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What Exactly is a Community Supported Agriculture Program or CSA?
Have you heard the term CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it is becoming increasingly popular. A CSA benefits both the farmers and the general public in many ways. First introduced in the United States in the 1980's, CSAs are a great way to ensure good quality foods get in the hands of those that can't grow them themselves.
The idea of a community supported agriculture program is for the farmers and the consumers both to share the risk of growing food. Farming is one of the riskiest businesses around, in my mind, because they are so dependent on the weather (which a person has no control over) and other people (who are also hard to control). A farmer can do everything right and still produce no crop. Hail could destroy it, bugs could eat it before harvest, weeds could take over, and animals could trample it. I imagine it can be a very frustrating job to have.
In a CSA consumers who want fresh food, locally grown, with usually organic methods pay the farmer a lump sum of money at the beginning of the season for a share of the harvest. Each week the consumers drive to the farm (usually, some deliver) and pick up their harvest. Sometimes they even get to pick their own produce. Usually the consumer is required to go help out at the farm a certain number of hours each year. The consumer really has to trust the farmer for this to work, because they are paying money upfront for food for several months at a time.
CSAs can seem risky, but I feel it is worth it. Sometimes crops do fail, but in a typical CSA arrangement farmers are growing a wide variety of crops, so even though one crop might fail, there are plenty of others to take the place. For instance in our CSA this week we were supposed to get peas. Well, the peas ended up not being ready so apples were substituted. Next week I bet we will get the peas, but we might not ever get the peas. You just don't know. But because the farmer has a very diverse farm, all around failure is extremely unlikely.
The farmer benefits from a community supported agriculture program because he is guaranteed lots of local support from the community. The consumers are there to help him and give him a fair profit for all his or her hard work. The consumer benefits from a CSA because they are getting the freshest of foods directly from a local farmer. This is better for the environment and is providing much needed income from the farmer. The consumer also gets to "get back to nature" and spend some time getting their hands dirty on the farm. It can be a family affair and lots of fun too.
All around, I think CSAs are a great way to eat locally, eat healthier and support farmers. Small farms are quickly dying and something has to be done to save them or the US won't be able to feed the population. Large farms typically only produce one or two crops and are not sold directly to the public. We need to encourage more farmers to start CSAs so they will be more accessible to more people. It really is a win-win for everyone.