The title begs a question. In our brochure we give a synopsis of what we think community supported agriculture, or a CSA is. However, the focus of this post is, “Is it working? Does community really support agriculture?”
Here’s how our brochure sums up CSA
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a commitment involving shared responsibility between the “eaters” and the “growers”. By purchasing a share from our farm you will help guarantee a summer’s worth of sales and offer up front cash for a small start up farm. In return you will receive a wide variety of fresh vegetables as they mature in season at near wholesale prices. You will also have a chance to get to know a local farm and experience how your food is grown.
Many of the early CSA farms started in the 1970s and 80s were member initiated. People in a given region that really wanted to have access to a fresh and clean food source would create a cooperative and in some cases hire a farmer to produce their food. The movement was really driven by people wanting to have direct input into how their food was grown. The emphasis was on supporting the farmer to grow for the group.
Today most farms offering CSA shares are privately owned and operated, though some non-profit member driven CSAs exist. Many farms offer CSA shares as one more way to market their goods. As CSAs become more common it seems they are adapting to be competitive with other marketing methods. Many offer free choice vegetables, delivery far from the farm, and on-line ordering options. For many eaters these options may be just what they are looking for.
At Peace of Earth Farm we are trying to hold on to the older CSA ideal of having members pick up at the farm and have a direct connection to where their food is coming from. We are hoping that members will ask questions, look around, participate in events, maybe do some work trade. We’d really like to get to know more people in our immediate community and share how we are growing food. Our rural landscape, with many home gardeners and people habituated to shopping at mainstream grocery stores has made participation limited. Perhaps we’ll have to branch out and do drop offs at further locations, time will tell.
There is also something to be said about enjoying a wide variety of produce in season and trying new things. Some find the idea of picking up a mystery box of produce each week daunting. How will I plan my meals for the week? What if I don’t like the vegetables or don’t know what they are? At the opposite end of the spectrum others look forward to a mystery box, feeling excitement at seeing how the variety changes in weekly increments, letting the box inspire the menu for the week and introduce new flavors to the palate. We put considerable effort into offering a wide variety of produce without inundating people with too many uncommon and lesser known veggies. From our perspective being able to plan our crop production for a known quantity of members with an even variety distribution is even more valuable than receiving up front cash. At our scale, letting people have free choice of vegetables in their weekly shares would be very challenging and potentially create more waste.
We’d love to hear comments from readers about what you are looking for in a CSA. What may keep you from becoming a member? If you have participated in a CSA farm, what were the best and worst experiences?
Hopefully this post dos not come across as a complaint or accusation to others. The intent is an expression of what is important to our farm and how we hope to both support and be supported by the community in seasons to come.