Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a risk sharing arrangement between community members and local farmers. CSA members provide capital up front and in return receive fresh, local produce from the farmer at harvest time. If the harvest is poor, CSA members receive less, lower quality, or possibly no produce. Therein lies the risk.
Online sources say Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) began in the 1960s as a response to concerns about food safety and industrialization of food production. Chances are that Community Supported Agriculture has been practiced in one form or another during the 10,000 years humans have been cultivating crops and raising livestock.
What are the Benefits of Community Supported Agriculture?
Members have an opportunity to meet and develop a relationship with the farmer providing the food they eat and support local businesses. Farmers in turn have an opportunity to develop loyal customers, simplify distribution, and obtain some capital up front to help with planting and operating the farm. Other benefits include:
- Local pick up or delivery means produce is fresh and less fossil fuel is used for transportation.
- Produce is often grown organically.
- Members have an opportunity to try new items they may not typically purchase at the grocery market.
- CSAs may require or invite members to volunteer on the farm which gives members a chance to learn about where their food comes from and get their hands dirty.
- Some CSAs provide education and fun via newsletters, websites, recipes, cooking classes, harvest parties, and other events.
How Does Community Supported Agriculture Work?
The 1960s CSA model is still around today and other models and practices continue to spring up. Sometimes farms use CSA shares as just one method of marketing their products and may also sell at farmer’s markets, through co-ops, or retail outlets.
- Farm – CSAs are often associated with a single farm but in some cases several farms will collaborate on a CSA program.
- Membership / Share Model – members purchase a share of a season’s harvest and then receive produce as it ripens throughout the season.
- Box Model – members pay up front and receive a box of produce with somewhere around 7-14 items or enough to feed 2 or 4 people.
- Payment – membership / share models usually require full payment up front. Box models require payment in advance of delivery but generally allow members to pay by week or month, and members are not committed to an entire season.
- Selection – generally the farmer chooses what to put in the share or box based on what is ripe and ready to be picked.
- Distribution – distribution is typically weekly or bi-weekly. Members may pick up at the farm, neighborhood drop-off sites, and sometimes at farmer’s markets. Some CSAs offer door-to-door delivery.
- Optional Items – some CSAs offer optional add-ons like additional shares of a certain type of produce or things like eggs, bread, milk, meat or flowers.
While I was conducting online research, I ran across a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosted website called Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) which provided information and resources for Community Supported Agriculture. Hmm…why is Community Supported Agriculture considered alternative farming? I would think industrialized farming would be considered alternative farming.
Are you a Community Supported Agriculture member? If not, locate a local farmer in your area offering a Community Supported Agriculture program and try it out. You could soon be enjoying delicious and healthy, fresh picked, seasonal produce while getting to know and support a local farmer.