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Your CSA Needs a Membership Agreement: Here’s how to write one

Why Your CSA Should Have a Membership Agreement

As a farmer running a Community Supported Agriculture program of any size, it’s important to have a solid membership agreement in place between you and your members. Establishing your guidelines and expectations at the beginning of the season with a signed agreement can help you to avoid misunderstandings with your members and limit your liability when things don’t go as planned.

Those few benefits alone give you reason enough to start outlining a contract, but the membership agreement does more than just prevent future headaches. A clearly written agreement also serves your members by letting them know about your farm operations and what it means to be a member of your CSA. While asking for a signature on a contract may seem like a formal way to welcome people into your farm community, your membership agreement is the first step toward establishing an understanding between you and your members.

Being upfront about your policies can also help new members feel confident about joining your program; they know what to expect throughout the season and are reminded of what can happen if growing conditions are less than ideal. Setting up open lines of communication with a member agreement and keeping your members informed throughout the season are key practices that lead to better member retention.

How to Write a Proper Membership Agreement

While it’s important to open up communication with your members, the amount of information that can be included in a Membership Agreement can become overwhelming. Remember: a contract doesn’t serve it’s purpose if no one takes the time to read it. The trick is to try and find a balance between providing complete information and being concise. Consider the following tips when writing or updating your CSA Membership Agreement:

Tip #1 Include the following information (at least):

Tip #2. Provide additional details in support documents

Write your Membership Agreement for your entire CSA program in general, but make sure that additional information is also outlined and available. For example, you’ll want to define the structure of your program (is a “share” equal to a weekly box? a certain number of items? or percentage of harvest?), but not include a list all the vegetables you are growing or locations that are available for pick-up. You can include more specific details about share options, cost, pickup locations, farming techniques, etc. in additional documentation like a brochure, handbook, or on your website.

Tip #3 Have an additional contract for work shares.

There are certain liability concerns and employment categories that need to be covered when requiring volunteer work as part of the commitment a member makes to your CSA program or accepting it instead of payment for a share. If these people will be working directly on your farm, you will need to make sure that you are not legally responsible if they are injured and/or that they will be covered by your existing insurance policies. In addition, your members should understand what a work share entails and what is expected in terms of volunteer duties and time commitment. Be sure to include additional information about breach of contract and how that affects their membership to your CSA program.

Tip #4 Make your agreement accessible

Your member should always receive a copy (either paper or electronic) of all agreements so that they can keep them on hand for future reference. Additionally, your farm website is a great place to host CSA documents for your members to refer to and to include additional information about your program.

Tip #5 Learn from others

Below you will find links to sample agreements, additional tips and suggestions, and even some more in-depth legal guides for CSA programs. Another great way to get started writing your membership agreement is to take a look at those created by your fellow CSA farmers. We have included a few links to those as well. You can also find more online by doing a simple search using the terms “CSA Member Agreement” or “CSA Member Contract”.

For additional help composing your CSA Membership Agreement, check out these resources:

Farm Commons

Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture: Guide to Legal Issues in CSA Operations - (includes Membership Agreement templates)

Modern Farmer: How Do I Legally Start A CSA?

Rickner Law PLLC: “CSA Agreements - Get Them In Writing”

Sample Membership Agreements

Looking for other farm contract or legal help? Try these resources:

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