What is a CSA?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is considered as both a marketing strategy and a philosophy. There is no single 'formal' definition. One of the most basic descriptions is offered in Sharing the Harvest by Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En:
"Community Supported Agriculture is a connection between a nearby farmer and the people who eat the food that the farmer produces."
Robyn Van En once summed it up as . . .
"food producers +
food consumers +
annual commitment to one another
= CSA and untold possibilities".
The USDA definition is, "CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production."
The farmer sells shares in the next season's produce, usually before the season begins. The shareholder will receive an amount or "share" of fresh, local products from the farm. Each CSA is unique to the farmer and the community that is served. Shareholders may pick up their share at the farm, at delivery sites or, in some cases, home delivery may be offered.
There has been a remarkable increase in local alternatives to the dominant food system. Many farmers and their non-farming neighbors have come to recognize the social, economic, environmental and nutritional flaws in this industrial, long-distance system and the value of direct interaction. Consumer cooperatives, farmers markets, u-picks and CSAs are all strategies to bring farmers and eaters closer together.
While each of these strategies has merit, CSA is perhaps the most creative and holistic. Its rapid growth seems to support this. CSA revolves around a meaningful relationship involving a farmer, a set of members and a piece of farmland. This relationship tends to be annual or seasonal rather than weekly or occasional. The farmer agrees to raise a divesity of fruit, vegetables, flowers, and/or animal products in an environmentally sound manner and share the production with members, usually on a weekly basis. Members receive a "market basket" of fresh produce rather than individually selected items.
In exchange, members agree before the season begins to invest in the farming operation, supporting the farmer as well as his/her production methods. In addition, members recognize that natural systems are never fully predictable or controllable - that drought and beetles happen - and they are willing to accept some of the risk of farming along with the farmer. Thus, the farmer-member relationship is not solely an economic one but hinges on mutual awareness, shared philosophy, and trust. These elements are often reinforced through opportunities to visit and work on the farm.
Because CSAs reflect and depend on living and working environments, no two are alike. Each CSA is designed to suit a place, its soils, natural demographics, history, and the culture. As a result, relationships cannot be superficial or absolute but need to be continually negotiated and renegotiated. It would be easy to replicate CSAs if they depended on rules and formulae. But why would we want to do this? Prescriptions and mechanical efficiencies characterize the industrial system that we are trying to reform-
(if not eliminate).
CSA's are helping move us away from the "McDonaldization" of ourselves, our food, our communities and our earth! Maybe something to talk about with your kids around the dinner table tonight- ask them if they know where their food is coming from.