This is the CSA Guild's definition of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA):
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a unique food distribution system that connects a farmer with a community of eaters in order to form a sustainable system for local food production and consumption. CSAs first took root in Japan and Europe in the early 1960s and made their way to North America in the early 1980s.
CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes—either legally or spiritually—the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Most CSA farms focus on vegetables, but many provide meat, eggs, cheese, preserves, and other farm products directly to consumers.
- Members benefit by having direct access to fresh, local food on a regular basis. Access to this produce at farmers' markets and grocery stores can be hit or miss; by supporting a farm directly, CSA members are ensured access to a consistent supply of high-quality produce.
- Members share in the rewards of a bountiful harvest but also share in the risk of farming. If harvests are low due to drought or flood, for example, there are generally no refunds to members. This concept is called "Shared Risk."
- Most of the food provided to members should be produced by the farmer. An organization sourcing products from the wholesale market and distributing the products in a "CSA style" manner is not a CSA. There is no shared risk. A CSA farm can source other local products to supplement the farm's CSA products, but at least 75% of the products sold by the farm should be grown on the farm. Farms should convey the sources of all of the products sold to their customers. If sourcing products from more than 5 farms, there should be a policy agreement among the farms.
- There is an opportunity for developing connections and relationships between the farmer, the land and members through the farm newsletters, on-farm events, volunteering on the farm, etc.
- The revenue from purchasing CSA products goes directly to the farmer at full retail value for their farm products.
- CSA farms use sustainable agricultural methods, such as organic agriculture, to preserve the longevity and productivity of the farm for future generations. In addition, CSA farms explain their production methods to their customers.