Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a concept that originated in Switzerland and Japan in the 1960s, and its basis is to “put the farmers’ face on food”. In this way, CSA seeks to connect consumers with the story of their food, including both the farmers who grow it and the environment in which it is produced.
CSA is a relationship of mutual support and commitment between farmers and members. In return for an annual membership fee to help cover the production costs of the farm, CSA members receive a weekly share of the highest quality organically-grown harvest during the local growing season. When members obtain food from local farmers, they are directly supporting small, family farms in their community as well as receiving the freshest available produce.
Although CSA’s take many forms – reflecting the diversity of cultural, geographic and economic contexts in which they operate – the essence is that supporters cover all, or part of a farm’s yearly operating budget by purchasing a share of the season’s harvest – up front! CSA members make a commitment to support the farm throughout the season, and assume the costs, risks and bounty of growing food along with the farmer. This mutually supportive relationship between local farmers and community members helps create an economically stable farm operation in which members are assured the highest quality produce, often at below retail prices. In return, farmers and growers are guaranteed a reliable market for a diverse selection of crops. This marks a stark contrast to the global industrial food system, where growers often struggle to find a market for their produce, and must sometimes sell for less than the cost of production.
The benefits to the Consumers (CSA Shareholders):
· They gain access to freshly picked, quality organic seasonal produce at a lower cost than would otherwise be possible.
· Food is ‘de-commodified’ – people know where their food comes from and how it is grown.
· It allows shareholders to re-establish a connection with the land that many people feel they have lost.
· Shareholders are encouraged to eat more fresh vegetables and less processed products.
· Shareholders have input into the growing plan and develop an understanding of the challenges of food production.
· The growing and sharing of food is celebrated.
The benefits to the broader community are that CSA:
· Supports the biodiversity of a given area and the diversity of agriculture through the preservation of small farms producing a wide variety of crops
· Protects local farmland from urban sprawl by helping small farms to remain economically viable
· Develops a sense of social responsibility and stewardship of local land
· Reduces wasted resources in marketing produce, packaging and transport
· Supports safe, proven farming technologies rather than commerce-centric technologies such as Genetic Engineering