The HVADC Cultivator
Community Supported Agriculture
Join a CSA! It’s good for you and it’s good for the farmer!
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in the United States came in to being on just two farms in the 1980’s, and since then has spread to over 12,000 farms, according to the US Department of Agriculture in 2007. CSA’s are a model where agriculture and food distribution intersect in a beneficial manner for all involved. There are many reasons the CSA model has spread so widely, among them a connection to the farmer and the land for the consumer, and a forecasted amount of income earned for the farmer.
While there is some variation in CSA models depending upon the individual farm, in general a person signs up with the farm of their choice to be a member for the spring/summer/fall growing season and pays in advance for their share. The CSA member will then pick up their share either weekly or bi-weekly depending on the farm, in their town or on the farm, again dependent upon the individual CSA arrangement. Shares typically contain 7-10 vegetables. As shares can sometimes contain items that consumers are not familiar with, many farms will provide recipes and/or tips on how to prepare the new-to-you vegetable, often with delicious results.
As the number of CSA’s have grown, so too have the variety of CSA types. While the classic model was often either a work-trade relationship, where the consumer worked on the farm in return for fresh locally grown vegetables, or an arrangement where there was a fixed day to pick up a set selection of vegetables at the farm, now consumers have the option of numerous “pick up locations” on different days of the week, which are often more convenient for people than going to the actual farm, and yet still allows for some interaction with the farmer.
Variety and choice as far as what is in the actual CSA has also expanded. While in the past each CSA member would receive a set box of vegetables, with little to no room for variation, these days members can often pick and choose what they would like their CSA box to consist of. For example if you love tomatoes but dislike peppers, you may take 2 allotments of tomatoes, rather than one of peppers and one of tomatoes. This increased flexibility is another factor that has led to a rise in popularity of the CSA.
Many more CSA farms are also offering the option of “full diet shares”. While there is not a typical full diet share, in general the share will consist of a combination of vegetables, eggs, an animal protein (beef, pork, chicken, lamb, etc..), herbs, fruit, grain, bread, milk and cheese. Some farms work to provide all aspects of the full diet share, while others cooperate with neighboring farms to provide a little bit of everything.
As more and more young and innovative people turn to farming, the ideas and practices are stretching and growing as well. Another result of this innovation has been the rise in the year round, or winter CSA. While in a place like California this may not be exceptional, here in the Hudson Valley it is a true blessing to have locally grown greens in the midst of winter.
While providing members with the opportunity to eat locally and develop a sense of community around their food are integral parts of the CSA model, perhaps the most important aspect of CSAs are that they provide the farmer with a guaranteed market for their goods, and not only that, but the goods have been paid for in advance, allowing them to make big purchases that are often necessary at the start of the season, and reducing waste throughout the season. While Farmers’ Markets play an integral role for many small farmer’s, sales are often unpredictable, and it is not uncommon to come back from market with produce that has not sold, and is unfortunately unsellable after a hot day under the market sun. The CSA allows farmers to plant their crops based on a pre-determined market for the produce, thus eliminating waste of the vegetables they work so hard to produce.
All told, CSA’s are beneficial for all involved. They allow the consumer to eat well, to get to know their farmer and to help protect the land that the farmers grow on, while providing farmers with the support they need to plan ahead and keep their business going.
There are over 100 CSAs in the eleven counties up and down the Hudson River. Treat yourself, and your local farmer, and sign up today!
Find a CSA near you at the Hudson Valley Bounty.