I Love My CSA

What is a CSA? Community Supported Agriculture started to become popular in America and Europe in the 1980s with roots that go back to the 1960s when consumers in Switzerland and Japan realized the importance of supporting their local farms directly by essentially joining into a partnership. In a traditional CSA, the consumer enters into an agreement with a farm to provide funding in exchange for the produce coming off the farm. The consumer pays a set amount at the beginning of the farm season – or sometimes quarterly – and the farmers then have a consistent income, giving them the funds to purchase the seeds, fertilizer and equipment needed to start the season before profits start coming in from their traditional customers. Some of the crops are diverted and given to the CSA consumer – who gets regular boxes of produce from the farm. The farmers win because they have a steady, reliable income. Consumers win because we get farm-fresh produce – often organic.

Over the years, the model has changed for many CSAs. Online orders, flexible ordering, home delivery … there are many options these days. 

I first joined a CSA over fifteen years ago. It was a traditional CSA where I made quarterly payments to a local farmer and received a weekly box of goodies delivered to a local healthfood store for me to pick up on my way home from work. No nonsense. Whatever was in the box was the produce my family would eat that week. If I didn’t like a particular vegetable (sorry, but I’m just not a turnip fan), it would go to a neighbor. Time went on and e-commerce blossomed. The farm outgrew its space and moved to bigger digs with the CSA members providing much-needed financial stability. The farmer realized that it made better sense to have one delivery truck going to each house, instead of fifty cars going to their respective pick-up places, so he introduced home delivery. What a luxury! 

With the maturity of e-commerce, the farm’s business model changed and they offered the traditional box-of-goodies or a customized box each week. From the comfort of my own home, I could peruse the offerings, check recipes, and customize my order. Then, a few days later, a cooler would appear on my doorstep filled with goodies. The business model proved successful and the farmer started purchasing other farms’ produce that would be added to our offerings. Also included were bread, meats, prepared foods … it really expanded and the CSA became our priority source of food. The farm was supporting other regional farms who now had a reliable source of sales.

We went on a sabbatical in a different state for six months so I ended my membership, with the full intention of rejoining once we had returned to our home. When we returned, I had learned about newer CSAs in my area and decided to support a newer start-up to encourage diversity and a broadening economic base. As with my first CSA, this one started small and is now a large, economically-viable enterprise that grows its own crops but also purchases crops and other foods from local producers. We continue to do most of our shopping through our CSA with supplemental purchases at the farmers markets and our neighborhood food cooperative. I would be lost without it.

During the worst of the pandemic, when many markets closed and restaurants shuddered, our beloved CSA continue its weekly delivery – providing fresh food to my family while supporting local farmers who really hurt when their traditional markets dried up. In fact, my CSA expanded once word got out about home deliveries of locally produced food. CSAs proved to be an absolutely vital link and have continued in that capacity. 

Tis the season to join a CSA! Farmers are gearing up to grow the crops they need to feed us. Where to begin to find one near you? The USDA has a directory of CSAs. Click here for that link. [https://www.ams.usda.gov/local-food-directories/csas] If you are lucky enough to have a winter farmers market, ask the farmers there. They may either have their own or provide goodies to a CSA. Another source is searching on social media. This will take a little longer, but you’ll be treated to all sorts of CSAs and learn about what they are doing around the country. (Careful though: if you search for CSA on Instagram, you’ll see quite a few Confederate flags because, apparently, CSA is also an acronym for Confederate States of America. That’s still a thing.)

Think about the impact your membership in a CSA has on your local farmers, on your diet, the meals you’ll prepare, and the impact on the biodiversity of your community. If you truly want to support local, the CSA is a great way to go!

You + a farm = beautiful partnership!

Pepper, January 2023

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