#42 CSA in the City

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What is a CSA?

Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a direct marketing relationship in which farmers sell their products directly to consumers.  Farmers receive payment up front at the beginning of the season, and CSA member receive a share of the farm’s produce throughout the season. CSAs allow for greater early season capital, price control, and risk-sharing for farmers. There are many models for CSAs, and these and more general information is provided by the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) at nofany.org/organic-farming/food-justice-program/csa. In cities, CSAs can provide urban farmers a relatively low-risk direct marketing option, as well as reduced transportation costs and opportunities for community engagement in their farm.

Just Food CSA in New York City Program

Just Food’s CSA in New York City program provides an array of resources for urban farmers interested in marketing via a CSA, including tipsheets and the Just Food CSA in New York City Toolkit. Note that these resources are specific to New York City residents and farmers participating in the Just Food CSA Network, but include some general information that is relevant to urban farmers statewide.
Just Food also hosts monthly CSA in New York City workshops on subjects including accepting food stamps, outreach, tracking member data, and more. Visit the Just Food website at justfood.org for details.
The following information is provided by Just Food, and can be found in-full at the website provided above.

Size and Variety of CSA Shares

Because urban dwellers tend to have smaller households and dine out more frequently, urban CSA shares are often smaller than rural shares. Just Food offers the following guidelines for determining appropriate share size:

  • Describe the size of your share in terms of 1) number of items per week, 2) number of people that the share could feed, or 3) weekly dollar value of the share;
  • Survey CSA members to determine the best share size for your farm;
  • Conduct an end-of-season survey to determine if share size was appropriate and what produce members did and did not like, or what they would have wanted but did not receive.


Share Pricing

Urban farmers should take the following three factors into account when pricing CSA shares:

  1. Cost of production for the CSA, including labor, land, inputs, equipment, infrastructure, transportation, administration, health insurance, as well as long-term costs such as land tenure;
  2. Wholesale and market prices of crops intended for the CSA share; and
  3. Market rate for New York City and other city CSA shares.


Distribution Sites

Things to consider when choosing a distribution site include a space to park without getting ticketed, a minimum number of stairs from the street to the distribution site, a secure storage space if intending to store supplies between distributions, and a space that is easily cleaned.

For More Information

Just Food’s Online Resource Center includes tipsheets with additional information about the CSA in NYC program and urban CSAs. Tipsheets are available in English (justfood.org/farmer-outreach/online-resource-center) and Spanish (justfood.org/farmer-outreach/spanish-language-resources).
Elizabeth Henderson’s Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture (Chelsea Green, 2007) provides information on crop planning, yield information, and budgeting for CSA planning, as well as a survey of varying CSA models across the country.

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Tara Hammonds

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