Community Supported Agriculture: Fresh Produce from the Farm to Your Table

Think the only way to get farm fresh produce is going to the farmers’ market? Think again. Here’s what you need to know about CSA: community supported agriculture.

Imagine having fresh produce that looks and tastes like it was picked a few hours ago. Imagine cleaning, preparing, and enjoying those vegetables with your family for dinner without having to plant the seeds, tend to the garden, or harvest the crops. Imagine the healthful benefits of fresh-picked veggies without the added costs of having a garden—backyard or rooftop—that may or may not fail with your less-than-green thumb. Enter your new best friend in the kitchen: CSA.


What is CSA?

CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a way of buying fresh produce directly from the farmer. Groups of people in the community come together and partner with a farm to purchase shares in its crops, which gives the community members direct access to high-quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers, and gives the farmers an influx of money in the off season to prepare for the growing season.

On a predetermined day once a week, CSA group members go to a designated distribution site to pick up their share of the farmer’s crops. Every member gets the same variety and amount of produce. That means members don’t have a say in what they get in their shares each week. Farmers will pick what’s ready to be harvested, package it in bulk, and deliver the packages to the distribution site. Then volunteers will help members pack their share of veggies according to the share list provided by the farmer. Only a handful of community-based CSAs will have shares prepackaged by the farmers.

“A couple of years ago, I was speaking with one of our farmers, and he said he spends half of his yearly outlay between January 1 and March 1. So ideally, members pay upfront during the off season to help offset some of those costs,” says Paula Lukats, program director for Just Food, a New York City nonprofit that supports community leaders in advocating for an increased access to healthy foods within their communities.

So how is CSA different from a farmers’ market? “With the CSA, you have a relationship with a specific farmer,” Lukats says. “You get to know them, and you get to visit the farm each year and can see how they’re growing, ask them questions about the farm, how they make farming decisions. On the flip side they get to know their members, so they can get recommendations for what people would like to see in their shares.”

Another main difference, Lukats says, is with the CSA, farmers are driving into the city knowing that they’ve already sold all the vegetables in their truck. With the farmers’ markets, farmers may end up driving a half-full truck back to the farm and have to figure out what to do with the produce.

“I’d say 90-95 percent of what we grow goes to the CSA,” says Bob Walker, farm manager at certified-organic Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, which has been offering CSA shares for eight years. “So it’s kind of a members’ farm.”

While all CSA farms offer produce shares, some also offer shares in other foods, including fruit, honey, meat, dairy, eggs, flowers, mushrooms, and syrups. “We offer other shares that lets us partner with some smaller farms in the area that grow, say, berries, which is something we don’t,” says Maryellen Driscoll, who owns certified-organic Free Bird Farm in Palatine Bridge with her husband. “We offer a fruit share, and I really like that we can partner with other farms and offer them another outlet they might not be able to do otherwise.”

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sunset park csa
Photo: Diana Liao

Community-based CSA shares, such as this Sunset Park CSA in Brooklyn, are usually delivered in bulk, then members put together their own shares based on the share list the farmer provides.


Why Participate in CSA?

“People join for a lot of different reasons,” Lukats says. “But I think one of the major reasons is that it’s a great way to get food that you know where it’s coming from and how it was grown. It’s grown for quality and taste not for transportability.”

For 20-24 weeks, typically starting in June and running until sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving, CSA members will receive seven to 10 different types of produce each week. The actual produce varies each week depending on what part of the growing season it is.

Lukats says that in June, members will likely receive greens, radishes, onions, scallions, spring garlic, and other early vegetables. As the season progresses, shares typically include carrots, beets, cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash. Then summer produce comes: peppers, eggplants, corn, tomatoes, lettuces, and kale. As the season moves into fall, shares might still include corn, tomatoes, and peppers, along with root crops such as potatoes, onions, winter squash, beets, carrots, rutabaga, collard greens, and Swiss chard.

“You get a lot of different varieties,” Lukats says. “Sometimes you have to be a little adventurous in trying something new, but it also introduces people to a much wider range of food than they have access to.”

Peter Kavakos, whose family owns certified-organic Stoneledge Farm in Leeds, says they grow a lot of “unusual” things to keep CSA members interested in the program. Stonelege Farm grows a variety of tomatoes and eggplants “so people aren’t getting just a regular red tomato or black eggplant,” Kavakos says, heading into the farm’s 20th season delivering CSA shares.

“We tend to have a slightly more diverse package of vegetables for our CSAs,” says Zaid Kurdieh, whose Norwich Meadows Farm in Norwich is certified organic and has been participating in CSA since 2001. The farm frequently grows heirloom tomatoes and fingerling, purple, and red potatoes. Other “unusual” produce in Norwich Meadows Farm’s shares has been ginger and Middle Eastern cucumber. 

Another benefit—and the most healthful—is the freshness of the produce. The farmers harvest the produce for CSAs the day before, and sometimes the morning of, delivery. “The nutrients start degrading as soon as you pick the produce,” Kurdieh says. “And produce that is fresh packs a higher wallop.”

“Because the vegetables tend to be fresher and more flavorful, the children whose families belong to our CSA tend to eat more,” Driscoll says. “This means vegetables become popular snacks and move to the forefront of a meal for children versus an afterthought or, worse, a source of contention.”

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The Farmers’ Prospective

The farmers we spoke to all said that CSAs have helped stabilize their farms and keep them going. “We have farmers who have said that if it weren’t for CSA, their farm wouldn’t be in business,” Lukats says.

“It’s a terrific business model in terms of being able to plan and budget and not waste and predict as best you can in the risky world of farming,” says Driscoll, who is heading into the farm’s sixth year offering CSA. She and her husband bought Free Bird Farm in 1999 and were trying to avoid the wholesale model “because it’s not a very sustainable way of farming,” she says. And as fun as farmers’ markets are, Driscoll says they are weather dependent and take her or her husband off the farm for a full day.

Kurdieh adds that CSA has “been the backbone of our farm. Although now we have substantial sales at farmers’ markets and restaurants, CSA remains our early funding. That’s how we get the money to get up and running.”

Some farms have even been able to expand acreage due to the support from CSA, which allows them to offer more varieties of produce and rotate crops yearly.

“Having the connection with the members, knowing the members, having kids grow up on their food—I think helps,” Lukats says. “Farming can be a really hard profession, so having that direct connection and knowing that people are really getting and appreciating and benefitting from the food that you’re growing, I think is a huge added benefit to our farmers.”


Interested in Joining a CSA?

Most CSA groups start sign-ups for the season between Feb. 1 and April 1, Lukats says. That’s the time you should start researching and reaching out to groups in the community to find the right fit. 

How to Get Started Rockland, Bergen, Westchester, Fairfield, or Long Island

Visit, where you can search by zip code to find CSA groups—as well as farmers’ markets and stores that source from local farms—in your area and learn about the farms providing to those specific groups, what those farms offer in terms of produce or other shares, and see share prices, options, and delivery days.

How to Get Started in New York City

Visit, where you can search by zip code for the most convenient CSA drop, whether near your apartment or workplace, and learn about the farms providing to specific groups, what those farms offer in terms of produce or other shares, and see share prices, options, and delivery days.

Can’t find a CSA near you? Lukats says to call Just Food, and they’ll help get a group started in your area. The nonprofit hosts workshops about how to start a CSA, during which you’ll learn how Just Food can help and how to connect with a farmer, find a distribution site, and begin recruiting members.


Lukats says produce shares cost on average $500-$600 for the season, depending on which farm supplies the shares—extra shares such as fruit, honey, eggs, and meat cost extra. But don’t let the cost scare you: It averages out to approximately $20-$30 per week. Some farms offer half shares for those who have smaller families or don’t cook as often but would still like to participate in the program, and some farms and CSA groups offer payment plans.

Almost all CSA groups have one requirement, though: Members need to volunteer for a few hours each season at the distribution site. “It takes a group effort of all the members to make things run smoothly,” Lukats says.

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Main photo: Maryellen Driscoll and her son pick radishes on their farm Free Bird Farm, which is heading into its sixth year offering CSAs.
Photo by Richard Walker