SOIL, Design a CSA/Food Market

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, April 5, 2010

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Mathematics
  • Science

Lesson Time

2 days


The local food movement is helping to create a new landscape of options where foods can be grown and consumed locally. Whether you live in the country or the city, there are now a slew of alternatives to industrially produced food. One effective alternative is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a way to eat healthy and local food while supporting a local farm in your region.
CSAs are a way of being involved in the production of your food, creating a relationship between a local farm and a nearby community. In this system, a farmer offers “shares” of her farm to a group of people in a neighborhood or community. Each person pays a membership fee to the farm in the beginning of the season, usually in the spring. Now the farmer has money to buy seeds, machinery, and other things she needs for the farm. In return, each member receives a share of vegetables, eggs, fruit, and meat weekly or bi-weekly depending on the type of farm and season.
By subscribing to a CSA, consumers can support their local farmers and recieve a delicious basket of vegetables, fruit and other fresh products in return. The CSA model is a design strategy that brings local food to a local region. It’s a connector between the farm and the population of people eating this food, eliminating some of the ecological impacts of distribution and industrial farming. In this lesson, students will consider the CSA design model and determine a strategy for implementing one in their community or school. Students will use design thinking skills to determine feasibility and elements like a farm stand or CSA drop-off location, that will need to be considered to get a CSA off the ground and working in their community. This lesson works well with math applications including measurement, geometry and other basic problem-solving strategies.

National Standards

Common Core English Language Arts Strand Reading for Informational Text RI.6.7.  Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue. Common Core English Language Arts Strand Writing W.6.2.  Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content. W.6.4.  Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. Common Core English Language Arts Strand Speaking and Listening SL.6.1.  Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacherled) with diverse partners on grade topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. SL.6.2.  Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study. SL.6.4Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation. SL.6.5.  Include multimedia components (e.g., graphics, images, music, sound) and visual displays in presentations to clarify information. Common Core Mathematics 6-8 Grade 6 Cluster: Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, surface area, and volume. Grade 7 Cluster: Analyze proportional relationships and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems. Grade 7 Cluster: Draw, construct, and describe geometrical figures and describe the relationships between them. Mathematics Standard 1. Uses a variety of strategies in the problem-solving process Standard 4. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of measurement Standard 5. Understands and applies basic and advanced properties of the concepts of geometry Technology Standard 3. Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual Standard 4. Understands the nature of technological design Science Standard 12.  Understands the nature of scientific inquiry Health Standard 6. Understands essential concepts about nutrition and diet


  •  Students will design a CSA or Farmer's Market stand/drop off location for their school or community.
  •  Students will apply geometry and other math skills to design a CSA dropoff location or stand.
  •  Students will understand some of the environmental and social benefits of local food and the CSA model.


The Alliance for a Healthier Generation -
Children & Nature Network -
The Fair Food Network -
The Garden Project -
Just Food -
National Farm to School Network -
Small Planet Institute -
Look at Yves Behar’s Cocoa Grater project that encourages organic cocoa farming in Costa Rica. How does this unique design influence the environmental impact of growing cocoa in Central America?


Cardboard, balsa wood, glue, paint, other craft materials


• Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): A cooperative system where interested consumers purchase a share (a.k.a. a "membership" or a "subscription") with a local farm. In return members receive seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.
• Farm to School: A national program to bring food from local farms into schools.


Introduction to CSA’s (10 Minutes – Review)
This lesson is framed as an interdisciplinary, science and mathematics lesson. Introduce to your students the concept of the CSA. Community Supported Agriculture programs are popular in every major city around the country. The largest operation, in California, feeds thousands of people from a close-knit network of locally owned and operated farms.
The CSA model works as a cooperative system where local producers sell their goods to local consumers. The model is usually based on regional factors like climate and terrain. Consumers typically sign up in the early spring months and the program begins by late April and continues until November in many regions.
Although each program is unique, there is usually some kind of physical interface used as a drop off or collection point for the local produce or goods. Examples range from farm stands to folding tables in a community center to something more complex.
Your Local Landscape (30 minutes – Investigate)
After introducing the concept of the CSA, have students investigate programs in their area. Ask each student to conduct individual research into farmers markets and CSA programs within a 50-mile radius of the school. Visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service to find information about CSAs in your area:
Once information has been gathered, divide students into design teams. Ask each team to create a report on the findings of their research; this could take the form of an interview, a diagram, photographs or materials collected through this search.
Talk with students about the Viet Village Urban Farm project from the 2010 National Design Triennial and other examples found throughout the country.
  • Viet Village Urban Farm is an urban farming project located in New Orleans East, an area hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. The location is in the northeast corner of the city. The new farm will use sustainable irrigation techniques that require little or no electricity to pump and filter water used in the fields. Locally-grown organic crops will be sold in a new on-site farmer’s market that will accommodate the estimated 3,000 Saturday shoppers who used to buy foods before Hurricane Katrina hit.
  • The Anthill Farm – Anthill Farm is a 35-acre mixed vegetable, fruit, nut, and animal farm located outside of Honesdale, PA. Their CSA runs for twenty-two weeks, beginning in June and running until the end of October.   Week to week, each share includes a mix of produce as they become available along with a newsletter providing recipes and updates about the farm. They offer full shares and ½ shares—a full share is usually enough for a small family and a ½ share is often best for an individual.  They currently offer two CSA programs, one in Honesdale, PA and one in New York City.
Activity: What’s Grown in your Area?
Ask students to research typical vegetables, grains and produce grown in their area. Use the matrix below as an example of what a CSA in Virginia offers its members. Ask each student to research the local harvest window found in their region for the following crops:
Crop                             Harvest window for Virginia                                                Local Harvest window
  1. Basil: Genovese          July 1-Oct 15
  2. Beans: green               July 1-Oct 15
  3. Beets                           June-Nov
  4. Broccoli                        Oct-Nov
  5. Cabbage                      Oct-Nov
  6. Cauliflower                   Oct-Nov
  7. Celery                           Sept-Nov
  8. Celery Root                  Oct-Nov
  9. Chinese Cabbage         Sept-Nov
  10. Chinese Greens           Sept-Nov
  11. Collard                          Oct-Nov
  12. Cucumbers                  June-Sept
  13. Cut Flowers                 July-Oct
  14. Eggplant                      July-Nov
  15. Fennel                         July-Nov
  16. Garlic                           July-Nov
  17. Greens-salad              Sept-Nov
  18. Herbs: Annual             June-Nov
  19. Kale                             Sept-Nov
  20. Kohlrabi                       June-Nov
  21. Lettuce - head             May-June
  22. Lettuce - Mix               May-Jun, Oct-Nov
  23. Mustard Greens          Sept-Nov
  24. Onions                         July-Sept
  25. Peas, sugar snap        June
  26. Peppers-sweet            July-Nov
  27. Potatoes-Irish              July-Nov
  28. Potatoes-Sweet           Oct-Nov
  29. Pumpkin                       Oct-Nov
  30. Radish                          June-Nov
  31. Squash-Summer          June-Oct
  32. Squash-Winter             Sept-Nov
  33. Swiss Chard                June-Nov
  34. Tomato-cherry             July-Oct
  35. Tomato-slicers             July-Oct
  36. Turnip                           Sept-Nov
In Your Backyard (10 minutes - Frame/ReFrame)
Discuss findings as a group. Present some of the organizations profiled and talk about the regional harvest window and local produce/vegetables a CSA in the area can provide.
What are the physical attributes of your region? Is it easy to grow most foods? Why or why not? Look at plant hardiness zone maps and farming information local to the region.
CSA Drop Off Stand Design: Part One (20 minutes – Generate)
Now it’s time to design! Using the same research teams you created previously, challenge students to physically design a CSA drop-off stand or structure for their school or community. The structure will be used to temporarily store produce and other goods for collection by CSA members.
Lead a preliminary sketch activity that has students thinking about the basic form and function of a farmer’s stand. Ask students to sketch from memory examples they may have seen along the rode, in books or from visits to local or regional farms.
CSA Drop Off Stand Design: Part One (20 minutes - Edit and Develop)
Once brainstorming and sketching is complete lead students through a preliminary design methodology:
  • Site: First, decide on a location and take some preliminary site measurements – how much room do you have to work with?
  • Scale: Secondly, think about the scale - how many people will be using the drop off location, how much storage is needed and during what seasons will it be used?
  • Function: What kinds of function do you foresee being necessary beside storage? Think about how the drop off stand can serve multiple functions – help block out the sun, provide cooking demos or store things long-term.
  • Materials: Decide what kinds of materials make sense for the stand.
  • Model: Create a to-scale model of your stand using recyclable materials.
Math Connection:
This is an excellent opportunity to integrate geometry and basic measurement applications here to connect math to real-world problem-solving. To get students started, ask each team to attach measurements to the previous sketches generated. Create some constants or challenges for each team to work through mathematically like the example below:
Design a storage unit for your CSA market stand that will hold the following volumes of produce:
  • 10 cubic feet of yellow squash
  • 5 cubic feet of eggplant
  • 20 cubic feet of tomatoes
  • 30 cubic feet of corn
Your unit cannot exceed 3 feet in height or 10 feet in length. You can create multiple drawers or levels to create a storage unit that will fit all of the contents of your harvest.
What is the final total volume of your storage area for the CSA market stand? What kinds of design innovations can you integrate to make it easy to access the vegetables and how can they also be presented to people at the market to see and choose from?
Once students have gone through this design process, each team will create a 3D model of their CSA drop-off stand. Use materials like cardboard, foam core, string and found objects to represent your farm stands. Ask teams to list what kinds of vegetables, produce and other items will be stored in the stand and how it will interact with the public.
Share your ideas with the class and the rest of the school. Ask the principle to judge the best design. Ask if money can be set aside to construct the CSA stand to be donated to a local farm or used by the school if a school garden exists! (Share and Evaluate)


Reflection Questions
  • What foods would you insist on having in your CSA?
  • Based on what you have learned today, how would subscribing to a CSA benefit your environment and community?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Differentiation for Elementary School:
  • Visit a local CSA or farm stand with your students. Allow the students to explore the space and draw sketches in their sketchbooks. Interview the people working about how they might improve the space so that it functions better for their needs.
  • If a field trip is not possible, show images of different CSAs and farm stands from around the country or world so that students can see a range of possibilities.
  • Encourage wild ideas and designs that may be more fanciful than functional.
Differentiation for High School:
  • Students can make a math/economics connection by calculating the amount of money a family might spend on joining a CSA for the season versus the amount of money the family might spend buying the same produce at the supermarket. Do they save money by joining a CSA?
  • If so, students can design an advertisement poster, postcard or webpage for their local CSA making this research available for potential new clients.

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