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Is Community Supported Agriculture Growing Too Fast?

Is Community Supported Agriculture Growing Too Fast?


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As the community supported agriculture or CSA model becomes more popular and widespread, the question arises: is bigger necessarily better when it comes to CSAs?

Recently, the CSA model has attracted thousands of new farmers and consumers across the U.S. Farmers enjoy receiving payment from the CSAs at the beginning of the season in order to cover the costs of production, while consumers who join enjoy the high level of access they receive to local food producers and fresh, unique foods.

The CSA model is changing, however, from the traditional model in which members buy a share at the beginning of the growing season and then receive weekly produce deliveries. Recently, farms have begun supplementing its CSA shares with produce from other farms, or even large, regional co-ops.

Though this new arrangement can provide consumers with a better selection of goods and help farmers share administrative costs, it somewhat tampers with the one-to-one producer-consumer connection that the original CSA model promoted.

What’s more, some CSAs who have rapidly growing customer bases have begun to face debt and distribution problems as their farms become more diversified. Notably, Grant Farms, the country’s largest organic CSA in northern Colorado recently declared bankruptcy.

Ryan Galt, a professor at the University of California, Davis, led a study of CSAs that determined that as farmers become more diversified, they reap a smaller percentage of their sales from CSAs and begin to rely on a variety of different outlets, from farmers’ markets and CSAs to retail and wholesale markets. This somewhat connects to the much-debated question of whether the local food market can ever be expanded to a universal scale.

Regardless of how they may be changing, the growing popularity of the CSA model reveals a widespread American consumer interest in becoming more connected with the food on their dinner table. This is good news for the overall health of Americans, as local food has proven to be more nutrient dense and fresh than conventional produce found in supermarkets across the nation.

So it seems that when it comes to local farming, some may have an argument that too much of a good thing is still better than the conventional produce alternative.


Ultimate Guide to Community Supported Agriculture

When you go to a local grocery store in, say, New York City, and pick out some grapes, you may not think too much about where they began their journey to the produce section. But it's worth considering.

If it's February, they might be from Chile, which sends 75 percent of its winter grape crop to the United States, where grapes are out of season in winter months [source: Business Network]. Chilean grapes use about 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) worth of fossil fuels to get to your table [source: BackpackerNation]. Better-case scenario, it's June and they're from California, in which case they flew only about 2,400 miles (3,800 kilometers) to your city [source: ConvertUnits]. That's between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds (453 and 907 kilograms) of carbon dioxide emitted getting grapes whenever you want them [source: AIT].

Lots of people have started eating locally -- and seasonally -- to both reduce the environmental cost of eating fresh produce and to keep small farms in business. In this context, it doesn't get much better than community supported agriculture, also known as CSA. In community supported agriculture, people become members of a local farm. They pay a set amount of money upfront before the growing starts for the year in exchange, they get a weekly allotment of fresh produce all year long. They're basically buying a share in the operation.

The CSA concept has only started picking up steam in the United States in the last few years, but it's been popular in Europe for decades. The concept originated in Japan in the 1960s, when a handful of people concerned about the effects of imported produce on local farmers started paying upfront for a sustained supply of food from the locals [source: LocalHarvest]. They were looking not only to keep the farms financially viable but also to know who was growing the stuff they put in their mouths (these first CSA-type programs were called teikei, or "putting a farmer's face on food").

Modern CSA farms share similar goals, but the movement has gotten much bigger, with lots of options available for people looking to buy a share in a local farm. In this article, we'll look at the CSA concept, find out what it means to buy a share in a CSA farm and check out what types of food a CSA farm provides.

The underlying fact that spurred the rise of CSA is a dark one: Local farms are in trouble.

Local, sustainably managed farms have been dropping like flies in the last couple of decades, unable to effectively compete in a global market that values low price over high quality. That's where community supported agriculture (CSA) comes in. People who want the good stuff -- local, fully ripened, typically organic and grown using environmentally friendly farming practices -- can become an active part of supporting the local farming process.

And not just after the fact, when the fruits and veggies appear in their market. That's one of the keys to CSA. Members pay before the growing season starts, assuring farmers of an income for the year so they can make a living and the farm can stay afloat, even if nature throws a curveball. The money a member spends goes toward seeds, labor, fertilizer -- everything needed to produce a crop. And in exchange, each member gets a share of that crop.

Since farmers know they've already got buyers, they can spend their time, you know, farming, instead of marketing their product.

The shared risk inherent in buying a share of a farm upfront can be something of a gamble, but that's actually the point. Community-minded farming tries to even the sales a bit. Everyone is eating fruits and vegetables, but only a minute percentage of people are growing them. In the United States, 2 percent of the population is actively involved in commercial farming [source: DeMuth]. That 2 percent takes on all of the risk of investing in food production for the year and all the responsibility of producing crops for the rest of the population to eat. CSA helps to balance the relationship between food consumers and food growers.

Balance is a big part of CSA. Most CSA farms are organic and sustainable -- they grow food in a way that enhances the land instead of detracting from it, and they produce food free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The CSA concept itself tends to encourage sustainable practices like crop diversity and complementary planting.

Aside from the eco-friendly farming practices, CSA encourages people to get reacquainted with the land. It's a symbiotic arrangement that helps bridge the gap that's been growing since the industrial revolution. Buying a share in the land fosters a sense of ownership and connection. CSA members can even help with the growing. A CSA farm is not the same as a "community garden," where community members can pay to use a patch of land to grow their own food. A CSA farm is run by the pros. But many CSA farms encourage members to assist with farming tasks whenever they want, often in exchange for a discount in share price.

Getting in on the local-farming action begins before the crop starts growing. Farmers set the share price at the beginning of the year, and the CSA process unfolds from there.


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Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. …


  • Start with the people you know best: friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, etc.
  • Existing groups or communities (environmental groups, businesses, churches, community action organizations, health food stores, fitness centers, schools, civic organizations, etc.) are a perfect place to find members use their meetings and newsletters as way to spread the word about CSA and recruit members
  • The core group is comprised of the farmer(s) plus several consumer members and is responsible for working out the details of the CSA
  • Core groups broaden ownership, spread the workload, and decrease the chance for farmer burnout much of the organizing work of a CSA can be done by a core group
  • The core group generally does NOT deal with farm-based decisions – these are left to the farmer
  • Activities may include crop selection, helping determine share prices, payment schedules, organizing distribution, volunteer activities, newsletters, special events, etc.

The Benefits of Joining a CSA

1. Fruits and Veggies Will Taste Better

First and foremost, joining a CSA will ensure your produce will taste better. Why? You'll be eating what's in season.

To eat locally is to eat in season. Sure, we all wish we wish we could get local strawberries in Minnesota in the dead of winter but the best time to enjoy them is really in the summer and from a local farmer.

Are You Getting Enough Fruits and Veggies?

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2. You'll Skip Supermarket Lines

A box will arrive at your doorstep every week, every other week or on some sort of regular cadence that you signed up for.

You'll no longer rely so heavily on the grocery store for fresh fruits and vegetables — unless there's something specific you're looking for that may not be in season.

3. It's a Great Way to Do Right by Your Community

By investing in a local farm, you're investing in your community. Money spent at small businesses, like a farm, stays close to home. It's recirculated back into the local economy, according to Eat Local First.

You're also helping farmers in the area by supporting their cash flow upfront and allowing them to focus on marketing.

4. You'll Challenge Yourself in the Kitchen

Are you familiar with the show Chopped? Think of your CSA box as offering a similar challenge but without millions of people watching or chefs judging your work.

You don't always know what's going to show up in your CSA delivery, so you have to be prepared to think on your feet and get creative. Some CSAs provide recipes or ideas to use, and of course, the Internet has no shortage of recipes either.

Another way to get a mix of fruits and veg is by ordering Raw Generation's Produce Boxes. Choose either a 25-pound box of fruit or vegetables or a mixed box (you'll pay $3.19 per pound) and have it delivered straight to your door.

5. You Might Eat a Wider Variety of Healthy Foods

By joining a CSA, you'll likely be exposed to new fruits or vegetables that you've either never seen before, eaten before, or cooked before. If this excites you, a CSA may be for you.

6. It's Great for Kids

A growing body of research shows that the closer kids get to their food, like in helping to grow their own food, the more likely they are to eat it, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

This applies to community-supported agriculture, too. As part of your membership, you often get to do a farm visit. In fact, kids might be more open to eating a variety of fruits and vegetables (even if it's their first exposure to them) if they come from "their" farm, according to Local Harvest.


Ever heard of CSA and wondered what people were talking about? Are you concerned about how your eating habits are affecting the earth and those people who work it? If you’ve ever considered having closer relationships with the foods you eat, then CSA just might be the answer for you. Read on to figure out just what it is.

Community supported agriculture, more commonly referred to as simply CSA, is a system is which community members actively support and engage in food production. The concept is quite simple, even if each program will have its own variants individuals or families purchase “shares” in a farm or harvest, and in return receive food throughout the growing season. The “share” is usually a basket, box, or bucket of produce (or other farm goods, depending) weekly or monthly when available.

The premise here is that there is shared risk. The farmers have guaranteed income at the start of the growing year, and therefore can afford to continue with smaller, more organic production. While this means that a bad year might mean scant crops for the “share holders”, generally it works out in everyone’s favour consumers get a a good amount of fresh, local produce at a fixed price, and the farmers get the support of a whole community. And, in the case of an abundant year, the consumer gets a lovely surprise every time they pick up their delicious produce.

Benefits for you

A huge benefit for the purchaser of a CSA share is knowing exactly where your food is from. This makes the challenge of avoiding pesticides and other dangers in groceries stores easier, and you know exactly where your money is going. Knowing precisely what’s in your food is powerful knowledge, as many grocery store items contain chemical additives, sweeteners, and oils.

CSA’s help with discovering new foods and recipes. Many food baskets come with recipes, especially if there’s a not-so-common item in there. As getting your food right from the farm means different foods will be available at different points in the season, an abundance of a food that you don’t usually buy will allow you to become creative and think of cooking things up that you never would have otherwise. Having new ingredients handed to you opens many windows of possibilities to discovery new recipes.

This comes down to reconnecting with nature. Eating with the seasons might mean getting a ton of one vegetable all at once, but eating in season is an experience fewer and fewer people are living these days. Remembering when earth intended for us to eat certain produce is certainly a lesson in reconnecting with the soil.

Really, CSA’s are about discovering a new way of interacting with food systems. So, even if it doesn’t turn out to be for you, the benefit of discovering new ways of participating in local economy will surely not be lost. After all, who doesn’t enjoy learning?

Benefits for the farmer

A huge advantage for farmers and gardeners in a CSA economy is that they receive the money up front. This means the ability to purchase seeds, tools, and whatever is lacking on site at the beginning of the season to ensure a good harvest. The predictable income also means being able to plan for future harvests, and not needing to worry about some years not being perfectly on par with others.

Growers are able to look for customers before the long, physical work days start, which is a huge advantage. Once the planting and harvesting start, the producer doesn’t need to worry about who will be purchasing their fruits and veggies, and can focus on the physical work. If the project is small, one organizer can manage the subscriptions.

An interesting benefit for the farmer is the community support in small business endeavours, and in its small production. Eventually, this is a benefit for everyone. When a community is in it together to decide what kind of food system they want, there is a tremendous amount of support and encouragement for small farms and gardens.

Benefits for Nature

One Green Planet has an article explaining why going through the small hassle of CSA is more than worth the effort for you and the planet. Pesticides, GMO’s, and degraded soil are not only issues that concern human health, but, in reality, the health of the whole earth. When you pick the farm where you get a regular amount of produce from, you can be sure to avoid all of these issues. Frequently, if you are a part of a CSA, visiting the farm might be an option, and certainly doing research into the farms means that you can choose to support producers who don’t use harmful, conventional agricultural practices.

How do I find a CSA?

Unsurprisingly in this day and age, the best way to find a CSA near you is to use the internet. Of course, community centers, local natural food stores, small markets, wellness centers, they might all have postings and advertisements for programs, but if you don’t regularly come into contact with these, the internet will more than suffice.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service has a wealth of information and resources on different sustainable agricultural systems and products. If you live in New York, this website has a “find a CSA” option, and outside of NY, this site has a similar search option. Many websites such as the Land Stewardship Project also have directories of local farms offering CSA. So, happy searching, and happy eating!


Pro: There are fun surprises.

Do you delight in coming across heirloom produce that you never even knew existed? Do you want to brag about your garlic scapes, flowering spring greens, and other exotica that you can't really find in conventional grocery stores? Then joining a CSA and siding with a small, unique farm that typically serves them is just right for you! You won't always know what foods the season will bring you, and that's exciting, especially when something that you might never have been compelled to buy before becomes a new favorite in your kitchen. It happens all the time.


The Tasty Advantages of Community Supported Agriculture

In an effort to live green and eat healthfully, I invested in a local farm. With my year-long Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership, I paid a farm a lump sum at the beginning of the growing season and then got regular shares of the farm’s bounty.

My membership taught me how much work it takes to get food out of the ground. I tasted vegetables I had never tried before, such as pak choi and Chinese red noodle beans.

It was an adventure, but I didn’t renew my membership. Sadly, it doesn’t fit into our family’s budget this year. Still, I think everyone who can join a CSA should consider doing so, even if it’s only for a year. When you add up the plusses and the minuses, you’ll probably come out way ahead, like I did.

Pros of My CSA

Learn what grows in your soil.
I’ve lived in Georgia for fifteen years. Yet, until I met Farmer Neil at TaylOrganic Farms, I didn’t know what foods grew here. It turns out we grow asparagus and strawberries in the spring, greens galore, pretty much anything you would want in the summer as long as we get a little rain, and greens, greens, and more greens in the fall and winter.

Live green.
It’s nice to take tote bags to the grocery store, but as green habits go, eating locally grown produce packs a bigger punch. You save on the fuel used to transport food from around the world, you support your local economy, you eat healthier, often better tasting food, and depending on your farmer’s practices, you avoid pesticides and other chemicals.

Have fun in the kitchen.
Some CSAs include recipes in your box so you know what to do with unusual vegetables. A fellow subscriber to my CSA runs a blog that offers recipes and hints for preparing produce. I made green onion crepes stuffed with greens and other yummy dishes. It was fun figuring out what to do with foods I had never heard of and it forced me to do more real cooking.

Learn about farming.
I was humbled by how much labor goes into getting food to come out of the earth. During my CSA year, Farmer Neil rejoiced when he paid off his backhoe and lamented the challenges caused by our drought. He turned his pool into some sort of irrigation system. He traveled south to other farms to get us produce for our farm shares when his farm did not produce enough for his members. The folks at AIG could learn a thing or two from Farmer Neil.

Always have produce to eat.
Your produce share comes week after week. No matter how busy you are, you’ll always have good stuff in the house to eat.

Cons of My CSA

It can be hard finding an open CSA.
Local Harvest lists CSA programs nationwide and there are thousands. But many, including a farm just a few miles from my house, are closed to new members. Others have inconvenient drop-off locations or contracts that require more time or money than you can afford.

Too much produce can be overwhelming.
If you’re used to dining on convenience foods, the sudden onslaught of produce requires a lifestyle change. You have to prep. You have to cook. You need a good cutting board and a sharp knife—and pots and pans. I ended up composting a lot of produce because I just didn’t have time to prepare it.

Too little produce can send you to the grocery store.
Sometimes, the farm doesn’t provide much. A drought or a freeze can hinder production. You may be craving strawberries, but if they’re out of season, you’re out of luck. When you pay for a CSA membership and still end up buying produce at the grocery store, it can be dispiriting.

A hodge-podge can be frustrating.
Getting a box of random produce and turning it into edible meals takes practice. Some greens are tricky to prepare. I never could figure out what to do with parsnips and some of the funny-looking squash I received. And the pumpkin I got in November? It rotted on my porch.

It’s not necessarily a budget strategy.
I believe a savvy cook can make a CSA cost-effective. Over time, learning to eat what’s in season is a good frugal strategy. For me, a novice, the CSA was a budget buster. (CSA’s start at around $16 per week and go up from there, depending on what size box you choose.) I often needed to supplement what I got from the CSA with produce I bought at the store. I had to keep in mind that the purpose of a CSA is to invest in a local farm. Farmer Neil faced a lot of challenges. The $900 I paid for the year was an investment in the big picture—a return to a local food economy.

Though I gave up my CSA membership for this year, I plan to buy from Farmer Neil at my local farmer’s market. And, once my daughter is school-age, I hope to re-join the TaylOrganic Farm. I want my daughter to learn the lessons I did about what it takes to grow food and why it’s important to eat food grown close to home.


Community Supported Agriculture is having its moment. Across the country, more and more people are signing up for farm shares, looking to benefit from a sense of community, healthier environments, and fresh, wholesome food. But despite its increasing popularity, community supported agriculture is still hardly a common term at every dinner table.

If you’ve been wondering what a community supported agriculture membership is or whether you should join one, or if you’ve already joined and want to know how to get the most from your weekly share, this guide will help you discover the ins and outs of CSAs and how to make a membership work best for you.

What is Community Supported Agriculture?

Community supported agriculture (CSA) allows people to purchase seasonal produce directly from a local farmer. The farm offers a certain number of “shares” to the public and commits to grow food for participating members. In turn, community members agree to support the farm through financial contributions, which are typically paid up-front before the growing season. Membership dues help to pay for seeds and plants, greenhouse expenses, equipment, labor, and other items related to the workings of the farm. Members then receive a weekly or bi-weekly share of the farm’s harvest—essentially, the community members become shareholders of the farm. To date, tens of thousands of families have joined more than 4,000 CSAs across the U.S.

The benefits of CSAs are numerous. CSAs promote sustainable land management and farming practices, reduce participating members’ food transportation needs, support local commerce, provide farmers with financial security, offer consumers access to healthy, fresh food, and allow communities to build mutually supportive relationships.

Variations on the CSA Concept

CSAs began in Japan in the mid-1960s and 1970s consumers were concerned with the increasing use of pesticides in industrial farming, and European biodynamic agriculture was exploding, too. The concept of subscription farming made its way to the U.S. in the mid-1980s.

Since then, different farms and communities across the country have tailored the same model to their own needs and preferences. CSAs can operate on vastly different scales, with some serving just 20 families and others providing food for over 1,000 households. CSAs offer delivery options or distribute shares at farmers’ markets, or require members to pick up their shares directly at the farm. Members at some farms choose what kinds of produce are included in their share each week, while other farms let the week’s harvest to dictate what will be included. Many farms exclusively distribute vegetables and fruits others include additional foodstuffs such as eggs, bread, meat, flowers, or dairy products. At some farms, members may work on the farm in exchange for part or all of a share other farms offer only a cash-for-food exchange.

A partnership between two farms—for example, a vegetable farmer might partner with a chicken farmer—is increasingly popular it allows them both to meet more of their consumers’ needs. Other farms have created specialized CSAs devoted exclusively to meat, flowers, or preserved products. And in some areas of the country, third parties have established CSA-like businesses in which they sell boxes of food to their members but do not produce the food themselves.

Despite all variations, the basic concept behind CSAs remains the same: Create community, benefit farmers and the environment, and provide consumers with healthy, flavorful food.

How to Get the Most Out of a Membership

Interested in joining a CSA? Keep these tips in mind to maximize your experience.

Before You Join

Depending on products offered and frequency, a season’s CSA share can cost hundreds of dollars, While the cost can easily pay for itself in food and community benefits, it’s a big enough investment that it’s worth considering whether a CSA is right for you. Keep the following considerations in mind.


Is Community Supported Agriculture Growing Too Fast? - Recipes

This article was originally published on CustomMade.com.

Community Supported Agriculture is having its moment. Across the country, more and more people are signing up for farm shares, looking to benefit from a sense of community, healthier environments, and fresh, wholesome food. But despite its increasing popularity, community supported agriculture is still hardly a common term at every dinner table.

If you’ve been wondering what a community supported agriculture membership is or whether you should join one, or if you’ve already joined and want to know how to get the most from your weekly share, this guide will help you discover the ins and outs of CSAs and how to make a membership work best for you.

What is Community Supported Agriculture?

Community supported agriculture (CSA) allows people to purchase seasonal produce directly from a local farmer. The farm offers a certain number of “shares” to the public and commits to grow food for participating members. In turn, community members agree to support the farm through financial contributions, which are typically paid up-front before the growing season. Membership dues help to pay for seeds and plants, greenhouse expenses, equipment, labor, and other items related to the workings of the farm. Members then receive a weekly or bi-weekly share of the farm’s harvest—essentially, the community members become shareholders of the farm. To date, tens of thousands of families have joined more than 4,000 CSAs across the U.S.

The benefits of CSAs are numerous. CSAs promote sustainable land management and farming practices, reduce participating members’ food transportation needs, support local commerce, provide farmers with financial security, offer consumers access to healthy, fresh food, and allow communities to build mutually supportive relationships.

Variations on the CSA Concept

CSAs began in Japan in the mid-1960s and 1970s consumers were concerned with the increasing use of pesticides in industrial farming, and European biodynamic agriculture was exploding, too. The concept of subscription farming made its way to the U.S. in the mid-1980s.

Since then, different farms and communities across the country have tailored the same model to their own needs and preferences. CSAs can operate on vastly different scales, with some serving just 20 families and others providing food for over 1,000 households. CSAs offer delivery options or distribute shares at farmers’ markets, or require members to pick up their shares directly at the farm. Members at some farms choose what kinds of produce are included in their share each week, while other farms let the week’s harvest to dictate what will be included. Many farms exclusively distribute vegetables and fruits others include additional foodstuffs such as eggs, bread, meat, flowers, or dairy products. At some farms, members may work on the farm in exchange for part or all of a share other farms offer only a cash-for-food exchange.

A partnership between two farms—for example, a vegetable farmer might partner with a chicken farmer—is increasingly popular it allows them both to meet more of their consumers’ needs. Other farms have created specialized CSAs devoted exclusively to meat, flowers, or preserved products. And in some areas of the country, third parties have established CSA-like businesses in which they sell boxes of food to their members but do not produce the food themselves.

Despite all variations, the basic concept behind CSAs remains the same: Create community, benefit farmers and the environment, and provide consumers with healthy, flavorful food.

How to Get the Most Out of a Membership

Interested in joining a CSA? Keep these tips in mind to maximize your experience.

Before You Join

Depending on products offered and frequency, a season’s CSA share can cost hundreds of dollars, While the cost can easily pay for itself in food and community benefits, it’s a big enough investment that it’s worth considering whether a CSA is right for you. Keep the following considerations in mind.


Watch the video: Food Network: Community Supported Agriculture (October 2022).