Community Supported Agriculture

 
Skip the middle man with a CSA.

 

Fresh From The Farm

 

In the mid 1980’s, a movement arose in the Northeast United States, specifically in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The ‘new’ concept was inspired by 1960’s European homemakers who wanted access to fresher food, direct from the farm. Those organizing this movement developed cooperative systems with farmers.  Here in the U.S., the concept came to be known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

 

Good For Everyone

 

CSAs are increasing in number all over the nation. As people realize the economic, ecological, and health benefits of eating the freshest food possible, new relationships have been forged between farmers and consumers. In the process, abandoned farms are being reclaimed, vacant urban areas are cultivated, a new generation of small farmers has found land and markets, and existing farmers are reaping profits without a middleman involved. Best of all, the consumer gets to eat the freshest possible food obtained for a fair and economical price.

 

CSA Basics

There are two basic types of CSAs—Subscription and Shareholder. As subscription CSAs are the most common, they will be the focus of this article.

 

Subscription CSAs are ‘farmer-driven’ and the level of subscriber involvement varies widely. At the most basic level, consumers sign up for a membership before the growing season begins. At enrollment time, the consumer pays a set fee to the farmer. The money enables the farmer to cover start-up costs. However, enrollment is kept open until the farmer’s subscriber limit is reached. If you miss the opportunity to enroll in February, you will not be left out!

 

Delicious heirloom tomatoes.

Get the freshest produce by signing up with a CSA.

As the earliest crops come into production, (typically salad greens, early root crops, rhubarb and peas), the farmer arranges for delivery of a weekly box of produce to each subscriber.  Typically, boxes are delivered to a common pick-up point, and it is the subscriber’s responsibility to retrieve the box from that point.

 

Although CSAs differ, typically a ½ share box will contain sufficient produce for a family of 2-3, and a full share box supplies a family of 4-6. Because some of the included produce (or fruit) may be unfamiliar to the customers, it is common for the farmer to include weekly recipe cards.

 

Some CSA farms cooperate with neighboring farms so that the food options available go beyond produce and fruit. Many CSAs also include items such as honey, eggs, cheese, and even beef.

 

In addition, the subscriber can sign up for bulk amounts of produce and fruit, which is a useful option for the consumer who wishes to can, freeze, and dehydrate food for off-season use.

 

A Labor Of Love

 

Many CSAs  operate as described above, and the labor on the farm is all performed by the farmer, his/her interns, and hired hands.

 

Your CSA box will contain a variety of fresh produce.

Eating healthy is easier when you know you’re only using the best produce.

Occasionally, a CSA farm organizes their operation to include the members in various facets of operation.  In return for less expensive subscription fees, customers promise to perform x amount of labor at the farm. The farmer sets up a weekly schedule, and the subscribers can then be part of weeding, harvesting, washing, bundling and packaging, and any other chore the farmer needs help with.

 

This type of CSA farm plan is an excellent way for non-farmers or gardeners to gain valuable experience, get a deeper understanding of where food comes from, and learn what is required to get it from seed to the table.

 

Finding A CSA

 

Here are 5 ideas to find a CSA near you:

 

1. Inquire at your local Farmer’s Market.

 

2. Inquire at a local feed store or farm supply outlet.

 

3. Use your computer and browse your favorite search engine.  Enter CSA and the name of your city in quotes.  For instance, I typed in  CSA “Bellingham, WA” and  found: GrowingWashington.org, which talked about 15 Whatcom county farms participating in a local CSA. In many cases, individual farms are listed. For example, a search on CSA “Chehalis” brought up these farms: Helsing Junction Farm and Boistfort Valley Farm.

 

4. Check out an online searchable database:  Try LocalHarvest.org.  On their home page, click the “CSA” button in their “What are you looking for” box located midway down the right side of the page.  Below that, type your location in the “Where” box and then hit “Search”.

 

5. Ask co-workers if they are involved in a CSA. Farmers have been known to deliver to a place of business if there are enough employees there to make it worthwhile to designate a drop-off point.

 

For More Specific Information

 

CSAs normally include all the pertinent information on their websites. For further questions, a phone call or email will clarify matters. It is beneficial to spend some time investigating the various farm programs which interest you, online, and perhaps even in person.

 

Choices Matter

 

Subscribing to a CSA is an excellent choice, if you are interested in obtaining the freshest, healthiest, and most economical food possible.

 

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