Community Supported Agriculture

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:

Have you joined CSAs before? Are you considering it? Tell us your experiences and suggestions.

verseguru, riebschlager Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Affording Organics

Urban Gardening

Thrift Cuts

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21 thoughts on “Community Supported Agriculture”

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  1. I am a member of a CSA in San Diego, Be Wise Ranch, and love it.

  2. Here is a link to one of the farms, Spiral Path, around Harrisburg, PA.

    Their set up is generous, priced well, and efficient. They have weekly deliveries to several locations. Everyone loves berry season when they allow you to come out to the farm and pick as much as you would like.

    I love knowing that my produce is organic and hasn’t been covered with exhaust as it travels across the country.

  3. You are sharp, Sonagi! Let’s pretend that sticker doesn’t exist and that the box of food is from CSA. 😉

  4. We have similar schemes here in the UK. My local London branch is called “Growing Communities”. I give them my support by doing most of my veg shopping at their organic farmer’s market every Saturday (like this one!). It’s wonderful, but I’m lucky: not all boroughs (or UK cities) have schemes like these. More and more, it seems like even “local” is going commercial, if you know what I mean!

  5. I believe the first CSAs were established in Japan back in the 70s.

    In this morning’s local paper, I read that an experimental farm associated with our state arboretum is providing rent-free farm plots to local families and organizations in exchange for participants sharing some of their harvest with local food banks. I’ve wanted to have a small garden but currently live in an apartment. What a great opportunity to grow Asian vegetables not available at my local supermarket.

  6. Thanks for the shout out guys! And yes, we LOVE love love our CSA. All that great, economical food and they are so interactive with the community. My boys get to see where our food comes from and even “help” out with the harvests. Plus I get tips from the pros for my own little garden.

    Sonagi – the community gardens are a fantastic idea! We fell in love with them when we lived in Germany. Another good idea for people with limited space (and I think Mark & Co. have covered this) is container gardening. Tons of books about it and works quite well.

  7. I’m also a Be Wise Ranch CSA member in the San Diego area, for over two years. Wish I had joined years earlier. We just had the first cost increase since we joined, a few dollars a box, which seems very reasonable. I expected an increase at some point, with the rising fuel costs, etc. so I wasn’t surprised or unprepared for the increase.

    A neighbor and I take turns picking up our share boxes, which saves fuel, too.

    I guess I hadn’t noticed the increase in organic produce prices at the stores until I started seeing headlines about it, because with so much of our produce needs met by our CSA membership, I breeze past the produce sections of stores now, rarely even stopping to look long enough to notice the prices.

    CSAs are a great value, IMO, and a great antidote to veggie boredom. Even if CSA produce cost the same as store produce, I would still get CSA stuff because the cost goes direct to the producer, which is better for the local economy. My CSA membership also save shopping time for me.

    I’m also locking in my meat costs for this year by buying a half bison (grassfed, of course) from a ranch in Montana that makes periodic deliveries to the San Diego area.

  8. I just joined a local produce program. There has been some controversy about them lately because the people who run it are acting like a distributor for over 100 Mennonite farms and not a farm themselves. I don’t have a problem with this as they are very open about what they are doing and what produce comes from where and which is organic and which is not. It will still save me a ton of money versus Whole Foods (and I’m by no means anti-Whole Foods, just pro-keeping some of my paycheck for other things).

  9. Sara G:

    The sort of program you describe is not unusual outside of the USA. I opened an online account with a similar program in London (Abel & Cole), to supply my mother-in law with fresh delivered produce. While technically not a CSA, that sort of program can be very good for farms that aren’t large enough to have their own CSA, or don’t raise enough variety to have their own CSA, or prefer not to do it but want to get closer to their consumers, etc.

    As long as there is transparency about what they are and are not, it’s disappointing that that sort of thing creates controversy. Hope you enjoy the produce and getting in touch with the seasons.

  10. 1 pound of Kale, .5 pound Arugula, 2 heads of field? lettuce, bag of asparagus, bag of sprouts, 6 eggs, and a small bottle of maple syrup.

    Not bad for so early in the spring. They said something about strawberries next time.

  11. We have been members of Rainbow Ranch Farms for 5 years. We started picking up at the farm, it has been a great experience. We know our food and our farmers, we have been there during harvest and my kids and my husband have volunteered on the farm. Delicious heritage foods, all free range and grass fed. Simply sustainable. Definately Beyond Organic. Becky