Traditionally, CSAs, or community supported agriculture shares or farm shares, consisted of a box of farm-fresh vegetables and fruits every week. Shareholders would pick up the box or have it delivered, and had little to no input into what types and quantities of vegetables were in the box.
As CSAs have grown in popularity, so too have the varieties of shares that farms offer. You're limited only by your imagination - and, of course, by your farm's ability to produce the items you're offering in your CSA share. When thinking about how to set up your CSA, you can think outside the box.
Many farms are offering shares outside the traditional summer weeks (which vary depending on your climate). Early spring, spring, fall, and winter CSA shares are a creative way to split up an extended growing season and allow you to offer smaller, more affordable "shoulder season" shares for those who might have their own garden for the summer months, or for those who aren't ready to commit to the most expensive option.
Don't feel compelled to offer tomatoes in May or anything. Although you can use a high tunnel to get vegetables to grow in your climate when normally they wouldn't, CSA shareholders typically understand and even expect seasonal variation in crops. So, offer stored root veggies in the winter, perhaps supplemented with value-added farm products (see below). Arugula, mesclun greens, and other early-season crops will be welcomed in spring. Fall harvests of onions and garlic can dominate fall shares, and CSA members can be encouraged to preserve what they can't use right away.
Flexible "Market Style" CSAs
One of the most challenging aspects of any CSA is determining how much produce you will need to grow - what varieties and in what quantity. Paired with that is the challenge of ensuring that customers don't get a ton of veggies that no one in their family likes. One way some farmers have solved this is by having a mix-and-match system where all the greens are laid out on a table and each shareholder picks the mix they want. Some extend this to all the available vegetables, not just greens. Just letting CSA members pick what they want has its advantages, and farmers say it often averages out so that they don't have tons of unwanted vegetables left over. Or you could limit certain items that aren't available in large quantity, such as "one box of strawberries per family."
Some small farmers take this a step further, and pre-sell a farmers market credit that can be used throughout the season on whatever you have at your stand each week, reducing the total dollar amount of credit left. This gives subscribers total flexibility and eliminates any labor involved in preparing and dividing shares.
Value-Added Farm Products and Meat Shares
Don't limit your CSA to vegetables. Some farmers offer a veggie-only share as well as additional types of shares that include other items, for example a localvore share that not only provides vegetables, but other locally-produced foods: salsa, applesauce, soup stock, pickles, eggs, bread, cider, and flour. You can also offer a localvore or pantry share that provides only those value-added products. And some farms offer meat shares, offering an assortment of locally-produced meats, often delivered once a month.
Recipes and Tips
Another way to add value and creativity to your CSA is to develop a repertoire of recipes that you can include with your CSA. For example, when rhubarb might dominate your share boxes in spring, print out and include (or email to members) a sheet with some favorite rhubarb recipes.
Use the Internet
Create a Facebook page and/or an email group for your CSA members. People can use it to get the recipes and tips mentioned above, stay up to date with news on the CSA (such as an unexpected delivery delay) and you can use it to share general information about your farm and anything else you may have for sale. This type of marketing can pay dividends beyond what you may imagine, allowing members to connect with each other and your farm, developing a deep and strong sense of community - through food. Have fun!