Producers Adapt as CSAs Become More Common

Fresh produce

Community supported agriculture memberships can encompass everything from fresh produce baskets weekly, to other farm products like fresh eggs, flowers and even value-added products like preserves. 


“Community Supported Agriculture,” or CSA, is a form of direct farm marketing that spread nationwide after starting in Massachusetts during the 1980s. The classic CSA marketing model involves farm customers – known as CSA members or shareholders – to pay a fee to a farm before a production season. In return, the “shareholders” receive a certain amount of farm products weekly for a set number of weeks.

“CSA began on farms focused on vegetable production,” said Megan Bruch Leffew, University of Tennessee Extension marketing specialist with the Center for Profitable Agriculture (CPA). “The concept has spread to many kinds of farms, with CSA-like subscriptions now offered for farm products including eggs, flowers and value-added goods like preserves.”

The CSA model continues to evolve over time. Farms may adapt the CSA concept is to shorten the “share” length, often offering installment payment plans to make it easier for customers to pay in advance. “CSA farms have discovered many new customers are more likely to sign up if the upfront financial commitment is less than a whole season,” said Rob Holland, CPA director.

Selling farm “shares,” or subscriptions, is not without challenges. Clear communication is needed between farm and customer, and a legally-binding customer agreement for CSA shareholders can require significant time and expertise. While subscription agreements can help farmers plan production and provide pre-season income, producers need to set prices carefully, building in allowances for changes in product prices and increased production expenses.

For more information about incorporating direct marketing strategies like CSA into a farm marketing plan, producers may consult the UT Extension publication “Choosing Direct Marketing Channels for Agricultural Products” (PB 1796) at your county UT Extension office or available online at  Click on the link to “Publications” and search for the title.

More information about the CPA and its services are available online at the center’s website:

Through its mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions.
Megan Bruch Leffew or Rob Holland, Center for Profitable Agriculture, 931-486-2777