Sustainability for local food producers requires a balance of supply (from producers) with demand (from consumers) in the face of volatile weather and prices. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) attempts to achieve that balance through communication and commitments between producers and consumers, which depend on relationships and trust. These relationships and the trust they can generate are multidimensional and complex. We use the community capitals framework, looking at expectations and benefits in terms of natural, cultural, human, social, political, financial and built stocks and flows of assets, as the analytical tool to examine the expectations and realizations of past and current producers and consumers in collaborative CSAs (cCSAs), a particular kind of CSAs that require more relationships than single farmer CSAs. Producers and consumers who receive multiple ‘goods’ from the cCSAs are more likely to continue their associations. cCSAs can be organized in a variety of ways that develop more than economic benefits for producers and consumers, including social capital, cultural capital, human capital, and political capital, as well as providing a wider range and stability of foods. Surveying producers and consumers – past and present – from three of the four cCSAs in the US state of Iowa, which is dominated by industrial agriculture, we found that those who participated based on satisfying multiple capitals were more likely to maintain participation over time and were more satisfied with the experience. Producers and consumers, who defined the cCSA experience as social and political, as well as economic, were more likely to maintain and expand their participation. Producers that started out in collaborative CSAs and defined their activities based on multiple capitals often used the experience as a business incubator to begin individual CSAs and to expand the variety of food produced. cCSA structures that evolve to maximize multiple capitals for individual producers and consumers proved most sustainable and demonstrate the interactive nature of successful structures for on-going farmer–consumer relationships.
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