CSAs represent one of the ways that small organic farmers are changing the way we think about food, the way we access food, and how we, as consumers, participate with food production. CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture, and we’ve talked about this before. The basic idea is that a farm sells shares in its produce early in the season. The shareholders are guaranteed boxes of fresh produce from the farm to be picked up at regular (usually weekly) intervals. Sometimes the farmer arranges to have the shares delivered to central pickup spots like farmers’ markets.
The farm builds a membership this way, and can keep in touch with the consumer directly, and market to them as they see fit. One local farm does a snappy email newsletter outlining news and events at the farm, and what to expect in each week’s box. And when the shareholder visits the farm each week for pickup, they get to know the farmer and they get to know the other shareholders, building a genuine sense of community.
For the farmer, this is pure gold. Money at the beginning of the season allows for capital investment, instead of waiting for it to trickle in over the season. It allows them to earn good income without entering into risky contracts with distributors and chains. At it allows – it encourages – the farmer to grow lots of different crops. By doing so, they gain insurance in case a single crop fails, as they sometimes do. It allows the farmer to invest wisely, and to plan precisely how many boxes need to be filled each week over the growing season.
The notion of CSAs has only been around since the 1980s, but it is spreading quickly. It allows the farmer to build a realistic business model, and that means they have more flexibility at the bank. Furthermore, it allows farms to trade produce like honey, cheese, eggs, or even in-season seafood in order to pad out their selection. CSAs are a pretty good thing.
With more and more young people and innovators contemplating farming as a realistic career, new ideas are emerging all the time. The thing that gives us the greatest hope is that so many innovative young farmers are sharing their knowledge and their findings, successes and failures. By keeping this knowledge open source, a movement is emerging that begins to challenge the foundations of industrial agriculture. It encourages people to think more about buying local, in-season ingredients, and opting for healthier food choices.
How do you find a CSA farm to invest in? Start at Local Harvest’s clever CSA Finder. Ask at your next farmers’ market. Introduce yourself to a farmer — you’ll love the results. Commit to Grow for Earth Day, and support your local farms.