Organic? Local? Seasonal? Consumers are increasingly aware of the importance of their food choices in terms of both their own nutritional health and the impact on the environment. Although there may be a desire to make healthy and responsible choices, many people feel overwhelmed and confused about how they might achieve this goal.
On the other end of this dilemma are farmers – people who work the land under challenging economic circumstances, trying to earn a living by providing people with good, healthy food. Local farmers may have difficulty competing with large farms to sell and distribute their crops. When local farmers go out of business, the land is most often sold to developers who then build private residences, office buildings, and strip malls, further damaging the natural environment.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a creative but simple system that connects farmers and consumers through a mutually beneficial arrangement in which they share both the risk and the bounty of the harvest. Consumers (sometimes called shareholders, members, or subscribers) pay farmers in advance for a season’s worth of produce that is locally grown and often organic.
Because the food has not traveled great distances or for long periods of time, it is flavorful, full of nutrients, and stays fresh longer in the consumers’ homes. Consumers who have a relationship with a CSA farm feel good about supporting local farmers and are more aware of their connection to their food and the land.
With this arrangement, farmers are guaranteed to make a profit over the course of the year. The stability provided by CSA members helps local farmers stay in business and continue the labor of love involved in growing quality crops.
How It Works
Consumers purchase “shares” with a CSA farm prior to the growing season. A share can be very loosely defined as enough produce for a family of four or for two people who consume a substantial amount of vegetables. Most farms offer a half-share option; some even have quarter-shares.
Farmers plan which crops will be grown during the upcoming season based on their experience with what grows well and their knowledge of what their consumers typically enjoy. They calculate a fair price for each farm share based on the number of shares available and the cost of operating the farm for the year.
Once the harvest season begins, consumers receive their share of the bounty through weekly pick-ups at the farm or other location where the farmer delivers the shares. Some farms have numerous pick-up locations; others have only a few. Consumers decide which pick-up location they will use when they sign up for their shares in late winter or early spring.
There are many variations on this basic model. Some farmers encourage consumers to visit the farm or to pick crops or actively participate in other ways. Consumers may or may not be required to work a few hours during the year on the farm or at the pick-up location as part of their arrangement with the CSA farm. In addition to vegetables, some farms offer fruit, meat, egg, dairy, or flower shares. Most shares last from late spring through the middle of autumn, but there are some farms that provide produce throughout the year.
Community Supported Agriculture is a mutually beneficial arrangement that connects farmers and consumers in a local region. The CSA system is a simple, effective way for farmers and consumers to actively promote responsible stewardship of the land while providing local, seasonal, and often organic produce to consumers. Working together, farmers and consumers can improve both the state of the environment and their own nutritional health.
For More Information
To find a CSA near you, visit Local Harvest.