Today, in “green circles,” the term “community supported agriculture” (CSA) is a common phrase. More people are attending farmer’s markets or local food fairs and have probably heard the term used. But, some are unaware of what it really is or how it can benefit them and their community. So check out the basics on community supported agriculture and see the benefits of supporting local farms.
What Is Community Supported Agriculture?
CSA is just what its name implies: farming with the support of the community. Customers purchase shares of the farm, usually as bundles of food types, and take delivery of the food as it is produced. This gives the farmer a guaranteed income and the consumer a rich, wholesome, more sustainable, fresh food source.
Both of these mean better food, better, more sustainable farming, and often a total savings all the way around. In addition, a CSA gives the farmer and the consumer a direct connection and gives the consumer the chance to know where their food is grown.
How to Get Involved and Find a CSA Program
There are many ways to find a CSA near you. The most common is to visit local farmer’s markets and run into the CSA sellers (usually selling surplus) at their booths. They can also be found by looking through a database of them from various sources, including Local Harvest, NewFarm Locator, etc. (all available from the USDA’s website, linked below).
Finally, word of mouth is another common way for people to learn about CSA farms in their area. The best promoters of a CSA are usually those who participate in it!
Benefits of Using a CSA
The greatest benefit for the consumer is the ultra-fresh, very local, very nutritious and (usually) organic foods that become available. Consumers also often find that they are exposed to new foods they may not have tried and many CSAs have consumer clubs that include recipes, gathering events (cooking fairs, harvest festivals), etc.
Most CSA farms are happy to have their customers come visit to see where their food comes from and to meet the people who produce it. Often, an end of year “post harvest” event will be held wherein CSA members can go into the fields and look for plants that were missed by the harvesters.
Children enjoy visiting the farm and often consider it theirs and will favor food that comes from it. It becomes a hands on connection with their food source to understand food production beyond the produce aisle.
Best of all, though, the consumer and the farmer come together in a direct relationship, eliminating the disconnect present in today’s society around food because of large grocery stores. This builds a trust between the two and gives the farmer extra incentive to produce better foods and the consumer incentive to be more involved in the process.
There are community supported agriculture programs all over the nation. Most include all types of fruits and vegetables, but also other farm products such as milk, cheeses, meats, eggs, and other products. Most CSAs have a tiered buy in structure for consumers to choose from, each with a different level of food totals and types involved.
The lowest level might have vegetables at so many pounds per week and be suitable for one or two people while the highest level might have several pounds of vegetables, beef, chicken, eggs, and a gallon of milk every week, suitable for a family of six. Most consumers find that their overall grocery costs go down with the purchase of a CSA membership while their health and nutrition levels rise.