As reports of tainted food continue to roll in, more Americans are questioning the safety of a now largely imported food supply. Add to these fears the lack of disclosure and labeling laws for foreign and domestic genetically modified foods, and consumers feel as though they’ve been hung out to dry by the food industry and the government agencies they expect will protect their families.
In the face of these concerns and in keeping with the recent trend toward “eating local,” CSA (community supported agriculture) farms present a reasonably priced alternative to grocery store fare. Consumers become “members” of the farms, buying a share of the annual yield, which can include not just vegetables and fruits but meat, poultry, eggs, coffee, and dairy items. Members often pay a fraction of what they would at the grocery store, especially for organic/grass-fed items. Deliveries come every week to two weeks and extend through the region’s growing and harvest season. Some CSAs offer special winter packages or holiday baskets.
In addition to the quality and freshness of the food, which is sustainable and often organically grown, members also enjoy the wide selection of produce and the chance to try new, regional, and heirloom varieties of items. Restaurants are also tapping into the CSA market and reaping financial benefits by offering their customers the freshest taste and a local, sustainable label.
Most of all, members appreciate knowing who’s growing their families’ food. Many CSA farms, like Harmony Valley Farm in Viroqua, Wisconsin, send newsletters with each delivery that offer members updates on the farm, information about its practices, recipes for featured items, referrals to other CSA and family farm businesses, as well as spotlight stories on farm staff members. Most farms host member events like family strawberry picking, midsummer festivals, barn dances and harvest days.
Because they don’t receive the large government subsidies that most big, industrial farms get (including subsidies for planting Monsanto’s GMO seed!), CSA’s understand that customer service and communication are vital to their business. Sharing information with their members about farm practices is more than basic disclosure; it’s their biggest marketing tool. As a member, you can feel you’ve bought into more than a financial share of a harvest. You’ve joined a responsible community of local growers and supporters. Now that’s peace of mind.
As Charlotte posted earlier this week, here’s a great website to find CSAs near you: www.localharvest.org 
Have you joined CSAs before? Are you considering it? Tell us your experiences and suggestions.
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