What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)?

    A CSA is a way to connect local farmers with local consumers; develop a regional
    food supply and strong local economy; maintain a sense of community; encourage
    land stewardship; and utilize the knowledge and experience of growers and
    producers working with small to medium farms. CSA is a unique model of local
    agriculture whose roots reach back 30 years to Japan where a group of women
    concerned about the increase in food imports and the corresponding decrease in
    the farming population initiated a direct growing and purchasing relationship
    between their group and local farms. This arrangement, called "teikei" in Japanese,
    translates to "putting the farmers' face on food." This concept traveled to Europe
    and was adapted to the U.S. and given the name "Community Supported
    Agriculture" at Indian Line Farm, Massachusetts, in 1985. Today, there are over
    2200 CSA farms across the US and Canada.

    CSA is a partnership of mutual commitment between a farm and a community of
    supporters which provides a direct link between the production and consumption of
    food. CSA members make a commitment prior to planting through a membership to
    the farm.  Together, farmer and members assume the costs, risks and bounty of
    growing food. The Memberships help pay for seeds, fertilizer, water, equipment
    maintenance, labor, etc. In return, the farm provides a healthy supply of seasonal
    fresh produce weekly throughout the growing season to the best of its ability.
    Becoming a member creates a responsible relationship between people and the
    food they eat, the land on which it is grown and those who grow it.

    This mutually supportive relationship between local farmers, growers and
    community members helps create an economically stable farm operation in which
    members are assured the highest quality produce, often at well below retail prices.
    In return, farmers and growers are guaranteed a reliable market for a diverse
    selection of crops.


    How Does CSA Work?

    A farmer draws up a budget reflecting the expected production costs for the year.
    This includes all investments for seeds and tools, land payments, salaries,
    distribution costs, machinery maintenance, etc. The budget is then divided by the
    number of people for which the farm will provide and this determines the cost of
    each share of the harvest. One share is usually designed to provide the weekly
    vegetable needs for a family of four.  CSA's vary in what produce they may supply to
    their members.

    Community members sign up and purchase their shares, either in one lump sum
    before the seeds are sown in early spring, or in two installments through-out the
    growing season. Production expenses are thereby guaranteed and the farmer does
    not need to rely on loans to plant the crop.

    In return for their investment, CSA members receive a bag of fresh, locally-grown,
    typically organic produce once a week from early summer through early fall, and
    occasionally throughout the winter in northern climates with the use of greenhouses
    and year-round in milder zones. Members prefer a wide variety of vegetables and
    herbs, which encourages integrated cropping and companion planting. These
    practices help reduce risk factors and give multiple benefits to the soil. Crops are
    planted in succession in order to provide a continuous weekly supply of mixed
    vegetables. As crops rotate throughout the season, weekly shares can vary greatly
    by size and types of produce, reflecting local growing seasons and conditions. At
    seasons end, a larger storage share may be part of the regular membership or
    available as an additional purchase.

    * CSA vary considerably as they are based on farm or garden location, agricultural
    practices, and specific farm and community goals and needs. Memberships are
    known to include a variety of community members including low-income families,
    homeless people, senior citizens, and differently-abled individuals. If provided, an
    extra fee typically is charged for home delivery. Most CSA invite members to visit
    the farm and welcome volunteer assistance. Working shares are an option in some
    cases, whereby a member commits to a certain number of hours a week to help the
    farm in exchange for a discount on membership cost.

    * Property arrangements tend to be quite flexible. Beyond private ownership, there
    is leasing of land with lease fees factored in as a regular budget item. CSA is also
    an excellent opportunity for holding land in some form of trust arrangement.

    * Every CSA strives over time for a truly sustainable operation, both economically
    and environmentally. Many try to develop to their highest potential by expanding to
    provide additional food items such as honey, fruit, meats, eggs, etc. Networks of
    CSA have been forming to develop associative economies by growing and providing
    a greater range of products in a cooperative fashion.

    * Some CSA provide produce for local restaurants, roadside stands or farmers'
    markets while building farm membership, or in many cases, in addition to it.

    Distribution

    Distribution styles also vary. Some CSA's use the method that once the day's
    produce is harvested, the entire amount is weighed and the number of pounds or
    items (e.g. heads of lettuce, ears of corn) to be received by each share is
    determined. Some CSA have members come to the farm and weigh out their own
    share, leave members behind any items they don't want at a surplus table and
    possibly find something there they could use.

    Other farms have a distribution crew to pack a selected amount of items, as close or
    more than the goal amount as possible, and the shares are picked up my members
    at the farm or at distribution points.

    Still other farms allow member to come help pick and pack their own produce, or to
    provide work in the gardens as part of, or for a reduced rate on, their membership.
    Each CSA varies greatly on how involved you may be in the operation.

    Several advantages to the direct marketing approach of CSA, in addition to shared
    risk and pre-payment of farm costs, are the minimal loss and waste of harvested
    farm produce, little or reduced need for long-term storage, and a willingness by
    members to accept produce that may have some natural cosmetic imperfections.
    CSA'a use member newsletters and occasional surveys are some basic means of
    communication between the farm and its members. The newsletters include
    information on the crops, new types and varieties of produce that may be in that
    weeks share, and recipes on how to prepare them. Educational opportunities are an
    important part of belonging to a CSA.


    Why Is Community Supported Agriculture Important?

    * CSA's direct marketing gives farmers and growers the fairest return on their
    products while providing consumers with a reliable source of naturally grown foods.

    * CSA keeps food dollars in the local community and contributes to the maintenance
    and establishment of regional food production. You help support those farming
    operations who pay taxes locally.

    * CSA encourages communication, cooperation, and education among farmers, and
    between farmers and consumers.

    * With a "guaranteed market" for their produce, farmers can invest their time in doing
    the best job they can growing their crops rather than looking for buyers.

    * 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.

    * CSA creates a sense of social responsibility and stewardship of local land.

    * CSA puts "the farmers face on food" and increases understanding of how, where,
    and by whom our food is grown.

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