Written by Chris Zdorovtsov (Former SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist).
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs can offer a wide variety of benefits to consumers.
CSA’s, like other local food markets, offer a source of fresh food that was recently harvested. Produce does not typically have far to travel, so it can be harvested close to peak ripeness, when flavor is at its best. Produce that is shipped to a store must hold up well while being transported. Flavor may not be a priority quality compared to shipping quality in the selection of that produce. It also must be picked earlier to allow for shipping time.
When producers are growing product for larger, wholesale markets, they are often tied to growing specific varieties with specific traits. A CSA is often known for its diversity of products, so consumers will often get exposed to a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables. They will also often see variety within a certain crop, such as a mixed selection of unique tomatoes, summer squash, or salad greens. Of course this is always dependent on the grower and their offerings.
Consumers can get to know their grower and find a supplier who offers production practices that meet their preferences. In purchasing from that local grower they are helping support a local business and the economy in their community.
For consumers there can be the added benefit of time savings and not having to garden themselves or spend as much time at the grocery store. When the drop-off point for a subscription is right to their home or place of work, it is even more convenient for the customers. When comparing CSA subscription costs and typical customer purchases, there is potential for cost savings. However, again this may vary, as a local producer may charge more, or the customer may buy more than they would normally purchase.
Producers should keep benefits such as these in mind and use them when marketing and recruiting new customers. Additionally, completing a customer survey during the season may also provide producers with additional benefits that are specific to their operation.