Creating Steuben County CSAs

Lisa Chacon, Project Coordinator


Create a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) organization in Steuben County to support local, organic farmers and facilitate the distribution of their products to local consumers.


With petroleum and natural gas prices on the rise, the cost of food produced by conventional agricultural practices is expected to increase in tandem. This is due to the large quantities of fertilizer, pesticide and heavy equipment used in the growing, as well as any processing and finally transportation from the farm to the supermarket. This is especially a concern because food in the US is shipped an average of 1,300 miles from its source to the consumer.

By creating local networks of organic farmers and committed consumers, we can create a more sustainable and secure food supply which uses fewer fossil fuels, reduces pollution, and is more healthful, preserves the land, and enriches local communities and economies.

This program will allow farmers to focus their efforts on growing food and improving their yields, while freeing them from the stress of marketing their products at scattered farmer’s markets. Having shares paid at the beginning of the growing season will provide them with financial stability at the beginning of the growing season, when it is most needed.

An extensive CSA website can be found at the USDA Alternative Farming Systems Information Center. Here is their description of the concept:

“CSA is a relationship of mutual support and commitment between local farmers and community members who pay the farmer an annual membership fee to cover the production costs of the farm. In turn, members receive a weekly share of the harvest during the local growing season. The arrangement guarantees the farmer financial support and enables many small- to moderate-scale organic family farms to remain in business. Ultimately, CSA creates "agriculture-supported communities" where members receive a wide variety of foods harvested at their peak of ripeness, flavor and vitamin and mineral content.

The goals of CSA support a sustainable agriculture system which . . .

- provides farmers with direct outlets for farm products and ensures fair compensation

- encourages proper land stewardship by supporting farmers in transition toward low or no chemical inputs

- strengthens local economies by keeping food dollars in local communities

- directly links producers with consumers allowing people to have a personal connection with their food and the land on which it was produced

- makes nutritious, affordable, wholesome foods accessible and widely available to community members.

There are many kinds of CSA. All include payment in advance at an agreed upon price. In some, members of the community purchase a "share" of the anticipated harvest, while in others they sign up for a predetermined amount of produce over the course of the season. In most cases, this commitment implies a willingness to share with the farmer both the bounty from the land and at least some of the risks involved with production.

In return for fair and guaranteed compensation, consumers receive a variety of freshly picked, (usually organic) vegetables grown and distributed in an economically viable and ecologically responsible manner. Some farms also offer fruit, herbs, flowers and other products. In this way, farmers and members become partners in the production, distribution and consumption of locally grown food.

One fact also to consider, organic food produced with local communities is not the same as organic food transported over long distances. When members obtain food from local farmers, environmental costs associated with the transport, processing and distribution of organic food and the consumption of fossil fuels are significantly reduced. Considering that the organic food available to members was produced locally rather than transported over long distances, the cost to the environment is significantly less”.

Basic Approach

1. Hold an initial, exploratory meeting of farmers, Steuben Greens, volunteers, partners (11/04)

2. a. Assemble steering committee and working groups

b. Define roles and responsibilities

c. Set meeting timetable

3. Define CSA operating structure, principles and procedures (11/04-1/05)

a. Conduct research to understand common CSA practices

b. Select desired options.

4. Seek funding (11/04-12/04)

a. Assemble preliminary budget

b. Seek grants for start up and operation of Steuben-CSA

c. Seek grants for Steuben-CSA farmers

i. SARE Farmer/Grower grants to test new crops, practices and systems through on-site experiments and share the results with other farmers. Average grant: $5,200 (10,000 cap). Application deadline 12/7/04

ii. Partnership Grants are awarded for on-farm research and demonstration projects developed by agricultural professionals who work directly with farmers. Grants are capped at $10,000. 2005 Partnership Grant applications are due November 30, 2004.

5. Identify, contact and recruit local organic farmers (12/04-1/05)

a. Assemble a list of participating farmers and products

b. Work with farmers to determine the cost and structure of their shares.

6. Prepare a brochure and catalog of products and share prices (2/05)

7. Community Education (3/05)

a. Raise awareness of the benefits of CSA within farming communities and area towns and cities

b. Educational forum on peak fossil fuels and food security

8. Advertise and build subscriber base (3/05)

a. Direct advertising to Corning co-op, local listservs and word-of-mouth

b. Print, radio

9. Identify exchange location(s) and communicate with subscribers (4/05)

10. Distribution (5/05-10/05?)

11. Harvest Festival! (10/05)


1. Web

a. USDA Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC)

b. Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

c. National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA),

d. Robyn Van En Center for CSA Resources

e. Cornell Cooperative Extension

2. Books

a. Sharing the Harvest by Elizabeth Henderson with Robyn Van En.

This manual provides an overview and step-by-step description of CSA,including history, philosophy, how to start and operate a CSA, management and production issues, sample documents from working CSA farms, description of pitfalls, outlook for the future, and extensive resource and materials list. Chelsea Green. 1999, $25.

b. The NEW Farmers’ Market by Vance Corum, Marcie Rosenzweig & Eric Gibson Farmfresh ideas for producers, managers, communities and CSAs interested in expanding their marketing possibilities.

New World Publishing. 2001. $25.

3. Grants





Home | About the Green Party | Calendar | Email: info at