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How should I structure a member agreement for a CSA?

Answer: Since its introduction to the United States, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has been a model for connecting people with where their food comes from. By encouraging customers to become shareholders in the farm business, CSA gives farmers a chance to spread both the risks and the rewards of farming across a larger community

Having a solid legal footing protects farmers in all sorts of situations. This is especially true for running a CSA, and the most important document involved is the member agreement.

The CSA customer signs a member agreement to become a member or shareholder of the operation. It describes the relationship between the customer and the farmer. This document defines what a share consists of, what the expectations of members/shareholders are, what happens in the event of crop failure, and more. It is also the document that can protect a farmer in the event that a member or shareholder chooses to take legal action. Mostly, the document is an up-front communication tool that gets all involved parties on the same page.

Rachel Armstrong and Laura Fisher of Farm Commons created the free CSA Member Agreement Workbook, which walks farmers through the process of designing a member agreement. It does not replace what a lawyer can do to help create a legal document, but it does help create a good foundation, thus saving a lawyer’s time and the farmer’s money. The workbook also helps farmers make the member agreement that best matches their CSA goals, e.g., what does a share consist of, how simple/complicated the pickup should be, and/or how much risk the farmer wants to share with members.

Armstrong and Fisher suggest that every member agreement consist of, at minimum, these four elements:

1. Membership/share options
2. How members receive the share
3. How the farmer collects payment
4. The risk and reward

The workbook also provides a complete checklist for farmers to follow, as well as numerous examples to look through.

The new ATTRA publication Community Supported Agriculture will also serve as a good resource for you. It provides a foundation and tools for farmers looking to begin a CSA operation. It also explores many variations to the traditional model that have developed over the last generation and looks into what the future might hold for CSA.