You might be wondering what is a CSA? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA allows people to have direct access to high quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers.
CSA members pay for an entire season of produce upfront (typically $450-$650). This early bulk payment enables your farmer to plan for the season, purchase new seeds, make equipment repairs, and more.
Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. The season normally runs from June to October or November, depending on the region.
This arrangement creates several rewards for both the farmer and the consumer.
Advantages for farmers:
- Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16-hour days in the fields begin.
- Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm’s cash flow.
- Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow.
Advantages for consumers:
- Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits.
- Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking.
- Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season.
- Find that kids typically favor food from “their” farm , even veggies they’ve never been known to eat.
- Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown.
It is a simple enough idea, but its impact has been profound. Tens of thousands of families have joined CSAs, and in some areas of the country there is more demand than there are CSA farms to fill it. The government does not track CSAs, so there is no official count of how many CSAs there are in the United States. LocalHarvest has the most comprehensive directory of CSA farms, with over 4,000 listed in the grassroots database.
The origin of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) concept, the partnership between consumers and farmers, can be traced to Japan in the mid-1960s. Homemakers began noticing an increase in imported foods, the consistent loss of farmland to development, and the migration of farmers to the cities.
In 1965, a group of women approached a local farm family with an idea to address these issues and provide their families with fresh fruits and vegetables. The farmers agreed to provide produce if multiple families made a commitment to support the farm. A contract was drawn and the “teikei” concept was born, which translated literally means partnership, but philosophically means “food with the farmer’s face on it.” Clubs operating under the teikei concept in Japan today serve thousands of people sharing the harvest of hundreds of farmers.
This innovative idea did not come to the US until the mid-1980s.
This will be our second year participating in a CSA share. For us, it gives us a chance to try different vegetables, and have really fresh, locally grown produce. The farm that we chose is totally organic which is important to us. They also provide a weekly email with a list of what will be included in our box, along with recipes for that week’s produce. I would encourage you to try a CSA share this year. February and March are when most CSAs are starting to fill up. If you are interested in purchasing a share, here is how to find a CSA near you. Maybe you have participated in a share in the past, how was the experience for you and your family?