Community Supported Agriculture
Is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)?
CSA reflects an innovative and resourceful strategy to connect local farmers with local consumers; develop a regional food supply and strong local economy; maintain a sense of community; encourage land stewardship; and honor the knowledge and experience of growers and producers working with small to medium farms. CSA is a unique model of local agriculture whose roots reach back 30 years to Japan where a group of women concerned about the increase in food imports and the corresponding decrease in the farming population initiated a direct growing and purchasing relationship between their group and local farms. This arrangement, called "teikei" in Japanese, translates to "putting the farmers' face on food." This concept traveled to Europe and was adapted to the U.S. and given the name "Community Supported Agriculture" at Indian Line Farm, Massachusetts, in 1985. As of January 1999, there are over 1000 CSA farms across the US and Canada.
CSA is a partnership of mutual commitment between a farm and a community of supporters which provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food. Supporters cover a farm's yearly operating budget by purchasing a share of the season's harvest. CSA members make a commitment to support the farm throughout the season, and assume the costs, risks and bounty of growing food along with the farmer or grower. Members help pay for seeds, fertilizer, water, equipment maintenance, labor, etc. In return, the farm provides, to the best of its ability, a healthy supply of seasonal fresh produce throughout the growing season. Becoming a member creates a responsible relationship between people and the food they eat, the land on which it is grown and those who grow it.
This mutually supportive relationship between local farmers, growers and community members helps create an economically stable farm operation in which members are assured the highest quality produce, often at below retail prices. In return, farmers and growers are guaranteed a reliable market for a diverse selection of crops.
How Does CSA Work?
Money, Members and Management
A farmer or grower, often with the assistance of a core group, draws up a budget reflecting the production costs for the year. This includes all salaries, distribution costs, investments for seeds and tools, land payments, machinery maintenance, etc. The budget is then divided by the number of people for which the farm will provide and this determines the cost of each share of the harvest. One share is usually designed to provide the weekly vegetable needs for a family of four. Flowers, fruit, meat, honey, eggs and dairy products are also available through some CSA.
Community members sign up and purchase their shares, either in one lump sum before the seeds are sown in early spring, or in several installments through-out the growing season. Production expenses are thereby guaranteed and the farmer or grower starts receiving income as soon as work begins.
In return for their investment, CSA members receive a bag of fresh, locally-grown, typically organic produce once a week from late spring through early fall, and occasionally throughout the winter in northern climates and year-round in milder zones. Members prefer a wide variety of vegetables and herbs, which encourages integrated cropping and companion planting. These practices help reduce risk factors and give multiple benefits to the soil. Crops are planted in succession in order to provide a continuous weekly supply of mixed vegetables. As crops rotate throughout the season, weekly shares vary by size and types of produce, reflecting local growing seasons and conditions.
Distribution and Decision-Making
Distribution styles also vary. Once the day's produce is harvested, the entire amount is weighed and the number of pounds or items (e.g. heads of lettuce, ears of corn) to be received by each share is determined. Some CSA have members come to the farm and weigh out their own share, leave members behind any items they don't want at a surplus table and possibly find something there they could use. Other farms have a distribution crew to weigh items and pack shares to be picked up my members at the farm or at distribution points.
Several advantages to the direct marketing approach of CSA, in addition to shared risk and pre-payment of farm costs, are the minimal loss and waste of harvested farm produce, little or reduced need for long-term storage, and a willingness by members to accept produce with natural cosmetic imperfections.
A core group made up of the farmers or growers, distributors and other key administrators, and several CSA members are often the decision-making body for CSA that determines short and long-range goals, prepares the budget, conducts publicity and outreach, organizes events, etc. Annual meetings, a member newsletter, and occasional surveys are some basic means of communication between the farm and its members.
Is Community Supported Agriculture Important?
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