Community Supported Agriculture Back »

Written by Chris Zdorovtsov, former SDSU Extension Community Vitality Field Specialist.


CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture, and it is an alternative market that has gained popularity across the nation as well as in South Dakota. This type of program allows a farmer to sell subscriptions or shares to customers prior to the growing season. They then deliver the produce or food product to the customer on a scheduled basis when it is harvested or prepared. The consumer is investing in the farmer, sharing in the risk of a poor season and the rewards of a bountiful season. Due to shorter travel distances, CSA are often able to grow produce that is known for its flavor. Often these producers provide unique looking or shaped vegetables that are not available in the main stream markets. Consumers purchasing through this outlet are able to know their farmer and will often be able to participate in farm visits or even work days if desired.

What is a CSA? Selling food through Community Supported Agriculture

A Consumer’s Perspective

CSA’s can vary from home delivery to a specified pick-up site, Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly deliveries could strictly contain produce or meats to a range of products from a multi-farm CSA. In South Dakota prices are seen from $350—$780, however this range results from a difference in delivery contents and the number of weeks the subscription runs. In South Dakota we typically see anywhere from 12-26 week subscriptions. The production method will also be a factor, with Certified Organic produce, for example, costing more.

A Producer’s Perspective

Is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) market right for you? Instead of trying to obtain money from a financial institution, the CSA model asks your customers to provide funding up front, before the growing season, which will provide you with cash for early season purchases such as seeds, plants, equipment and packaging. You can build a strong budget with a CSA market that allows you to estimate your total expenses and the exact number of customers you will need for income. During the winter season energy is focused on planning and marketing. During the growing season you are able to flip focus to primarily production, harvest and distribution. CSA producers who provide high quality products and keep their customers happy will find that they have limited turnover of customers from year to year.

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