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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Volume 66, Issue 1, 2012

Community Supported Agriculture: Popular and profitable in the Central Valley

Issue cover
Cover Caption: The popularity of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), farms that deliver fresh produce to members, has been increasing rapidly. In a survey, 54% of CSA farmers in the Central Valley and surrounding foothills were profitable, with average gross sales per acre of $9,084 (see page 8). At Live Power Community Farm CSA, longtime members Sean Cotter (left) and Robin Chandler volunteer to sort winter produce, which they then deliver to members in their neighborhoods. Photo: Nancy Warner

Research and Review Articles

Community Supported Agriculture is thriving in the Central Valley

Community Supported Agriculture operations (CSAs) have grown rapidly in recent years. The original model, in which members support a farming operation by paying for produce in advance and receive a share of the farm's produce in return, has been adapted, with much innovation. Since little research existed on CSAs in the Central Valley, we surveyed and carried out in-depth interviews with 54 CSA farmers and two CSA organizers in the Central Valley and surrounding foothills. Here we focus on four aspects of these CSA operations: type, economic viability, farmer characteristics and farm attributes. We found two main CSA models, box and membership/share. Fifty-four percent of the CSAs reported being profitable, and the average gross sales per acre were $9,084. CSA farmers are diverse in political orientation, yet are generally younger, better educated and more likely to be women than the general farming population. CSA farms are relatively small, with a median size of 20 acres; have a median membership of 60 (585 average); use agroecological methods; cultivate agrobiodiversity; and utilize growing practices that generally meet or exceed National Organic Program standards.

UC Cooperative Extension explores a farm-to-WIC program

To increase fruit and vegetable consumption, the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) distributes cash vouchers to low-income women with children to buy fruits and vegetables. The program reaches almost half of the infants and one-quarter of children under 5 years old in the United States. UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) conducted a survey of produce preferences and buying habits among WIC participants in Tulare, Alameda and Riverside counties in 2010 to guide the development of a farm-to-WIC program that would connect small local growers to the WIC market. Based on the results, the UCCE team developed a list of 19 produce items to promote in a possible new farm-to-WIC program.

Crop rotation and genetic resistance reduce risk of damage from Fusarium wilt in lettuce

Fusarium wilt of lettuce, caused by the soilborne fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lactucae, affects all major lettuce production areas in California and Arizona. In trials at UC Davis, we found that lettuce cultivars differ significantly in susceptibility to the disease, with some leaf and romaine types highly resistant under all test conditions. For more susceptible cultivars, disease severity is strongly influenced by inoculum levels and ambient temperature. Management of Fusarium wilt requires an integrated approach that includes crop rotation to reduce soil inoculum levels and the use of resistant cultivars during the warmest planting windows.

Citrus growers vary in their adoption of biological control

In a spring 2010 survey, we investigated the characteristics that influenced whether California growers controlled major citrus pests with beneficial insects. We also performed statistical analysis of growers' reliance on Aphytus melinus, a predatory wasp, to control California red scale. The survey results suggest that growers with greater citrus acreage and more education are more likely to use biological control. Marketing outlets, ethnicity and primary information sources also influenced the extent of reliance on beneficial insects. In Probit model analysis, respondents with greater citrus acreage were more likely to incorporate A. melinus into their pest management, as well as those with more education and higher-valued crops. Information sources and growing region also had statistically significant effects.