What Is Community Supported Agriculture.
What is Community Supported Agriculture.
Community supported agriculture (CSA) allows consumers to meet (and support) the farmers who grow their food. Generally, a CSA operates by a number of people buying shares in a small local farm. Each individual share is bought either all at once in the winter, or in payments, with a larger winter payment made first and then smaller ones made the rest of the year.
Then every week, starting at the beginning of the growing season, and going through November or December, those shareholders can go to the farm and get their share of vegetables. Some farms also offer meat, cheese and even flowers. The amount of food in each share is usually larger than enough for one person. For instance, at the farm I'm a member of one share should be enough for four people. Enough, that is, towards the end of the growing season. Vegetables take their time to ripen and so far we're getting about one really full grocery bag of produce every week.
It's fun to go to the farm every week and see what's in season. It's already mid-July here in Michigan and we haven't had any tomatoes (yet). However, we've had beets, carrots, basil, swiss chard, kale and garlic (just to name a few). I like the idea of eating a variety of different vegetables: but it seems to be more in theory than in practice. Belonging to a CSA gets me to eat a wider variety of vegetables than I would otherwise. For instance, this spring I had garlic tips and mustard greens. Without belonging to a CSA I wouldn't have had either these; and before this year, I didn't realize garlic tips were edible (and quite delicious).
Another thing that I enjoy about going to the farm is getting to see the animals there. They have a cow, a couple of regular size goats, a couple of pygmy goats, and a cat. They're all really friendly and I get a chance to say hello to them. They're not the only friendly ones there either. It's inevitable that I will run into somebody picking up their produce. The main farmers, Paul and Annie, and all the workers there are very friendly too. It's nice to see people coming together to support small local farms this way.
Different sorts of CSAs
There are some things that most, if not all, CSA's have in common. Foremost of these is a sense of shared risk for all the people involved. The purchase price of the share is based on the operating costs of the farm. It is not based on the amount of vegetables or other produce that you get though you'll get plenty! If it's an OK growing year you'll probably get more from the CSA then you would at the supermarket for the price of your share. If it's a good year, then you almost certainly will! It's when there is a drought that you may feel uncomfortable with the amount of vegetables that you get. If you are adverse to this sort of situation then a CSA probably isn't for you. If you feel that supporting local farmers through thick and thin is important, then you may want to join a CSA if you haven't already. There are more than 4000 of them nationwide and you may be able to find one near you at this site.
Each CSA will have its own unique character.
The CSA I belong to (known as The Community Farm) practices the biodynamic growing techniques of Rudolph Steiner. This means the produce is organic and everything that is done at the farm helps to invigorate the land there! The earth itself there is becoming more fertile with every passing growing season and less and less material is needed to be brought in from the outside to the farm. This is very different from commercial growing practices where the land gets stripped of nutrients and humus every year. This emphasis on biodynamic growing techniques is what first drew me to the farm.
Another feature that separates The Community Farm, unfortunately, from some other CSAs is that any paid workers here are given $10 an hour. (I assume that most CSAs give a fair wage, however, there were some scandals recently about this). In addition to hundreds of hours of labor put in by paid staff, general members are encouraged to either pay more money up front or volunteer hours themselves. The Community Farm also provides the shareholder with a sliding scale. These factors further encouraged me to join and support this particular CSA. What I really love about it though are the vegetables I get to eat! There is nothing like really fresh vegetables, so tasty and nutritious!!
Community supported agriculture: a light in the darkness.
Large-scale farms create unnatural habitats. Row after row of corn, wheat, soybeans or even carrots - organic or otherwise - is not what nature intended. These sorts of growing practices strip the land of the nutrients and the topsoil gets depleted. Without biodiversity, crops become more susceptible to disease and pests.
On larger farms it is too common for workers to have horrible living conditions or be mistreated. Additionally, growing one particular crop intensifies the use of water and therefore gasoline for its production.
In contrast Biodynamic agriculture encourages fertility. Whether or not you seek out a CSA, you may want to buy food that is grown biodynamically. A good place to look for biodynamic food is at a farmer's market.
Community supported agriculture.
Community supported agriculture supports local farmers. It helps you get in touch with what's growing where you live season by season, week by week. You can meet the vegetables while they're still on the vine. You may meet some interesting people, perhaps other shareholders or workers at the farm. Joining a CSA is a wonderful opportunity to support local farmers and eat delicious, fresh food!