Models for cost-offset community supported agriculture (CO-CSA) programs


  • Marilyn Sitaker The Evergreen State College
  • Mackenzie McCall The Evergreen State College
  • Weiwei Wang University of Vermont
  • Mia Vaccaro University of Vermont
  • Jane M. Kolodinsky University of Vermont
  • Alice Ammerman University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Stephanie Jilcott Pitts East Carolina University
  • Karla Hanson Cornell University
  • Diane K. Smith Washington State University Extension, Skagit & Whatcom County
  • Rebecca A. Seguin-Fowler Texas A&M University



Cost-Offset CSA, Community supported agriculture, Entrepreneurship, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, Subsidized Direct-to-Consumer


Cost-offset community supported agriculture (CO-CSA) appears to be a promising way to increase low-income households’ access and intake of fresh produce, while also helping CSA farms expand their farm business. Yet single farms operating CO-CSAs may struggle to balance the demands of farming with CO-CSA program administration, funding, and recruitment. To address these chal­lenges, CO-CSA programs operated by nonprofits have emerged, equipped with dedicated infrastruc­ture, resources, and staffing. This study aims to describe organizational models and best practices of nonprofit CO-CSA programs, using a qualitative approach. We conducted interviews with five well-established nonprofit CO-CSA programs in the U.S. Administration of these five nonprofit CO-CSAs took several forms: (1) providing direct sub­sidies to individual CO-CSA member farms; (2) functioning themselves as an aggregator, packer, and distributor of regional produce; and (3) sourcing from an in-house farm incubator or food hub, then packing and coordinating delivery to pick-up sites. Nonprofit CO-CSA funding strategies included grants from federal and local government sources, private donations, fundrais­ing, and grants. Marketing efforts occurred via social media, community events, and word of mouth. Both fundraising and recruitment were greatly facilitated by relationships with community partners. Having dedicated staff, as well as a com­munity that values local agriculture and social jus­tice, were identified as success factors. This descriptive, qualitative study systematically com­pares the attributes of five nonprofit CO-CSA programs. Future research should focus on identifying the cost-effectiveness of nonprofit CO-CSAs, compare the relative merits of single-farm and nonprofit CO-CSAs, and quantify the eco­nomic benefit of CO-CSA programs for farmers and local communities.


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Author Biographies

Marilyn Sitaker, The Evergreen State College

Ecological Agriculture and Food Systems

Mackenzie McCall, The Evergreen State College

Research Specialist, Ecological Agriculture and Food Systems

Weiwei Wang, University of Vermont

Research Specialist, Community Development and Applied Economics Department, Center for Rural Studies

Jane M. Kolodinsky , University of Vermont

Professor, Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, Center for Rural Studies

Alice Ammerman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Professor, Department of Nutrition, Gillings School of  Global Public Health; Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

Stephanie Jilcott Pitts, East Carolina University

Associate Professor, Brody School of Medicine

Karla Hanson, Cornell University

Senior Lecturer in the Master of Public Health Program and the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences

Diane K. Smith, Washington State University Extension, Skagit & Whatcom County

Health Promotion and Food Access Specialist

Rebecca A. Seguin-Fowler, Texas A&M University

Associate Professor, Department of Nutrition & Food Science



How to Cite

Sitaker, M., McCall, M., Wang, W., Vaccaro, M., Kolodinsky, J., Ammerman, A., Jilcott Pitts, S., Hanson, K., Smith, D., & Seguin-Fowler, R. (2021). Models for cost-offset community supported agriculture (CO-CSA) programs. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 10(4), 157–172.

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