Community Supported Agriculture

Produce from my organic garden last summer: tomatoes, chiles, tomatillos and basil. This could also represent part of a weekly share for a subscriber to a CSA.

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.


RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. I love the idea of CSA, but I find it difficult in my area to find one that will a) deliver or make readily available *small* weekly shares for just two people and b) make shares available at reasonable prices. As I recall from my last round of research, shares in my area usually cost around $550/year or even more. Of course, prices may have dropped by now, but it wasn’t very encouraging then. It’s possible to get half-shares, but that usually just means you get a share every other week instead of a half-share every week. One nice thing, however, is that some of the CSAs are also including small shares of organic meats, free-range eggs, and locally-produced cheese, bread, and pasta.

    Comment by etherbish — April 5, 2005 #

  2. I suspect that as more farmers become involved in CSAs, the prices will lower, and the idea of a share will become more fluid.

    One idea is to split a share with another couple–then you pay half the price, and recieve a half share once a week.

    I also like the idea of egs, bread, meats, pasta and cheese becoming a part of the CSA idea. Some CSAs also do fruits, ciders and preserves.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — April 6, 2005 #

  3. What a great idea! You could also shop a bigger share when you had entertaining going on and skip the times you weren’t at home—that’s really useful.

    Tomatillos make me laugh. I grew some several years ago to fill in a section while I was waiting for the perennials to fill out. No problem, I thought–they’re tropical, so they will only last the one season.
    I now have wild tomatillos throughout my garden—who would have thought that they’re actually zone 4 plants?
    Funny memory…last Fall as the Weed Slave(my teener employee) and I were cleaning up, my strongly non-gardening husband came out to chat. “Eat this!” said the Weeder, holding up a tomatillo, husk and all. The memory of the look that my husband gave Saskia the weed Slave always makes me laugh.

    Comment by wwjudith — April 6, 2005 #

  4. Thanks Barbara for sharing. This is pretty new to me, and I don’t think CSA is practised here at all, and I don’t know if it will. Land is so scarce here and almost everyone lives in concrete blocks, though it will be a different story if and when we do move back to BC. Shirley.

    Comment by Anonymous — April 7, 2005 #

  5. I wish we had CSA here in the UK. I know another blogger who is in one and raves about it all the time.
    Still, given all the farmers markets I probably shouldn’t really complain!

    Comment by Christina — April 14, 2005 #

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress. Graphics by Zak Kramer.
Design update by Daniel Trout.
Entries and comments feeds.