A community-supported agriculture group (CSA for short) is an association of people who pledge to support local farms and share the risks and benefits of food production. The growers and consumers share the produce once it is harvested after investing at the beginning of the year. Some CSA’s also provide products such as eggs, fruit, flowers, honey, and meat. The subscription costs vary and a portion may even be in lieu of labor contributions. The term CSA is mainly used in Canada and US but there are other subsystems worldwide.
Biodynamic agriculture was formulated in Europe by Rudolf Steiner in the 1980’s. The system was brought to the US from Germany by Jan Vander Tuin from Switzerland and Trauger Groh in the mid-1980’s. Vander Tuin and associates formed the CSA Garden at Great Barrington in Massachusetts and The Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire was created by Trauger Groh and his group.
However, an earlier system was created in the 1960’s Dr. Booker T. Whatley, a professor of agriculture in Alabama called the Clientele Membership Club. There also existed in Japan a similar model called a teiki in the 1970’s.
Today there are some 13,000 CSA farms in north America, mainly in the upper-Midwest, the Pacific coast, New England, the Northwest, and Canada.Their popularity is in direct correlation with environmental awareness as well as urban projects to grow food in cities for the homeless and disadvantaged residents. One such project is the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, which is spread across all five boroughs. The largest CSA is the Farm Fresh to You in Capay valley, California which supports 13,000 families. The oldest (17 years in 2012) is the Quebec CSA network.
This unique non-profit system provides finance to the farmers for improvements and new infrastructure as well as technical support and guaranteed customers. With involvement and funding from the consumers and stakeholders, it is a stronger consumer-producer relationship.Thus ensuring the quality of product and reduction of food waste.
Although each CSA has its own unique structure and marketing strategies the core ideology is the same shared funding and shared risk. Any surplus produce is sold at farmers markets, to local restaurants, on-farm retail and natural food stores. Unsold produce is sometimes given to local food banks.
Have you experienced or worked with a CSA system in your area?