Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in the Ecolabel Midwest United States: A regional characterization

Erin Tegtmeier, Michael Duffy, gennaio 2005

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Upper Midwest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations were surveyed to evaluate their viability and provide a regional characterization of the movement. The survey, mailed to 144 operators on March 15, 2002, was designed to collect descriptive information on the operations and farmers as well as data on finances and labor. Surveys were sent to CSA farms located in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Sixty-two completed surveys (43 percent) were returned within a month and 55 (38 percent) were usable.

Here are some of the findings, in brief.

• The typical upper Midwestern CSA farmer is 45 years old and has 14 years of farming experience.

• The farmer and his or her partner are likely to be college graduates.

• Just over half the farmers are female and have farmed for about eight years.

• Primary motivations to start a CSA operation were environmental and social values.

• CSA farms have been in operation for more than five years, on average.

• They serve 33 members and membership has increased by 350 percent since start-up.

• The average CSA farmer has just over 30 acres including the CSA operation.

• Almost two-thirds of the farms raise only produce, as a CSA or a CSA/market garden combination.

• When determining share price, most CSA farmers consider what they believe to be consumers’ willingness to pay rather than the market price for their products.

• In terms of labor, half of the respondents have an off-farm job, but also farm 20 percent to 98 percent of the time.

• Family members often provide a majority of the labor—doing 75 percent to 100 percent of the CSA work.

• Two-thirds of the respondents hire other labor and spend $2,920 on average per season.

• Just over half also offer working shares to members, but for 70 percent of these, members provide just up to 5 percent of the operation’s labor needs.

• Average net return per acre for these CSA farmers is $2,467. This figure is quite high when compared to return per acre of corn ($172.11), soybeans ($134.46) and wheat ($38.10) in the United States.

• In terms of family income, farm enterprises and off-farm work both provide about half the annual income. CSA operations account for about one-half of farm income on average, even though CSA land as a percentage of total land farmed is 37 percent on average, and 12 percent for those farms with additional operations beyond CSA and market garden production.

• When asked if their share price provides them with a fair wage, over half (57 percent) of these CSA farmers replied negatively.

• However, nearly all (97 percent) respondents claim to be completely satisfied or satisfied most of the time with their CSA operations.

• These CSA farmers believe their members are completely satisfied (17 percent) or satisfied most of the time (83 percent).

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