CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” and it refers to an innovative style of direct-marketing that brings farmers and consumers together in a visible web of interdependence. This results not only a beneficial economic and nutritional partnership between farmers and consumers, but it also creates bonds of community and friendship that transcend mere sustenance. In addition, it helps food consumers, who have grown up on the supermarket ethic of “all under one roof” shopping that stresses convenience over health, sustainability and taste, learn more about where their food comes from, how it is produced and how flavorful it can be to “eat with the seasons.”
The CSA movement, which is growing across the US, started in Japan, thirty nine years ago, when a group of housewives and mothers who were concerned with the growing use of pesticides in their food and the increase in food importation, banded together and created a partnership with local farmers with the goal of supporting their ability to provide fresh vegetables and grains grown free of chemical pesticides and fertilizer. This program, called, “Teikei” poetically translates to, “the farmer’s face on it,” though a more literal translation is “cooperation” or “partnership.”
The idea of a CSA, where community members pay a set price, up front, to a farmer at the beginning of the season, and then were given shares of the produce throughout the season, was brought to the US in 1984 by Jan Vander Tuin and Robyn Van En, who had run a CSA in Switzerland previously. The first CSA in the United States was in Massachusetts, and from there, the idea spread slowly, though in recent years, the number of CSAs in the nation has grown exponentially each year.
This growth is not surprising; more Americans are becoming aware of the unsustainable nature of the current petrochemical-based, factory farm food system which depends more and more upon food imports from other countries. In addition, interest and demand for organic produce is growing, and small, local farmers have stepped in to fill that niche. Finally, a lot of Americans are returning to the joys of eating fresh produce in season, having tired of the plasticene blandness of hothouse tomatoes and giant strawberries that look gorgeous and smell divine, but have all the sweetness and flavor of styrofoam.
There are many variations on the way that CSAs are run; some farms allow community subscribers to come to the farm and help in the work of raising the crops. Others have subscribers assist in the harvest, while others provide delivery service of each week’s box of produce shares. Still others distribute from a central point once or twice a week, at the subscriber’s convenience.
Athens Hills CSA (Green Edge Gardens), which I will enroll in hopefully tomorrow, has slightly different approach. For four hundred dollars, which you can pay in total up front, or through arranged installments, one is entitled to enough vegetables per week for two adults from June 18th through October 15th. Instead of a set box of whatever is harvested that week, members “shop” for their vegetable shares from the farmer’s stand at the Farmer’s Market; this system avoids members having to deal with a week when the share box contains nothing but okra, eggplant and zucchini. (All right, that would be fine with me, but Zak would not be so enthusiastic with such a week, and really there is only so much of those three vegetables I can eat by myself, luscious as they are.)
There are CSA’s operating across the US, many of them near major metropolitan areas. To find one near you check out the websites for Local Harvest, Biodynamic Farming Association, and New Farm. An even more comprehensive list of CSA farms is generally available on the Robyn Van En Center site, however, at the moment, it is in the middle of technical difficulties.
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