Community supported agriculture and the complexities of survival

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2012: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: Boston College
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Juliet Schor
Boston College

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: focus group, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, feasibility study, market study, marketing management, new enterprise development, risk management, value added
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, organic certification
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, community services, employment opportunities, local and regional food systems, social capital, social networks, social psychological indicators, sustainability measures, urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    This project examines the survival prospects of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, an organizational arrangement whereby customers (“shareholders”) share risks innate to agriculture by purchasing shares of a farmer’s seasonal harvest. While this arrangement is meant to be more favorable to the farmer, CSA closure rates are high (Ostrom 2007). Previous work has examined environmental and social benefits of CSA, demographics of farmers and shareholders, and other descriptive characteristics; however, there is little research on survival rates, factors that impact survival, and the ethos driving different CSA farms. I use a multi-method approach that includes a survey of every identifiable current and past CSA farmer, interviews with farmers, and participant observation in Massachusetts. One characteristic of most research is that it surveys only surviving CSAs; I will identify both operating and closed CSAs to obtain an unbiased population and determine factors affecting CSA survival rates. It is hypothesized that the main factor for survivability is how much on- and off-farm income is earned by the farmer(s). Other possible factors include farmer experience, number and characteristics of shareholders, geographic and natural considerations such as distance to customers and fertility of soil, and farmer/shareholder motivations. Analyzing CSA farmers’ practices and discursive strategies holds promising benefits, e.g., how effective resource management and different organizational arrangements are connected to life satisfaction. Through elucidating survivability of CSA, this project aims to improve conditions not only for farmers, but for shareholders, the social community, and the land community to which we all belong.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The main objective is to better understand CSA viability. As a farm model, CSA has been in use in the U.S. for more than 20 years. Therefore, we are in an excellent position to examine how CSA has fared. This is especially important considering the CSA model is founded upon making smaller scale agriculture a more viable enterprise.

    Other objectives are include:
    2) Increased agroecological sustainability through analysis of on the ground practices that work for CSA farmers.
    3) Increased revenues and improved working conditions for farmers, their families, and their employees.
    4) Improved shareholder experience through an understanding of best practices developed by CSA farms that have stood the test of time.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.