The Changing Face of Community-Supported Agriculture



Community-supported agriculture (CSA) establishes a direct connection between producers and consumers of locally grown produce. Members typically pay a seasonal fee in advance of the growing season in return for weekly shares of produce throughout the course of the growing season. This paper is based upon survey and interview data collected among members of From the Ground Up, a CSA located in Maryland. The main purpose of this paper is to answer two major research questions. “How has From the Ground Up CSA evolved?” and “Why have these changes occurred?”


In short, individuals and/or families become members of small farms (known as community-supported agriculture [CSAs]) and are provided with weekly allotments of generally organic produce in return for a seasonal fee. Jan Vander Tuin is generally credited with bringing CSA to the United States in 1985. He left a CSA in Switzerland to start a similar project in South Egremont, Massachusetts with Robin Van En (Bowman 1991). Van En was a leading advocate of CSA and coined the term. Throughout the last two decades, CSAs have spread throughout North America and brought together people with an interest in local food production. For a more complete overview of CSA, see Lang (2005), Goland (2002), DeLind (1999), and Kane and Lohr (1997).

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (2007), there were 12,549 CSAs in the United States in 2007. In spite of the increasing numbers of CSAs in the United States and throughout the world, academic research on them has been limited. The studies that have been conducted tend to focus on correlates of CSA membership, the costs and benefits of CSA membership and turnover among CSA members. The main purpose of this paper is to examine the evolution of From the Ground Up (FGU) CSA in Maryland. It started as the Chesapeake CSA, a small CSA that revolved around the Washington Waldorf School and the Acorn Hill Children's Center. Over the course of 15 years, it experienced a number of changes in the number of members, the responsibilities of its members and ways in which members received their shares. This paper explains the reasons for those changes.

The Challenges Faced by CSA Operators

One of the biggest challenges of CSA is to stagger crops so that everything matures at different times and produces yields throughout the entire growing season instead of in periodic bunches. Members are most satisfied when they receive a regular assortment of diversified produce throughout the entire season (Stone 1988). Thus a main challenge is to have enough variety to make eating vegetables interesting year-round (Innis 1994). Other challenges of CSA revolve around learning which fruits and vegetables grow best in one's region, how much produce should go in an individual weekly share and how many people should be involved (Devault 1991).

Numerous CSA operators, like tens of thousands of family farmers, have also had a difficult time accessing credit to purchase seeds and to cover other labor, equipment, and operating costs. Many CSAs expect full payment in advance of the growing season to provide operating capital. Scores of CSAs around the country have also experienced high rates of member turnover (see Cicero 1993, Goland 2002, and Kane and Lohr 1997). End-of-year surveys have shown that many members express frustration over being unable to choose the items in their weekly allotments. Many members also feel that they often get too much or too little of the same thing at certain points during the growing season (Kane and Lohr 1997). Similarly, Goland (2002) points out that many CSA members experience frustration when cooking unfamiliar vegetables.

Some CSAs have payment plans, accept Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) payments and even offer free shares to needy families. Many CSAs have also begun to offer half shares as a way to keep prices down and help people from being overwhelmed with too much produce. For the convenience of members who do not live nearby, many CSAs have been delivering weekly shares to neighborhood drop-off points for years (McIlvaine-Newsad et al. 2004). A small number of CSAs have also experimented with offering weekly fruit, bread, flower, cheese, and meat shares.


In the spring of 2000, I arranged a tour of FGU CSA in Upper Marlboro, Maryland as part of my doctoral dissertation research. I wanted to learn more about this CSA because it has been in operation for many years and is affiliated with two non-profit groups including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB). In a recent survey, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York Inc. found that the median number of members among 120 CSAs in New York was 45 in 2007. With its 240 members, FGU has more members than many other CSAs. I was interested in assessing any differences that existed between this larger CSA and the four smaller ones in my study.

Upon touring the farm, I mentioned to the CSA operator that I was administering surveys to the members of several CSAs located in the mid–Atlantic region of the United States. I asked the CSA operator if I could also administer a survey to the members of his CSA. I made it clear that I would share all of my data and findings with the farm's members and two co-operators. The operator obliged and provided me with a listing of the members' contact information. The data that serves as the basis for this paper comes from the surveys that I administered and follow-up in-depth interviews that I conducted with a small number of members and farm employees.

In the fall of 2000, I administered a combination of four electronic and paper waves of surveys to the farm's 240 members. The mailing consisted of a cover letter and a 59-question survey. In addition to asking demographic questions, the survey asked respondents to list reasons why they joined this CSA and to answer a series of closed-ended questions relating to community attachment, support for sustainable agriculture, and concern regarding environmental issues. The final two questions were open-ended and asked respondents what they would change about the CSA and if they had any additional issues, concerns, or stories that they would like to relate. I garnered a lot of rich data from these two questions. All told, 129 of the 240 members (53.8 percent) completed the survey. Roughly forty-three percent of the returned surveys were done via e-mail.

In addition to the survey, I conducted in-depth interviews with nine members of FGU. Each of these interviews lasted more than one hour. I also interviewed the two main operators on three separate occasions. The questions that I asked members and employees, alike, were designed to craft a complete social history of the farm. All told, I visited the farm three times over the course of the 2000 growing season. Most of the members picked up their produce at drop-off points. As part of my research, I spent one day observing the delivery of weekly shares to the six drop-off points that the farm maintained throughout Washington, D.C. I was also able to ask other members questions on that day.

An Overview of FGU

FGU is a five-acre CSA located 15 miles due south of Washington, D.C. FGU has 240 members, most of whom are full (family) members. An individual share cost US$336.00 in 2000 while a family share cost US$608.00. The CSA is one component of the Clagett Farm and is owned and operated by the CBF, a non-profit agency that promotes ecological sustainability through education and outreach programs. The Clagett Farm is 285 acres and has been owned and operated by the CBF since 1980. The property was donated by the Charles Clagett family with the understanding that the farm continue to operate as a working farm while also serving as an educational resource. By eighth grade, 80 percent of the students in the Maryland public school system visit the farm to learn about coastal ecology, habitat preservation, and the sustainable agricultural methods practiced by the CSA.

The CAFB, another non-profit organization, is funded by a number of different governmental programs, corporations, and private citizens. The CAFB is one of the largest food banks in the United States and it donates 20 million pounds of food annually to people in need (The Capital Area Food Bank 2009). The CAFB purchases several shares per season and distributes the weekly shares among many needy people in Washington D.C. In addition to purchasing shares for low-income members, the CAFB pays for produce to be grown that is sold at an inner city farmer's market. Employees of the CSA also drop off weekly bundles of vegetables at the Church of the Brethren, which has a soup kitchen that feeds scores of disenfranchised people a hot lunch every day.

The survey data that I collected reveal that the members of FGU are, by and large, a homogeneous and privileged group. This is a consistent finding in the CSA literature (see Durrenberger 2002; Kane and Lohr 1997; Kolodinsky and Pelch 1997). FGU has 240 members, most of whom are full members, white, female, and college-educated. Most of the members have family memberships (76.2 percent) and three-quarters planned to renew their memberships the following year. Very few of the members (5.5 percent) picked up their share at the farm while 84.4 percent picked up their share at one of six drop-off points in Washington D.C. Table 1 also shows that 41.9 percent of the respondents have ever visited the farm while a much smaller number (22.5 percent) have visited the farm more than twice. Twenty-two and a half percent of the members have been members for longer than two years. The average number of years that a member has belonged is 1.86.

Table 1. 
The Membership Characteristics of From the Ground Up
Pick up shares at the farm5.57/128
Belonged to the farm for at least 2 years22.529/129
Resume membership next year74.883/111
Family membership76.296/126
Visited the farm at least once41.952/124
Have children47.757/120
Graduated from college98.2110/112
Affiliated with a Waldorf school2.43/126
Member of Democrat or Green Party87.296/110
Household income >US$75,00053.962/115
Household income greater than US$95,00041.748/115
Between the ages of 30 and 5580.792/114
Average distance from the community-supported agriculture (in miles)22.0NA
Live within 30 miles of the farm90.586/95

Again, most of the members are white (92.2 percent), female (83.5 percent), and college-educated (98.2 percent). In fact, 74.1 percent of the respondents have graduate or professional degrees. Roughly two-thirds of the respondents are married (65.8 percent) and almost half of them have at least one child (47.7 percent). A very small percentage of respondents (2.4 percent) have an affiliation with a Waldorf school. In addition, 31.4 percent of the respondents are vegetarian, 87.2 percent are supporters of the Democratic or Green Parties while 12.8 percent are Republicans, and 53.9 percent have a household income greater than US$75,000 per year. Almost forty-two percent of those surveyed reported having a household income in excess of US$95,000 per year. In terms of age, 81.7 percent are between the ages of 30 and 55. The average age is 38.2 years. Roughly 91 percent answered that they lived within 30 miles of the farm. The average member lives 22 miles from the farm.

As part of the survey that I administered to the members of FGU, I also asked them to identify the main reasons that they decided to join a CSA. The two most common responses were to obtain locally grown produce (86.0 percent) and to obtain organic produce (83.7 percent). Roughly, three-quarters of the respondents answered that they joined a CSA to support local farmers (77.5 percent) and for environmental reasons (72.9 percent). A smaller number of members answered that they joined in order to support small farmers (59.7 percent) and to improve eating habits (34.1 percent). The three least cited reasons for joining a CSA were to obtain cheaper produce (20.9 percent), to meet like-minded people (10.9 percent), and to learn more about food issues (9.3 percent).

FGU also offers a limited number of partner and supporting shares. A partner share cost US$150.00 and is offered to 20 people who currently receive WIC or food stamps. Unlike many CSAs that require full payment in advance of the growing season, FGU offers a very flexible payment plan in an attempt to attract lower income members. This system has been very difficult for employees to keep track of and non-payment has become a big problem. Several members also have small garden plots of their own at the farm, which they can use to grow food. As an added incentive to visit the farm, people who pick-up their shares at the farm can pick fresh flowers to take home with them. FGU also has a regular newsletter, which is sent electronically to members with e-mail accounts. The newsletters contain recipes and information on farm happenings. They also host an end-of-year harvest festival where members are encouraged to come to the farm and explore the farm that grows the food that they eat.

Although the farm is completely organic it is not certified organic and there are not any immediate plans to initiate the lengthy, bureaucratic, and expensive certification process. In past years, they have experienced drought but are also resisting the idea of incorporating irrigation into their farming system because it is so expensive. The farm administrators plan to expand their relationship with the CAFB and hope to be able to offer more organically grown food to those in need. They would also like to plant fruit trees and be able to offer fruit in their shares. Like many other CSAs, they have also considered tapping into the specialty produce market and growing more gourmet vegetables that could be sold privately to restaurants and stores in and around Washington D.C. As of now, they have not pursued that, however. FGU has made one significant change since this data was collected. FGU has brought back the option for members to have working memberships. In return for working on the farm four hours per week, working members receive weekly bundles of food for free.

The History of FGU

As mentioned previously, FGU is quite large by CSA standards as it consists of 240 members living throughout the metropolitan Washington D.C. area. FGU was not always so big, however. It started out as a much smaller CSA, known as Chesapeake CSA that revolved around the Washington Waldorf School and the Acorn Hill Children's Center. The members of Chesapeake CSA, like many other early CSA members and operators, were heavily influenced by the ideas of Rudolf Steiner, an Eastern European philosopher, educator, theologian, farmer, and architect. Steiner's legacy is that he developed an innovative approach to agriculture known as biodynamics and a progressive approach to education known as Waldorf schooling. According to Moore (1997), the majority of early CSA operators in the United States used biodynamic growing methods. Moore (1997) also notes that the majority of early CSAs had an explicit connection with a Waldorf school.

According to several prominent figures within the CSA movement, including DeLind (1999), Henderson et al. (1999), Lovell (1991), and McFadden and Groh (1997), the majority of present-day CSAs are different from their predecessors of the early 1980s. Historically, many CSAs tended to have a small number of relatively tightly knit people. Early CSAs were community-oriented in a variety of ways. For example, many CSA members in the mid- and late 1980s were working members and core groups of members assisted the farmer with farm-related tasks in return for a reduced cost per share. Thus members would generate sweat equity while promoting a sense of togetherness (DeLind 1999). According to one of the two current FGU members who was also involved with Chesapeake CSA:

This CSA started out as a volunteer group centering around two local Waldorf schools. When we merged with FGU, we gained a low income component and a lot of institutional and financial support, but lost the real community management and involvement. We used to be completely runby shareholders and we would get up to 100 people at a farm festival.Now community involvement is minimal.

As you can see, the Chesapeake CSA was managed by a group of volunteers and shareholders who tended to be very active in all facets of the day-to-day operation. In fact, all of the members of Chesapeake CSA were working members. As with many other CSAs of its era, Chesapeake CSA had a core group of members who served as an advisory board of sorts for the farmer. Upon being offered institutional and financial support through the CBF, the Chesapeake CSA moved to Clagett Farm and changed its name to FGU.

Initially, many of the members of Chesapeake CSA welcomed the idea of moving to a larger farm and receiving funding from a highly regarded environmental organization. The move to the Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro gave them more space to plant crops. The connection with the CBF also gave them a significant enough operating budget that farm administrators and farmers could be hired. Much of the work that farm members had historically undertaken was performed by paid employees and interns. The employees posted posters in local stores as a way to spread the word about this newly established way of obtaining produce throughout the metropolitan Washington D.C. area. Over time, the number of members increased while the degree of member involvement decreased. Member involvement with the Waldorf schooling movement also decreased considerably (see Table 1). Similarly, share prices went up and fewer members visited the farm. It did not take long for all of the founding members to eventually cycle out of the organization.

Why Have these Changes Occurred?

One set of explanations for these changes lies at the organizational level. As many businesses, schools, non-profit groups, and voluntary associations mature, their size, mission, and internal structure often evolves. Based upon the work of Zald and Garner (1987), I argue in the following paragraphs that the primary goals of FGU have been transformed since its inception. I also argue that the CSA has responded to many consumer demands, which have, on one hand, afforded members a greater sense of convenience while also rendering the process less personalized. Finally, the changing of the organization's goals has coincided with its management becoming more professional.

A second change reflects changes in membership characteristics over time. A growing number of Americans have become more interested in healthy eating and there is an increased consumer demand for organically grown produce, whole foods, and gourmet foods. An increased number of people have joined FGU in order to access such produce. Many of them, however, do not appear to be as interested in the community-building component of the farm.

Changes at the Organizational Level

Allen and Kovach (2000), Goodman and DuPuis (2002), Hassanein and Kloppenburg (1995), Hinrichs (2000), McIlvaine-Newsad et al. (2004), and Meares (1997), have argued that activists, scholars, and other people with an interest in alternative and/or sustainable agriculture represent a social movement. Members of this social movement use a variety of strategies to raise awareness about the problems that members have with conventional agricultural practices, such as the use of chemical pesticides and to, above all, promote change. A social movement organization (SMO) is defined as being a complex and formal organization which identifies goals that are part of a wider social movement (McCarthy and Zald 1977). Using the language of McCarthy and Zald (1973), the developers of resource mobilization theory (RMT), CSAs can be seen as a grouping of SMOs within the sustainable agriculture movement because many CSA members share the same concerns as members of the sustainable agriculture movement. McCarthy and Zald (1987), among others, also contend that these individual SMOs have a life cycle in which they become more conservative over time.

One of the most important contributions of RMT is its consideration of the maturing SMO. Resource mobilization theorists assert that as SMOs mature, they change in a variety of different ways. Marx and McAdam (1994:95) state

When compared to the early movement, then, the mature movement is likely to be larger, less spontaneous, better organized, and largely led by formal organizations that have gradually come to replace the ad hoc committees and informal groups that directed the movement at the outset.

Marx and McAdam (1994) identify, for example, how many SMOs including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) have evolved and changed over time. They use the case of the SCLC to show how many SMOs become increasingly financially secure, stable, and conservative as they mature. Increased conservatism and stability may attract more members but as Durrenberger and Erem (2005) note, the organization may lose some of its power to effect change.

The Transformation of Goals

Zald and Garner (1987) contend that SMOs change in three ways as they mature. The first of these changes involves the transformation of goals. Goal transformation is often associated with the diffusion of goals and the pursuit of a broader range of targets. Zald and Garner (1987) make clear that all forms of goal transformation are in the direction of greater conservatism. The primary goals of FGU are to provide people with fresh and healthy produce and to make such food available to people of limited means. It is my sense, however, that the members of Chesapeake CSA saw the provision of food as a secondary goal of the organization. Based upon the interviews that I have conducted as part of this research, I contend that the primary goal of the members of Chesapeake CSA was to build a sense of community among members through extended face-to-face contact, decision-making by consensus, working memberships, and the collective support of two Waldorf schools.

Organizational Maintenance

The second type of change is organizational maintenance. Zald and Garner (1987) describe organizational maintenance as a special form of goal transformation whereby the primary activity of the SMO is to maintain membership and funds. This process of change is also accompanied by conservatism since groups do not want to risk financial insolubility. In other words, maturing SMOs are not likely to take radical stances on issues, precisely because they do not want to alienate members and run the risk of reducing their number of members.

As previously mentioned, many American CSAs have experienced high rates of member turnover throughout the years. Cicero (1993) found, for example, that the turnover rate of a CSA in Wisconsin that she studied was approximately 50 percent during its formative years. In Kane and Lohr's (1997) study, the most common concerns that members had included the oversupply of produce and the demands that membership placed on their time. In their study, Cooley and Lass (1988) observed that CSA members were concerned about the lack of variety in their weekly shares, the lack of choice, and the provision of too much food which, for many, was often wasted. The principal way in which FGU practices organizational maintenance is by responding to the consumer preferences of members.

Like most CSAs, FGU has surveyed its members since its inception. These surveys give members the opportunity to voice any concerns that they may have with their membership. The farmers can, in turn, respond to these concerns by making any number of changes. End-of-year survey results and other member feedback, for example, have prompted FGU to offer smaller shares, different varieties of produce, payment plans, more pick-up sites, more expansive newsletters, and an online blog. In other words, they have served as a mechanism for members to voice concerns and administrators to respond to consumer preferences.

Over the years, FGU has made many changes. For example, working memberships were phased out, members were offered the option of having shares delivered to a drop-off point near their homes, and the number of on-farm events was reduced. I contend that these changes mirror structural changes in American society. Life is different for people today than it was in the 1980s. Contemporary Americans, on average, carry more debt, spend more time commuting to work, have kids who are involved in more activities, and have more “screen time” than people did 20 years ago (Putnam 2001). These trends are exacerbated by the increased percentage of working women and mothers over the last several decades (Putnam 2001). According to Putnam (2001), even though many Americans may not actually be busier than past generations of Americans, they are likely to feel busier. This feeling of busyness limits the number of additional activities that many Americans feel that they can participate in.

One member of FGU characterizes herself and other members as “urban-dwelling workaholics.” In fact, numerous members revealed in the surveys and subsequent interviews that they work full-time and are too busy to do such things as visit the farm, attend potluck dinners, or preserve/freeze extra food. As such, many of the members of FGU, like many other present-day Americans, are busy people with hectic schedules and numerous obligations over the course of a typical week. It is my sense that they simply feel that they do not have the time to be more active in their CSA. In response to this, the farm has gradually cut back the number of member responsibilities.

It makes perfect sense that many present-day CSA members certainly desire fresh produce and want to support local farmers but remain too busy to fully involve themselves in the activities of their respective CSA (see DeLind 2003). My contention is that busy people would rather pay a little more money per share and have fewer, if any, farm-related responsibilities. McIlvaine-Newsad et al. (2004) state that many CSA members in their study of two CSAs in Illinois liked the convenience of having their weekly shares delivered to their homes. Of course, the off-setting proposition is that these members will not get to spend as much time of the farm doing work and interacting with other members.

As DeLind (2003) reminds us, CSA operators are, after all, running small businesses. To paraphrase Goland (2002), many CSA operators have kowtowed to the broader consumer culture in order to maintain the financial viability of their business operations. As small business owners, many CSA operators have recognized the importance of keeping members happy. If numerous CSA members complain about the number of work days or feel that the farm hosts too many potluck dinners, it may be a sound business decision to scale those back in order to keep the members satisfied.


Zald and Garner's (1987) third kind of change is oligarchization. Oligarchization involves the greater concentration of power into the hands of a minority of group members. This has happened in two ways at FGU. First, a small number of staff members has been hired to undertake jobs that have historically been done by members, including picking and bagging produce. Second, an administrative hierarchy has emerged at FGU. The FGU hierarchy includes the farm manager, the head grower, the assistant grower, full-time laborers, part-time laborers, and a number of interns who help to pick produce and bag the shares. FGU, like many present-day CSAs, does not have a core group. Although member feedback is solicited by the farm administrators/managers, a small number of employees make all of the decisions. As such, current members generally maintain a less active role in the day-to-day operations of the CSA than past members have.

Changing Membership Characteristics

FGU is a successful CSA that provides healthy food to hundreds of families throughout metropolitan Washington D.C. Nevertheless, it is quite different than it was 20 years ago. It went from being a small, volunteer-based organization with mostly working members and a core group to a very large, hierarchical organization with paid administrators and farmers. As the organization increased in size, paid employees took over many of the duties performed previously by volunteers, working memberships were no longer offered, the share price increased, and the sense of community was diluted. The connection between a heightened interest in food issues and the changing characteristics of CSA membership is examined below.

A Heightened Interest in Food Issues

A growing number of Americans have recognized the health benefits of eating whole foods and have developed preferences for organically grown produce. It is fair to say that a heightened awareness has been generated among millions of Americans concerning food issues, in general. This can be attributed, in part, to the increased availability and access of whole foods, organic produce, and fair trade products. According to McIlvaine-Newsad et al. (2004), organic food sales have increased by 20–25 percent per year between 1996 and 2001. In addition to the emergence of large-scale specialty and gourmet food markets, even the most conventional of grocery stores is likely to stock some organic products. Without question, the gourmet and organic share of the food market is ever-expanding.

It is important to recognize, however, that a heightened interest in food issues does not necessarily go hand in hand with an increased interest in community. According to Durrenberger (2002:42), “… [CSA] members do not really care much about participating in CSAs in any way except getting their food.” Similarly, McIlvaine-Newsad et al. (2004:152) observe that, “this mythical notion of community cohesion and shared ideology continues to permeate the CSA movement.”

I asked four questions relating to the idea of community in the survey that I administered to the members. Two of these asked respondents to describe their interest and involvement in local community issues. When asked about their interest in local issues, 67 (53.6 percent) answered that they were very interested in them, 56 (44.5 percent) answered that they were somewhat interested and 2 (1.6 percent) answered that they were not very interested in local issues. When asked about the extent of their involvement in local issues, 20 (16.0 percent) answered that they were very involved, 70 (56.0 percent) answered that they were somewhat involved and 35 (28.0 percent) answered that they were not very involved in community issues.

A third question asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement, “Since joining the CSA, it has opened my eyes to the importance of being part of a community.” Five members (4.2 percent) strongly agreed with the statement, 41 (34.2 percent) agreed with it, 54 (45.0 percent) disagreed with it, and 20 (16.7 percent) strongly disagreed with the statement. Respondents were also asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “Since joining the CSA, I have become integrated into my CSA community.” Three members (2.4 percent) strongly agreed with the statement, 30 (24.2 percent) agreed, 70 (56.5 percent) disagreed and 21 (16.9 percent) strongly disagreed with the statement.

These data suggest two interesting trends. The first is that the members of FGU are more interested in community issues than they are involved in them. The second is that their rate of involvement in local community issues is, in my estimation, low.

Moreover, the data show that roughly 60 percent of the members disagree with the statement that CSA membership has opened their eyes to the importance of being part of a community while over 70 percent feel that they have not been integrated into their CSA community. The information in Table 2 helps us to make more sense of this as we already know that they join more for the provision of healthy and locally grown food than they do to meet like-minded people.

Table 2. 
The Reasons Why Members Joined From the Ground Up
(%) Joining the CSA
To obtain locally grown produce86.0111/129
To obtain organic produce83.7108/129
To support local farmers77.5100/129
For environmental reasons72.994/129
To support small farmers59.777/129
To improve eating habits34.144/129
To access cheaper produce20.927/129
To meet like-minded people10.914/129
To learn more about food issues9.312/129

Based upon all of my field work, interviews, survey findings and accompanying analysis, my interpretation of these findings is that the community integration is low because the CSA administrators accommodate the preferences of a growing number of members who are most interested in the provision of locally-grown and organic produce. This is furthered by the fact that very few of the members have been long-standing members of the CSA (see Table 1) and that this is the only subscription farming format that they have ever known.

Laura B. DeLind is certainly familiar with the challenges of building a sense of community among the members of a CSA. In her piece, “Close Encounters with a CSA: The Reflections of a Bruised and Somewhat Wiser Anthropologist,”DeLind (1999) explains that she became involved with a CSA because she was very interested in building a sense of community with others. For DeLind, the desired goal of the organization was to cultivate a sense of community while the growing of produce was an important by-product of this process. Many members had told her that they liked the idea of getting wholesome vegetables but that they did not necessarily view it as a means to build community. One member also told her that if he wanted a sense of community, he could go to his dance community, his church community, interact with other teacher colleagues, or e-mail high school friends.

Clearly, all members did not share DeLind's vision. As the first summer unfolded, it became apparent that DeLind and many of the core group's members had very different ideas. Many, for example, felt that the distribution of food was paramount and that people needed to get their money's worth of produce in order to be satisfied. It did not take DeLind (1999:6) long to develop what she refers to as a “slow-burning indignation” toward most members. She began to view core members as being too business-oriented and other less involved members as lazy, uncommitted, and even undeserving. After three years, DeLind stepped down as president of Growing in Place. She had grown cynical about the prospects of trying to build a sense of community among people who she felt were only really bound together by an interest in chemical-free and fresh vegetables.

DeLind (2003) contends, however, that it is erroneous to characterize CSA members as disinterested. In her piece “Considerably More Than Vegetables, a Lot Less Than Community: The Dilemma of Community Supported Agriculture,”DeLind (2003) describes CSA members as having high degrees of political and environmental concern. DeLind (2003:199) states that CSA is “commerce, not community” and that farmers and members are, after all, in a small business arrangement. She, nevertheless, points out that CSA supports an “alternative commerce” that “closes the gap between people and their food supply” (DeLind 2003:206). DeLind (2003:203) says that, “Herein lies a dilemma. Stripped of its community mystique CSA is a small business arrangement in which farmers and members negotiate their respective positions across a more personable market divide.”

I wholeheartedly agree with these assertions. The main point of this paper is to show that Chesapeake CSA had a greater orientation toward community than FGU. In other words, the sense of community that has existed among members of this farm appears to have historically been higher than it is today.


Although there is a basic CSA model for operators to follow, American CSAs run the gamut in terms of size, cost of membership, growing methods, member involvement and produce that they offer. We do know that CSA members around the country tend to exhibit similar social and demographic characteristics. Similarly, CSA operators around the country tend to experience many of the same challenges. It will require further research to ascertain if the findings in this study are generalizable to other American CSAs. These findings can be used, however, to help recognize the many challenges that CSA operators and members face in pursuing alternative strategies to food production and consumption.


The author wishes to thank Dr. E. Paul Durrenberger for taking the time to read multiple drafts of this paper and for making dozens of very helpful suggestions.