CSA – What is that?!
By Jodi Gauker
CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s a business model whereby customers INVEST in a farm business by making an up-front contribution to a farm in the winter or spring, when a farmer is purchasing seeds, soil, fertilizer, and other supplies for the year and capital is needed.
In return the customer-investor receives a “share” of the farm each week throughout the growing season. Think: greens in the early part of the season, tomatoes in the summer, and root vegetables and squashes during the fall. This all could be yours!
AgConnect partnered with two teams of MBA students from Temple University’s Fox School of Business over the past year to conduct two research studies on CSAs.
The questions at hand: Are CSAs still viable business models for beginning specialty crop (produce) farmers? And if so, how are they to market themselves to stand out in a vibrant local food movement where local food is (allegedly) available through mail order, grocery stores, farm stands, and farmers’ markets.
Good news! CSAs are still relevant and successful business models for beginning produce farmers. However, to be most successful, farmers must excel in the following 5 areas:
- Customer Service
- Management (of labor, time, and resources)
CSAs are a great way to receive fresh, local produce at a very reasonable cost, most often less expensive than you’d find in a grocery store because you’re going directly to the source, the farmer, and not paying a middle man for transportation and storage.
CSAs also provide an opportunity to learn how to use a variety of produce you may not have purchased before. The food stays fresher longer because it hasn’t been sitting on a store shelf, often picked the morning of your pick up. And, it gives the farmer the capital they need to grow their crops when they are in the early stages of their business when it’s really difficult to qualify for a small business loan.
Want to make an investment in YOUR local farmer? Find a CSA near you through the Chester County Farm Products Guide if you’re a Chester County resident, and through Penn State Extension’s CSA map to find a CSA farm anywhere in Pennsylvania!
Jodi Gauker serves as program manager for the Chester County Economic Development Council’s AgConnect program as well as executive director of Lundale Farm. Gauker holds a bachelor’s degree in Animal Sciences from Penn State and a master’s degree in Agricultural Education from Texas A&M.
She is married to Lee, a 9th generation farmer at the family’s Gauker Farms and they are parents to Callie who is the 10th generation to live on the farm. She can often be found at area Farmers’ Markets selling delicious cuts of meat from the family farm.
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