What is CSA?
Below is a short definition of CSA directly from the USDA website. Beneath I expand on the definition.
Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "share-holders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing. ~From www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/csa/csa.shtml
What is CSA?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is the face of a food revolution sweeping the nation. The world over, people are beginning to ask many questions about the food they eat. Is it healthy? Where does is come from? Is it safe for my family and the environment? What is the true cost of the food we eat? Many others are heeding the cliché ‘think global act local.’ They realize if we want to really change the world we live in, the change must start in one place and one place only; close to home in our communities. CSA offers the best answers to these concerns. Seeking to foster interdependent communities where we all rely on each other support for the betterment of our communities.
How do I join?
Individuals and families pledge support to a local farm buy buying a ‘share’ in a farm. Thus becoming ‘share holders’ or ‘farm members’ in the farm they choose, becoming legal or spiritual owners of a farm. You can find a CSA farm near you just about anywhere in the country now; a quick search on the internet (look under Links in the More tab of this web page for more information) should show you many potential farms accepting CSA members. This is an investment in a farm, while some farms offer payment plans, it will be expected that you pay in full before harvest season begins.
What do I get?
There is a diversity of CSA farms so this completely depends on what you want and what kind of farm you support. A typical CSA farm will deliver vegetables once a week for 16-25 weeks. You can expect 8-16 different types of vegetables each week. The vegetables will be delivered to a central location in your neighborhood where all the members in that area will come to pick up their weekly ‘share’ in the farms bounty. Quite often this site will be at the farm. Many farms also offer fruit, meat, eggs or dairy. Others offer nuts, grains and bread. Some farms operate only for a few months a year others have deliveries year round.
How much will it cost?
No two CSA farms are exactly alike. The delivery system, share size, product mix, season length and location all affect the cost of membership to a farm. This being said, you can expect membership to cost anywhere from $250 to more than $2000 per year. Because CSA farms cut out the middleman the farmer makes more money while passing savings off to their members. The value of a CSA share can’t be beat, not at the farmers market and not at the grocery store because you get (sometimes below) a wholesale price.
What is the benefit to my family?
The principal benefit is the health of you and your family. Yes, you will have to cook, often with things you have never heard of before. But this means eating real food made with real ingredients. There are volumes written on the health benefits on the benefits of eating home cooked meals over processed and fast foods. If you cook at home you will teach family good habits for healthy living and skills that were ensure them a happier, healthier and longer life. The produce you receive will be fresh. Most of it will be harvested the day before you get it, some of it will have been harvested only hours before you get it. Compare this to most food at the grocery store that has been picked before it was ripe, thousands of miles if not continents away. By the time this food hits your fridge it is already old and on it’s way out. Your CSA share was picked exclusively for flavor and freshness and you can expect it to stay fresh and delicious all week.
Most CSA farms grow organically or biodynamically, this means that you will be eating food that will not contain the poisons that are inside foods treated with toxic fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. Because of the chemicals and fossil fuels used to produce food industrially, agriculture is the single largest polluter in the world. Organic farms use practices to encourage a diversity of life on their farms. They are attentive stewards of the soil and their environment. Everything they do is in hopes of being environmentally and economically sustainable. Every CSA share is an investment in clean water, clean air and healthy soil. This investment is a huge step in creating a cleaner healthier environment for future generations. Factor this with price value of the food itself and it becomes hard to imagine a much better investment to make.
Why is it good for the farmer?
Farming is risky business, you produce something that everyone needs but no one wants to pay for, so the margins are very thin. A regrettable number of farmers are just one small disaster away from losing it all. Consider vegetable farming, the farmer will start spending in November of December for a crop that won’t be harvested until the following May or June. For 6 or 7 months there is a veritable river of cash flowing off the farm; hoping everything goes well and some of that money flows back to the farm. A single crop failure or natural disaster and all that money can be gone forever. The CSA farmer doesn’t have this worry.
Members invest in the farm in the winter and spring before a seed goes in the ground. This means the farmer has working capital to cover the bills, pay for seeds, make repairs, grow the crop, pay the employees and cover the multitude of other costs of doing business. Because of the diversity of crops they don’t depend on a single crop to carry the farm. With more than 40 or 50 different crops in multiple planting a few crop losses can be absorbed with out damaging the bottom line. This allows the farmers to focus more on the craft of farming not the stress of cash flowing. The results of this can be seen first in the quality of the crop and secondly in the eyes of the farmer. He or she will still likely be overworked and tired, but they can still maintain pride in what they do and have a quality of life in which they can thrive personally and spiritually.
What does this have to do with community?
A CSA distribution site is a community within a community where people with many ideas about food, health, society, the environment and the world as a whole are brought together. Members of this community become empowered by having a group of people to teach and to learn from, to bounce ideas off of and to act as a support network. This empowerment can flow out of the CSA group into the broader community where real change can be brought about. There is also a personal relationship between the CSA member and the farmer who grows there food and the land that food is grown in. A trust bond will be formed between the farmer and the customer. There will be shared risk in this relationship. As a member you invest in a farm knowing that things will go wrong sometimes, crops will fail and a share may suffer. You also know that crops will thrive and produce a bounty that will spill over the sides of your share box. This is a synergistic relationship where the consumer and the producer depend and rely on one another. This mutually beneficial relationship allows both parties to grow and succeed together. When you become a CSA member you become part of a large community of farmers and informed consumers. Organic farmers are naturally a bit competitive, taking pride in what they do, all of them want to be the best. That aside the community of organic farmers is a very close community. Offering support and help to other farmers even if it is not in their best short term interest. This happens because farmers know that none of us can survive on our own. For the movement to a sensible food system we all have to work together to thrive as an ever growing group. This larger community of organic farmers, CSA members and farmer’s market customers has formed a spider web like network. Slowly but surely with the combined strength of all of us working together we will create a future worth fighting for.