How to Start and Run a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Group

A CSA group can be fulfilling and profitable if you are willing to invest the time, energy and money required to get things going.

| February/March 1999

In 1992, Debby and Pete Kavakos began growing produce on an acre of their homestead property, Stoneledge Farm, in upstate New York. They sold their vegetables at a local farmers' market and to restaurants. Although they knew they wanted to expand their business, they realized after a few seasons that local markets would not be big enough to support their growth.

They thought of selling at farmers' markets in New York City, about three hours away. "My family has been farming for generations, and my great-grandfather sold his goods in New York City," says Debby, "so that's a natural connection for us." But with a distant farmers' market, Debby would have to spend a couple of full days in the city each week--leaving in the morning before her four children woke up and returning at night after they were asleep.

In 1996, the Kavakos learned about community supported agriculture (CSA, through an organic agriculture newsletter. In CSA, members buy shares of farm's harvest before the season begins; Then, usually June through late fall. CSA members receive a share of the farm's bounty. CSA growers may make weekly deliveries to distribution points. or members may pick up at the farm. Typically, seven to ten types of fresh. usually organic vegetables are delivered or picked up each week.

The Kavakos thought that a city-based CSA group might meet their needs "A big part 6i the reason we enjoy farming is the family aspect of it, and the CSA group allows us to tap the city market, but with a much shorter trip. It takes between six and eight hours total to drive down, unload the truck, visit with members and maybe do a little city shopping, then drive back," Debby explains. "It works into our family and our marketing goals."

To start their group, Debby contacted just Food, a New York City nonprofit organization that works on food-related issues. Just Food helped her find a few interested city people who could work with her to bulld a membership and to find a distribution site. The Kavakos now grow 140 shares on 15 acres. and would like to expand to 300 shares over the next three or four years. Two CSA groups comprise more than 90% of the couple's business, with their remaining shares going to a few local people. With the promise of growth, Stoneledge has been able to invest in a 40' x 60' pole barn and some new equipment, including a tractor and delivery truck. Debby now farms full time, with help from the Kavakos kids; they hope that next year, Pete will be able to quit his off-farm job and work with the family full time, as well.

The CSA group is not a perfect solution for the Kavakos. "We might be able to make more per acre if we sold at a farmers' market," Debby says. "And there's lots of stress because people have already paid and have expectations of our deliveries. Plus, managing the CSA group is not always easy. It took a while to build trust and respect between the growers and the members. At first, we were worried: Are the members going to tell us how to run our farm? We're still working out some of those communications and a sense of which jobs the members do and which things we do. It's a continual learning process."

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