An Economic Analysis of Community Supported Agriculture Consumers

1995 Annual Report for LNE95-053

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1995: $2,960.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $4,160.00
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Jane Kolodinsky
University of Vermont

An Economic Analysis of Community Supported Agriculture Consumers


1. Identify major factors influencing consumers' decision to become (or not) a member of a CSA farm and estimate the impact of each factor in the decision.
2. Describe members and non-members of CSAs based on socioeconomic characteristics, attitudes and motivations.
3. Determine whether consumers are satisfied with the product they receive from CSAs and whether the package of goods and services is what they want and need.
4. Determine whether CSA members derive utility directly from the time spent in share pickup and time spent putting away the share.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a form of direct marketing of agricultural products which could be an important facet of a more sustainable, locally based food system. In CSAs, consumers purchase shares of the harvest at the beginning of the season in return for a weekly produce pick-up. In this way the shareholders - or consumers - share the producer's risks.

This project collected information about CSAs through telephone interviews of members, ex-members, and non-members of three CSAs in Vermont during October of 1995. Information gathered includes how members first found out about CSA, why they decided to join, and how satisfied they were with the experience. All respondents answered questions about their food-shopping habits, demographics, and other aspects of their lives.

These analyses indicate that members of CSAs tend to be younger, more educated, and more likely to live in town than non-members and ex-members. People who end their membership often do so because they are less satisfied than continuing members with the variety of produce and with the pickup system. Income does not have a significant impact on likelihood of being a member, but education does have a positive and significant effect. Several of the productivity variables did not have the impact predicted by a household production model.

Word of mouth is the most successful form of advertising.

Members can be characterized as younger, well-educated people who are more likely to compost and recycle compared to ex-members and non-members. Membership status is very sensitive to cost. If the per-person cost a potential member faces is high, there is less chance the person will be a member. Income is not a significant determinant of membership status when other variables are held constant, but education level is. People who already choose to buy organic produce and those who feel that political, economic or social issues are important in their choice of where to shop for food are more likely to be members. Members may obtain utility/satisfaction directly from time spent in picking up their share, but time spent putting away their share does not provide utility. Overall, members are very satisfied with their CSA experience.

People who end their membership tend to do so for reasons related to the types and quantities of produce provided and inconvenience of the pick-up system. They are somewhat less satisfied with the mix and quantity of produce. They are also somewhat less satisfied with pick-up times or days and somewhat less satisfied with the variety of vegetables and fruit.

Operational Recommendations
The information gleaned from these analyses can be used in several ways, depending on the stage of a CSA farm. Recommendations include:
o Use word of mouth advertising to the fullest extent possible. Reward members who bring in new members. Ask members to invite friends to a CSA event. Try to bring the strength of word of mouth to other advertising media - personal statements on posters. Have members or core members go to stores, co-ops and other events to give face-to-face information about the experience.
o Focus on young families who live in town and are highly educated. Educate and empower shoppers who don't fit the description of likely members. Address their needs and lifestyles.
o Make information about the CSA available in places where young professionals work and play. Provide information about the food system and the CSA to people who might not be likely to seek it out. Explain why they should consider a less convenient option.
o Keep share prices low, even if it means smaller shares.
o Consider delivery or drop-off sites and flexibility in what people take home as their share each week. Make shares easy to pick up, perhaps prepackaged. Provide lots of fast and easy recipes for fresh produce.
o Emphasize pick-up time as a fun time. Make it convenient so that members have time to enjoy it. But reduce the amount of time members must spend putting their share away once they bring it home by reducing the amount of processing/separating they have to do.