College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
AGNR Research

Solutions for Community Supported Agriculture

AGNR collaborates with state organizations to make CSAs more efficient for farmers, consumers.
Photo Credit: 
Edwin Remsberg

Community Supported Agriculture – or CSA – is a growing national trend that allows consumers to buy fresh, locally grown produce directly from farms in their own communities. Now, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) will be looking at ways to help farmers interested in starting CSAs be more effective, while protecting consumers at the same time.

The College of AGNR is partnering with the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), the Maryland Farm Bureau, and the Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative to develop contractual agreements for farmers using CSAs. The project recently received $35,610 in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service.

“The main problem has been MDA gets calls each year from subscribers (customers to a CSA) because a farmer has failed to deliver or there is a drought and the farmer has nothing to deliver over the season,” said Paul Goeringer, a legal specialist for University of Maryland Extension and the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics (AREC).

 “Using a CSA model opens up another market for (farmers), but they need to do research before getting involved to make sure they have production to cover an additional market,” Goeringer said.

The awarded funds will be used to study pre-existing CSA contracts by contacting CSA operators and attorneys in the Maryland State Bar Association's Agricultural Law Section and the American Agricultural Law Association. Once obtained, the CSA contracts will be analyzed and assessed to help with the development of a CSA Contracting Guide complete with a model CSA contract. Three farmer-consumer workshops will also be conducted and open to the public. The project’s anticipated finish is September 30, 2015.

“The end result would be to make consumers aware of the risks that go into CSAs and help farmers entering the model understand how to handle potential risks: drought, crop failure, etc.,” Goeringer said.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture identified 119 Maryland farms using a CSA business model. The Maryland Farm Bureau and the MDA will help the College of AGNR get materials into the hands of more farmers and educate consumers about how CSA contracts should work.

Jim Hanson, Ph.D., a professor in the AREC department and an Extension specialist interested in local food systems, will also be involved with the project. Ashley Newhall, a legal specialist with a background in agriculture and food law, and Mayhah Suri, a senior majoring in Environmental Science and Policy, are also part of the team.

“I think [CSAs] are an option for farmers to utilize as they continue to feed an expanding world,” Goeringer concluded. “This will help consumers connect more with farmers and understand what goes into running a farm.”

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