fill out the share or provide crops the farm does not produce. It is up to the farm and community to build a model which suits them best. Every CSA is different, yet we share common features.

Since the first US CSAs in the 1980’s, the purpose of developing CSAs has been:

to maintain and further the development of local agriculture and locally controlled economies,

to provide a steady income for family-scale farms that use agroecological (organic and sustainable or regenerative) practices that respect humans, the environment and all living creatures,

to preserve existing farms and enable new people to make a life in farming,

to preserve farmland,

to provide dignified work in food production,

to increase biodiversity and locally adapted seeds and breeds,

to give consumers the opportunity to directly support local, environmentally responsible farms and to connect with the land from which their food comes,

and to contribute to food sovereignty that favors family-scale farms in the spirit of solidarity.

CSA farmers and CSA members mutually commit to a partnership as co-producers and this partnership supports three pillars which represent CSA core values:

People Care

Mutual assistance and solidarity: A direct connection that provides fair and steady income for the producer and a relationship based on trust with the customers/members. The essence of this partnership lies, not in trading itself, but in the friendly relationships between people and efforts for mutual understanding and dialogue. The continuous development of this partnership requires the deepening of relationships between producers and their customers, learning about one another’s situations and increasing responsibility for one another.

The member commits to the CSA for an entire season and pays some part of the fee in advance. And the farm provides access to healthy food at affordable prices.

Earth Care

A chance for the land and biodiversity to flourish through agroecological farming methods that build soil health and shared interest in these methods of production.

Fair Share

A share in the harvest of healthy (mostly organic or biodynamic), local and low fossil fuel produce; a connection with the producer, the land and the community of members. This includes a commitment from the farmer to fill the share with produce grown on her/his own farm or clearly identified as coming from another farm, and from the members to support the farmer through both good and poor harvests, and to be flexible about accepting what the farmer harvests each week.

Maintaining appropriate scaleThe full practice of ecological management and solidarity will be difficult if the membership or the territory of a CSA becomes too large. The development of this movement in terms of membership should be promoted through increasing the number of CSAs and the collaboration among them.

Continual improvement and steady development.  In most cases, neither producers nor consumers will be able to enjoy perfect conditions from the very beginning. Therefore, it is necessary for both of them to choose promising partners, even if their present situation is unsatisfactory, and to go ahead with the effort to advance in mutual cooperation.

At the 6th International CSA Conference in Beijing, Nov. 2016, CSAs marked their places on a map of the world. (Most of the US CSAs are missing…)

Common practices

However the CSA is structured, certain working practices are common to all CSA farms (although a farm may demonstrate all or only some of these characteristics). These include:

Direct distribution

Members buy directly from the farm or group of farms. There is no middleman. CSA farms are not food hubs or shops; although they may buy some produce or supplementary items in to bulk up their share and they may run an on-farm shop or participate in a farmer-run store or cooperative stand at a farmers’ market. CSA may make up all or only part of the whole farm enterprise. The farmers consult with the members and take member preference into account in deciding what crops to produce. In exchange, the members accept what the farm produces and learn to base their diet as much as possible on the food from their farm. Together with the farm, members seek ways to make the food available to people with low incomes.

Shared risk

Producer and consumer share the risks of production through a pre-arranged agreement or contract between members and the farm that usually includes commitment for an entire season, the crops to be grown and fair price to be paid or through investment in the farm (whether financial or through time commitment). In deciding the price of the produce, producers take full account of savings in labor and cost, due to grading and packaging processes being curtailed, as well as of all their produce being accepted; and consumers take into full account the benefit of getting fresh, safe, tasty and nutrient dense foods as well as the importance of fair compensation to farmers and all who work on the farms.

Connection to the farm

Members have the opportunity to understand the extraordinary commitment a farmer demonstrates to produce our food, and an opportunity to be connected to the working life of a farm and what’s produced there.

Please send me your comments about the content and about whether you think this is a good idea.  If you do think a Charter campaign should happen, please volunteer and let me know how you can help!


In France, CSA is called AMAP – Association for the Maintenance of Peasant Agriculture.  The Peasant Federation has a definition of Peasant Agriculture that is registered with the government. So when French customers become “Amapiens” they are stepping up to support a form of agriculture that is deeply imbedded in French culinary culture and social history. The French 2014 AMAP Charter ends with a series of commitments from the AMAP Peasants and the AMAP members (excuse my rough translation):

An Economic Commitment:

The AMAP Peasants: to deliver at agreed upon intervals food that is in season, fresh or processed, diverse and grown on their own farm.  To negotiate transparently with CSA members a price that is stable, guaranteed and fair for the duration of the contract. Through solidarity with other farms, a CSA can include food from those farms as long as it is clearly labeled as such.

For the AMAP members: to contract for and pay in advance of receipt of the food for the given period a price that is fair, and to accept that weather fluctuations and other events beyond the farmer’s control will affect what the farm can produce.

An Ethical Commitment:

For the AMAP Peasants: to conduct their activities and to evolve over time with full respect for the values of this charter in cooperation with CSA members: to be fully transparent about farming, husbandry and processing practices.

For the AMAP members: to help assure the continuation of the CSA, and to behave in a manner that is respectful of the values in this charter.

A Social Engagement

For the AMAP Peasants: to always be present when members pick up their shares (or send a representative), to develop and maintain connections with members, to educate members about farming and the life of the farm, to organize educational visits to the farm, and to be active in the AMAP movement and related networks.

For the AMAP members: to actively participate in the AMAP (deliveries, communications, organizing, relations with the farmers, the administration of the AMAP and AMAP networks); to respect the AMAP structure and practices; to participate in visits to the farm or to help organize visits; to support the educational work of the farmers; to take part in the AMAP movement.

By signing this charter, farmers and customers commit to participate actively in the movement for regenerative agriculture and a local, equitable, solidarity economy.


*Steven McFadden has written a short book that is a summons to organize thousands more CSAs based in Biodynamic, associative economics: Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones

CSA farms are complex material and metaphysical systems that through community networks can establish clean, stable agrarian foundations for the high-speed, high-tech digital-wave culture that continues to emerge so dynamically. CSA farms amplify food security, and involve diverse communities of people from neighborhoods, churches and businesses in sustainable activities that increase food security while building healthy soil to trap greenhouse gases. Through exploration and application of Associative Economic concepts, CSA is incubating a quintessence of social, economic, and environmental intelligence. What has been incubated so far is wholesome, and has potential to seed a wealth of blessings.

The necessity and the opportunity is before us to help awaken hundreds of thousands of CSA farms in communities around the world, and to thereby employ an emerging, egalitarian model to address the radically changing circumstances in our climate, economics, and social relationships.