Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way for eaters and farmers to work together. While the farmer is tending the Earth, consumers share the costs of supporting the farm and share the risk of variable harvests (and also share the over-abundance of a particularly fruitful year). CSA memberships or subscriptions underwrite the harvest for the entire season in advance. Each farm handles this relationship in their own fashion and are different in length of season, crops grown, level of social activities and price they set for their shares.By Jeff Poppen
The CSA movement in the United States started in the seventies when a group of families took care of a New England farm's financial budget, each giving what they could afford. In exchange, they went to the farm each week and took all the produce they wanted. I first heard about CSAs in 1987, and started one the following year. I love the concept of giving what you can and taking what you need.Community Supported Agriculture Guide
Within a few years we quit selling to retail and dropped the organic/biodynamic certification we'd had for 15 years. Although our practices hadn't changed, certification wasn't necessary anymore, as our members are familiar with our growing practices and can inspect the farm themselves. No longer are vegetables washed, packed and boxed and they're simply harvested into bushel baskets and sent to Nashville every week, where the members drop by and pick up what they want. The CSA farm model allows us to focus on growing the highest quality produce we can, and provides the easiest access of fresh food for the members.
Freed up now to focus fully on farming, the harvests have been astounding and steadily increasing. In addition to the produce going to our CSA members, friends and neighbors get free produce, three charity groups get all they want, and we continue to supply several smaller CSA's with the extra in winter squash, greens, and potatoes.
The farm's interns are selling the excess at restaurants and farmer's markets, the pigs have plenty, and I compost or plow the rest back into the fields.
We don't get paid for just vegetables anymore; our job is to run a farm and prepare the ground for the next crops. This involves cutting and baling hay, building fences, liming meadows, intensively grazing cattle, managing wetlands and forests, and making the biodynamic preparations to go into the huge compost piles (over 100 tons annually). These activities are integral to growing a garden that will thrive despite erratic weather, but gardening is just one part of the whole farm. I take my cues for the farm's needs from Mother Nature, who is a much wiser boss than the marketplace.
The members also enjoy other farm benefits besides the garden pro- duce. They have an open invitation to hike around the farm, or to pic- nic, swim or camp out. By supporting the whole farm, they know what their food dollars are doing. These new friends are reestablish- ing a direct connection to a piece of land, reuniting a lost tie between city and country, and consciously creating wealth, and better health, in the local environment. I'd like to call this a revolutionary new food distribution system based on human trust and care of the soil, not profits. But it's not new, it's the ancient tradition of the land's bounty benefiting the community which supports the farmers, the livestock, and the soil. Becoming part of a farm and rekindling this feeling of caring for the land may be more nourishing than the fresh food the members get each week.
The health of a community is based on the health of the soil, which produces its food. Farmers balance the give and take relationship with the soil to provide both human sustenance and sustain soil pro- ductivity. When a group of people, such as in a CSA cover the farm's annual budget, the farmer is able to put all his or her attention into developing the farm's unique possibilities. With the proper amount of livestock, a farm organizes itself as a self-contained individuality, able to offer its supporters an abundance and diversity of food while maintaining its own fertility and capacity for future production.